Monday, September 28, 2009
Martin Powers wanted an ironing board for Christmas. Instead, he got . . . Matthew Kieler, a non-returnable gift, but a gift that kept on giving. Chance encounters are sometimes the ones that most change our lives. He sold Matt a tie, but got more in the bargain - more than most people would want and more than anyone deserved. Although these lovers may not have had the pink American dream, they had it better than most, even as they faced a crisis that would change us all.
Look Away Silence by Edward C Patterson is a romance set in the time of AIDS, when ignorance could spell trouble and often did. It encompasses the author’s experiences in volunteer community service and personal friendships during a tragic period in American history. The novel is dedicated to the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, the NAMES Project and to the author’s own fallen angels. "Mothers, do not shun your children, because you never know how long you have to revel in them."
Look Away Silence
Publisher: CreateSpace (July 17, 2009)
I am a child of Christmas. Some people are Easter-kids. Others get fired up over the Fourth of July or wax poetic for Arbor Day. Not me. Christmas has always been the focus of my year, because everything that has been good in my life has come down from the sparkling Yule Fairy and wrapped up in bows and striped paper. As little children, we wish for many things at Christmas — trains, bikes, Legos, baseball gloves and some, like me, asked Santa for an ironing board. Now that would bode well and never shock, except my name is Martin and not Martina, and . . . it quite put my Grandpa off his Monday Night Football. My mother was cool with it, otherwise she would have bought me a GI Joe and insisted I dig trenches and drop fake bombs over the chenille. However, I wouldn’t have minded a GI Joe either, a fact my mother also sensed. So it was an ironing board for me. Vivian Powers’ sissy boy was devoted to Christmas from that day forward. I knew there was a Santa Claus and his linen closet was impeccably arranged.
Across the folds of time and through the tumble-downs of Christmases over the years, I found all my requests fulfilled. When I was old enough to find true love (or so I thought it true love . . . I mean, every time it was true love), it was at Christmas. That was the year I had drunk too much eggnog and awoke in a stranger’s bed — a stranger who unwrapped me like a party favor and gave me the most wonderful Christmas gift of all. In hindsight, the ironing board was better.
Despite the exciting sensation of joining with another soul, I learned fast that such passion was like the sea at ebb tide. I know about the sea. I live by the sea, here in Long Branch where the tide comes in and then sucks out a bit of the Jersey shore, a bit like my first passionate experience. Metaphors are not my forte. I should stick to laundry. I saw then true love for what it was — as false as Ru Paul’s D-cup. It didn’t last past New Years Day. And yes, my heart was broken. I cried and cried like a bride left at the altar. However, I was a lucky boy — still am. I have a mother like no other. She sat me down, dried my tears and said, “Marty,” (I hate being called Marty, but mothers can’t be corrected — at least not mine).
“Marty, he was a stranger. Didn’t know ya and didn’t want to know ya.”
Still, I loved what’s his name (funny how I forgot his name . . . Frank. Frank . . . that’s it. I remember his face, his hands and his hot breath in the night, but I still need to squeeze the corners of my mind for his name). My heart was shattered. No amount of Vivian Powers’ insightful advice could bring me around. However, my mother is a straightjacket case at times. Nothing controls her. The few words of advice that she has given throughout my life have stayed with me. So I remember exactly what she said, because it echoes every time I fall in and out of love, whenever Christmas turns into Easter.
“Marty, he was a stranger. Didn’t know ya and didn’t want to know ya. Just like ya father. None of them are worth the spit they splatter. But always get at least one thing from each of them, and you’ll have enough carfare for the Path line to the city, where you can find a better one. In your father’s case, I got you, Shithead.” (She’s so endearing that way, but I’d rather be called Shithead than Marty).
Of course, Viv (I never called her Mom or Mama or Mother dearest — her choice) was never a proper homemaker. She knew to buy me an ironing board, but only so I could do her ironing. My dad, the mysterious Mr. Powers, gave me my name, which I thought to change from Powers to Jones, because Jones fitted me better. He hadn’t stayed around to top the tree with the fairy angel, but I never cared. In fact, Viv told me she wasn’t sure who my father was as there were three candidates for the month. All the men in my life were defective, except one. They were all either druggies, old men, flaming queens, drunks, or just lumps on my pillow, except that one; and he . . . well, perhaps he was the most defective of all, because I’ve never really found my way out of Christmas with him, even though Good Friday has come and gone.
Perhaps I’m the defective one. Perhaps Viv was wrong and I’m the one not worth the splatter. I can’t help it. I have standards. Men have taken a gander at me (not bad looking . . . me, that is. Not an ounce of fat, and that without a gym bunny schedule), and picture me in some interlude — some Act One in their own play. Unfortunately, Act One is always followed by . . . well, you get the drift. Sometimes they hear me sing (and I’m a veritable Lorelei — first tenor and soloist with the Jersey Gay Sparrow Chorus). Whatever it is, they end by worshipping at my shrine — the well-pressed sheets from my sacred iron capped by perfectly fluffed pillows. Morning always brings a different light. At night, they are Tom Cruise. At dawn, they transform into the bell ringers of Notre Dame. The grand consolation is that every year brings another Christmas and another handy appliance — Vive la Viv, my manicurist mother, who brought home lovelier men than I have ever nabbed — and those without an iron board to entice them.
