HONEYMOON FOR ONE?

How did I wind up here? On a flight bound for Cancun, all expenses paid! Something like this definitely does not happen to me. But today it is. As a writer, I can quite easily spin any FB post to make it seem like my life is all beaches and bars. Which it definitely is not. I don’t really know what people think when they hear I left teaching to become a freelance writer. You work odd hours as a freelancer: late nights, early mornings – a very flexible schedule. But you need to book the jobs to get paid and obviously the more you write, the more you get paid. 

The pay isn’t the best. But you do it for the “work,” as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. There are perks. Sometimes. But you have to know how to “work” them, how to ask for them. And I don’t think I have mastered that quite yet. Need to get on more PR lists, more screener lists, more “try this product and if you like it write a great review” lists, a Botox one of those would be AMAZEBALLS.

But back to the here and now. The here: 30,000 feet in the air. The now: En route to Mexico, on a group trip with 7 other journalists from the States, Canada, and Colombia. The reason: To tour the region. As of March 4th same-sex marriage is now legal in the Yucatan peninsula. Another win for gay marriage, or as we call it now, marriage.

Yes there is a select, very vocal, very powerful portion of the USA that doesn’t want to say gay, thinking that if you don’t say the word that somehow makes it so queer people don’t exist. (Republican scumbags I am pointing at you) Sorry not sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. 

Gays have been around for centuries. If the studies are correct, one 1 out of every 10 people are gay, which equals there are 30 million gay Americans. (There are 330 million people in the USA. I hope my math is correct) The gay wedding industry is big bucks and the state of Yucatan would love to tap into that market. Destination weddings are tres’ gay and Merida wants to be part of the conversation. Groom and Groom has a nice ring to it. I think that’s the first time I ever said that. 

The fact of the matter is, when I was envisioning my life and planning it out, I never saw myself as a husband. Marriage was never in the picture of the life I envisioned for myself. But I marched for it. I fought like hell for it. I celebrated when it became the law of the land. But even when marching I felt myself marching for the cause. For my queer brothers and sisters. For equality. But not really for myself.

I have had boyfriends before, relationships. Even been in love once or twice. And even throughout those relationships, the topic of marriage didn’t even come up. I did date a guy once who was obsessed with getting married. He dropped the ‘I love you’ within weeks of our first meeting. I definitely was not in the same space as he was and thought the best thing to do would be to break it off. Fast forward about a year later as I see his wedding photos (to the next guy he dated after me) all over social media. He wanted to get married. He got married. Better him than me! 

I mean, this trip has all the makings of a rom-com! (I love me a rom-com!)  Friends have specifically told me “do not fall in love!” Background history on that: in my younger days I would somehow “fall in love on vacation.”  Atlantis Cruise, Puerto Vallarta, Provincetown. On each of those trips with friends, I met someone, usually on day one, and we hit it off. We quickly become VB’s – vacation boyfriends. My PV VB even joined our group for breakfast on the last day. But that was the younger, leaner, more carefree Robby. He did not get on the plane for this trip lol.

Speaking of rom-coms, I think I just realized I am Jane – Katherine Heigl’s character in “27 Dresses.” She winds up having to plan her sister’s wedding – to the guy she thinks she is in love with, Edward Burns. Spoiler Alert: Jane is really in love with James Marsden, the reporter who covers the wedding section for a newspaper. Yes, it’s a stretch, but I will be tasting wedding meals, and touring catering halls. Scouting the perfect locations for a gay wedding. But not my gay wedding. (love “27 dresses’ and James Marsden, and yes I know my analogy to me being Jane is quite the reach. Who cares, let me have it. I told you I want my life to be like a rom-com!)

The pilot just announced we are making our way into Cancun and should be landing in 30 minutes or so. My first international assignment! Here we go. 

I wonder if I am going to get the honeymoon suite in any of the places we are staying!

To Be Continued…

World’s Third AIDS Patient Cured

By Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D, GUEST WRITER

(this article was originally published in WestView News)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR A GLOBAL CURE?

Within the research community, the Holy Grail to cure AIDS had been to find new drugs to “Shock and Kill” the festering virus from its hiding places (“latent infections” and “viral reservoirs”). No such drugs have been developed, yet three persons have been cured using highly imaginative stem cell strategies. The most recent stem cell cure reported in February 2022 is beginning to cause the field to re-think and expand strategies to develop a global cure, including new initiatives by NIH.

Many readers of this newspaper [WestView News] will remember the height of the AIDS epidemic. New York City’s West Village, where this newspaper is based, has always been one of the epicenters of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. The neighborhood’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, now closed, once served as the center for the compassionate care of dying patients. Today, an AIDS Memorial sits adjacent to where St. Vincent’s once stood, as though AIDS is history. In fact, the best way we can memorialize those lost to AIDS and impact the lives and health of future generations to come all around the world is to build a research incubator and hub to accelerate a global cure, right here in New York City.

A brief timeline of 40 years of AIDS: the modern HIV epidemic started in the early 1980s. The first life-saving AIDS drug cocktail was introduced by Dr. David Ho in 1995. Global access to the drugs was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2003 via PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). In 2012, the FDA approved the use of existing AIDS medications to prevent HIV infection. AIDS may have been tamed, but it did not go away; it has been smoldering ever since. 

HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) occur in some 50% of people living with HIV. HAND is not in the least bit addressable by any of the many existing AIDS medications available today, not even in people who may achieve undetectable viral levels using existing AIDS medications. The disease continues to ravish the poorest and most disenfranchised communities. In the U.S. this started with the gays and now includes black women, our prison populations, trans individuals, and our inner cities. 

The goal of a cure for HIV is to replace human T-cells infected with HIV (left) with non-infected cells (right). Photo credit: Nancy Burson in collaboration with Kunio Nagashima.

40 million people around the world are living with HIV, making Planet Earth a massive petri dish for the emergence of new strains. COVID’s Delta, Omicron, and Deltacron variants illustrate how infectious agents can change and evade existing defenses. So far, drug makers have been able to develop stronger and newer drugs for new strains of HIV, but this is getting more challenging all the time. Moreover, young gay men in the U.S. have largely stopped using condoms, creating ideal conditions for the spread of any drug-resistant HIV.

With treatment and prevention drugs alone, we can maintain a smoldering HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot end it. With a cure, a vaccine, or both, we can end AIDS for good and wipe HIV off the face of the planet. 

ENTER CURE: Timothy Ray Brown is the first person cured of AIDS. Mr. Brown recounted how he was cured at a symposium at Columbia University organized by Research Foundation to Cure AIDS. He said that he suffered from both leukemia and AIDS. His physician, Dr. Gero Hutter, had an idea. Dr. Hutter was not an HIV or AIDS specialist, but he recalled from his days in medical school how certain rare individuals are naturally resistant to HIV/AIDS. Mr. Brown needed a bone marrow stem cell transplant to cure his leukemia. What if, Dr. Hutter reasoned, the stem cell transplant was sourced from a donor who is selected from the group of individuals who is naturally resistant to HIV. Could the transplanted stem cells give rise to a new HIV-resistant immune system that would cure Mr. Brown of both AIDS and leukemia? Mr. Brown was a willing guinea pig. The answer to this pair’s experiment was a resounding “YES!”

