Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Back Passage

It's sad, but not surprising, that Lambda Rising, the most visible of the local gay bookstores, recently closed its Baltimore branch. The Balto LR was not far from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, so b&c would routinely drop by there when he went to the symphony on Sundays, and on the occasions when he and I went to see the BSO, we'd both drop in. It seemed a lot like the other Lambda Risings, in Dupont Circle and Rehoboth. The same pressures that have driven bookstore consolidation and evaporation generally make it hard for any small bookstore to stay in business, and I reckon that a gay bookstore has the additional problem of losing something of its original raison d'etre. At some point gay bookstores were important community fixtures, but I suppose there are others now, and when the oppression facing a community lessens, as it cannot help but have done in Baltimore, the reasons for such community fixtures become less compelling. And, of course, nobody reads any more, and you can get your porn off the Internet or via Amazon. But b&c managed to make a final stop by the store before it closed, so he probably got the last books he bought there on sale. B&c is something of a frugal fellow, which may be why he doesn't mind me reading his books after he's done with them, though the more likely reason is that each of us separately has enough books to fill many bookcases, and if there is going to be more room taken up (and there is), he wants it to be taken up with his stuff.

Anyway, one of his most recent purchases was The Back Passage, which, because there are still some remnants of ghettoization, is classified on the cover as "Fiction/Gay & Lesbian." While it certainly is that, the classification is woefully inadequate, and a better description would have been "Mystery/Gay Pornography," since The Back Passage is basically a pornographic whodunit. A whofuckedit, if you will. By the way, the answer to whofuckedit is, pretty much, everyone.

I am not in a position to speak knowledgeably about the gay murder mystery genre. A bit of searching tells me that the genre exists, which makes perfect sense. Murder mysteries are perfect beach reading, and who spends more time at the beach than the gays? While I am a huge fan of gay porn (and even huger when I'm reading it -- can I get an amen?), I mostly gave up reading mysteries when I graduated high school. I have certainly read, and enjoyed, a few P.D. James novels in my adulthood, but on the whole, mysteries haven't been my cup of tea. I'm sure there are many compelling examples of the genre, but mysteries are necessarily highly plot-driven creations, and -- as much as I appreciate a well-constructed plot -- finding out what happens or who did it are not the main reasons I read a novel.

Nonetheless, I can relate that The Back Passage has a lot going for it. In addition to being pornography and a murder mystery, it's something of a comedy of manners. The extremely witty, sexy, and horny American protagonist finds himself in an English manor for the weekend. The double entendres begin with the title and never really stop.

Neither does the sex. Our man Mitch romps with men of all classes and stations from the master of the house to the servants to the local constabulary. And the sex is, for the most part, explicitly and erotically described. It's good porn: you should be able to crank out a number of loads, depending on your refractory period and how caught up in the story you get.

The Back Passage is most successful on the pornographic level. It's certainly (to my untrained eye, at least) a competent mystery, and the characters are engaging enough to make it a better comedy of manners than many examples of the form, I'm sure. But there's not a lot of depth, and it's not as funny as it might be, as if the author were relying on the likely tumescence of the reader to keep him from noticing that there's not all that much there there.

Still, it's pretty awesome to find a book that tries to do all of those things simultaneously and that manages to create a very fun read. I regularly complain about the failure of popular culture to incorporate explicitly erotic elements into its standard forms. Books like The Back Passage are evidence that the incorporation is beginning to happen. There's still a long way to go, of course. The book was published as a trade paperback. James Lear is almost certainly a pseudonym, and it looks like his other books appear to be iterations on the same formula. I certainly don't begrudge anyone who's found a way to make money by appropriating a formerly hetero genre, even when the results are dreadful, but I continue to hope that what currently exists mostly in the form of pulp fiction will percolate up into ever more sublime -- and sexy -- strata of literature.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Missed Again

I need to do another post about the missed connections, or at least about craigslist, so I can relate the following anecdote. While at brunch last Sunday, my buddy George (he of the two and sometimes three boyfriends) related that his first bf, who was also at the table, had started doing some part-time consulting work to help pay for the mortgage, etc. on the new townhouse that they have bought together (and will likely have to sell together after they try to lay hardwood floors themselves, but that's just me being cynical). Ethan (#1 bf) said that he'd gotten work by advertising in craigslist.

