Sunday, September 30, 2007

A look back from 2057

Saying of the week: "All sensible people know that vanity is the most devastataing, the most universal and the most ineradicable of the passions that afflict the soul of man, and it is only vanity that makes him deny its power. It is more consuming than love. With advancing years, mercifully, you can snap your fingers at the terror and the servitude of love, but age cannot free you from the thraldom of vanity....vanity cozens you with a hundred disguises. It is part and parcel of every virtue; it is the mainspring of courage and the strength of ambition; it gives constancy to the lover and endurance to the stoic; it adds fuel to the fire of the artist's desire for fame and is at once the support and the compensation of the honest man's integrity. It leers even cynically in the humility of the saint...sincerity cannot protect you from its snare nor humour from its mockery." -- W. Somerset Maugham

Have you ever wanted to look back on the events of today with the advantage of hindsight? I often do. The following is a little tibit from my imagination of what today could look like from 50 years out.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century A.D., the United States of America lay dying. Death permeated the stagnate air: never more visible than when the Christian families painfully pretended to keep alive their faith, as though by rouging the face of a corpse they could somehow bring it back to life. The frequent visits to sterile, well lighted, immaculate churches, the loud chants of brotherly love and family values and freedom, above all freedom, the heart-felt Amen to sermons on the Christian channel, had become purely decorative: a senile grimace before a cracked mirror. Death was in the air, and even though the Trade Towers no longer reached upward through the smog-filled air, the crowds in Dodger Stadium, and Madison Square Gardens, and at the Super Bowl still roared with pleasure.
The specters people witnessed in places like Iraq, the Sudan, Myanmar, all from the comfort of their cozy living rooms, was all too real: they were the projections of their own tortured souls. But the vast majority of people whose souls were already dead saw nothing, and therefore had no premonition of the terrible changes that were already in play.
With the fall of the Trade Towers at the beginning of the century, there had come a sharp change in the political climate. Politicians still boasted of the of the country’s military might, the benefits of technology, and increased corporate wealth; CNN still claimed the country was the land of freedom; but outsiders asserted, on the contrary, that the U.S. was dying, as did Rome, of iniquity and pride and vanity. People were more concerned with Paris Hilton’s latest embarrassment than how many people were killed in order to keep the nation’s troughs full. But events began to confirm the darker suspicions. After all, a predatory economy can only flourish so long. The wars bled the country into feebleness and debt while parasitism ran rampant, eating into the countries vitals: the blinded vulture could neither seize new prey nor remove the maggots that feasted on its own body.
Countries that were once allies turned hostile. The very people who profited most from the crumbling culture were the first to cut and run: the rich gathered their wealth around them like a cloak and fled to other countries, engrossing themselves in their private amusements rather than their public duty. Overburdened by their debts (from the wars, the astronomical cost of raw materials, the need for Hummers and a flat-screen TV in every room), the American middle class, who had once made America great, defaulted to their creditors, causing a collapse of the world banking system. Desperate people on the fringe became homeless, forming lawless bands of marauders roaming the countryside, who took what they needed to survive. Inside the cities alcoholism and drug addition became the norm; outside the cities it was every man for himself. Farmlands went fallow; the cost of food skyrocketed.
Many who could afford to leave the country did so, and in 2020 when the Congress sought to forbid the further exodus of the population, they were talking to empty air.
The engineering works were stable for many years, and indeed, large-scale expenditures for new public works were visible in the colossal municipal buildings, shopping malls, power plants, the Christian cathedrals, sports arenas, military spying technology, and monuments to the heroes fallen in war. These new projects were paid for by budget cutbacks in infrastructure maintenance, which hastened the decay, and the country began to crumble.
In the face of this steady deterioration, the remaining population’s belief in the “American way of life” and “a benevolent God who loves and protects them,” the opium of the self-centered masses, remained incorrigible. They were convinced that there would always be a United States of America, and that technology and Christian ideals would keep them at the pinnacle of human culture. So they thought until the blows of their conquerors came raining down on their heads.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

9/11 -- A Short Story

This week, in remembrance of 9/11, I'm posting a short story I wrote shortly after the tragic event. Hope you enjoy it.