Who was this leukemia doctor with claims of using stem cells to cure AIDS in 2007, when stem cell science was new and when almost all the experts in the field believed new drugs, not stem cells, were required to achieve a cure? Not even long-time AIDS activists popped any champagne bottles. Was this yet another case of drinking goats’ milk to cure AIDS? It took years for news of the innovative cure to catch.

RESEARCH FOUNDATION TO CURE AIDS during NYC World Pride advocating for a CURE as a milestone LGBT! success of the future. Photo credit: Michael Scott

DRIP BY MONUMENTAL DRIP, the three cures to date and the new knowledge gleaned from each success have chipped away at the calcified and crusty assumptions with the real-world data and results of what works to cure AIDS. Each of the cures and their contribution to the field of curing AIDS using innovative stem cell strategies is summarized below.

STEM CELL CURE #1, reported in 2007, used HIV-resistant stem cells to cure AIDS. But because only one person was cured, it was formally possible that something else or extra about the biology or genetics of either the donor or the patient, or both, was at play. In addition, because the patient suffered from leukemia as well as AIDS, he underwent radiation to eliminate his cancerous immune system first. Also, the donor-derived stem cells that were transplanted into the patient caused a phenomenon known as GVHD (graft versus host disease) where the implanted cells attacked the recipient’s own cells. Any of these factors could have contributed to the cure of the patient in addition to the curative role of the HIV-resistant stem cell transplant.

STEM CELL CURE #2, reported in 2019, was achieved in much the same way as the first. Now two people were cured, not just one, providing clinical proof that the cure could be repeated and that the first case was not a fluke. Also, by this time, similar cures were attempted in additional patients who suffered from both leukemia and AIDS but using regular stem cell transplants and not HIV-resistant stem cells. All these attempted cures failed, suggesting that radiation to kill off a patient’s cancerous immune system without adding back HIV-resistant stem cells is not sufficient to cure AIDS. 

STEM CELL CURE #3, reported in 2022, makes a compelling trifecta. This third was achieved in a multiracial woman. With the first cure being that of a White man, the second that of a Latino male, and the third a multiracial woman, together, the diverse backgrounds of the three individuals cured to date dispels the possibility that any particular biology or genetics of the individuals involved was likely a key factor in achieving any of these cures. Moreover, GVHD did not take hold in patient #3, increasingly pointing to a central curative role being played by the naturally HIV-resistant stem cells that were in common across all three cures to date.

Any time when the first patients are cured of a disease that has been lingering for decades, the primary goal of the research community must be to investigate all possible factors, especially all of the factors that were involved in the index cases, that could have contributed to the outcome. 15 years ago, Dr. Hutter showed us all a cure is possible. It took the NIH until the end of 2019 to make its first major announcement prioritizing the development of a global cure for AIDS. Regrettably, the COVID pandemic hit just six weeks later. Since then, I have seen one narrowly-defined call from the NIH for research proposals expressly focused on curing AIDS. 

Much more can and must be done to make up for lost time and mobilize a cure. During the last 40 years of living with AIDS, the focus has been on drugs to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS. Now, the cure of three patients using stem cells points to the need to invigorate and add to the field. Room must be made to add new teams that bring novel and differentiated cellular biotechnologies needed to harness natural and curative biological resistance to HIV to develop a global cure. 

For full disclosure, I am the President and Founder of the Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA). RFTCA is not about treatment or prevention; we’re about the cure. Together with our collaboration partners at Columbia University Medical Center, New York Stem Cell Foundation, New York Blood Center, and others, RFTCA has applied for NIH grant funding to advance innovative stem cell science originating from The Rockefeller University. 

The imaginative and breathtaking results that Dr. Hutter demonstrated when he combined pieces of knowledge known to all—but synthesized by none before him—into a coherent sequence of events that cured AIDS for the first time ever, inspired me ever since I heard about his work. The recent news of the third patient cured of AIDS and how this cure specifically informs the field makes me more hopeful than ever about the prospects of developing a global cure. 

Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the President of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and Science & LGBTQ editor at WestView News. To support RFTCA, go to https://rftca.org/. This article originally appeared in the WestView News.

P-town’s Dirty Little Secret

by GUEST WRITER DENNIS HOBART GILES

In 1976, at twenty years old, my boyfriend Michael and I left The 1270 Gay Bar in Boston at 2:00 AM full of piss-n-vinegar. Well, more beer I’m sure, but I was certainly interested in continuing the energized night when Michael asked, “You wanna take a ride to P-town?”

“What the fuck is P-town?”

He couldn’t believe I didn’t know about Provincetown, Massachusetts so, with great enthusiasm, he explained in detail how gay friendly it was with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, a gay beach, and guys holding hands in the streets.

“Sure, what the hell, let’s go!”

We jumped in my car for the two-hour ride from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod and parked at Herring Cove Beach. With the beat of my heart in his ear, we fell asleep and woke to a glorious sunrise and the sounds of waves gently washing ashore. After hanging out at the beach a while, we cruised downtown. What a blast—we turned the corner onto Commercial Street and he slid over, nearly sitting in my lap. Rolling along at a parade pace, we kept up with couples pushing strollers and took in all the fabulous sights.

It was a wonderful little historical fishing and whaling village, with roads so small that only one car could pass at a time. Quaint shops and restaurants lined the streets with galleries, artists, and entertainers. Beautiful old buildings were converted into hotels, and hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts were immaculately preserved and decorated with flowers and rainbows. Today, P-town has hardly changed.

After my first time in Provincetown, I knew without a doubt I’d return.

When my now-husband Paul and I met four years later, we vacationed there—tanning at the beach, strolling in shops, eating out, and experiencing the gay life.

One evening in 1981, we did our usual and went out for a romantic dinner. The restaurant was quiet and elegant with white linen, crystal, and silver. We enjoyed a bottle of wine at dinner and polished another off before we left our room. What the hell, you don’t have to drive in P-town, you can walk everywhere.

We weren’t much for public displays of affection, except for the occasional photo-op after surveying the scene to ensure it was safe. We never held hands in public, but on this night, on our way back to our room, we thought, what the hell, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I threw my arm over his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me tight. It was awkward with a hefty buzz, and walking required some coordination to not trip over each other. Giddy, maneuvering through the crowded streets and sidewalks, we got the hang of it just as we entered a darkened area of Commercial Street.

Out of the shadows stepped a kid in his mid-teens, who approached us like he was about to split us apart. We held tight, anticipating his advance, but instead, he stopped just in front of us. The little bastard stared us down and with a degrading tone asked, “Are you gay?”

I sized him up and thought, this little prick has no friggin’ idea who he’s fuckin’ with. While holding onto Paul, I leaned into the kid’s face and growled, “Yeah I’m gay, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?”

His open mouth and raised brow indicated he knew he’d picked on the wrong fag that night and backed away. I released Paul and stepped toward him. He moved to his right and headed up the street where we came from. I followed and called out, “Come here you little prick.”

He ran and I chased in a full sprint yelling, “That’s right little straight boy, I’m gay. Come back here and I’ll kick your ass.” I stopped and screamed, “You little pussy.”

As I turned back to Paul, I realized a cop watched the whole thing unfold and he turned a blind eye.

I slipped my arm over Paul’s shoulder to continue our walk. Suddenly a much bigger kid stepped out from the shadows and rumbled, “That’s my friend you’re talking about.”

Enraged, I released Paul once more and yelled, “Fuck him and fuck you.”

