Monday, November 24, 2014

Snowman with Benefits excerpt by Marshall Thornton

In Snowman with Benefits by Marshall Thornton, Trey is desperate to win a neighborhood snowman contest. Trey pulls out all the stops. He and his boyfriend, Landon, work all morning to make a snowman along the lines of Michelangelo’s David. Unfortunately, all does not go well, and the two break up over Trey’s relentless perfectionism. Struggling to take a nap that afternoon, Trey is awakened by the sound of someone in his house. He goes downstairs to find the snowman has come to life – and he’s horny!

Snowman with Benefits
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1503190447
  • ISBN-13: 978-1503190443


Someone was rumbling around downstairs. Opening things; shutting them. The noise woke me. My first thought was that I was being robbed. My second was that Landon had come back and was packing his things. The thought of Landon downstairs made me angry – not as angry as the idea of being robbed – but still, angry. Breaking up with me at Christmas was low. Despicable even. And for what? I wasn’t abusive. I wasn’t a drunk. I just liked things to be nice. Who didn’t like things to be nice? And I wanted him to be better. Was that so terrible? Everything I said was for his benefit.
I stomped down the stairs and stormed into the kitchen ready to give Landon a piece of my mind. A big piece. Unless, of course, he’d come back to apologize, which was actually very likely. Instantly, I decided I’d be kind and generous and forgiving. Yes, I’d sternly warn him to never, never do it again. And he would promise not to.
But when I got into the kitchen it wasn’t Landon standing there. It was someone else. A man. Looking into my refrigerator. He glanced over at me and said, “I’m so thirsty. Do you have any iced tea?”
He was tall and pale, so pale that his skin had a bluish cast to it. His hair was frost white and his eyes sea green. He had a clever little dimple in his chin. He wasn’t wearing anything other than a red Speedo and an amazing set of abs. He looked exactly like—
No, it was not possible. Not possible at all.
I dashed out of the kitchen into the living room and looked out the window. My mouth dropped open. He was gone. Snow David was no longer standing in front of my house. Where he’d been standing, there was just a lumpy mound of snow. This couldn’t be real. I had to be dreaming. I slapped myself in the face a couple of times and then looked out into the front yard again. The snowman still wasn’t there. Did that mean I wasn’t dreaming? Or did it mean I just hadn’t woken up? I tried slapping myself a few more times.
Nothing. No snowman.
My face throbbed and I was wide-awake. I had the sick feeling I wasn’t dreaming. I went back to the kitchen. The snowman was still there. Still studying the contents of my refrigerator. He opened the freezer drawer and looked down into it. Then he squealed. “Popsicles. Yummy!”
He snatched up a cherry popsicle and was about to unwrap it when I said, “They’re from last summer. They might have a little bit of freezer burn.”
Dropping the popsicle, he slammed the freezer shut and stepped back in horror.
“Freezer burn is a devastating skin disease. And it’s contagious. You have to get rid of that immediately.” He took a step toward me. “Seriously, can you imagine what it would do to my porcelain complexion?”
“Who exactly are you?”
“What do you mean, ‘Who am I?’ I’m the snowman.”
“I know you’re a snowman. But which, how, who...”
“Not a snowman. The snowman.”
“Well, there’s more than one snowman. Right?”
“There’s only one snowman who counts and that’s me. The snowman.”
“All right, you’re the snowman. How did you get here?”
“You made a wish. Don’t you remember making a wish?”
It took a moment but then I did remember. But that— “I did sort of make a wish, but I didn’t wish for you to come to life. I’d remember that. I was really wishing for something more... useful.”
“Has no one ever told you to be careful what you wish for?”
“Well, yes, but this is not—”
“No this is exactly what they were referring to.”
“Well, okay, sure. How exactly was my wish granted? I mean, isn’t there usually a witch or a genie or a fairy godmother involved?”
“All of the above. Or none, as the case may be.”
“And this is a none case? Because, you know, I didn’t see any non-human wish grantors around.”
This had to be one of the strangest conversations I’d ever had in my life, I thought.
“You know, it’s not always a good thing to think too much about things like this. It’s best to go with the flow. And witches are actually human, by the way. ”
“Oh, that’s right.”
“It causes all sorts of problems when you date one, though.”
“You date witches?”
“Well, no, warlocks. Now and then. But the whole, human/not human thing... Well, it’s complicated.”
“So, what you’re telling me is that the magical characters I grew up “The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. Jack Frost.”
“Jack Frost! Don’t even talk to me about Jack Frost.”
“You know Jack Frost?” I asked.
“We dated. Briefly. Between you and me he’s kind of an ice queen.”