He struggles up the bridge's inclining sidewalk towards the center of the span with tiny, yet purposeful steps. The tap tap tapping of his bamboo walking-cane measures out his pained progress along the concrete walkway like a metronome marking time. Still wearing his lavender terrycloth bathrobe over thin-striped mustard yellow pajamas, he feels the sting of cold concrete on his bare feet and the morning wind biting into his flesh. The strong breeze blows his thin strands of hair wildly in the direction of the city below; he turns to see San Francisco shimmering like an iridescent pearl under the cobalt-blue autumn sky. To his left, beyond the lines of morning commute cars waiting at the toll-plaza, spans the Pacific, spreading out like a heavy cloak to that point of infinity where water merges with horizon.
It is 11, September 2001. Seeing the people sitting in their gas-guzzling SUVs and shiny BMWs, one person in each, he realizes that some of them have no idea that the world has changed forever. Several commuters smugly sit behind the wheel unaware that the towers have collapsed. They have not seen the television footage of people falling from a hundred floors up. He pauses to watch a lady behind the wheel applying ruby-colored lipstick to her mouth. Lucky you, he thinks, you still have a few more precious minutes to pretend you are safe and happy, and that your makeup is somehow important.
He turns back towards the city. The crush of tall, white buildings sprawling over seven hills now seems like so many piles of bleached bones decaying under the strong glare of morning sun. He slowly makes his way beyond the immense red-orange south tower - tap tap tap - the images still burned on his retina; unbelievable scenes of bursting flames, bodies spiraling through space, towers crumbling into massive clouds of gray soot. Sobbing again, he pushes his feeble body along, feeling like a criminal. His crime is appalling. The country, the entire world, has tumbled into a war of vicious hate where thousands have already died, and he still lives.
He has left Garrett a note. Only one note and only for Garrett, who should be waking up just about now. Up ahead a group of sixteen or seventeen runners come trotting towards him wearing shorts, sneakers and sweatshirts. They all have that well-fed, clean-cut, military look about them and he assumes that they are all army personnel stationed at the Presidio out for their morning run. How many of you will die on a desert battlefield? How many mothers and children will your bullets butcher? He can not look at their faces as they dash by.
He does, however, study their solid bodies brimming with vitality and he remembers that his own body was once like that. That is, before this disease chewed away his life a mouthful at a time. Yes, he was once strong but his strength has failed him. At thirty years old he is feebler than his grandfather. He was once a brilliant artist but the energy required to focus on a subject, much less hold a steady brush, has faded away. For a decade he was a loving husband and now this new horror will rent that away as well. Who was it, he wonders, that said death is a process of losing everything you cherish, one by one, hour by hour, until there is nothing left.
Garrett is his last cherished thing. He pictures Garrett's head against the white pillowcase, opening his eyes and finding the yellow-paper note on the other pillow. Garrett sits up, rubs the sleep from his eyes as he does each morning, takes the note and begins to read,
My Love,
I'm not sure if we ever really get to choose who we love or how we live our lives. But the one choice we always have is whether we continue living within our circumstances. Today, I choose not to live in this world of hate, even if it means losing you. I can't go on minute after minute living with this terrible agony. The world has finally defeated me.
War will surely pull me further into despair and I cannot allow myself to keep dragging you down with me. You're free. I'm giving you a second chance at happiness, and I feel so very gratified to be doing this for you. Live again, love again, follow your dream.
My moments of true happiness in this lifetime of joys and sorrows have all come because of you. I love you more than the ecstasy of life, more than the comfort of death. Everything has slipped away from me now except the certainty of my love for you. The thought of your goodness warms my heart as I write this.
For you, let this war be a genesis, a beginning point, a second chance. For me, it is an untimely ending. A last gasp of horror before death.
Goodbye my love.

