somewhere in time (lost in middle america)
there is one queer bar in lima, ohio. it's called "somewhere in time". "somewhere" for short.
i went to the local pflag meeting with my parents last friday. it was something i was extremely apprehensive about. my parents have been involved since the group started in my hometown, about a year ago. the group knows all about me, but i didn't know much about them, because my parents would go on and on about these people i'd never met, kind of like long lost great-aunts that are sick or moved, but you can't ever recall meeting. i didn't pay attention to the play-by-play, just listened to the executive summary. we had a picnic. we had a meeting. we had a potluck.
this was a potluck. almost everyone asked me about september 11. see previous entry about takeoff that day. i was hoping for some easy questions, like "what's living in new york like?" (answer: great!) the crowd was several late 30 something and early 40 something gay men, some lesbians, and some just-curious not-lesbians-yet. and three sets of parent of gays and lesbians. and some others. everyone knew me, because my parents tend to talk volumes about their kids, and in particular their homo son. (me, mary!) it was like a family reunion, as if i'd met all these people at 10, and twenty years later, they remember my name (this would happen for real the next day at my grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary).
it was just like a cross-section group of people at the local mall, nobody in musical theater (on broadway) or in fashion, no stylists or art directors, (i'm going by dress and the fact that they could cook, dear, i'm not being a snob), what my upbringing would recognize, for the most part, as locals and not, for the most part, what my new-york-city-homo-radar has learned to pick up as gayness. some of this unfamiliarity has to do with the fact that in daily life lima is still a very conservative place, despite my romanticization of it. gay folk tend to be 'mostly out'. pflag is a place where they can be 'all out'. myth number one dispelled that night: lima is not backwater when it comes to acceptance.
some of the defamiliarization had to do with the fact that nyc social spaces for homos tend cater to specific demographics, and are notoriously poorly mixed between sexes. so it was unusual for me to be talking to a woman who has a cross-dressing brother (or was it uncle), a bi-lesbian sister (cousin?), and was a wiccan.
after the business of the meeting, and the eating, there were some introductions, and the president announced a talk in the coming weeks by someone born in lima but who had 'escaped' to california. she was going to talk about that experience, the escaping part. someone suggested i say a few words right now. i was excited: now for the good stuff. ask your questions! (actually, i stuttered, and THEN said "i don't know...ask me some questions"). two people asked me about september 11. i was asked if the WTC would ever be rebuilt as they were. (professional opinion: no). mild disappointment at not being asked even more difficult questions.
mother had basically arranged for me to go out with 'the guys'. they were a charming bunch, despite the fact that they knew me better than i them, and despite the fact that one or some of them read this site, and i didn't really know who (i hadn't fully connected the mostly-forgotten descriptions provided by mom and dad to the people in the room), so i decided to go. also, my curiosity tends to trump any misgivings (of which there were none, in this case) in situations like these.
the guy who drove me to the bar had graduated from the same highschool as i, was in his 40s, cute and good conversation. in the car, he asked me the most difficult question of the evening: "did you know you were gay when you were in high schoool?".
the bar had to encapsulate everything that lima homos needed: dance floor, dance floor bar. separated by a large sliding door was the bar proper, complete with carpeted sitting area, a bar that was so low you could sit at it in a desk chair (not stand at it), pool table, jukebox with a mix of classic rock, top 40, rocky horror, and one 'rap mix' album. i put on l'il kim 'suck my dick'. nobody liked it. see my comments from july about fringe bars, bars in places where there is little gay density and few spaces for gay play. this bar was even more micro-cosmic.
after a few drinks, the pastor for the unitarian church we'd just met at (in a gorgeous old house in downtown lima) showed up to join us. after a few more, a guy named ryan showed up who looked just like my buddy eric here in nyc. somewhere along the way the owner of the bar was introduced to me. each time, the introduction was the same. "chad, this is x. x, this is paul and sue's son". very home-town, as troy put it.
i didn't walk around much (the whole place was visible from where i was sitting), had my fill of rum and cokes and bud light. but i had my eye on this teenager in a leather jacket. he was probably a hair over legal, but he was certainly trade: being talked up by several older guys there, very confident, and with his young buddies, by far the youngest and most attractive fellow there. except me: i kind of moved in on his turf each time i went to the bathroom, wedging myself between him and a couple of his young buddies. heads turned: fresh meat. hey, i didn't get the nickname 'minx' from the sound of music!
smiths and their naughty side, or family grows up (in pictures i saw last weekend)
1. grandpa and grandma smith at a rural lake, on a pier, only water behind them. ca. early 40s. grandma in white dress, hem just below knee. grandpa half step behind her, to her left, hand around her, on the front of her right hip, his hand pointed down. he is wearing beautiful pressed pants, shoes, belt, but no shirt, athletic chest. my grandfather points his chin down, but his eyes up, toward the camera. it's a trait i never noticed before in his pictures, but i recognized it immediately, because it's my way of looking at cameras too (see coveralls pic last month). another note: my sister-in-law was reminded of george cluny when looking at grandpa. they look happy, in the way couples in their twenties always look happy: happy mind and in body. this picture reveals that not just on their faces, but in the precise position of their bodies.