Again, I sized this one up. He reminded me of guys I worked out with at the gym, lifting weights in my younger days—his body language threatened. I knew what was coming and concluded, that I better take the first shot. At that moment, I realized three more waited off to the side.

Like a baseball pitcher throwing a fastball, I took a large step toward him with my left foot. Leading with my left shoulder, I threw my right fist and smashed him square in the mouth. Smack, he went flat on his ass, propped on his elbows.

We were both stunned. He wasn’t expecting it, and I couldn’t believe I actually connected.

I took a defensive stance with my arms up and fists clenched while he shook it off. My mind raced. Do I hit him while he’s down, run away, or be a gentleman and let him up?

Then his buddies cheered him on. Scared to death, I thought, what a fuckin’ idiot. I’m way too kind to be a streetfighter. Even if I win this fight, another will step up to put me down. Am I some kinda fool? Who the hell do I think I am?

Adrenaline coursing through my system overwhelmed the liquid courage that brought me to this point. I shook all over, scared shit these guys could sense my fear.

Like a fool, I let him up. He mirrored my stance and we squared off for a bare-knuckle boxing match. We swapped punches to the face for the first couple of blows. Things got foggy and I believe he connected more than I did. Through the fog, I heard Paul cheering me on. Staggering from the punishment, I spun from his fist crunching my temple, and saw my opponent’s cronies blocking Paul from coming to my aid.

A minute or two into the beat-down, I barely had enough strength to stand. My arms were heavy. My wrists and knuckles felt like I’d been hitting a brick wall. I ran my tongue over my teeth to check if they were still there. Each time I’d taste the blood and saliva stung the cuts inside my lips. I wasn’t sure if the burning in my eyes was perspiration or blood. My jaw and nose felt like they’d been knocked out of place. My ears were on fire from being smashed against my skull.

With the final blow, I faltered and bent over, supporting my upper body with my hands on my knees—but I never went down. With no fight left, anticipating him beating me to the pavement, I waited to be finished off. As Paul shouted in the background, my opponent pleaded under his breath, “Please stop.”

Am I hearing right? Is this thug begging me to stop? Is he afraid he’ll kill me? Does he fear I may have enough fight left to walk away the victor?

Before I could react, again he whispered, “Please stop.”

Without acknowledging him, I staggered toward Paul and the goons separated. Now in need of support to keep from collapsing instead of affection, I placed my arm over his shoulder. With my head low and defeated, we continued on our way.

I stopped, straightened up, lifted my head, raised my fist to the sky, and yelled, “I’m gay and proud of it.”

Over the decades I’ve shared this story with friends, but not with such detail. I told it with pride about how we stood up to the bullies. How it was a fair fight and he got the best of me.

While writing this story, I intended to do the same.

As I analyzed the details of that evening, I wondered what stories each of the people involved told. Or, did it remain their dirty little secret?

I believe the first kid that approached us was scared. He probably only did it because he was encouraged by the others. I believe he was the youngest of the group and after failing to scare us, couldn’t face his peers and ran. I also believe he never intended to physically harm us under the circumstances—with people on the street and a police officer a short distance away. The guy I hit most likely reacted out of embarrassment because a gay guy called his bluff. Because I threw the first punch, I’ll never know if he intended to assault me.

Even though these guys were obviously there with bad intentions, the fight occurred because I reacted in fear. I was angry and drunk and my anger turned to rage. While we fought, the guys keeping Paul from joining in had every opportunity to hurt him but never laid a hand on him.

My actions risked both our safety.

The thing that sticks out in my mind the most? How afraid I was after knocking the guy to the ground. My fear wasn’t of being injured, but of how I appeared to these people. I was afraid of appearing cowardly, so I acted like a bully.

It’s obvious they were there to intimidate people and because one ran away from a gay guy and the other got knocked on his ass by one, I’m confident their stories remained a secret.

What I didn’t realize when I began writing this story was, that P-town’s dirty little secret was mine.

Dennis Hobart Giles is the author of the just-released novel, “To Know Him Is,” available on Amazon. He and his husband, both lifelong Massachusetts residents, have been together for 42 years and live in the suburbs of Boston.

GAG ME!

((aka Why I Am a Gay Against Guns)

On Sunday, January 16, Gays Against Guns (GAG) was joined by US Rep. Carolyn Maloney to demand that the United States Supreme Court let our state’s strict gun laws stand. The court will rule this year on New York State Rifle Association v. Bruen, the case in which the NRA-affiliated NYSRA seeks to overturn 108 years of New York State law. New York’s strict gun laws are a likely reason the city has not had a public mass shooting like the June 12, 2016 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL that inspired GAG’s formation.

Recently I joined GAG on a day trip to Fairfax, VA to protest outside NRA headquarters.  The bus was filled with about 40 activists ranging in age from 16 to 70. People from all different backgrounds, young, old, male, female, gay, straight, married, single; all share the same goal. Some have been personally affected by gun violence. Many have been politically active for decades. I was honored to hear stories from ACT UP members, stories from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

During the round trip bus ride, many of us shared our reason for joining GAG. I myself spoke about reasons for joining GAG. I spoke about my years as a classroom teacher. The monthly lockdown drills. The threats to the school via social media. An actual lockdown lasted until 9 pm that evening, due to a bank robbery a few blocks away.  The feelings of complete heartbreak, anger, and fear I felt after Columbine. After Virginia Tech. After Sandy Hook. After Parkland.  I could not imagine losing any of my students. The monthly lockdown drills. 

GAG NY is an inclusive direct action group of LGBTQ+ people and their allies committed to nonviolently breaking the gun industry’s chain of death – investors, manufacturers, the NRA, and politicians who block safer gun laws.  GAG is NY-based but works with GAG chapters in other cities to ensure safety for all individuals, particularly vulnerable communities such as people of color, women and those who struggle with mental health issues, LGBTQ+ people, and religious minorities.

The first GAG meeting was on June 17th, 2016, five days after the Pulse massacre. Attendees united in realizing that this was no longer acceptable and something had to be done.  They turned their anger and outrage into action.   Many victims were young adults in their 20s and zzz  TV30s, out for a night of dancing and celebrating with friends. Bodies of multiple victims were riddled with bullets. A dozen or so were found in bathroom stalls, where they tried to hide, begging the shooter for their lives. 

GAG members participate in a variety of protests and demonstrations. Their largest action:  marching in the NYC Gay Pride parade numbers over 200 attendees. Every 15 blocks GAG members lie down on the street. The “die-in” provides a searing visual of what dozens of people murdered in a mass shooting actually look like. 

GAG also demonstrated on the 26th of each month outside the FedEx at Penn Station. The 26th to represent the 26% discount NRA members were given for shipping a gun. The NRA’s influence and power are waning, slowly but surely… NRA puppets are being voted out of office one by one. In 2019 FedEx finally severed its relationship with the NRA. #GAGforthewin 

Unfortunately, the gun violence epidemic in this country is only getting worse. The unfettered access to guns has led to increased gun violence in almost every major city. There are now 400 million guns in the United States. The population of the country: 330 million people. We have more guns than people. 70 million more guns. I can’t even wrap my head around a number like 400 million. Guns. 400 million guns. Gun stores were deemed essential during the Pandemic. Couldn’t go to a movie or a bar, but I could buy a gun. GO USA!

