Jun 26, 2015

Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide

Nickelodeon may be somewhat less beefcake-heavy than the Disney Channel, but it makes up for it with lots of gay subtexts.  ICarly, Zoey 101,  Drake and Josh, and today's Marvin Marvin and Supah Ninjas are particularly strong in the subtext department.  Unfabulous, not so much.

But the all-time winner is Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide (2004-2007, and still airing in reruns), about a boy (Devon Werkheiser) who offers tips for surviving middle school.

1. Inclusivity. Ned regularly advises his viewers, “When you like someone,” not “When a boy likes a girl,” and a school dance is depicted full of groups and trios rather than boy-girl couples.

When a Life Studies class requires students to pair up as "parents," two boys are paired along with the boy-girl couples.

 An episode about puberty discusses hair in weird places and sudden fits of rage, but not "discovering the opposite sex."

2. Same sex couples. The bully Loomer (Kyle Swann) and his sidekick Crony (Teo Olivares, who would later star in the gay-themed Geography Club) hang on each other in a manner that would elsewhere signify romantic attachment, and high-five each other obsessively, for any reason and for no reason at all except that it allows them to momentarily clasp hands.

In one episode, Crony struggles to “come out” to the other students about his gender-transgressive interest in fashion design, a veiled metaphor for coming out as gay; he is particularly apprehensive about telling Loomer, for fear that the revelation might destroy their friendship.

3. Same-Sex Dating. Jennifer (Lindsey Shaw) has a crush on school hunk Seth (Alex Black), and begs her buddy Ned to ask him out for her. Seth believes that Ned wants the date, and replies “Sure, but just as friends. I like you, Ned, but not in that way.” The statement rather boldly implies that being gay is unremarkable at Polk Middle School; Seth could only misinterpret Ned’s intent if he knows about same-sex dating, and respond so nonchalantly if there is no stigma attached to it.

Seth eventually agrees to a date with Jennifer, but he expects to keep the "date" with Ned, too.  He spends the rest of the day grinning at him, hugging him, accidentally sabotaging his own attempt to date a girl.

 In the last scene he tells Ned, “I’ll pick you up around seven tonight. We’ll catch a flick and get a corn dog.” Ned starts to protest, but when Jennifer assures him that she doesn’t mind, he shrugs and acquiesces: a date is a date. The scene fades with the three friends walking away, Seth trying to put his arm around a squirming Ned.

4. Same-sex Romance. When Ned tries to cheer up a depressed boy, Marc Downer (Ronald Patrick), he reasons that “opposites attract," and introduces him to the cheerful Martin Qwerly (Tylor Chase). Names often describe character personalities on Ned’s Declassified, so one cannot help but suspect the name “Qwerly.”

They fail to hit it off, so Ned tries again, this time with a Goth girl. The two “downers” fall in love instantly and walk away, happily discussing the meaninglessness of life. Although a heterosexual relationship was effective, Ned tried matching Downer with a boy first, and obviously considers same-sex relationships equally valid.

5. Acceptance of gender diversity. Girls are good at shop class; boys study fashion design.  When Loomer beats up a boy in drag, he is careful to explain that the drag is not the reason.

Jun 25, 2015

Spring 2006: Me and the Chinese Food Delivery Guy

After the wealth of Asian guys available in California -- Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Malaysian, Filipino --  I felt deprived when I moved to New York -- during four years, I was only with six Asian guys:
1. Peter, the Filipino undergrad who is #3 on my Sausage List
2. Jun, a Japanese gymnast who I met in Montreal
3. An undergrad history major from Shanghai. We had just one date.
4. A guy I met at the Eagle, whose name I don't remember.
5. Mario the teen model.
6. And  the Man in Black, a priest or something who cruised me in the street.

I felt even more deprived in Fort Lauderdale.  In four years, I was with only two Asian guys, and one of them I met while back in Rock Island for a visit..

By the time I got to Dayton,  I was desperate.  If I didn't get some Asian action soon, I'd be hopping the next plane to Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, the population of Dayton is less than 1% Asian, and I wasn't meeting any.

The rest of the story is too risque for Boomer Beefcake and Bonding.  You can read it on Tales of West Hollywood.

Jun 24, 2015

Beefcake and bonding in "Bringing Up Father"

When I was a kid, all of the good comic strips -- Peanuts, the Wizard of Id, Doonesbury -- were  in the Moline Dispatch.  In Rock Island, all we got were bargain-basement knockoffs and doddering relics last popular before the invention of radio: Out Our Way, Our Boarding-house with Major Hoople, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.  They were unfunny, incomprehensible, and downright disturbing.  And the most disturbing of the lot was Bringing Up Father by George McManus, which got its start in 1913!

It starred Jiggs, no first name, an elderly, pudgy person, and his wife Maggie.  They both had pug-dog noses and scary, pupil-less eyes and used dashes instead of periods to end their sentences  -- see how bizarre that looks -- it's just wrong --

They had a daughter, drawn as a 1920s glamour girl, who didn't have a name -- her parents called her "Daughter."