But there's a twist: he doesn't advertise in the services section because, apparently, no one uses that section. Instead, he advertises his computer services in the m4m personals. Brilliant! Apparently, it's working. He's getting a fair amount of business all around southern NJ. Of course, occasionally someone tries to pay him with a massage rather than in cash, but Ethan remains firm (so to speak) in such circumstances. Or at least, that's the story he tells George and the rest of us. I did notice that his shoulders seemed unusually relaxed on Sunday.

Sadly, the missed connections section remains a wasteland of losers afraid to speak their minds, which means that I'm having to resort to, well, creative interpretations of the ads. Consider this posting from Wednesday:

Because you're my person - m4m - 46 (on the hill)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-05-28, 9:47PM EDT

you, my love, my one, my only. How was I to know that I would grow to love you more each day, so much that it's hard to know where I stop and you being? I only hope that I am always able to show you, that you are always able to know, to see and to feel the love that we share. Love, honesty, communication, and respect. It' you, today, tomorrow, and always. You're the one, my only one, my love.

Location: on the hill

It's a bit on the vague side, n'est-ce pas? At first blush, it might look like one of those declare-your-love ads that you sometimes see on Valentine's Day, and if that's the case, then a) Dude, check your calendar, and b) Dude, don't be so cheap. But I don't think it's that. The vagueness here suggests someone who doesn't want to make himself known to the public. If you add in the location, Capitol Hill, the answer is clear: elected official.

And then it's just a matter of elimination. There are 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, and nobody gives a fuck what any of them do because, well, nobody knows who they are, really. I mean, do you know who your Representative is? (If questioned, I would have to admit that I do know who mine is, but you wouldn't be so crass as to question me, would you? I didn't think so.) In other words, our poster is a United States Senator, and given that information, identification is pretty easy.

There's only one forty-six-year-old Senator, and that's the likely next President of the U.S., but I think we can rule him out for two obvious reasons. First, do you know anyone more obviously straight than Senator Obama? Second, and more important, no one over 35 gives his true age on craigslist.

So now we have it down to U.S. Senators who are older than 46 but younger than, say, 50. There are six people who meet those criteria:

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
John Thune (R-SD)
David Vitter (R-LA)

Three of those Senators are women, so they're off the list. Bob Casey is a Democrat, and, well, Dems only get involved in sex scandals with women.

So, through a rigorous process of elimination with unassailable logical underpinnings, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that our poster is either


Frankly, it's a tough choice. In either case, if you take away the suits and superior expressions and put them into chinos and guilty countenances, they look a lot like the married guys who answer my craigslist ads. We're accustomed to thinking about Vitter as the sort of guy who likes female prostitutes and diapers, but there's no reason to think he wouldn't go for guys and diapers instead. And I don't know that much about Thune, but his dopey grin and Christian conservative credentials make it pretty easy to picture him working the South Dakota glory hole circuit.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter which of the two it is. Given how much they have in common, after all, it's pretty "hard to know where [Larry] stop[s] and [John] being[s] [sic]." That's right readers, whichever of the two posted this mc clearly intended it for the other. It's charming, if you think about it: love in the ruins (of the Republican party). It's easy to picture John following Larry back to his office after a long night of hard legislating. They shut the door; Larry arches an eyebrow; John smiles, opens his briefcase, and pulls out the Huggies; and, well, let's just leave it there, shall we?

I also found this ad, and I think it's cute.