Shrill sirens. He pauses and turns back towards the toll-plaza. A police car races towards him, red lights flashing. Did the taxi driver radio 911? Perhaps a commuter using a cell-phone reported a lunatic in a bathrobe and bare feet hobbling along the railing.
He turns back and gazes towards the center of the bridge, which is still a quarter-mile away. He is certain of what he will do but now has less than a minute to do it before the cops stop him. He scrambles over the red-orange railing and crawls down onto a two-foot wide steel girder that forms an outer ledge. The bamboo cane is left behind, it's shiny handle lying against the dull concrete. He had originally imagined that he would leap from the center of the span, but no matter. He is over water and that's what counts. Now they can't stop me, he thinks, but even as this thought floats away he gets distracted. Clouds skirting between the sun and water are causing various shaped shadows to move over the bay's surface. They're mesmerizing from his vantage point, a kaleidoscope of muted colors.
He suddenly hears voices behind him, loud and rough. Are they just in his head or have the police reached him already?
He pulls off his terrycloth robe and it flies off on the wind. He stares wide-eyed at the queer sight of a ragged piece of lavender cloth sailing like a beautiful Chinese kite towards Alcatraz Island. He now understands why everybody who has ever jumped from this bridge, leaps from the city side rather than the ocean side. The wind. A strong wind always blows off the ocean and into the bay. Jumping from the ocean side would blow you back into the steel girders of the under-structure. On the city side, the wind blows you away from the bridge, giving you a clean, unhampered fall to the churning water below. Yes, that must be why, he thinks. The wind bites into his bare neck but he no longer feels the cold. It feels more like a steady pulse, a throbbing against his flesh.
Looking down three hundred feet to the Golden Gate Passage, he sees that the tide is rushing out to sea. He smiles, thinking that he prefers it that way. Perhaps they will never find him in that vastness. He should have worn something heavy to make him sink but it's too late for that.
Again he hears voices close behind him and he feels the sudden urge to turn back and climb over the rail, into the hands of the police who are trying to attract his attention. It is too late to take back the note, too late to pretend it was all a joke, but not too late to live; to continue living as the nightmare of war coalesce with the torment of this disease. Would that be kinder to Garrett? But even as these vertiginous thoughts swirl about his head, he leans forward, beyond the angle of repose.
Now the iron gray water is hurling to meet him. He has seconds left. His body screams something frightening and incomprehensible while arms and legs thrash against the onrush of air, as if trying to stop his fall. Then his body involuntarily goes limp. There is nothing to be done now. His thoughts are that this is exactly what the Trade Tower people experienced and he is happy that he is now one of them. Then he suddenly feels immense sorrow for Garrett, knowing that his lover will not understand. Having to deal with his death and the New York tragedy at once could very well break that magnificent spirit. Can he recover? Please forgive me, my love. This is his last coherent thought.
The water below becomes a torrent of foamy waves expanding to encompass the entire universe. Unimaginable pain sears though his being and then the sensation becomes a soothing one, chilly seawater incased within utter silence. Like a gentle lover, the ocean wraps its arms around his shattered body, slowly pulling him into peaceful depths, borne along by the current into the vast trackless Pacific. For a few seconds, a mustard yellow smudge remains on the surface of the sea, which then melts away and is gone.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Nominations Open for 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards

Saying of the week: "Pursue not the outer entanglements,
Dwell not in the inner void;
Be serene in the oneness of things,
and dualism vanishes by itself."
--From "on Trust in the Heart"
by Seng-t'san (d. 606)

For all you gay writers with books being published this year, check out the following:

1. Nominations Open for 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards
2. Men of Mystery Tour, New York and Boston
3. Calling all Surreal Queers, Bisexal Lesbians, Poets & Others
4. Lambda Literary at the West Hollywood Book Fair1.