Other male characters were drawn as beady-eyed scarecrows, and the women were all glamour girls.

Jiggs and Maggie were noveau-riche. Jiggs longed to return to the old neighborhood, to have working-class corned beef and cabbage at Dinty Moore's diner.  But Maggie doted on her newfound status.  She kept going to teas, receptions, operas, and dinners with people whose names were horrible puns.

When Jiggs got out of line, Maggie unlashed a torrent of abuse, calling him an "insect" and a "worm," and assaulting him with pots and pans and a rolling pin from the kitchen.

Obviously a critique of the myth of the heterosexual nuclear family as most evolved, most stable, most normal of all family types.

For some crazy reason, toy producers in the 1920s thought that kids loved the stories about Jiggs trying to sneak out of the house to drink with Dinty Moore. They produced toys of all types, including dolls, cutouts, and Big Little Books.

There were dozens of movie adaptions and comedy shorts, beginning in 1915.  In 1928, Daughter (named Ellen) got a boyfriend played by Grant Withers (top photo). The last film appearance of Maggie and Jiggs was in the The Man Who Hated Laughter, a 1972 installment of the Saturday Superstar Movie, based on yet another ludicrous belief that the ancient strip attracted child readers. 

By the 1960s, the writers were throwing in contemporary references -- or at least references that were only about 10 years out of date, like this beatnik from 1968.

Anachronisms that merely added to the discomfort.

Recently I bought From Sea to Shining Sea, a compendium of strips from 1939-1940 written primarily by McManus's assistant, Zeke Zekley.  It featured a continuity in which Daughter marries a British nobleman, Lord Worthnotting.  The family celebrates by taking them an extended cross-country honeymoon.

Wherever they visit, Maggie and Daughter go shopping, leaving Jiggs and Lord Worthnotting to go skiing, hiking, camping, and sightseeing on their own.

Before the continuity is over (and Lord Worthnotting vanishes from the strip), the two have buddy-bonded so extensively that one could almost mistake them for the newlywed couple.

Apparently Zeke Zekley knew something that McManus didn't.

When McManus died in 1954, Zekley was in line to take over the strip, but the syndicate gave the job to Vernon Green instead, who returned to the nuclear-family-foibles.

Zekley went on to draw his own strips, including those used in The Tab Hunter Show (1960-1961), with the gay beefcake actor playing a horny "bachelor cartoonist."

He died in 2005.

See also: The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie

Jun 23, 2015

A Hippie to the Rescue: My First Date

My first date was in October 1968, when I was in third grade.  One day a boy named Gary pushed through the recess crowds to the blacktop where we were playing army men, and asked “Wanna go to a movie Saturday? My Dad’ll drive us.”

I almost said no.  Movies, or what old people called "the show," were the main thing God hated!  But when Mom and Dad said ok, I decided to risk it. Gary had muscles, and besides, the movie was Village of the Giants (1965), starring Tommy Kirk, a cute teenager who was gay (back then all I knew was he that he seemed to like boys, not girls).

The promise of sitting next to a boy with muscles and seeing a teenager who liked boys outweighed my fear of getting God mad.

God didn’t strike out when Gary’s Dad dropped us off at the Fort Armstrong, or when Gary bought our tickets and orange-colored popcorn.  But He revealed His anger when the lights dimmed: the opening scene showed Tommy Kirk and a girl kissing! Tight close-ups of their faces smashed together!

We covered our eyes, occasionally peeking through our fingers to see if the disgusting display was over, but we couldn’t block out the smooching sounds. The ordeal seemed to last for hours. I promised God that I would never again go to to the show, if only He would make Tommy Kirk like boys again.

The story was about a weird concoction that turned some teenagers into giants. Their clothes got shredded off, so they were naked at first, and then they made togas out of theater curtains and danced in slow motion, the camera lingering lovingly on their bulging arms and sculpted torsos. It was nice to see muscles, but our deal, I reminded God, was for Tommy Kirk to like boys, not girls.

God did provide Tommy with a cute best friend, Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman, but they obviously didn’t like each other.  They didn’t even work together to save the town. Johnny Crawford grabbed a bottle of antidote  and catapulted himself onto the bosom of one of the giant girls to shrink her. The audience cheered. I wanted to go home.

When the movie was over, we stumbled out with the crowd to the sidewalk outside, where Gary's Dad would be waiting, but somehow we found ourselves in an alley between two dark-brick buildings. We followed it to a gigantic, nearly empty parking lot.  There were deserted streets on the right and left, and on the far side, the back ends of some three-story brick buildings.

“This isn’t the right way!” Gary exclaimed.
“We must’ve went through the wrong door,” I said, struggling for a logical explanation.I had never been downtown before – I had only been in Rock Island for a few months -- but I knew it wasn't supposed to look like this. The signs on the buildings didn’t make sense. The parking meters were a weird pea-green col-or. The sky was almost black.  The wind was sharp and stinging, making us shiver in our thin autumn jackets.