X2---Me: in Sarong, You: DC Public Librarian - m4m - 25 (H St. NE)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-05-28, 6:38PM EDT

We were riding the X2 together at about 6:30 pm on the 28th. You asked me a question, I told you about the Indian store on Wisconsin Avenue. If you're gay, I'm interested; if you're straight, my roommate is. Tell me how you started the conversation & I'll know it is you.

Location: H St. NE

That add has everything. A man in a sarong. A bus ride. And, most importantly, breeders and gays working together to meet their sexual needs! Let that be a lesson to you: the roommates who prey together, stay together.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Civil Disobedience

Over the past few months, Montgomery County, the bastion of nanny state liberalism (A few years back, b&c mentioned to me that the County was coming up with a new office of homeland security, to which I replied, "We will defeat the terrorists with speed bumps!") where I reside, has begun using speed cameras. It's a very efficient system. A pair of cameras is mounted inconspicuously by the roadside. They take pictures of your car, calculate your speed, and if it's ten miles or more over the posted speed limit, they send you a notice asking for $40. If you don't pay the notice within 30 days, it goes up to $65. In the last two months, I've given the county $145, and they haven't even sent me a mug or a thank you note. Bastards.

Traffic enforcement cameras have been around for a while, of course. I still remember the first time I got caught by one. I was seeing this really hot Vietnamese guy, and we'd been fooling around in his condo and were driving over to Rockville to have dinner with a couple of my friends, and I was following him, and he didn't stop at a yellow light, so I didn't stop, and there was a flash, and a week or two later, there was a citation. But he felt badly about it, and made me tie him up as punishment, and that was really hot for both of us, so I guess he, I, and the county were all happy.

I don't much like the Big Brother aspect of speed cameras, but there are "Photo Enforced" signs on the speed limit signs near them, so if I've been caught three times, I reckon it's my own fault. I've considered a campaign of civil disobedience: we get a bunch of guys to put the same fake license plate on their cars and drive swiftly past the speed cams. I figure we can use Mark Whitecotton's license plate number: he's been so many different people in the past that he should be happy to have a bunch of different guys be him. But that may be difficult to implement, so as Plan B, I have been making a concerted effort to drive no more than five miles over the speed limit. That can, however, be difficult if, say, you're on your way to an assignation with a hot guy. I tend to be on my way to assignations with hot guys during times when traffic's not very heavy, and it's pretty easy to get to 50 on a road that's marked 35. Oops.

Forty bucks isn't going to break me, but that same money could buy me a substantial quantity of condoms or one fairly lackluster sex toy, so I reckon I should be more careful. When you factor in speeding fines and the high cost of gas these days, it's no wonder that so many guys would rather host than travel. Thank the gods for married guys: they don't usually have that option.

Speaking of married men and Big Brother, B&c and I were driving down to the Kennedy Center last night to see a production of Elektra (B&c loved it. I thought it was loud, impressive, impressively loud, and loudly impressive. Enjoyable? Not so much. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the soprano singing the title role. She comes onto the stage in the first couple of minutes, and she doesn't get to leave the stage until she's dead, which, even though it's a 110-minute, one-act opera, is really not soon enough.), and this story came on NPR.

So there's a porn shop in Indiana, and there are a bunch of redneck Christians who keep it under siege 24/7. People who frequent the shop have their faces and license plates recorded and put on a web site by some of God's warriors who evidently have nothing better to do with their time. God's warriors, apparently, also try to harass the customers into not being customers. I couldn't find (admittedly, I didn't look very hard) the exact website where they're posting these guys pictures, but there's a discussion of a similar effort here.

Read the comments at your own risk. One of the commenters makes so bold as to wonder if this activity is the sort of thing that Jesus would bother to do, but the other commenters assure him that Jesus would, indeed, be at the forefront of harassing guys who want to look at pictures of large, artificial boobs. After all, the reasoning goes, Jesus kicked the moneychangers out of the temple. Hmmmm. Well, I certainly don't support the sale of pornography in church, but I can't help wondering whether Jesus' admonition not to cast the first stone isn't more appropriate in this situation. (I'm not even going to address the hypocrisy/Larry-Craig/gay-Republican-glory-hole-of-the-week angle or talk about why pornography is generally not a bad thing right now. They're both good points, but I'm sure I've made them before.)