2. grandpa and grandma on the streets of san antonio, while he was stationed there, almost a film still in that it's difficult to known who took such a candid street picture, everyone in motion, including them. grandpa in army uniform, as if leading grandma, who is in a sharp dress with good accessories. they seem to be under a movie house canopy. all bodies are angled across the frame of the image. grandpa's head is pointed down but determined eyes forward, grandma navigating with a pleasant and brave look.
3. dad in the army, drafted to korea, 1968. color photograph of he and his pals around a mess table, but for a party, where strippers were brought to the base. they all have cigars, drinks, and the mess table is filled with empty glasses. they are all drunk. my father weighs only 165, and sports an unusual mustache, instantly recognizable as of that era because it's on several gay icons we all know about, cigar cocked, drink in hand. my father is usually a smiling rural baseball player in his pictures, but here he's not smiling but looking positively insousciant, out having fun that he wouldn't tell me about until last friday.
4. mom and dad on their honeymoon. see above note about young couples in love and the reason for their happiness. color pictures taken the summer before dad got drafted, 67 or 68. on an ill-defined field near an ohio lake. the aluminum trailer in the background "was driven up by your grandpa smith. we had no money." my parents look positively ecstatic. my father's body is about twenty-five pounds away from mine, but because of his taller height, we look identical (our pictures at 10 years old are twins from two eras, 50s and 80s). mom is in a bikini and looking carefree. no kids, no parents, no war (yet), no worries.
5. mom on a car. looking sporty in some late-60s outfit, climbing hemline and bright colors. a photograph she sent to dad when he was in korea. she's sitting on a shiny new 60s sportscar: the spitting image of a Modern Young Girl. the picture is taken from below, so no ground is shown, and only sky behind, except directly behind her, where the steel-sided utility shed my grandfather built makes a worn rural building backdrop to a jet-setting foreground.
sleepy but sunny gorgeous autumn busride across 125th street, all the old ladies know each other, and the driver, hey-babies and then some, contrasted to seeing a plane from the triboro bridge at the same angle, and for the same duration, as i saw the plane, the second one on sept 11 that struck the world trade center, only about 600 feet above me, about a quarter of a mile away, about two seconds before disappearing to my left because of a window mullion. momentary but intense wave of anxiety.
contemplating the power i feel when walking on a tarmac to my plane, the huge engines around me making me feel like i'm going back in time as well as to another place, like the action behind the images in la jetee, windswept and loud, my body strictly directed by others so contingent upon an inner independence to function. plane i am on speeds up on runway for the take-off. plane suddenly brakes. we make a tight turn. we go back to our starting point. mechanical crew awaits. mechanical problems tested and fixed. pilot making breathless plea to passengers that the plane is perfectly safe. i clasp my book very hard, straight in my seat, so that it does not shake out of my hand in panic.
this entry is writing me.
approaching september, i seriously considered stopping the minx diary, the day, the night would be archived.
the almost-conclusion was that i'd already achieved what i wanted to happen in writing. the kind of writing i wanted to develop had produced some readable posts. i'd explored issues i felt were exhausted because they were becoming irrelevant. i got tired of writing about tricks, and the fact that some of them actually were running across my site afterward was closing that avenue of anonymity. after a while, i felt i was writing about the past too much, because the present was getting repetitive (because i am a creature of habit). and further, i was tired of talking about where i went at all, because of being recognized (and subsequent creepy email) in too many places, a new sense of privacy causing me to recoil.
so that i'm clear, my preoccupation with each of the previous issues, except the last, was almost purely intellectual. since i began this project, i've been able to drop it at a moment's notice, a quality i cultivate because for me it spurs creativity.
i've been aware since the beginning that there is a separate self than the one manifest in writing. (proust in jean santeuil, i haven't read it yet, it was quoted in my volumes). but once this other self is reconstructed in writing, isn't it done?
something happened; light reflects and multiplies by the proximity of certain sympathetic surfaces; i got distracted; i was forced to write anything i felt for a period; i was asked to write in several completely different venues directly because of my writing online; my writing online was directly infecting my architectural design and criticism; recent events caused me to evaluate what i wanted to get out of my work and cut out the rest; recent events caused me to evaluate my whole goddamned life and cut out the crap and be very, very vocal about that.
something happened: my writing self multiplied. my architectural critic self became a writing self and vice versa, in that my usual technique of persuasion in my professional/critical life began to become a technique in writing, persuading not others but myself to read/write. my reading proust self realized that the length of time it took him to write the successive volumes affects his writing method and style in a way that seems to attempt to extend itself exponentionally. my travelling self began to write thoughts down during every waking moment, and sometimes would awake me from my sleep to write notes for an entry.
