Friday, December 28, 2018

AIDS in the eghties

Not long  after I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, a gay  colleague of mine invited me to have lunch in Boston’s Italian North nd. During our lunch, I asked him if he ever lost someone to aid to AIDS. My colleague was frank. He told me that he had been involved with an older man who died soon quite soon after  the affair. My aim was to compare Alzheimer’s to AIDS. But the comparison struck as  too facile.
This topic almost fell into my lap. I was walking close to where I live, and someone was giving away books. The one I took home turned out to be a gem. Personal Dispatches: Writers’ Confront AIDS. My favorite by far was The Fear. And why not? 1987 was the year, but know one knew when a breakthrough, if ever. The challenge  was compared to curbing the Great Influenza in the second decade of the early twentieth century. But there had been litle or none stigma to the flu. AIDS did. Here is how Holleran described the scene in 1987: “The Fear among homosexuals is personal, physical and real. It is easy enough to dismiss the idea that the CIA set out to exterminate homosexuals; it is not easy to dismiss the fact—having lived in New York, before during the seventies as a gay man—one can reasonably expect to be infected.
This was the zeitgeist when this book was published. Pat Buchanen, a longtime right-wing pundit, called for a quarantine in one particular community in Florida, presumably with a high density of gay residents. But as Holleran wrote at the time, “Even with the homeosexual community, however, there was despicable behavior: men who would not go to restaurants, hospital rooms, wakes” or other such venues. The Fear among homosexuals is personal, physical, and real. It is easy enough to dismiss the idea that the idea that the CIA set out to exterminate homosexuals; it is not easy to dismiss that—having lived. In one of Holeran’s most vivid
War. At one point in this brilliant essay, Holleran states, “The Fear is a god to which offerings must be made before sex can commence. Sometimes it refused it…Even safe sex leads to the question…Sex and terror are twins. Death is a hunk…and loathing…This remarkable essay ends from an invocation from Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenCentury preacher who wrote the sermon, under the title “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God.”
And I was glad to learn that Andrew Holleran had survived the plague of AIDS. What a fine writer he is.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Too many layers

Jeff Kramer and I have been friends since we met on the Western Front, the campus newspaper of Western Washington University.
A decade later, Jeff almost perished in the 1991 riots in Los Angels, working as a stringer. I remember getting my copy of the Boston Globe the next morning wondering if my closest friend had perished overnight. Perhaps he was paralyzed below the belt? That were my musings on that terrible night. Much later, my own health crisis commenced, slowly, almost unperceptively.
On a recent winter day, Jeff and I embarked on a leisurely bike ride. I spent a good deal of time planning how many layers I would need. My spandex tights came first. Then came my padded trunks.  My simple goal was to be not too cold, not too warm. Would that be possible? Early on, I was quite comfortable, and I was congratulating myself for taking the time to wear the correct numbers of layers. I had started with my purple Under Armor, a gift from the Alzheimer’s Association. Next came a cotton maroon pullover. After that, I put on my black fleece jacket. For my shell, I was wearing my Seattle Mariners’ warm-up jacket.
A person free of dementia would have had no difficulty to find all the objects that I had needed. Of course, I would bring my phone, and stow it in the spandex pocket that is designed for that purpose. Another must-bring item, of course, was my keys. Without them, I would have no way to secure my bike if we stopped for a break. After my former bike was stolen in 2o15, Jeff bought me a high-quality replacement U-bolt lock.
Whenever I ride, I make a point to be able to feel where my keys are. I also usually bring a Cliff Bar, a compact source of energy. This is more important in the summer, but I was still glad that I had the Cliff bar I took with me. So far, everything was going well. Jeff and I were riding at a leisurely pace in the afternoon sunlight. Early in the day, we thought about riding all the way to Bedford, a 22-mile round trip. When dusk was settling in, Jeff suggested that we stop at the next café.
 The difficulties emerged when I had to get off my bike. Even in summer, I sometimes need a minute or two get the correct angle to  secure my U-bolt. But in the darkening bitter afternoon wind, I was getting seriously confused. Jeff was asking reasonable questions, but I wasn’t providing cogent replies. I was looking for my reading glasses, but at the moment, my glasses were irrelevant. And I would have been better without them. I might have been better off without them. The frames kept snagging on other objects. But once Jeff led me into the café, I starting thinking logically again. And Jeff made a point of cooling off the beverage before I quaffed it.
We entered a coffee shop. Jeff got me a hot chocolate, with whipped cream. Normally, I try to avoid refined sugar, but on this day I quaffed the warm chocolate as fast as I could. Jeff also made sure that the coca was temperate, not scalding. But other things awaited us. For weeks, I was planning to check my batteries for my bike headlight, but I never got around to it. And I didn’t realize that my red tail light was functioning. All I had do to was to turn it on.
But because I was literally in the dark, I couldn’t see it on top of my helmet. At a CVS on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, I waited for Jeff to buy replacement batteries for my bike headlight I stayed out  to be with the two bikes. Once we left the store, we picked up speed, thanks to the downward gradient. By now, the sky was inky black. I knew we were not too far from Spy Pond in Arlington. I could see the bike lights in front of us in the dark. I knew the bikepath was far enough away from anyone ending  up in the pond. I was confident that the bikepath had enough ambient light to discern other cyclists. I was mistaken. I could discern that the pond was not a hazard. But a few minutes later came the collision. No, better to call it a soft-landing. No one fell over. A male’s voice. Startled, and angry, but not injured. I was already riding toward back to him, to see if he was hurt. He wasn’t. And I was glad that the other rider didn’t make a big thing of the incident.
And if you are planning to ride at dark in winter this year, don’t do what I did. The last thing I wanted to be on my conscience is some stranger’s concussion. Or, perhaps, a lawsuit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An American orginal