I will march on Washington however long it takes for the ban on assault weapons of war to become law. I will use my voice as often, as loudly as I can to draw attention to the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. I am tired of running memorial 5ks in honor of teachers shot in school. The solution is clear as day. As the headline of an article in “The Onion” stated – “No way to stop mass shootings says ONLY country in the world where they regularly happen.” 

HEY NRA – GAG IS COMING FOR YOU, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED! Gay, straight, queer, all are welcome… join us on Zoom every other Thursday from 7-8:30p!  We need everyone! Go to  www.gaysagainstguns.net for more information.

(this column originally appeared in the March issue of ‘Letters from Camp Rehoboth)

NOW AND THEN

GUEST WRITER – BUCK JONES

Today I live in Paris where on any given fifteen walk from my apartment I will come across men holding hands, gender fluid queers with pink hair wearing make-up, posters for the latest gay film coming to theaters soon, and, if I’m lucky, a smile from a handsome stranger. All of which is to say my daily existence now couldn’t be more different than from the small Southern town in which I grew up. 

Author Buck Jones, now.
Author Buck Jones then. 1983.

When I was a kid, gay visibility in popular culture was like a celestial event, as if a comet was passing by, and on the precious few occasions when it happened, it was the subject of social debate as to its significance. Typical of gay portrayals prior to the AIDS era were caricatures of us as a fey accessory in a sit-com, a comedic trope that carried on from Paul Lynde (on The Hollywood Squares) and Billy Crystal (on ABC’s Soap) in the 1970s up to this day (exhibit A: Carrie Bradford’s “Stanford” on Sex & The City). Or if a gay man was featured in a drama, he undoubtedly met a tragic end. By the time of the horrible AIDS scourge in the 1980s, we were useful as an object lesson in an endless morality play. Either way, there was little to positively reinforce my own existence or to give me a practical roadmap of how to navigate my own life as a gay man. 

As a shy teenage boy, I didn’t know of any other guys “like me” ⎯ sensitive and perfectly content to be left alone in my bedroom where I could read and draw, escaping in my imagination to someplace far, far away. I had friends, of course, but they were normal boys. Their interests were in sports, both playing and watching, whereas my interest lay in boys, both playing and watching. Far too rarely my sexual Venn diagram overlapped where there was another cute boy who might be secretly interested in exploring past the safe boundary of chaste friendship and crossing over to experimentation. 

Now and Then.

In my novel, “The Last Good Republican,” the protagonist is named Carter Ridge. The setting for the story is the South of the 1960s, but he came of age as a youth during the Second World War in the 1940s. In comparison to my adolescence in the 1980s, he had even fewer guideposts as to what was going on with his sexuality. Yes, there were very coded gay characters in film following the Hays code introduced in 1930, but for the uninitiated, certainly, someone not living in a metropolis, it must have felt as if one were truly alone in the world. Despite these challenges for Carter Ridge, he manages to figure things out easily, although finding lasting love and building a relationship continues to escape him, as it does for so many of us still today. Going from one surreptitious blow job to another anonymous fuck in a darkened parking lot, it is an all too familiar pattern that is born out of necessity, and Carter is able to find pleasure in those stolen moments even while he knows that he wants something more. But how does one build a durable future, particularly when there are no examples of same-sex couples in the 1960s? 

I wanted to explore this in the novel, for then, as now, society and life often get in the way of finding that special someone to have that “happily ever after.” Even for hetero couples where roughly 40% of marriages end in divorce, learning the art of staying in love despite the challenges and the flaws we all eventually exhibit, is difficult enough. This is despite centuries of role models and social constructs that practically spoon-feed us a constant diet of hetero conformity. Through the character of Carter Ridge, I want to push back and create our own paradigm of a gay literary figure who doesn’t end up dead at the end of the story, and who doesn’t have his heartbroken. 

Author Buck Jones now
Author Buck Jones, then. 1989.

A major difference between now and then is the ubiquity of erotic images. Today it is at times an unwelcome distraction with my favorite porn sites just a click away on my computer, but when I was growing up in my small town in the middle of nowhere I had to be creative. Imagination played a crucial role in augmenting the dreary reality of my teenage life. A random photo of a male model in a magazine like “GQ” could sustain my private fantasy until it was replenished by another source. The embarrassingly obvious mail order catalog “International Male,” which practically screamed out “STROKE TO THIS!”, I kept tucked in a desk drawer away from my mom’s prying eyes. But as for television viewing, we had a family tv that served as the altar in our family room. Whatever masculine beefcake I could gather up from watching Primetime television on the three national networks would have to really sear into my cortex. Thankfully the “Dukes of Hazzard” provided just the ticket as family-friendly fare for a Southern audience. The episode when the two Duke “boys” went skinny dipping… well, that was a frequent go-to for my mind’s eye. 

If inspiration came in irregular sources for a resourceful boy such as myself, it proved even more so for Carter Ridge in my novel. While the focus of the story is on two years of his adult life in his early thirties, I wrote three short story novellas that act as a prequel trilogy. In these, I visit Carter during his teenage years when he has his first crush on a fellow student at his prep school (“Sunday’s Child”), and then later when he is fresh out of college and on his own for the first time. 

In one of the short stories, “The Seduction of Carter Ridge,” I write about that curious excitement one has when finding oneself in a cruising space for the first time. For me, my first time was as a naïve innocent here in Paris while a student. Not fully baptized as a card-carrying gay, I was clueless as to the many possibilities for meeting other men that live in a big city offered. I thought it was just bars and big disco dance clubs. Oh non, mon frère! There was, and still is, opportunity EVERYWHERE. But of course, well-known cruising areas are only found about either through word of mouth (again, prior to the magic of the internet), or in my case by accident. I stumbled upon the once infamous cruising area in the Tuileries Gardens on a summer Saturday afternoon when I climbed up the steps to the elevated promenade that separates the public park from the road that runs along the Seine. In the shade of the towering plane trees with the flowering French garden facing the Louvre below, mingled men. Only men. Most stood by themselves, some were smoking, but everyone was watching the other men as they walked by. The heady rush when I realized that this was “our” space shot through me, and I recalibrated my walk, slowed down my pace, and returned a gaze when passing by a particularly interesting possibility. 

Then, and now, cruising is a part of our shared experience as gay men. You might have never stepped foot into the enigmatically termed “cruise bar,” but anytime you have had a pair of male eyes land on you and linger for long enough to know that there is an interest from the other you have entered the magical realm of gay cruising. Sadly, I fear that the finer points of this artform of publicly checking out other guys are being lost in this digital age, and there is now more of an awareness that one man’s “following” can be interpreted as another man’s “stalking.” 

As difficult as it used to be for a closeted high-school or college kid to sneak moments together with another guy. In high school, I tried (and failed) with a boy who was on my soccer team during a sleepover one night. We stayed up watching “Saturday Night Live”, each in our underwear while in our sleeping bags. I waited patiently until I was sure his parents were asleep, and then gradually lowered my sleeping bag until it was revealing my torso. He didn’t take the bait and showed no indication of interest on his part. I asked him if I could have something to drink, and he crawled out from his sleeping bag with a slight chub showing in his briefs. Perhaps there was something stirring, after all, I thought. An elaborate game of cat and mouse ensued, with me trying to up the ante as the night continued. Arm wrestling, followed by leg wrestling, followed by giggling, and then he’s falling asleep while I feigned slumber. I listened to his breathing, watching his chest gently rise and fall as he slept. After what seemed an eternity, I worked up the nerve to rest my hand on his shoulder as I pretended to sleep. 

Surprisingly enough, that was all I needed at that age. The sheer excitement of surreptitiously touching another boy in high school gave me plenty of fodder for later. It wasn’t until I was in college, far enough away from home to be living independently in a dorm that I pushed the frontier of my sexual awakening. Don’t get me wrong, I was still deep, deep in the closet, but I had at least recognized this clawing need from deep within me that I was attracted to certain guys, and I, in return was attractive to them. Years later I would joke with my best friend that I was attracted to seven distinct categories of guys (“…# 5, Armenian auto repairmen.” This was when I was living in Los Angeles). 

It is this realization of same-sex attraction, of being inextricably drawn to a certain kind of guy, that animates Carter Ridge as he begins his young adulthood. We all have our favorite flavors of ice cream, and the same goes for gay men and their partners they seek out. In Carter’s case, he is a product of his era. The American South of the late 1940s and early 1950s was a deeply conservative place, and his best friend Margot (who he ends up marrying as his beard), is cognizant of the dangers his particular “flavor” might bring. 

Buck Jones – now
Buck Jones – then. College life.

As a gift to the readers of this blog, I am including a free e-book copy of one of my novella prequels. “Apollo & Dionysus” is a more erotic, sensual short story that I think this audience will appreciate. To get your free download, go to https://www.monsieurbuckjones.com/trilogy-prequel and scroll down to “Apollo & Dionysus.” 

If you appreciate gay literature, my novel “The Last Good Republican” is available to pre-order at any bookstore prior to its release on March 15th, 2022, after which it will be available on Amazon. I would appreciate you sharing this article with your friends who like to read gay literary fiction and please, please, please if you read my work, leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon. It means a lot to me. 

From Speechless to Storyteller – One Man’s Hike through the Grand Canyon

Growing up in New York and then living in South Florida, I am not someone you would call “a hiker” – for me, climbing over sand dunes on a Saturday is considered altitude training.  So when a friend of mine suggested that some of us travel to the Grand Canyon to hike it from one end to the other, in one day, I have no explanation for my immediate agreement to do it.  FOMO, perhaps? I mean, I have always been passionate about fitness but this was next level stuff. Looking back I realized that if I had hesitated then I would have been susceptible to insecurity, or self doubt, or fear and I have committed myself to not allowing those emotions to get any traction at all! Our passions must be respected without distraction.  That’s the great thing about our passions, they are always with us even in difficult times just waiting to be reignited. So we circled Saturday, September 11, 2021, on the calendar and our planning began.

For those of you as unfamiliar as I initially was, nearly six million people visit the Grand Canyon every year.  However, less than 1% of those visitors take on the “Rim to Rim” hike – a nearly 30 mile trek down into the Canyon, across the Colorado River, through a punishing 7 mile stretch known as “The Box” and onward to the opposite side.

The first decision to make is which Rim to descend – North or South? We choske to descend the South Rim for a few reasons. First, the paths are more “hiker friendly” and less steep.  It is also at a lower elevation than the North Rim. We would begin our hike at 4:00 a.m. using headlamps so we wanted to take advantage of the smoother route in the darkness.  This of course meant that our climb out of the Canyon to the North Rim would be difficult, but more on that later.

Fast forward to 4 a.m. on Saturday, September 11, 2021, and we were ready. After some words of encouragement and a moment of silence in remembrance of the lives lost on 9/11, we turned on our headlamps, firmly gripped our hiking poles and off we went.

The 8 mile Bright Angel Trail is a series of switchback paths which zig zag back and forth descending 4380 feet to the bottom of the Canyon and hug tightly along an imposing but truly mesmerizing cliff face. Looking across the darkness we could see dancing white lights from the headlamps of the other hikers on the trail. They looked like fireflies and it was truly a magical start to a life changing day.

By 5:45 a.m., the sun began to rise giving us our first views of the majestic Canyon. The sun brought the Canyon to life, illuminating parts of the rock face while keeping other areas hidden in shadow,

As you arrive at the bottom of the Bright Angel Trail, you are greeted by the soothing waters of the Bright Angel River and the trail continues another two miles to Phantom Ranch – a historic canteen nestled at the bottom of the Canyon which includes cabins for campers but the cabins are awarded only through a lottery system and there is a 15 month wait even if you are lucky enough to be selected. 

Before you arrive at Phantom Ranch, you cross the Colorado River on the Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge and it is majestic!

We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 10 a.m., and quickly sat down to eat and enjoy some of the best lemonade you will ever taste!  It was great to talk to other hikers and campers about their experiences. The hikers with whom we spoke came from all walks of life – groups of friends, seasoned hiking veterans and even families with young children! I must admit that I was most impressed with the families for instilling in their children a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Full disclosure – I maaaaaaaay have a fetish for men with great calves. Let me tell you, I don’t know why I waited so long to start hiking because there are great calves EVERYWHERE! Of course, decorum prevented me from taking any “calves selfies” but trust me, the memories will last a lifetime. 

After we refueled, reapplied sunscreen and took care of bathroom business at Phantom Ranch, we began our hike on the North Kaibab Trail which would take us to the North Rim.  As you leave Phantom Ranch, you enter what is called “The Box” – a four mile stretch of trail which is very narrow and gets very hot if you do not get through it in the morning.  This was another reason we chose to start on the South Rim. Once the sun crosses over the Canyon, the temperatures in the Box can soar above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, I haven’t been in a box since my high school girlfriend so I was ready to get out of there in a hurry! Lucky for us it was still nice and shady so we did not suffer from extreme heat.

On our way along the North Kaibab Trail, we took a detour to Ribbon Falls.  The falls are about 100 feet high, and the mineral rich water has created a distinct ecosystem of lush vegetation and gorgeous flowering plants.  It is about a 1 ½ mile round-trip hike off the Trial and you have to cross a few streams and climb some rocks to get to it but it is worth it!

Once we returned to the North Kaibab Trail, we were blessed with a brief rainstorm that cooled us off.  The steepness of the trail got considerably more difficult, so we knew that we had to stay mentally tough because the hardest part of the hike was about to begin.  

We arrived at Cottonwood Canyon which is about the halfway point on the NOrth Kaibab Trail and took advantage of the campgrounds for a water fill up and bathroom break.   The sign at Cottonwood Campground told us that the North Rim was 7 miles away.  The steepest section of the North Kaibab Trail is between Cottonwood and the North Rim Trailhead.  While the Bright Angel switchback trails were mostly smooth rock, the switchbacks up to the North Rim were just nasty.  In addition to their steepness, many of the switchbacks included sets of steps in excess of 12″ in height.  To make matters worse, the terrain on these switchbacks varied from very loose soft sand, to slick rocks over which you had to climb, as well as large logs you had to navigate across. And several of the paths were more mule poop than dirt, which was super fun to navigate as well.

I am not going to lie, the 6,000 foot ascent tested all of us mentally in ways we did not expect.  The North Rim itself was not far above us, but because the trails zig zagged back and forth you would hike for an hour and feel like you had made no progress at all. Suffice it to say that we took a slow and steady approach as our collective fatigue set in.  The five of us were united as one, ensuring that we each stayed hydrated, rested when necessary and there were pep talks a plenty!  

As we began to see hikers coming down, fresh faced with a spring in their step, we knew we were close. At 5:45 p.m., 13 1/2 hours later, we made it to the North Rim Trailhead. These exhausted but proud faces tell the tale. 

But wait – there’s more!  We were staying at lodges back at the South Rim so I trust that you are asking yourself, how the hell did they get back? The only way is by reserved shuttle, and it is a 211 mile drive that takes about four hours.  So yes, after hiking for nearly 14 hours we climbed into an air conditioned van that drove us back to our lodge (with a pit stop for food of course).  We got back to our cars at the Bright Angel Trailhead at about 10 p.m. 

It has been said that you are defined by the people with whom you surround yourself and I believe this to my soul.  I could not have imagined this journey without Sean, Erika, Danny and Micaela. We have an experience that is exclusively ours. 

I talked earlier about insecurity, doubt and fear.  These are ever present, very real emotions.  There are times when I have been paralyzed into inaction because of them, we all have.  What I can tell you now is this – we are presented with fear and uncertainty not to relent to them, but to punch them in the face and thrive. You don’t have to hike the Grand Canyon in a day but I promise you there are things in your life you can accomplish just by believing, by ignoring self doubt and by spending time with like-minded souls.

DISTANCE 

26.7 miles (Bright Angel Trailhead to North Kaibab Trailhead including our side trip to Ribbon Falls)

ELEVATION 

10,500 feet total elevation: 4,500 feet descent on Bright Angel Trail and 6,000 feet ascent up North Kaibab Trail.

THREE POEMS

by GUEST WRITER JIMMY WOODFILL

“Soaring”


Inequality marched on Selma, Birmingham, and of course D.C.
Discrimination will be snuffed out: equality for all… let it be, let it be.
We’re not being thrown from buildings, or burned, or lynched.
Be grateful the crumbs I’m tossed, nay sure I’m convinced.
Oppression: a word not hard to define in the least.
We hear it on Twitter, world news, and battles in the Mideast.
While waiting for the crosswalk, they shout “fag,” a beer bottle thrown at my feet.
It didn’t even get my shoes wet – did oppression and I just meet?
Stifling tears, I click on the remote to ease my anxiety.
Polite tidy panels of four, a discussion on TV:
Debating my rights, whom I should love, where I can work, whether I’m a danger to children?
Hurting kids… I’m just a wannabe writer, mostly watching “Grey’s,” and chillin.’
But at night in my mind’s eye, my rainbow color wings unfurl, and I soar like a mythical
Phoenix over unseen blue and red states. I glide over swaying fields and crashing oceans,
echoing dry canyons and crisp mountainous rivers so vast. I ascend northern metal giant
skyscrapers and then plummet to the southern delta with its humidity, cobblestones and sweet-
sweet jazz. I experience life as my multilayered kaleidoscope-prismed wings, all the differences
needed and in harmony.

“Bird of Paradise”

My sister is a bird of paradise, the pretty one, the first grandchild, the only girl.
Upon my grandfather’s lap she shouts orders to us lesser children, we recoil from her wrath and
marvel at the way she has them hanging on her requests.
We long to be in the birds’ universe, but always feeling cautious and watchful when granted
limited access; for she always bites. It’s inevitable; it’s in her nature, her radiant design.
The world hearkens her whims and desires; I stay in the shadows hesitant to shine on my own. I
fall flat, she shrugs at my gaff. It’s inevitable; it’s in my nature, my flawed self.

She reigns over her adobe estate, squawking commands that must be completed post haste. She
knows I’ve come to inquire a favor. “Come forward little brother, you know we always do for
family.” A drop of bird venom…

“Pink Sheep”

I am the pink sheep of the family,
sissy is what some called me.
Their guns, their god, their glory,
but I am not welcomed to share their story.
Just another minority born into the enemy camp,
so I found refuge under a night club speaker amp.
No longer a misfit, I travel the world with my own kind,
their willful blindness never cross my mind.
Our haven lost at the Pulse, Eddy and forty eight people died;
months earlier, I’d dance eternally by his side.
We weren’t that close, just flag football friends;
this I tell myself, when my panic attack ends.
Mom says: “come on home baby, I’ll bake you fresh bread all day,”
my bags in the trunk, her cars NRA sticker on display.

Jimmy Woodfill is an aspiring writer, world traveler, citizen of the planet and a student of the
school of hard-knock’s – plus a few other universities. He lives in New Mexico and can be found on Twitter at @PonderingJimmy

THE ACCUSATION!

by GUEST WRITER VINCENT POMILIO

The pounding on my door jolted me awake. In a semi-stupor, I quickly threw on some clothes and opened the door.  Two burly NYC cops were in the hallway.  

“Are you Mr. Pomilio?” one of them asked.  His tone was threatening.

“Yes,” I replied nervously.   

“This is a summons to appear in Criminal Court for harassing and assaulting Mr. Joseph Stanziani.”

After handing me this formal looking paper, I went to my desk to turn on the lamp to take a closer look.  However, there was no power in the apartment.  Not only was the electricity shut off, so was the gas.  How could this be?  What just happened?

I went down the hall to my friend Joyce’s apartment.  I showed her the summons. She gave me this look of dread.  

“Mr. Stanziani was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital last night after suffering a massive heart attack and he is unconscious and in intensive care,” she said.  

“What?  How could this be?  I just saw him last night in the Pizzeria.”

“What happened?” she asked.  

The night before, I went to the restaurant to pay the rent for the month.  Mr. Stanziani was there with his wife Rita closing up for the night. He took one look at me and said, “Who are you?”

“Vince Pomilio,” I replied.  “I’m living in Bess Sherman’s apartment in 5C.”

the author in 1978

“I never saw you in my life,” he said. 

“Mr. Stanziani, I’ve been here for six months while Bess is in San Francisco.  She told you Elliott and I would be living there while she is gone. I see you every day in the halls or on the street.” 

“I never saw you before,” he replied.  “Get out of here and never come back,” he said in a rather angry voice. 

“Mr. Stanziani, I’m only here to pay the rent.”  I placed a check on the table he was sitting at. It was my personal check in the amount of $430.00, the total amount for the rent.  When he looked at the check, he flew into a rage.  “Get out of here right now or I’ll call the police.” 

‘Please, I don’t want to upset you, I would just like to pay my rent.” 

“Get out you son of a bitch.”  

I’m standing there stunned and bewildered.  I tried one last plea.  “Let me pay the rent and I will leave.”  

At that point, he pushed me and started hitting me with his broom.  I headed for the door as he was screaming at me.  He began hurling salt and pepper shakers at my head.  Glasses were breaking and Mrs. Stanziani got into the act.  “Get out of here you bastard,” she screamed.  

Stunned and slightly bruised, I went back to Joyce’s apartment.  Joyce informed me that Joe Stanziani only rented to single women, hated gays and only accepted payment by the legal tenant. By taking my check he would be acknowledging me as a tenant.

Who do I call? What do I do? My roommate Elliott was in Aspen, Colorado teaching acting to opera singers and not scheduled to return for several weeks.  I called him to tell him what had happened. We both wanted to keep the apartment.  Bess also wanted us to keep it since she had decided to stay in San Francisco. Keeping the apartment was a minor detail since I was faced with a criminal charge.  What if Mr. Stanziani dies?  Should I call my parents in Philly?  That was a terrible Idea. I could hear them saying, “Why did you have to move to New York?  You had a nice teaching job here and a great apartment and we are here, too.”  Elliott told me to get a lawyer.  I was still in this apartment with no gas or electricity so the following night I went across the hall to Joyce’s apartment to seek more advice.  She called another tenant who lived in the building. 

