Monday, January 16, 2012

Kaleidoscope: Gay Portraits in Shifting Focus excerpts by Anel Viz

In the seven stories in the collection Kaleidoscope: Gay Portraits in Shifting Focus, the author Anel Viz explores people’s shifting views of each other, of the images they project, and of themselves. Individuals fragment, the pieces fall into ever-changing patterns like bright confetti in the base of a kaleidoscope, and our ideas about sexuality color what we see.

The following four short excerpts are from four of the short stories included in the collection Kaleidoscope.

Kaleidoscope: Gay Portraits in Shifting Focus
Silver Publishing
ISBN: 9781920501037 (ebook)
(print edition to be released soon)


(Dr. Krone puzzles over the real persona of a student whose dress, body language and opinions change from one class to the next.)

Every few years one will have a class joker among one's students. This is often an advantage. Not a class clown, whose very presence is disruptive, but a joker, a young man, less often a woman, whose witty remarks are to the point and lighten the atmosphere so that sitting in class becomes a more pleasant experience for the other students and their professor as well. That spring his name was Roy Bramson.

Edmund didn't pick up on Bramson's game until halfway into the first unit; until then he took everything he said at face value. Bramson had perfected the technique of innocently asking a question that seemed naive on the surface, but which when followed through brought out complexities and led their discussion in surprising directions on topics Edmund had covered so often they had become second nature to him. He asked them with an expression of absolute deadpan and wide-eyed curiosity, like one of those students who have such ingrained opinions that they assume everyone thinks exactly as they do and require a long, overly simplified explanation before they can grasp an unfamiliar idea. What finally gave him away was that where he seemed to be coming from was constantly

Edmund always had his students fill out a small information sheet the first day of class. After three or four class sessions, he took note of Bramson's participation and looked through them again to see what he had written. Except for the last item, his answers were unremarkable.

Major: undecided—economics? computer science? biology?

Why you chose this course: I need it for my humanities requirement & it fits in with my schedule (nearly everyone put something like that)

1 to 3 things you know about Ancient Greece and/or Rome: they ate olives, they had orgies, they conquered the world

When he handed out the syllabus, Bramson had raised his hand and asked if the creation myths they studied would include Darwin's theory of evolution. A couple of students guffawed; others looked embarrassed. It was impossible to tell whether he was a wise guy or a creationist.

Edmund answered noncommittally, explaining that the course did not deal with truth, but with stories different cultures invented to help them make sense of the world.

Thanks to Bramson's question, that first day was unlike any other. Instead of outlining the course, clarifying his expectations, giving his little "Why study mythology?" speech and letting them go early, they talked about subjects he always reserved for the last week of class—if the expression "modern myths" was accurate or figurative, how entertainment and the media perpetuate what we take for granted, to what extent globalization had homogenized the modern view of the world, what national legends persisted in different countries and how they affected international politics—vital questions that they would turn to again and again during the course of the semester.

Nearly the whole class participated in the discussion, and by the end of the hour, Edmund knew things about his students that might have come out later in their papers or an off-hand remark, or which he might never have found out at all.

Photographic Memories
(A witness at a trial for a gay killing harbors some doubts that the accused is the man he saw leave with the victim.)

In the days before they started sealing adult magazines in cellophane, he used to flip through them and their contents would imprint themselves on his brain before anyone could see where his prurient interests lay. Then he would go home, open his pants, and idly stroke himself while his mind read through them, seeing the color photos in all their glory and imagining the models were the characters he was reading about, though back then the magazines didn't show full frontal nudity.

Kyle was younger then, and perpetually horny. Now he no longer cared if people knew he was gay and would have had no qualms standing in front of the racks if they still held any attraction for him. He'd seen thousands of naked men and with his eyes shut could see them again; he didn't need to stare. His partner, Nathan, once asked how he could be sure he wasn't looking at someone else when they made love. He answered that while looking at a beautiful body still gave him pleasure, voyeurism per se had lost its glamour.

Other tastes had changed as well. Instead of porn, he liked less graphic, tastefully written erotica, good stories about real people with real feelings involved in plausible sexual situations, and though he could have taken an entire page in at a glance, he read slowly, savoring as he went along.

He had forgotten the stories he used to read from memory as a kid, but sometimes one would come back to him, recalled by he knew not what event in his present life. He couldn't be sure he remembered it exactly. Even a photographic mind can play tricks on you. Though he could glance at a newspaper and rattle it off word for word, with the stories there was not only the time interval to consider. A certain amount of elaboration might also come into play, as the models he had imagined cinematically acting the stories no doubt colored his vision. Also, the stories seemed much better written than he remembered them, so his literary sensibilities must have interfered in an editorial capacity.

For that reason, at the trial Kyle refused to swear he was absolutely certain the man he had identified without hesitation in the line-up was the same person he had seen at Cassidy's. The prosecutor asked to redirect. She gave him five seconds to look at a printed page she took from the court stenographer and had him recite it back. He took two seconds and reeled it off without a mistake.

"Yet you say you cannot swear that the accused is the man you saw.

"If you asked me to recite that page again a week from now, I'd have to struggle and some of the words would be different. The crime was five months ago."

"But you've seen him or his pictures numerous times since then to keep him fresh in your memory."

"All the more reason to distrust myself. I could be remembering the photos and not the man. And I'd been drinking."

(A popular high school student befriends a gay classmate.)

The teller looked at my deposit slip and asked, "Are you related to Arthur?" Not a far-fetched question in a town of under sixty thousand—ours is not a common last name.

"I'm his father," I said. "You know him?"

"Oh, yes, I remember him fondly. He was such a good friend to Kevin. I'm Mrs. Bates."

The name didn't ring a bell. "I didn't know all of Arthur's friends. Didn't really know any of them well."

"They weren't close friends, really, but Kevin talked a lot about him. Thought the world of him. The things he did for him!"

"To be perfectly honest, it's hard to imagine Arthur doing things for people when he was a kid." Little things, maybe. Not that he was selfish or anything. He just had this idea that people ought to fend for themselves.

"Then you didn't know your son as well as you think you did. I wouldn't call the things he did for Kevin little. How's he doing?"

"Well… very well, in fact. He's getting married next month. The whole family's flying to Belgium for the wedding. He's been working in Brussels the past two years."

"How exciting! I've never been out of the country myself. His wife… the girl… she's Belgian?" I nodded. "Will he be settling there?"

"For a couple more years, I think, and then wherever his company sends him. And your son? Does he still live here?"

"Are you kidding? Kevin got out as soon as he could. He's in San Francisco now and happily partnered—"

Mrs. Bates broke off in mid-sentence, seeing the look on my face. She must have mistaken it for disapproval. It wasn't, though; it was remembrance.

"You're Kevvy's mom," I said. "It's come back to me now. So Kevvy's in San Francisco and has a permanent boyfriend. I'm glad for him. They get on well?"

She beamed and nodded.

It had been more than ten years, but I remembered Kevvy Bates, all right. I'd met him several times, a skinny seventeen-year-old, not particularly remarkable, blond, very round brown eyes, about five foot eight, with a shy smile and awkward in his movements. He was always polite and had a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. It was hard to tell if he was joking or serious. I liked him, though, which is more than I can say for his friend Mitchell, who was by far the more colorful of the two.

Since the Reunion
(“Spouses and significant others welcome.” How many will attend? How have they changed over the past 25 years?)

About twenty of my old classmates had arrived before me. It was hard to tell with them scattered around the lobby, mixed in with alumni of other years divisible by five. More people kept trickling in. I assumed ours would be the largest group, twenty-five being a special number.

Phil was the first one I saw, sitting at a table by the window with a half-dozen others from our class, including Alyssa. He didn't look at all shy, but totally at ease and very voluble, otherwise very much the same, as thin as he was in his teens, a middle-aged man with graying hair and stubble and a kid's build. Another difference: my gay-dar clicked on as soon as I laid eyes on him, not that his mannerisms were in any way effeminate. He recognized me immediately and waved for me to come join them.

Alyssa gave me a big hug and fell to reminiscing about the prom. Her speech was labored, her words slurred. She had survived two strokes and walked with a cane.

"I had a feeling you'd be here," Phil said.

I asked, "Freelance what?" Freelance everything, it seemed. He earned most of his spotty income as a "freelance office worker"—who knew there were such things?—and a freelance research assistant for such a wide variety of projects I thought he must have become one of those generalists who specialize in everything. But his great passion was photography. He freelanced in that capacity, too, but it didn't bring in much.

It appeared that Phil, of all people, had kept tabs on just about everyone he'd known, either directly or through others he'd stayed in touch with. When I asked about someone, he usually had the answers. Pam had dropped out of sight, vanished without a trace. Connie thought she'd seen her once on the news, in a crowd of people at a Free Angela Davis rally in Chicago. She'd cut her hair—beautiful, red-blond hair that reached below her waist. As I said, I lusted after her in high school.

"And Cora?"

Hadn't I heard? Cora had developed schizophrenia a year or two after she graduated from college and had to be institutionalized. Ellie had made it a point to visit her there whenever she was in town, but at the last class reunion, the hospital told her Cora had been discharged, the result of one of the city's painless money-saving cutbacks that affected those who needed help most. They had a phone number on file, but it had been disconnected. She was living on the streets now, for all Ellie knew.
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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

I have to say I love this collection of stories (as, I may as well confess, I love everything of Anel's that I've read so far) - they are unsettling, and make you ponder your own perceptions - which is what literature--all art--is supposed to do, in my opinion. Yes, you can read them purely for pleasure, but I'll bet they make you ponder too.