Anyway, I can't help thinking that it's questionably legal (at best) to take someone's picture and post it without his permission and/or against his express wishes. I think the best way to deal with this would be to get a large caravan together and visit the Lions' Den and then sue the pants off (figuratively, that is: I'm guessing we don't want to see these guys without their pants) the guys who put customers' pictures up on the net.

I'd lead the expedition myself, but Indiana is kind of a hike for me, and all those cars going all that distance would be bad for my carbon footprint. I get my porn the old fashioned way -- off the Internet -- because it's the most environmentally responsible choice. And, let's face it, a porn shop in rural Indiana's gay section is going to be, at best, limited.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Just Scroll Down for the Dirty Pictures

On Saturday afternoon, b&c and I drove up to Catoctin Mountain Park, in scenic Thurmont, Maryland, to do a little light hiking on a gorgeous spring day. The plan was to drive most of the way up the mountain and then hike a bit up there. Alas, the roads within the park were mostly closed.

We wondered why, but then when we went into the ranger station to try to figure out an alternate hiking plan, we saw a notice telling us that much of the park was closed off because of security associated with a Presidential visit to Camp David.

This is why we can't have nice things (and on how many levels is that statement true?):

So instead of hiking on top of the mountain, we hiked up the mountain. The beginning portion was a lot steeper than I'd planned on, but there were a lot of cute straight guys out hiking with their dogs and/or girlfriends. It's been a cool spring here so far, and the flowering plants, most notably the mountain laurel, were not as far along as I'd expected, but I did see some immature blueberries.

Also, some nice rhododendrons.

The view from the Thurmont overlook is pleasant, but, really, I've been to Thurmont, and there's not all that much there, and it only looks marginally more impressive from a distance.

Still, it was a gorgeous day, and we had a good time. The drive to Catoctin is about an hour from home, and since I never drive anywhere when b&c and I go together, I was able to use the time to read most of the rest of Joel Derfner's Swish, which I finished that evening, after we got home. The only problem with this arrangement was that I had to keep contracting my stomach muscles because when I didn't, I would laugh audibly, and b&c would ask me what was so funny, and I would have to stop and read aloud the section that had made me laugh, and I very much dislike being interrupted when I'm reading something really good.

I suspect that much of the press about Swish will focus on how funny it is, and it truly is hilarious. I have nothing against humor writing, of course, but I expect more from a book of essays, and I am very often disappointed. To me, what differentiates an essay from an article is depth. Not a depth of information, but a depth of emotion. Good essays look at the surface and then connect you with something else, with what lies beneath, if you will. In each essay, Joel does this by taking two topics or ideas that appear unrelated and illuminating the emotional connection between them. It's a bit like the way George Eliot combines two unrelated stories in Middlemarch and creates a single novel by creating powerful thematic connections. It's a device that Joel uses with immense skill to create essays that are very moving. (And hilarious, which Middlemarch really isn't.)

I suspect that which essay you like best will depend on your personal circumstances, but if you can get through the first piece, "On Knitting," without choking up at least a little, then you're tougher than I. (Or maybe just an unfeeling clod, but of course, you're not that.) My favorite chapter was "On Musical Comedy." There are aspects of singing that I always say are ineffable, and I still think that's true, but I love to sing, and I have sung (chorally and as a soloist) a fair amount in recent years, and I have thought a lot about singing, and Joel has given words to aspects of singing that were, at best, inchoate notions swirling around the border between my subconscious and conscious minds. There were numerous examples in other chapters where he made me think of things in ways that I hadn't before. This is not a common experience for me.