Rebecca came up to meet me and hear the whole story.  “The Stanzianis only rent to single women,” Rebecca informed me.  “They never rent to men.  Young women get married, get pregnant and move to New Jersey. Then they jack up the rent for the next young ingénue.  They also bully these young women and scare them. They run this building like a convent.”  

Rebecca said she might be able to help.  She knew a young attorney who worked for the ACLU and might be interested in my case.  I called the lawyer.  He was a nice young man living in Brooklyn Heights and after hearing my story decided to take on my case on a pro bono basis.  A good thing too since the court hearing was only a week away.  

Off to court.  Joyce and Rebecca decided come along to support me in my most trying hour.  {You might remember Joyce from my Thanksgiving story. Joyce was a cabaret performer and at the time of this story she was appearing with Holly Woodlawn, of Andy Warhol fame, in the “Miss Cheese of the Week Review.”  Joyce played Miss Velveeta: “I’m so incredible. I’m even spreadable”.}  

I was nervous as shit. I didn’t really have anything good to wear.  I went with a hand-me-down Harris Tweed sport coat and khakis with a Ferragamo tie a friend gave me for Christmas.  Joyce and Rebecca showed up looking like they were going to Studio 54.  My handsome, frail, overly nice young lawyer looked the part and boosted my confidence.

We get to the court house in lower Manhattan and I began to shiver and shake.  The judge walked in looking like Vincent Price in one of his horror movie roles.  Across the aisle was Mrs. Stanziani dressed in black with a lace mantilla on her head.  Her obese lawyer wore a wide necktie with coffee stains on it. The judge read the charges as I sank deeper into the pew.  

Mrs. Stanziani’s lawyer spoke first.  He told a tale of bad pulp fiction.  He spoke about how I accosted Mr. Stanziani and threw him to the ground as I harassed him and his dear wife and terrorized them with my rent check.  He told the judge that I had caused his heart attack.  I sat there terrified with my arms folded.  The judge looked at me and said, “Young man.  Unfold your arms.  You have nothing to fear here. In my entire alleged mind, I have never seen such a circus.”

My turn.  My lawyer told a very different tale.  As it turned out, my tale was more credible. The Stanzianis were in court every other week trying to harass some poor tenant into eviction.  They were notorious in the NYC courts and the judge declared, “This circus ends here.  This is clearly a case for Landlord/Tenant court.  You have wasted our time here. If I wasn’t such a kind and just man I would put you all in jail, every last one of you.  Get out of my courtroom and settle your score elsewhere.”

A date was set for Landlord/Tenant court.  I had to wait for two weeks.  Joyce, Rebecca, my lawyer and I went back to the Village and had lunch at Pennyfeathers Restaurant on Seventh Avenue South.   I felt ecstatic.  I could go on with my life with this huge burden lifted. The worst is that I would most likely have to move.

A lot was going on with my life at this time.  I was working at the McBurney YMCA in a low level administrative job.  I was the complaint department.  My office faced the Chelsea Hotel.  I was at my desk the morning they dragged Sid Vicious out after being accused of killing Nancy in the bathroom of their hotel room.  What a scene that was.

Elliott eventually returned from Aspen.  We were still living in the apartment without gas or electricity.  Elliott was a very fine actor and landed the role of Renfield in “The Passion of Dracula”, an off-Broadway hit at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce St. in the Village.  

With this criminal trial behind me, I prepared for the meeting at Landlord/Tenant court.  Bess, the woman who had the lease on the apartment, wrote us a letter saying that she was not planning to return and would love it if Elliott and I took over the place.  She also wrote the same to Mrs. Stanziani, now the acting landlady. Her husband Joe was still at St. Vincent’s in a comatose state.  Mrs. Stanziani seemed to be in a better mood as far as everyone in the building could tell.  

Off to Landlord/Tenant court.  This should be interesting.  I didn’t need my entourage or a lawyer for this one.   I arrived at court and there sat this fat, jolly looking African-American judge looking over the notes for the case.   Rita Stanziani came with her lawyer, both glaring at me as they waited for the case to begin.  After all of the lies they told the last time, how dare they look at me this way? How do these people live with themselves?  The judge addressed us and asked me when my utilities were shut off.   I told him that it was the night I went into the restaurant to pay my rent.  

“How long have you lived there?” 

“Six months, your honor.”

“Have you ever caused a disturbance in the building?” 

“No, your honor,” I replied. 

He then addressed Mrs. Stanziani:  “Madam, were you responsible for shutting off this man’s utilities?” 

“Yes, your honor,” the only honest thing she said during this whole saga.  The judge reviewed the notes again and appeared agitated.  He addressed Rita Stanziani and said, “Lady, if you don’t turn this man’s utilities back on within 24 hours, I’m going to put you in jail.”  He then requested proof that the legal tenant wanted me to take over the apartment.  The case was postponed two weeks.  Whew!  I dodged another bullet.

Bess sent a certified letter to the landlady announcing that she would like to get out of her lease and turn it over to Elliott and me.  I was happy to be back in the apartment with the electricity and gas restored.  Life goes on.  At the second court appearance and after the judge reviewed all of the details of the case he asked Mrs. Stanziani if she had any objections to me taking over the lease. She said she did but gave no reason.  In New York, a landlord has the right to refuse leasing an apartment without a valid reason.  I had heard that over the years. 

The judge ruled that I could have six months to live there rent free until I found a suitable place to live.  Great news!  Apartments were easy to find. Six months is a long time. I’ll be okay.  

Meanwhile roommate Elliot was a big hit in “The Passion of Dracula”.  Whenever I had a date and wanted comps, he had them.  I lost count of how many times I saw “The Passion of Dracula”.  One of those dates became a regular thing and I soon found myself in a hot love affair.  

I made good use of my six months in this wonderful apartment, as did Elliott.  He too was involved in what turned out to be a serious love affair.  Three months after the court case was settled, we received word that Joe Stanziani had died.  The mood in the building was like Spain when Franco died.  Rita Stanziani became the landlady and soon she was taking art classes and having parties and was even pleasant to me when running into her in the halls.  I was ready to move on.

Entrance to W.10th Street

{Vincent Pomilio’s work can be seen at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY or the Hal Bromm Gallery in NYC}

RHONJ – SEASON PREMIERE RECAP!

Welcome back to the great state of New Jersey! Home of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, water taffy and Asbury Park, THE gay destination along the Jersey Shore. Snooki and The Situation will not be doing shots on the beach next to you though. Its up to you whether that is good news or bad.

RHONJ can hit or miss for me, but it has been hella entertaining the past few years. New housewives Margaret, Jackie and Jennifer are all great additions to the cast, albeit for different reasons. The standard housewife test for me is – “would I be friends with them?” That’s also my go-to question for celebrities as well, with stars like Jennifer Garner and Kristen Bell topping my list. Yes I gravitate toward the basic girls. Lol.  In Jersey, it should come as no surprise how much I love Jackie, Melissa and Margaret. It should also come as no surprise my disdain and dislike of Teresa and Jennifer. Dolores falls somewhere in between. 