“What about Frosty the Snowman? Did you date him?”
“I would never! You do know that everyone calls him Fisty the Snowman behind his back?”
“Um, no, I never heard that.”
“Well, I’d stay away from him if I were you. You could put an arm up there and not see it again until spring.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. What about Santa, you didn’t... he’s not...”
“Don’t be silly, Mrs. Claus would have me by the snowballs. I did go through an elf phase. I’m not proud of it. Short men always have something to prove. I let them prove it.”
I didn’t know exactly what he meant by that, but was sure I didn’t want to.
“Okay, so what happens now?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well what are you going to do? I mean, are you staying or are you going back to being an actual snowman? Soon? Like, maybe before the contest is going to be judged? Which I think is in about two hours.” I really hoped no one noticed that my snowman was AWOL. That could raise some challenging questions.
“Really? This,” he said, waving his arm dramatically from head to toe. “This is standing in your kitchen and you’re worried about a contest?”
“It’s an important contest. I thought I had a shot at winning.”
“Well, of course you do. Look at me.” Snow David walked across the kitchen and stood very close to me. Too close. “It’s very hot in here. You couldn’t turn the air conditioning on, could you?”
“It’s the middle of winter.”
“Hmmmm... I know. I’m most comfortable at about thirty degrees Fahrenheit.”
“My pipes would freeze.”
“Oh baby, I’ll freeze your pipes.”
I took a step back. “Frozen pipes are actually a very expensive problem.”
“Why don’t we go to your bedroom and you can check my plumbing?”
“You want to have sex with me? We just met.”
“Oh my God, you’re one of those guys, aren’t you?”
“One of what guys?”
“One of those guys who has to get to know someone. You do realize that never ends well.”
“Landon and I didn’t have sex until we’d known each other a month.”
“And look how that turned out.”
“When we started having sex didn’t have anything to do with our breaking up.”
“I didn’t say it did. But if you hadn’t waited you’d have had a whole extra month of sex. And if you had a whole extra month of sex maybe he would have liked it enough to stay.”
“He didn’t leave because he didn’t like having sex with me.”
“He didn’t say that. But really, that’s why they all leave.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“Do you want to screw or not?”
I thought about it for a moment. He was sexy in a frigid sort of way. And I was now single. But he was also a little obnoxious. And definitely pushy.
“I’m not sure.”
“So you’re just going to let me stand here and melt while you make up your mind?”
He made it sound like I was being rude not to have sex with him. The rules must be very different in fairy creature land. I was tempted. Very tempted. But, well, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and there was something I needed to know first.
I stepped over to him and pulled the band of his Speedo away from his belly. I looked down and took a peek. In his swimsuit he had a nicely-shaped, nicely-sized member. It was a bit ashen but other than that it was completely normal. I looked up into his face and said, “Oh my God, you have, you’re... anatomically correct.”
“Really? I’m a snowman come to life and the part that surprises you is that I have a penis?”
“You know that I didn’t give you, I didn’t actually sculpt—never mind. You’re right. This is one of those moments in life when you have to take a leap of—”
“Whatever,” he said, before he lifted up my chin and kissed me. The kiss was deep, searching and a little chilly. Not cold in a bad way, but bracing. As though I was kissing someone who’d just drunk a glass of ice water. Snow David explored my mouth with his tongue and I tried not to think about Landon. It felt like cheating, except it wasn’t. We’d broken up. Hours ago. Which was weird. That it was so soon. But then again, how many times in my life would I have the chance to have sex with a non-human, vaguely mythical creature?
I pulled away from him and asked, “Should we go up to my bedroom?”
“Unless you’re willing to go out into the backyard. There’s a lovely blanket of snow out there.”

“Maybe not.” Hypothermia had never been a turn-on for me. I took him by the hand and led him upstairs. 
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Mother Asphodel excerpt by Edward C Patterson

“Clothes don’t make the queen. The queen makes the queen.”

It’s Santa Saturday in
New Hope, Pennsylvania and Mother Asphodel is trudging through the snow to a gig at the Phoenix Club - her drag queen couture bundled in a shopping cart - her bony feet stuffed into galoshes. At seventy-seven plus, Mother has seen the glory days and, in the course of this evening, she’ll share those memories with a younger queen, Brooks MacDonald (a.k.a. Simone DeFleurry of The Jade Owl fame). Listen to these stylish dames as they plan Mother’s return into the spotlight, to shine once again in the eyes of the community and peers.