This wasn’t just the wrong side of the theater. We were in a whole different town, maybe a whole different world!

“Let’s go back to the alley,” Gary suggested. “Maybe that will take us to the right door.”

But we couldn’t find the alley again. Behind us was a solid wall of buildings! We ran around the corner, past a statue of a soldier on a horse and a billboard that showed a depressed man being rained on. We saw a  marquee in the distance, and ran toward it – but instead of  “Fort Armstrong,” it had a crazy foreign word: “Ar-cade.”

Scared, exhausted, we sat down on the curb and started to cry.

Then I heard a soft calm voice: “What’s the matter, kids?”
I looked up to see a teenager standing on the side-walk behind us. A hippie -- he had blond hair and a scraggly beard, and he was wearing hippie threads: a fringed jacket, a red tie-dye t-shirt, and bell-bottom jeans with a green belt.

 “We’re lost," I said.

“Dad won’t know,” Gary added, to clarify the situation.

“Don’t sweat it. We can find your folks – we just have to work together.” The hippie sat down on the curb and squeezed between us and wrapped his arms around our shoulders. I collapsed onto his chest.

It was hard like steel! And warm, and fuzzy with little blond hairs!

I hugged the teenager, squeezed against his hard-steel chest, breathing his acrid-sweet hippie smell. He wrapped a thick arm around me and pressed me close. Suddenly I didn’t feel like crying anymore.

“Hey, little bud, it’s ok.  Where did you see your folks last? Did they drop you off at the Arcade?”
“Fort Armstrong,” Gary whimpered. Why was he still crying? Why wasn’t he gasping with joy at the hippie’s muscles?
“We went to see Tommy Kirk,”  I explained, “But Tommy Kirk liked girls, not boys, and God was mad, and then we went out the wrong door.”

The hippie laughed. “Wal, you’re durned close, pardners – the moving picture the-ater is jest a block thataway.” We giggled at his pretend cowboy talk. He stood and drew us to our feet and took our hands.  “C’mon, I’ll take you over.”

In a few moments we were reunited with Gary’s Dad, still waiting on the sidewalk as the last of the kiddie matinee crowd came blinking from the theater. He shook hands with hippie who rescued us and gave him a quarter.

I went to the Fort Armstrong many times after that, and whenever I told the story, my friends insisted on trying to retrace our footsteps that day. We went through every door of the theater, even the one marked “Employees Only.” We circled the building, circled the block, peered into every alley. But we never found the deserted parking lot, the statue of a soldier on a horse, or the arcade where a hippie with muscles came to the rescue.

Jun 22, 2015

Summer 1997: Cruising for Straight Men at the Gilroy Garlic Festival

In the 1980s and 1990s, when you found a gay haven, you stayed there.   You ventured into the straight world only when absolutely necessary, and then you stayed closeted, undercover, careful not to let your guard down for a moment.  If the straights found out that you were gay -- or even suspected -- they would scream "God hates you!" and grab the nearest baseball bat to attack.

But in July 1997, shortly before I left San Francisco to go to graduate school in New York, my friend David suggested that we drive down to Gilroy for the annual garlic festival.

"Are you crazy?" I exclaimed.  "It will be full of straight people!  We'd never make it out of town alive!"

"I was there last year.  It's fine -- nobody says anything.  The straights might not like us very much, but they don't mind taking our money.  Besides, it's full of the cutest small-town rednecks you'd ever hope to meet."

"You don't....cruise straight men?"  I asked, aghast.  "That's just asking to get beat up!"

"Boy, you've got to get over this straight-o-phobia of yours.  Straight guys get just as horny as you and me.  Tell you what -- we'll get a hotel room, spend the night, and if you don't trick with a straight guy, I'll pay for the whole trip."

The rest of the story is too risque for Boomer Beefcake and Bonding.  You can read it at Tales of West Hollywood.

Jun 21, 2015

My Date with Jack Kerouac and His Bratwurst

Ok, I didn't really have a date with Jack Kerouac -- he died when I was eight years old.  But Jurgen came close.

During my freshman year at Augustana,  I often saw him sitting by himself in the Student Union lounge -- in his twenties, tall, husky, bearded, with wavy brown hair and brown chest hair sneaking up over his lumberjack shirt.  He would smoke a pipe, of all things, drink coffee, and read a book or scribble into a little spiral notebook.  Too old to be a student -- we didn't have any "nontraditional" students at Augie -- but certainly not a professor.  Was he a townie who for some reason liked the ambience of the Student Union at a small Lutheran college?

Athat point I hadn't met any gay people yet, and I didn't know how to go about finding any, so I figured: he's not with a woman, he dresses oddly, must be gay.  

So one Tuesday afternoon I got a cup of coffee myself -- even though I hated the stuff -- and sat down in the chair across from him.

"What are you writing?"

He looked up and smiled.  "Just a poem I'm working on.  'Tucumcari Two-Step: Heat in the Year of the Drought.'"

The rest of the story, with uncensored photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood