Sunday, January 13, 2019

Now We're There: mapping time through fictional realities

The recent trend of sharing then-and-now photos has me thinking of the years spent between major accomplishments, and how we document our lives. I mark my timeline by novels, and where they took place has been aided by old analog maps, memories and photos, from slides to prints and now online searches.

I remember a lot, which is good, because a few pivotal moments' memories never got mapped or on film.

Now I'm Here... now I'm there, too
The years that my novel Now I'm Here took place, 1970 and 1980s, are countered by my many return visits home, where the story seemed to be accumulating like slow ivy. The two main characters are Joshua, a piano prodigy, and David a pumpkin farmer.

For piano provenance, proving the years of my musicianship existed, I offer a newly found (see PINS photo/map search above). The piano itself and its location in our home is the dining room. I'd play for hours, but also at the local (then) Ashland College studios, choosing from Yamahas and Steinways.

For farm boy authenticity, sadly I never documented my pumpkin farm experience in any 1981 photos. It was often beautiful amid the labors of hauling truckfull after truckfull for months, but not a camera-ready environment back then. I never even remembered to drive by years later and get an image of the farm house and barn. Now it's all floral greenhouses, as I included in the story.

All I have left are the Red Wing boots I bought for the job, which lasted 40 years. But they're in the basement and you don't need a photo of a pair of boots. You'll have to settle for the 1998 image above.

I do have a particularly  amusing excerpt from a shirt story called "Tractor Pull" which was included in my collection Forty Wild Crushes, then blended into Now I'm Here years ago as a perfect cluster of chapters about David's farming experience. In this excerpt, David's sales skills are put to the test.


Housewives clouded in perfume emerged from their air- conditioned Chryslers in floral-print blouses that shone brilliantly in the sun, wondering why bees attacked them and not him, who smelled of corn husks, dirt, and sweat.
“Well, Ma’am,” he imagined saying, “you wouldn’t have that problem if you didn’t come out here dressed like a five-foot petunia.”

David waited for a slow moment to walk back behind the printing shop that rented the bit of parking lot to Joe Kemp. He was allowed toilet privileges, and the few moments in the ink- smelling, cold office gave him a brief reprieve. But he went in- stead to the back faucet and filled a bucket with cold water.

He returned, relieved to see no waiting customers. He stood atop the wagon, pouring water over the sweet corn and peaches. Some girls in their daddy’s car on their way to the mall hooted at the presumably dopey hunk. A trucker honked his horn, coaxing David to his cab window for a quick toss of a cantaloupe for a buck. The trucker winked and smiled. David smiled back, extra wide.

By mid-October, his hands had grown so callused his nights of self-abuse were like shaking hands with a stranger. So much for staying pure.

Loading and unloading trucks of pumpkins made his arms and chest tight with muscles. It was real work for dirt pay and it felt good, but what was left of his ambition had curdled to a quiet resentment, almost dormant, still waiting to strike.

But let's go way back to 1998, the reason for this remembrance, and the date of the barn photo. Instead of ten, I went back 20 years for the photo comparison share.

My family was driving in to New York for an upstate funeral, and my dad offered to drive through the town of Little Falls, since I'd foisted the manuscript of PINS on them, and talked it up endlessly. I took a modest photo roll of streets and a few businesses.

Then I found a specific house, took a picture, noted the address, and plotted every course of movement from that house around actual Little Falls maps I had on my walls for years. I'd purchased it at the Rand McNally map store in downtown San Francisco (or ordered one there?).

I changed names of a few schools and churches for metaphoric purposes, but all the freeways exits had to be accurate when the common lingo describes locale by "What exit?"

But in looking through the research materials for the book, and my numerous photo collections, and resorting them as I went, a few hours went by until I realized I was not going to find either the Little Falls map or the photos I took. But I found a lot of other stuff.

It's a pity, because the analog specificity of this then/now comparison would have worked had I produced the evidence.

The wrestling parts? Well, let's just say it was all experiential, and quite evident, but as an adult. This photo (left) goes back to 1998, when being an outsider on the team offered a struggle that really helped finalize the manuscript. Years of matches and practices in California and Amsterdam became transferred to '90s New Jersey.

Monkey Suit-able
Manhattan, Jersey City, Brooklyn; I covered it in Monkey Suits, but mostly with the uptown museum and party settings in 1998 at peak-Reagan-era.

for proof of provenance, here's one of a very photos of me in my work tux for Glorious Food at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a few pivotal events take place.A few people have said this would make a great retro movie, but with all the '80s cars and crowd scenes, it would be impossible without a huge budget.

Just like the extravagant events where I served drinks and food, it's a lost era to me, as are the many from those days. Other blog posts about the 80s and AIDS are here.

The East Village lives through the late '80s and early 1990s, mostly rooted around my actual home on 11th Street, the home of Kent, my hero in Cyclizen.
Artist George Towne linked the website where the history of older buildings have their local history revealed, at least a few architectural notes. Here's the East Village section, and the whole city project.

My own former building at 605 East 11th St. has a short page, and stirs many memories from that era of ACT UP, Wigstock and Queen Nation, the sexy pals and struggles. My old building still looks pretty good. Google maps shows it's been painted green from red.

"What I miss about New York; zooming down the avenues between a current of yellow cabs, admiring the golden spires as the sun dies beyond New Jersey, the baked odor of garbage on a summer night, the rush of rain on streets that washes it away, nightclubs packed with gorgeous men and feisty women, saxophone players wailing in subway tunnels, beatific quiet moments sitting on padded museum benches to stare at heroic paintings of my hooved ancestors, tabloid headlines blaring the latest tragedies, cafe bulletin boards festooned with colorful flyers, all-night Korean delis with endless troughfuls of buffet delicacies sold by the pound and the snap of a rubber band around the plastic take-out containers, Two Boots pizza with half a dozen other ACT UP pals after a Monday night meeting, combat boot soreness after marching down Fifth Avenue, or waiting eagerly under the shade of the Flatiron Building as far north the street horizon quivers from the heat of the arriving motorcycle packs of dykes, then joining in as your tribe approaches, the wonder of entering a newly met man’s tiny apartment and marveling at the arrays of compacting lives into those rooms, knowing that each passing face among the hundreds, the thousands, the millions may be the last time you ever meet, if you ever meet at all."

You Better Think
For Every Time I Think of You, my Pittsburgh resident year in 1985-86, and greater Pennsylvania experiences shaped the settings for the Lambda Literary Award winner. Although I lived in the Lawrenceville section, I worked across the city, touring with a dance company around PA, and and also worked downtown.

The Greensburg setting was purely for name-cleverness, but the mapping and other research made it worthy. I didn't go far into the town's history, and made up a good bit, but it worked, apparently.

And as for the snowy first encounter between Reid and Everett that perplexed some, believe me, it can happen. See photo; not of me.

Message received
The sequel Message of Love inspired me to -while it was half-written- visit Philadelphia for a wonderful fascinating week in 2012, the year I then won a Lammy for Every Time I Think of You.

I wrote about that earlier HERE, and HERE. I still have hundreds of lovely unpublished photos of all the scenery and research documents.

I spent two days in Fairmount Park, strolled the city, compared the current gay bars to ones listed decades ago in a Damron's Guide. I even found specific dorms and houses where Reid and Everett lived. Perhaps someday I'll share an entire album of all the beautiful shots.

Or, more likely, they'll remain in a folder, or for old prints, in a box, or for memories, disintegrating like parched maps to a time gone, but reconstructed through storytelling.

So, while we may have aged a bit between the decades, for me as a writer, I remain lost in a few other times in between.

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