I hope I'm not making Swish sound heavy, because it isn't heavy: it's just rich. It is certainly an entertaining read if that's what you're after, but there's a lot more to it. You will want to bring your A game when you're reading it, though. Joel always goes for le mot juste, even if it's a word that almost no one knows. And there were a couple of occasions where his usage was unfamiliar to me. Take my word for it, though: there is simply no point in doubting him. There are no mistakes in this book. If, say, you doubt him and think that you've found a typographical error and start to panic because when you email him to say how much you loved the book, you're either going to have to pretend you didn't see the typographical error and risk looking ignorant or tell him about the error and worry about him injuring yourself, then sooner or later, you're going to decide you have to look up the spelling, even though you're sure, and you're going to find out that the spelling you think is correct is more common online, but the spelling in Swish is also used and then you're going to ransack your home looking for a real dictionary, and the only one you'll be able to locate in the same room as your computer is your compact OED, and -- because you're in too much of a hurry to pull out the magnifying glass -- you're going to ruin your eyes, and in the end, you will learn that not only is "tranquillity" an accepted spelling, it's the original and perhaps still preferred spelling. And then (even though you're going to stick with "tranquility" for your personal use) you're going to feel foolish.

Not that such a thing has ever happened to me, of course.

Anyway, get the book. I'm tempted to buy copies for every member of my choir, just so they can read the parts about singing, but I'm not sure how they'd react to "On Casual Sex." You, however, will love that chapter.

I was amazingly lazy this weekend, but I did manage to get a few other things accomplished. Most notably, on Sunday, I sang three solo pieces at church, and on Saturday, I got a haircut. Because nothing boosts my confidence like a short haircut. It doesn't even have to be a good haircut. Just short.

Because it was Memorial Day weekend, I'd expected a very light turnout at church, but there was a pretty good crowd there. A few people told me before the service that they'd come specifically to hear me sing. But no pressure, right? I actually don't feel any pressure when I sing. I feel a little bit of nerves, but I get over that fairly quickly.

I love to sing more than I love to do anything else. Suppose that someone were to come to me and say, "Listen, TED. This coming Sunday morning, there's a small church with a mediocre choir in Northern Virginia, and they need a baritone soloist for the Faure Requiem. Alternatively, B.D. Wong's going to be in DC, and he'd like to spend three hours doing anything you want." I'm afraid B.D. would have to find other company: I'd be singing the Libera Me.

Anyway, Sunday went pretty well. The downside of singing in a Unitarian Universalist church is that people will sometimes applaud your performance. I was raised not to applaud in a house of worship, and I am still uncomfortable with it, but there is nothing to do but accept it graciously. I had hoped that I would escape unscathed with my second piece, "Hard Times Come Again No More," because it's very somber, but no dice.

Still, I had a great time, and the service, which was about death, was very moving. And everyone loved my singing, maybe too much. I put a lot of effort into choosing what to sing and preparing songs, but once it's over, I don't usually want to talk about it much, and after about the fifteenth compliment, I start to get overwhelmed. I've learned to accept praise graciously, and of course I would feel worse if I didn't receive any, but all I really want when I sing well is to be asked to sing again. B&c and a few of my friends came to hear me, and we all had brunch afterwards at the new Austin Grill in Rockville. Neither the food nor the service was good, but the company was, and we all had a good time.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rhymes with Whips

We had tickets Friday night to see The Internationalist at Studio Theatre, so b&c drove down to Bethesda, we took the Metro to Dupont Circle, and we walked to the theatre. Friday was a gorgeous evening, cool and clear, and everywhere I looked there were men with prominent nipples. Now, it is true that I am something of a nipple gourmand, so I'm perhaps more likely than the average man to notice nipples. But that particular bias is constant, so I'm pretty sure there were more and perkier than usual nipples on display Friday evening.

It may have been the weather, of course. A warm day giving way to a cool evening is a recipe for a lot of guys wearing one layer less than they might have, and a cool and damp early spring puts many men, I presume, in the mood to shuck clothing at the earliest opportunity. And cool weather, of course, has a salutary effect on the nips. Whatever the reason, Dupont Circle and P Street (admittedly, both fertile ground for the display of the nipple) were awash in men who were nearly popping through their shirts.