Nominations Open for Lambda Literary AwardsNominations are now being accepted for the 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards for books published during 2007. New guidelines and a nomination form are available at: Guidelines.A book may be nominated by its author or by its publisher. Each nomination requires a complete nomination form, four copies of the book, and a $20 administrative fee. All nominations must be postmarked by December 1, 2007. Finalists will be announced by March 1, 2008. SAVE THE DATE: Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 29, in West Hollywood, California. Please consult the new guidelines before directing any questions to

2. Men of Mystery Tour in New York & BostonMystery authors Anthony Bidulka, Neil Plakcy, Chuck Zito and Mark Richard Zubro -- four of the best practioners of the gay mystery genre -- join forces to talk about their new books, their handsome, sexy heroes, and the future of the gay mystery. 6:00 PM Thursday September 6 The LGBT Community Center, 208 W. 13th Street, New York7:00 PM Friday September 7 Calamus Bookstore, 92B South Street, BostonThe four authors can be reached through their websites:

3. Calling all Surreal Queers, Bisexal Lesbians, Poets & OthersWe've been busy adding new listings to our Calls for Submission in the Lambda Literary Resource Center.PLEASE NOTE: All resources are open to changes and additions. If you have suggestions for resources or a project to be listed, please contact us at

4. Lambda Literary at the West Hollywood Book FairMeet Lambda's Executive Director, Charles Flowers, on Sunday, September 30, at the 6th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair. Charles will be staffing a booth from 10 AM to 5 PM, so come say hello and keep him company! LGBT authors featured during the Book Fair include Felice Picano, Fiona Zedde, Perry Brass, Patricia Nell Warren, Christopher Rice, Myriam Gurba, Stuart Timmons, Jeanne Cordova, Tim Miller, Ali Liebegott, Jim van Buskirk, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Lisa Freeman, and others. For a complete schedule, visit West Hollywood Book Fair.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Henry David Thoreau, a Visionary.

Saying of the week: "In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high." -- Lewis Mumford.

In my readings this week, I came across an old friend, a book I'd read and cherished many years ago: Walden's Pond. In light of Global Warming, it has become clear to me that Henry David Thoreau looked into the future and saw the twenty-first century as clearly as black thunder clouds drifting across a cobalt blue sky. He heard the rumble of the Industrial Revolution in the distance long before the storm actually broke, and he saw how the land pioneer and the industrial pioneer would transform American Society. A true visionary, he saw the industrial cities, the slums, great bodies of depauperate immigrants, and the rape of both the earth and society through greed.
At the time Conestoga wagons began plodding over the Alleghenies, when the country was on the move and consumed with material conquest, Thoreau stayed put and deliberately remained poor. He practiced civil disobedience as a principle, in protest against the Mexican War, the Fugitive Slave Law, and slavery itself. He saw his fellow man as someone who clutches at everything but holds nothing fast, because he soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications. Thoreau did just the opposite. He wanted more than anything to live fully. He prized each minute for what it brought, and nothing brought more joy than a spring day by Walden Pond. He was not willing to work any harder than necessary to feed himself and keep warm, because work took him away from life.
He scoffed at people who slaved day in and day out all their lives to erect a fancy house, dress in gaudy clothing, send their children to the most expensive schools so that they too would become enslaved. He was penniless, however, he considered himself a rich man indeed. He had the wealth of the earth at his fingertips, the riches that each moment brings.
Thoreau went to Walden Pond as an experiment, and what he discovered was that people are so eager to gather ostentatious comforts that they fail to profit by civilization itself: that people are not enriched by comforts, but because life turns into a rat race of one-upmanship, they are rather pauperized by them. "There is not one of my readers," he exclaimed, "who has yet lived a whole human life." Thoreau believed that simplification led to a higher civilization.
Is that not the kind of attitude needed today? One that is based on the premise of leaving the smallest footprint possible, to enjoy life moment by moment, nurturing the earth and being happy with less material possession? Has twenty-room houses, flat-screen TVs, and five car families truly enriched our lives, considering the cost of the lifetime of drudgery to attain it and the polluting of the earth to maintain it?
In his great experiment at Walden Pond, Thoreau "learned this, at least . . . that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in the common hours. . . . In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."