I have spent nearly my whole life either enrolled in a school or working for one.
So, August is always the beginning of a new year for me—the hours of anticipation, the new space full of new supplies, the fresh start, the fear of failing, the return to routine and assignments and work.
I’m resurfacing three of my essays that live in that back-to-school world and the anxieties of beginning again:
Valentine’s Day was always troubling for me as a gay grade schooler.
I was expected to share giggly little messages of love with my classmates—that is, of course, girl classmates.
The messages were corny puns and all about the boy-meets-girl romances of the 1950s and ’60s.
It was indeed a confusing exercise in futility.
I have wondered what it would have been like to hand a valentine to a boy I had liked back then, or even now in this brave new world where children are supported by loving parents who encourage them to express their feelings.
Santa came to our house on the eve of Christmas Eve each year, the night before December 24th, a whole day earlier than for everyone else I knew. My mom explained to us that there were way too many people in the world for Santa to visit on one night, so he had a special Christmas Eve list and we were on it. We also opened our presents ahead of tradition on Christmas Eve night, right after dinner, not the next morning like everyone else. But we didn’t ask for an explanation for that difference, not after waiting an entire day, from dawn to dusk, with unopened Christmas presents in the house.
Yes, later when we were older we learned that mom had practical reasons for breaking with tradition. She wanted to avoid squirmy children at church on Christmas morning. She had learned that, whether presents were opened right before or immediately after church, they danced too much in the eight wee little heads she needed to keep calm through Christmas morning mass.
Nelson Mandela’s death reminds me of all the great men and women who put their lives on the line for peace and justice, especial those of my childhood.
As a kid in Catholic grade school in the 1960s I was very aware of what the “reason for the season” really was. It was something more powerful than Santas kneeling before a manger, a fish on a bumper sticker, or a fight in a mall parking lot over being wished the wrong happiness.
We were taught that the message of the first Christmas was the longed-for good news of the coming of peace and justice to those who needed it most: the poor, the war-torn, the oppressed, and to ourselves when we recognize our humble role in the story. The great messengers of my childhood were not just from MY church or MY country, but from all over OUR world, and these men and women literally risked their lives for it.
My dad would have been 97 years old today. To remember him, I’m posting a piece (more an anecdotal memory than a story) that I wrote several years ago before his death. Happy birthday, funny man!
This morning while plucking a hair from my earlobe as thick as a chin whisker I recalled my childhood visits to the barber with my dad. Saturday mornings belonged to my dad and me during my grade school years. He and I got out of the house, where my mother and six sisters ruled the roost, not to go fishing or hunting or do little league or some other typical father-and-son activity, but to do the weekly household grocery shopping.
When Jesus Christ Superstar was released as a concert concept album in 1970, I was 12 years old. I first heard about it on a public TV special that featured most of a London concert performance and interviews with members of the cast like Ian Gillan, Murray Head, and Yvonne Elliman, as well as with the lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Weber who created what was being presented as the first “rock opera.”
I watched the TV special as if I was hearing a call.
This piece appears as one of the two introductions to the art anthology Hair, published by Bruno Gmünder in 2010. The book is in its second edition, and the introductions themselves received callouts in reviews.
The Hairy Pendulum Swings: How culture has embraced male body hair over the past century
When I was a child the world was warm and furry, from shag carpeting to suede bean-bag chairs to shing-a-ling trim to the long manes on everyone young. No one but competitive bodybuilders and drag queens would have considered shaving or waxing their bodies back then, and actors and athletes, like Sean Connery, Joe Namath, Burt Reynolds, and James Caan bared their luscious chests proudly on screen and in the pages of the magazines as often as possible.
In 1960s and ’70s America, chest hair was not only popular, it defined masculinity. The opposite of idealized stone-cold waxed muscle, the mysteries of adult male sexuality lay hidden deep within the thick matted diamond of hair between a workman’s pectorals, or under an athlete’s arms, or in furtive glimpses of bushy crotches in locker rooms. Hair softened the hard parts of men’s bodies, gave shape and expression to those that would otherwise have been shapeless, and suggested raw animal attraction waiting to be discovered.
This biographical introduction was commissioned by Antinous Press for their 2008 hardcover volume Bruce of Los Angeles: Inside/Outside. It was intended to accompany the brief intro by New Yorker columnist Vince Aletti. Unfortunately, the publication became too unwieldy and my piece was cut at the eleventh hour for space.
Los Angeles Transformations: Bruce Harry Bellas, 1919-1974
In the first half of the Twentieth Century most of Los Angeles California’s population was from somewhere else. Between 1910 and 1950, a booming economy, social freedom and the entertainment industry made Los Angeles the true “land of opportunity” for more than a million new residents. Hollywood in particular was a place where one could completely transform oneself. Through the magic of the camera, chorus girls became sophisticates, jocks became gladiators, cowboys became legends, and farm boys became notorious. So in the late 1940s, when Nebraska high school teacher and amateur shutterbug Bruce Bellas lost his teaching job, he too went to Los Angeles.