Mother Asphodel, a novella by Edward C Patterson, bubbles with the secrets of a raging entertainer, who has rubbed elbows with the famous. Still, time knows no friends and Mother cleaves to life’s ornery path on a bleak wintry evening when hope is as sparse as bread crumbs thrown to the birds. The possibilities are endless on the road least taken - a kaleidoscope glimpsed only by those who take it.

Mother Asphodel
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 8, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1503148947
ISBN-13: 978-1503148949


“I was just rambling, dear - reflecting on the word gay. Just when did they give us that name?” 

“I think we took it when no one was looking.” 


Chapter One

Snowy Afternoon

It was Santa Saturday in New Hope and the Phoenix Club held its annual fundraiser — AIDS research the worthy recipient. The Leathermen of the Delaware Valley were the sponsors and, ever since this plague afflicted the community, much cash was raised and donated. Beyond the altruism and community responsibility, the event was highlighted by comic relief, bawdy auctions, including the piece by piece sale of Mr. Leather Cubs’ apparel down past the jockstrap, and, of course, entertainment from the local drag queen brigade. There was a cake decorating contest, the leatherettes slaving over confections, each craving the grand prize — a golden spatula and a hundred dollars, which was always donated back to the cause. There was a leather Santa and leather Elves and many non-leather gawkers, who were welcomed if they brought their wallets. In past years, several Keith Harings brought in big bucks and the promise of another classic graffiti piece would draw the bridge and tunnel crowd from the moneyed towers of New York and the better-heeled burbs of New Jersey. Drinks would flow and hanky-panky was expected. Then there were the queens — Flabba Gasted, Brooks MacDonald, Hilly Billy and some newcomers plus the well-trodden sorts generally drawing more amusement than praise. Still, Santa Saturday was the destination event for the drag set year after year ever since the event began in days of post-Stonewall yore. It was to this magnet, through snow and wind that the legendary Kissme Asphodel came, struggling from her apartment in Lambertville, dragging her shopping cart filled with costumes across New Hope’s Delaware River Bridge.

The river burbled in her ears, blending with the metallic sounds of the occasional car over the steel trap road. The bridge was older than Asphodel, but not by much. In fact, she had dropped the Kissme from her stage name years ago, the community tagging her with the name Mother. At first it was an endearment, but as sixty waned toward seventy and now waxed to eighty, the pert name was meant to salute this drag veteran who had become more Mother Hubbard than Mother Theresa. On this occasion — her trundle across the bridge drew horn tributes, each honk rattling her nerves and causing her chattering teeth (those that remained) to chew her blue lips. But the road went on, the show went on and thus Mother Asphodel managed to cross into New Hope. Here she briefly paused, gazing through the snowy veil to the next hurdle on this trip — a hill, which could have been the Matterhorn for all practical purposes to her old bones.

The street was slick and the curb problematic, the cart’s wheels buckling into the sewer drain.

“Damn you,” Asphodel muttered, pulling until the cart bolted from the grating, nearly tossing her to her bony ass. “If you do that again, I’ll abandon you and salvage the essentials.”

Whether the cart heard her was hard to tell, but it became kinder on the next curb, navigating over a low snow bank. Another pause, and then up the hill.

Asphodel recalled the walk being shorter last year, and even shorter the year before. Of course, there was a time when she drove and an even better time when she was driven, handsome beaux at the wheel, escorting her like Tudor Royalty, befitting her position in the pecking order. Now it was the highway and, even if she used her thumb, no one would stop.


Something pelted her noggin, and then another and, when she turned to see, a third, this time smack on the cheek.

“Damn you,” she cackled at two youngsters, no more than eleven or twelve, who were fortressed behind a park car with an arsenal of snowballs. “Stop that. Can’t you see I’m an old woman?”

“You’re not a woman,” shouted one, another ball fired. “You’re an old faggot.”

“Does your mother know . . .”


“Fuck you,” shouted one.

“Faggot,” shouted the other.

Mother Asphodel huffed, ducked and then pulled the cart forward as fast as she could, the missiles zooming past her, and a few landing on her back. She heard an older voice yelling at the kids and the barrage stopped, but she didn’t. She slipped and slid, landing on a knee. But the cart, which had been so roundly cursed before, became her friend now, bucking her up. She peeked over the rise of sparkling garments. The boys were cuffed by a man she recognized — one of the waiters from Pietro’s Pizzeria — a witness to this assault, coming to her aid. She once knew his name. She once knew all their names — all the waiters in all the restaurants — the young ones and old ones — the living and dead. But for the life of her, she couldn’t remember this one’s name.

“It doesn’t matter,” she muttered, pulling herself up again.

It wasn’t worth going through the alphabet to recall. The wind bit her cheeks. She pulled her scarf up high and shivered. The snow worsened and the traffic lessened. She hoped that Santa Saturday wouldn’t be canceled due to weather. After all, even if she had to purloin one of the display reindeers from the nearby toy shop’s display, she meant to arrive at the Phoenix, even if fashionably late. Her public called her.What they called her had varied from age to age, but at least she had not fallen into that oblivion — the drag queen footnote in hell.

For Mother Asphodel breathing was a challenge even on a clear sunny day sitting on her balcony, watching the sparrows. Trudging up this incline in a wintry mess only proved she wasn’t dead yet. She could still belt out Loving that Man of Mine — at a slow tempo, true, but there could not be a successful Santa Saturday without Mother Asphodel’s Jerome Kern stylings. Despite this notion, she wondered if this was the last time she’d climb this slope to entertain the legions of Leathermen, who assembled for no other reason but to hear her warble. On a mission, she was and meant to achieve it, even if her faux fur was drenched and her feather boa strangled the shopping cart’s wheels.

Bridge Street curved when it met Ferry. Here Mother stopped again to rest. The Mulberry Diner was closed for the Holiday and the Holly Bed and Breakfast, where she had always been welcomed to pop in and while away the time, was as shut as an oyster. But she thought she spied a drape shimmy and fingers prying between the Venetian blinds — Miss White, the proprietress, no doubt. If it was Miss White, she’d open up and extend a piping hot cocoa to the old queen of New Hope. Mother sighed. It was Miss White. She sensed it to the bone. But the door remained shut — no invitation in out of the cold.

“I could be dying in the snowy woods for all she cared,” Asphodel huffed, and then continued on her course.

The hill flattened, but the ice roughened. Twice Mother nearly lost her balance, but old friend shopping cart kept her tenaciously on her feet. Her galoshes were practically new at six seasons with enough grip for the tricky patches. But with the fresh snow layer on the pavement, the cart provided the best support. As long as it held her, she didn’t dare move forward.

“Need help?” came a voice.

“Just a bit, young man.”

The young man wasn’t young in the least — a delivery guy, who carried a wreath to the door of the Glengarry Inn. Still, an offer for a steady arm would not be refused.

“What are you doing out in this, Ma’am?” the man asked.

“Places to go,” Asphodel replied, elegantly, eying the delivery van. “You wouldn’t be going my way, would you?”

“That depends,” the man said. “I’m not supposed to have passengers. Could get fired.”

“If caught. But you have a nice face.”

“I’m not sure what that has to do with it, but I suppose in this weather I could get you home.”

“Not home,” she said. “I’m headed for the Phoenix. Do you know the Phoenix?

The man raised a brow. No doubt he had heard of the Phoenix. Everyone ‘round these parts knew the place — perhaps not inside, but rumor and legend held sway in Bucks County’s more conservative consciousness.

“That’s out of the way,” he said.

“You’d let me walk all the way?”

“You were doing that before I showed up.”

“But you offered.” Asphodel blinked and puckered. “I’m getting on in age . . . a tad, and winters are a hardship for us older folk.”

“Are you flirting with me? I’m not your type.”

Mother giggled like a school girl.

“It’s not that far.”

“Unless you’re hoofing it . . . in the snow. And what are you dragging behind you?”

“Oh, my gear. You know.”

The man shrugged. Evidently he didn’t know. But he grabbed the handle and walked it to the van, stowing it roughly in the back.

“Do be careful with it,” Mother carped, slipping toward the vehicle. “The feathers are frayed as it is.”

The man stared at her, and then caught her before she slammed to the curb.

“I wouldn’t want you to ruffle your feathers.”

“I really appreciate this,” she said, opening the door and hauling herself into the front seat. “It’s not very far and I know it’s out of the way and . . .”

“Enough, lady,” he said, slipping behind the wheel. “You’ll be my last delivery of the day, so don’t push it.”

“Well, you offered.”