I also noticed that the t-shirts and polos and whatevers that were so clingy on the pecs largely floated gracefully away from the abdomen. Normally, I would attribute this to the typical cut of a shirt, but among the DC proud nipple crowd, I'm pretty sure that if you got it, you flaunt it, so I'm guessing that a lot of these guys aren't quite into their summer abs yet. Not that I care about abs when there are perky nipples to be seen.

Our level of enjoyment with Studio Theatre has risen dramatically ever since we gave up eating at Logan Tavern (ick) and embraced Bua, the Thai restaurant with cute Thai waiters (who, alas, all wear two layers of shirts, so as to deny me the outline of their nipples) a few blocks farther west on P Street. Last night, I had the house special shrimp salad (delicious!) and the Penang Gai (delicious!). It being a cool but not cold night, they had the deck open, so we ate out there. I had a view of two Asian guys, probably in their thirties, who were looking at each other as if they were on a first date. A good first date. I was somewhat taken with their smiles, so it was a while before I noticed that neither of them was dressed for a date. So perhaps they were two IT nerds buddies just out for dinner. I like to think that they were two IT nerd buddies out on a successful first date, but the universe is rarely so generous.

We stopped at Starbucks for coffee, and one of the plush chairs there was occupied by a young(ish) man with a shaved head who had his laptop open to the craigslist m4m personals. He was also working his cellphone, and he was only a few doors down from Halo, so I can't help but think that he managed to get lucky one way or another before the night was through.

The Internationalist was terrific. It's a very funny play, and it was very well performed, and the mail lead, Tyler Pierce, has an amazingly tight, well-defined body, which, alas, was almost always fully clothed. I didn't care for the ending (which, I admit, I had hoped would include full nudity on Mr. Pierce's part), but it was a very funny and thoughtful piece of work.

As we walked back towards the Metro, we passed by Whole Foods, where two men were sitting at opposite sides of a sidewalk table having an animated, but not terribly loud, discussion. I only had a few moments to observe them as we walked by, but I am pretty sure that they are two guys who have been dating for a little while and are now, a day later, either no longer dating or fast approaching no longer dating after another night or two of acceptable but not outstanding sex. It was obvious from their tones and body language that each of them cared more about winning the argument than about a mutually favorable resolution. In another week, one of them will be talking about having broken up, and the other will be saying that they were never serious enough for it to be considered breaking up. In a sense, they'll both be right, but the latter point of view will be more right.

Back at Dupont Circle, we waited ten minutes for a train, which, when it arrived was crowded with either the early or late (but not the main) wave of people leaving the Nats game. As I stood, I couldn't help noticing that nipples were not much in evidence, but that a lot of the guys had really nice lips. I'm not even talking about Black or Hispanic or Asian guys -- whom you expect to have really nice lips -- but ordinary run-of-the-mill white guys. The country may be going to hell in a handbasket, but somebody's doing something right.

There were two guys standing on the train who later rushed to get a seat together, and they both had really nice lips, though they didn't gratify me by kissing each other. I'm not sure they were dating, though. They might have just been friends, and at least one of them was almost certainly on some sort of substance less legal than, say, alcohol.

Which is not to say that evidence of alcohol consumption was not bountiful. People were coming from a baseball game, after all. There was a whole gang of fratboy or pseudo-fratboy types who got off the subway with us at Bethesda, and one of them was so drunk that he stood backwards on the escalator and resisted all entreaties from his friends to beware the escalator's terminus. Fortunately, one of his compatriots, a particularly full-lipped (but black, so it's not like he was trying as hard) and tall young man, essentially carried his drunken friend off the escalator. Whereupon said drunken man (who had nice lips, but no ass whatsoever) insisted on hugging his friend no fewer than four times for "saving my life!"

I love the scent of barely concealed homoeroticism in the evening.