(notes from sleeping, last week: i analyze my thoughts in my dreams. my motivations are examined in sleep, by what i choose to do in dreams, wordlessly cognizant that i'm examining motivations at the same time that i'm picking up a cup or a gun. the only choice becomes should i do this or that?)
i was momentarily waylaid into forgetting my writing notebook over last weekend's trip, an error.
the multiplicity of new-writing caused my writing self to change, without my knowing it, completely subsuming the former self. i discovered that i've become a writer, not in the sense that i'm talented or worthy of recognition or published in print or the least bit interesting to others. but a writer in the sense that the writing sustains itself, grows by itself, changes in accordance to the mutation of the writing self, has its own personality that is every bit as predictable and same time irrational as the me-me.
i was young and it was a summer evening wrapped in laziness and cool breeze.
in the middle of cooling fields, at my grandparents' house, after a long day of swimming, or climbing trees, or walking around trees, or spying the farmhouse across the street which had so much equipment in the yard but where no one stirred, or visiting grandpa at work, or cool lunches, or playing with the kitties, or playing in the sand, or having sweet tea, my grandparents were exhausted. as were we: despite being only 10 (or so) and my brother only 8 (or so), the annual air- and sky-filled week we spent in rural ohio, away from home, with grandma and grandpa, my dad's parents, always seemed slightly exhausting. the days were filled with all the rural pleasures presented by grandma and grandpa, yet my brother and i also demanded more kinds of happiness: those delivered through the television, or a neighbor's pool, or a drive to toledo's toy superstores, or a drive elsewhere.
after dinner dishes had been cleaned, my grandparents settled into their chairs, no doubt relieved that their grandkids would also settle down, pooped out. it was then, that particular evening, that we heard it.
or, more accurately, i heard it. it was a tiny dingle, invisible as the air, that occasionally formed a tiny tune. it was the tune every kid knows, a culinary alarm that instinct causes to override whiffleball games, games of tag, family dinner times, and even favorite television shows. it was the Tune of The Ice Cream Man!
my grandparents could not hear it. i don't think my brother could hear it, either, although his appetite for ice cream kept him open to the possibility that it was there. but the tune was far away, carried on breezes, as mild as they were, shifting with them, possibly figments. axiom: we cannot see air, only see its effects. i knew that this old road we were on, in the middle of fields, a short drive to town but buried amongst tall august corn nonetheless, there was no chance of that truck coming near the farmhouse. so i begged them to take us to it.
the road we were on ran north-south, with long stretches to east-west roads that would get us near. distant connections that made choosing the right direction critical to avoid annoying my grandparents any more that i already had with another inscousciant demand. and they wouldn't let me off the hook: which way is it, where should we take you? perhaps they were annoyed at themselves for capitulating yet again, choosing to spoil their grandkids yet again.
either way, we drove.
i don't remember if i chose the right direction. but the suspense of being right, of not being proved for once and all certifiably mad because i was now hearing things in the air, may have dialated a short exercise into a short eternity. we took a few wrong turns, i do remember that, and grandparents turned that silver Buick LeSabre around more than a few times in Weston's numerous dead ends.
so there we are, in a car, more than mildly august exhausted from heat and day, driving around with my ear and head out the window, following an insignificant magic bell that only i can hear. and once again, my grandparents were indulging their crazy grandson, turning wrong corners, grimacing at these missteps, undecided whether the kid is being childish, creative, or just strange. but nevertheless humoring him, taking him on a ride in search of delight.
walking past the police station in the canal street subway station, every day, i see a long banner with messages from local well-wishers, flowers, candles. a shrine. largest message: WE WILL REMEMBER.
my usual, insousciant nature delivering quick retorts with consideration of their effects trailing well behind, i replied, in my head, we always forget. memories, like sheets of paper on a wall, are overlaid with new ones until the available space is filled. the mind replaces, or at best alters, memories. sometimes they undergo a process not unlike petrification, stone taken the shape of wood, but no longer it in any other way.
or, as oberved in Memento, it is an abnormally fixated and obsessed person who always remembers. i can't remember to forget about her. yet also observed there, we learn things by instinct, experiences and re-experiences through memory causes some events, some fixation, to become habit. and this was the jumping off point for my original reply to the sign: i can see two disparate habits being formed, neither of which have to do with remembering.
perhaps i will continue to stay uncertain about the city, never take its fabric, my conception of its order, for granted, but still, equally insousciantly as my comment, forgetting that i should be afraid, resume joy, as i really have recently begun to do.
or, perhaps, i will reach a terrifying state of always being on the edge of horrified, always wondering what's next, but having forgotten the event that terrified me in the first place.
ps all work in this domain is copyright chad the minx.