Despite my gifted voice and inclination for housework, I couldn’t live my life under my mother’s wing. She scarcely noticed me, her little shithead, who, as I got older, got under foot. I had to close my eyes more than once to her tumbling over the threshold with one or, dare I say, two male companions, who had likkered her up and thought they had her at a disadvantage. Little did they know. They may have had their frolic, but always get at least one thing from each of them, and you’ll have enough carfare for the Path line to the city, where you can find a better one. I supposed some day that I would have a little brother or sister and learn to change diapers, scrub bassinets, and all the other happy chores that motherhood brings. But no. Viv just managed a collection of diamonds, pearls and emeralds. They were gaudy things, not to my tastes or I’d have pinched a few. However, as time went on, and I graduated from Red Bank High School, there were more than a few hints from the maternal maw that I should get to college, or a job and, by all means, into my own hermitage, such as it is. The suggestions were subtle in the mornings over coffee and English Muffins. “How’s the job hunt coming, dear?” In the evenings — those hazy evenings a la Viv, the point was sharper. “You’re still here, Shithead?” In any case, college was out. Couldn’t afford it and no one that I ever knew got a degree in laundry. I could have pursued my vocal training, but that would preclude that I had vocal training to begin with, which I hadn’t. I was the youngest member of the Jersey Gay Sparrows, and while the Chicken Hawks often were on my tail, they were also jealous queens seeking to push me aside and away from the prime solos. So I did what any respectful young man that had more than a foot out of the closet would do. I went into retail.
Christmas and retail are friends, as close as Marley and Scrooge. In the sprawl of Eatontown Mall stood paradise — a Christmas chaos called Abraham & Straus. I bought me a suit and got me an interview to swim in the rarified air of departmental retail duties. I saw myself as the perfect go-to person in the linen department. I could live my life in thread count and percale — heaven on earth. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh linen — clean and mountainy, with a promise to bless the chest, to caress the shoulders and snuggle the toes with its gentle static-free cling — an adoration well beyond that of the Magi. However, to my disappointment, the management of the store saw me more as a behind-the-counter type in the men’s department amidst a sea of ties and pants and shirts and sweaters. So instead of my Elysian Fields of Canon and Burlington Mills, I was lost to the Forest of Arden — Men’s wear.
Retail didn’t pay much, but within six months, my mother awoke to an empty kitchen and asked her question no more. I found an apartment — not very classy, but it had possibilities. It was a first floor back dealie with a rear entrance and a small courtyard. I couldn’t see the ocean from my window, but I could smell the clams when they ripened — not the most encouraging aroma, but it was my stink and it stunk just fine for me. It was private for when I had my little heartbreak evenings, when the stink was worse than rotting clams, but that too was my stink. I was also within walking distance of the nearest gay bar — The Cavern, which would be a blessing if I didn’t visit it so often, donating my meager income to the latest assortment of fruity refreshments of the adult kind. I was an adult now (barely), so what better way to exhibit that fact than to imbibe a bit, and more than a bit. After all, it was just a stagger across the street, through the alley, along the beach and into my courtyard palace.
So I thrived, after a fashion. Then came Arthur — Arturo, a stunning man, who wandered home with me one night and never left. Well, Christmas be damned, he did leave, but not fast enough. He stayed for six months, two of which were quite nice actually. He didn’t work, so I left my daily bed unmade; and he would be off spending my money at the Cavern by the time I arrived home. It was fine with me. I joined him, and then we’d laugh and play volleyball and run about naked on the beach (after dark, when neighbor eyes were dimmed to see us). However, Christmas came to a close after a sixty-day period, like an expired Library book that I forgot to return. Arturo had another little addiction other than Appletinis and beer. Meth. He was not a Methodist, would that he was, and I am not judgmental when it comes to another man’s predilections. However, when the cost is visited upon my bank account and the benefits of the bed fade, I usually become as mad as Queen Mab. My scant income could not compete with his habit. Therefore, he augmented his income with a better-heeled married man who made him his little lunchtime tidbit. Dinners went to a leather daddy who lived in Asbury Park and would pick Arturo up on the corner and redeposit him back there like clockwork. My evenings were spent listening to snores. So we argued.
Arturo turned out to be a mean son-of-a-bitch. He trashed my place one evening, and when I threw him out into the courtyard, he howled like a cat — my neighbors stirring to call the police, who showed up at my door wondering why a young swishy thing like me would even consider letting a bum like Arturo be my roommate. (We did the roommate thing on the police report). The next day, I took off from work and called my sister, Russ — a fellow ironing board surfer, who was also a Gay Sparrow and worked in retail. Together, we packed Arturo up and showed him the door. He was more docile in the mornings — pleading even, but Russ was born with a steel corset. He deposited Arturo on the sand without as much as a z-snap. I was glad to know this tough little baritone from the Tuxedo store — fiery charm in the declarative and a fine connoisseur of dust ruffles and dainty hand towels. I decided to live alone from that day forward. After all, I’m my mother’s son and had to do her proud. But then, Christmas came along and ...
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