I hesitate to pour acclaim on a such a talented young writer, Nana Kwame-Adjei. Sometimes it’s better to learn the fiction craft out of the  literary spotlight. And don’t be fooled by the exotic name. He is an American original. In the same way, say  Saul Bellow, was an original. But Bellow didn’t had the range that Adjei-Brenyah has, as these stories show. And in the first story, “The Finkelstein 5,” Adjei-Brenyah shows he that he can pull off the kind of acid satire that Jonathan Swift specialized in the 18th Century. I am thinking of  Swift’s story, “A Modest Proposal,” in which the narrator suggested that to end a food shortage, people should  consume babies.
The first story of Adjei-Brenyah starts with Emmanuel a young black man hoping to get into a  job interview. He has been modulating his telephone to hide that he is black. Using a one a ten-point scale, he manages to get it down 1.5. “Hi, there, how are you doing today? Yes, yes…If he wore a tie,” and he used his indoor voice he might be invited to an interview. For some time, he practices  to get his telephone voice so he can sound like a white American. In the best days, he manages to get his telephone down to 1.5. But soon the story careens into a court of law. For Kafkaesque reasons, a white character of the name George Wilson Dunn is on the stand.
Because the entire court was filled with white people, and the court is in South Carolina, “the court had ruled that the children were basically loitering and not actually inside the library reading, as one might expect of productive members of society…On one side of the broadcast world, anchors wept openly, for the children, who were saints.” I will just say that this story couldn’t be made into a movie: too gory. And the innocents come to a terrible end, in a rather “splashy” ending.
“The Era” is another one of my favorites of stories The scene is a high school history lesson, perhaps 50 years into the future. The teacher, Mr. Harper, the history teacher, has given this lecture many, many times. His students learn about before the Turn, which is not explained. Students are learning about the Big Quick War, which came after the Long Big War.” Readers learn that this has been going on for decades. An important innovation for students is to have a chip implanted into their brains.” Some students are “clear-born.”–what our era would call “challenged.” “And since I’m a clear-born,” third look while they can they look.” But even staring at the videos and pictures are better is than I can do,” according to this very slow reader.
“Lark Street,” the next story, could not be any more different than the previous stories. The couple is divided. It’s not just they are divided. The woman is expecting twins. As is typical in such situations, the guy is usually more ready to abort the fetus. The story opens with a striking image: “an impossible hand punched my earlobe….It’s a metaphor, Daddy, said in a new voice….She plopped down so she was sitting beside. At the end of the story, the young woman (or teenager?). The ending is a stunner.
“In the hospital where” describes a rather distant father-son relationship. The father is slowly dying, and to pass the time, he looks through his son’s writing. “What are you reading?” the father asks. “I don’t know,” the son replies. (I love that line.) A moment later, the son comments, “It felt like I was announcing I was for some huge office as a Green Party candidate…His curiosity stunned me.” For the first time, his dad, slowly dying, for the first time.  And the son’s reply was, “I don’t know.”
Male writers tend to end up writing about their dads, often after they are gone. Drawing on imagery of “of the Twelve-tongued God…Still, I craved more tongues, new worlds to live in new worlds in. I loved. I was very lonely.” It’s hard to miss the phallic overtones, while his dad continues to decline.
The last of these twelve stories is the most powerful.
When I realized that this story was about a random shooting at a college, my hopes sunk for a time. Don’t we have enough crazy people ready to get their fifteen minutes of infamy? But I was wrong. Once the shooting is over, the story sings. The first bit of important information is that the guy is an outcast. That tends to be typical with school shootings. In this fictional version has a mordant touch, the shooter wasn’t even welcome at the local “Free to Hate rally.” But it turns out that the guy known as Fuckton is actually someone else. When things get going, it turns out that a guy named as Porter was the killer. In the meantime, a celestial comedy commences.
But no one forgets that terrible violence caused by the shooting. As Adjie-Brenyah notes. “There’s a shriek, and Fuckton looks around…The face is so broken. It terrifies him. There’s blood everywhere. On his lips, in his hair.” In a comic vein, Deidre comments,” Just die already!’” Deirdra says, the tips of her horns igniting.” “Dang.”  goes on. “Transcending is like a tryout.”
On the last paragraph of this remarkable collection of Adjie-Brenyah closes, “Even the apocalypse isn’t the end. That, you could only when you’re could. And if you are alone, posed like a dancer, when it comes, and you are with your family or anyone at all, when it comes, you feel silly and scared, but at least not alone.”