I try to go into each season or episode with an open mind, giving people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they changed, maybe they are not as rude, vindictive and hypocritical as I had previously thought. I was pleasantly surprised with Jennifer. She came across almost likable. Maybe that was due to her minimal screen time. Teresa is another story.

Let’s dig in. The episode was titled, “C U Next Tuesday.” A better title could have been – 

HOW FAR DO WE LET A WOMAN LIKE TERESA GO? Jackie says this to Margaret, as always, hitting the nail on the head. Jackie from day one has been one of my favorite housewives. I think she handles herself well, she is well spoken, her husband is HOT, and her kids seem nice. She has not been scared or backed away from a fight with Teresa Guidice. I was with Jackie the entire episode, word for word, but at the very end she crossed the line for me. More on that later.

The episode opens up with Jackie and Teresa screaming and cursing at each other. These ladies came in hot from moment one. Rumors of Jackie’s husband, Evan, cheating on her are circulating around town. I wonder who could have started such a rumor? Rewind back to three days before, a storytelling device that Bravo uses quite often. Hey, if it aint broke dont fix it. I’m hooked. This episode was more entertaining than the entire season of Orange County. 

We are reintroduced to each Housewife. Margaret has almost an entirely new face to go with her new boobs. Dolores got an ass lift, and a boatload of other procedures we learn later on as she is talking to her surgeon boyfriend David. Melissa tells Joe about all the surgeries the ladies have been having, he wastes zero time, and brings up his penis. Again. Yawn. Teresa, facetiming with one of her daughters explains her grief over the loss of her father.  Jackie tells us how during the Covid Pandemic she appreciates her family even more, especially her husband who has never had a birthday party. 

Cue the first contract mandated get together of all the ladies. The tension between Jennifer and both Melissa and host Jackie has apparently not gone away. Jennifer barely got an invite and can thank Coronavirus for warming Jackie’s heart. The party begins and the ladies show up one by one, with “Tre” being the last to arrive. Will she bring a date, they wonder? She does bring a plus one but it’s not a man, but one of her best friends.

It’s no secret I do not care for Teresa Guidice. I don’t think she is a nice person. I think she treats people, too many to name here, horribly. Do I want her to be happy? Of course. Do I think Andy Cohen should have never hired her back after her release from prison, especially after her and her ex-husband partially blamed being on the tv show for their crimes. HELL NO. And true to form, within minutes of walking into the party – Teresa shows her true colors. A leopard never changes its spots.

Teresa pulls each housewife aside to tell them the rumors she has heard of Jackie’s husband Evan cheating on her “at the gym.”  As always when someone is lying, she has no evidence, she forgot who told her, blah blah blah. To give each housewife credit, every one of them tried to shut Teresa down, telling her this is not the time or the place for this. Even her lapdog Jennifer who bowed at her feet last season says in her confessional it went in one ear and out the other. The fact that Teresa chose Evan’s birthday party to throw him under the bus, to stab him in the back, and try to take him down tells you everything you need to know about her. Even her own brother said “Teresa holds grudges.” Teresa hates Jackie and this – make no mistake – is payback.

Before the final confrontation teased at the start of the episode, we get treated to scenes of Jennifer with her entire family – minus her mother. Her parents, without the buffer of a child, are at each other’s throats during quarantine. Jennifer moved her father into her house and now Mom is on the outs. Props to Jennifer for recognizing that she is very much like her mother who she described seconds earlier as “critical and judgmental.”  We also get a few minutes of Dolores with David, a relationship so confusing to me I won’t even try to discuss it.

Jackie and Teresa meet on neutral ground – Margaret’s house – and Jackie talking to Margaret about the hurt Teresa has caused her and Evan is hard to watch. Jackie then lays it out in no uncertain terms – how much more damage is Teresa going to get to inflict before Bravo says enough? She pushed Cohen out of the way at a reunion, she gave Danielle Staub her marching orders to pull Margarets hair. What will it take for Bravo to finally fire her?

As the fight begins Jackie tells Teresa in no uncertain terms that she needs to say this is a lie and end what she started. Teresa says she’s sorry, Jackie does not care or want an apology. Teresa, never the best public speaker, is falling all over herself saying meaningless things like “I don’t want you to be upset,” or “I didn’t ask for evidence.” Teresa slips up when she tells Jackie, “you don’t call the shots.” There you have it. Teresa, the self-appointed queen of the franchise, knows she has met her match. Jackie, after giving Teresa numerous times to make things right, has had it. 

Jackie tells Teresa she heard a rumor about Gia. BOOM! 

I think housewives’ children are off limits and Jackie crossed a line. I also think housewives’ husbands are off limits as well. Do I feel bad at all for Teresa? Not one bit. Do I feel bad for Gia? Yes. Awful. But Teresa, for years has played dirty and then went postal if the tables were turned on her. We reap what we sow.

Cannot wait to see how this plays out. Until next time…

PLANTING RAINBOWS

GUEST WRITER – PETE ZHENG

New York City’s queer community is both strong and intersectional. In fact, it is strong because it is intersectional. And in 10 months, NYC will be choosing a new mayor. One that must prioritize the well-being of all New Yorkers while balancing covid-related urgencies, but even more importantly, one that will prioritize the needs of the queer community who have been disproportionaly marginalized in impact and forgotten in governmental solutions. 

Growing up, I never truly understood what it meant to be gay. At the time, my understanding of sexuality was in the most basic premises — one where I felt a sexual and emotional desire for another that was our own sex — and as time continued and I grew up, it became more of a grappling with where we fit into the origins of a society that circulated around heterosexual ideals. I became acutely aware that being a part of this community was more than just an identity. It meant realizing that we would have to fight for our civil rights, to unify the heterogenous silos within a homogenous labeled group, and most importantly – to carry on the work of our predecessors who valiantly fought for us to be where we are today. Amanda Gorman’s sentiment in The Hills We Climb so eloquently described the work that remains to be done, even in 2021. 

Around 9 months ago, I received a LinkedIn message from a man named Art Chang. He asked me if I was interested in politics, and I unbeknowingly responded “yes, I studied policy in graduate school and my current job is in business integrity policy.” He quickly followed up with a Zoom meeting request to gauge my thoughts on something. Still unaware of who this man was (other than a synopsis from his LinkedIn), an invitation to chat would quickly turn into the planting of seeds for his NYC Mayoral campaign. Shortly after, we would grow the campaign from 2 individuals to a team of 50+ growing staff and volunteers. 

Raised in Jim Crow Atlanta by Korean immigrants, Art Chang knows the detrimental and debilitating effects of marginalization on mental and emotional wellness. He experienced racism in his school and community and domestic violence at home, and eventually became the second man at Yale to graduate with a degree in Women’s Studies—he knows the harmful nature of the gender binary and approaches complex issues from an intersectional lens. 

And in order to right these wrongs, we need a mayor that will prioritize our community and fight for us. Art doesn’t claim to have all the answers—and that’s a good thing. He will listen to the experiences of those primarily affected by policies on LGBTQIA+ issues, and defer to the experts to advocate for and implement changes that will truly help our city’s queer communities. 

The hills that our ancestors have climbed paved the path for a new generation of activists who must continue the ever-growing nature of equity and human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. I hope you join us and feel inspired to fight for a NYC that is safer and more equitable for all.

Pete Zheng is currently serving as Director of Policy for Art Chang for NYC Mayor. He can be reached at p.zheng@columbia.edu.