The man shook his head, put the van in drive and drove slowly up Bridge Street advising Mother Asphodel that silence was golden. She didn’t heed the warning, jabbering like a duck on bread. They only made it as far as The Raven, when the van halted, the doors opening — the drag queen ejected, feathers, cart and all.

Mother Asphodel once again was left to her own devices to finish the trek. 
“Chivalry is dead,” she squawked, gathering her dignity from a snow bank.

The distance between the Raven Bar and Restaurant and the Phoenix was only a half mile. They were closer in kind, although the Raven was known for its older gay crowd, while the Phoenix, a younger set. But when it came to a Leather event like Santa Saturday, the two establishments were satellites.

Mother was tempted by the inviting warmth of the Raven, but this was no place for a drag queen. The place had great food, but otherwise was all pick ups and octopi — nothing for a stylish gal to get excited about. So, rejuvenated by the short hop in a warm van, Mother latched to her cart to keep her upright and marched the half mile to the Phoenix.

Chapter Two

The Phoenix

The Phoenix was surrounded by motorcycles and, from the boisterous sounds flooding from inside, Mother Asphodel was reassured that the event was not cancelled — thank God. She huffed through the crispier snow to the club’s back entrance, the front blocked by leather-types, smoking and cuddling. Besides, for an entertainer to assault the main entrance was not becoming. The cart bumped through the crust, and then into the slush, but Mother had a sudden burst of energy, invigorated by the sights and the music. By the sound of it, Jasper the Belly Dancer was doing his schtick. He was a real looker — sleek as a snake, and sequined from hip to thigh. Mother had enjoyed his show at many venues, especially private parties. But Mother hadn’t been invited to a party, private or otherwise, in many years. She hurried, anxious to watch Jasper from the wings, but the chill got the best of her.

“Whew,” she muttered, reaching the backstairs to the rear porch. “I’ll see him next year.”

Mother plopped on the stairs to catch her breath. She noticed a brace of men huddled at one end, smooching and otherwise warding off the cold. It brightened Mother’s heart, whose days on the back porch had flown with the last swans of summer. But the memories were cheering. Still, she had to get the damn cart up the damn stairs.

“Yoohoo!” she harked, hoping to get a hand.

But passion abated for neither man nor woman nor drag queen, so Mother righted herself and tugged at the cart’s handle, managing to get the wheels, one step at a time, up to the porch. It was a task fit for a younger starlet and it put her on her ass again on the snow encrusted chaise lounge — a slippery sit at best and a wet one at worst.

“I’ll never make it in,” she moaned. “They’ll need to build a fire to thaw me out.”

She tried to get up, but the ice patch under her feet afforded no purchase and back she went into the chaise lounge.

“Yoohoo!” she sang out.

The smoochers noticed her now, laughed, smooched some more, and then raced back inside.

“Oh, Mary Mother of God,” Asphodel moaned.

She considered sliding to her knees and crawl for the door. But just as she lunged forward, the back door opened and a mug popped out — a comely drag mug, cigarette hanging from her lips.

“Flabba,” Mother said.

“Mother? What are you doing here?”

Flabba Gasted tossed the cigarette, and then tip toed out, her stilettos a more challenging platform than Mother’s flats and shopping cart.

“What do you think? I never miss Santa Saturday. If I had to crawl here, I’d take my rightful place among the gals.”

“Well, dear, what do you need?” Flabba held onto the door. “I’m on next and can’t afford to fall or even take the ice in on my heels.” She took a step, but then rallied back to the door. “Can’t you make a try, dear? Or perhaps you should just sit it out. There hasn’t been much call for you, and the dance card’s full.”

“What do you mean, there’s not much call for me?”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist. I mean, look at you.”

“How can I look at me from here? And my gear is in the cart not on my ass.”

“You aren’t going to wear that wig are you?”

“It’s on my head, Flabba. Where else should I wear it?”

Flabba made another attempt, but then hopped back over the threshold.

“I’m on now, Mother. Hang in there.”

“Hang in there?”

Mother lurched forward again, but landed on her knees, the cart keeping her body upright, but standing would be a feat monumental. So, she pushed back to the lounge, missing it, landing flat on her chest, the slushy snow biting her nose.

“What a mess,” she yawked, but could do little to right herself.

“Is that you, Mother?” came another voice, and then a helping hand.


Indeed, it was Brooks MacDonald, a stunning queen in a sequined black gown with white faux fur trim. Her goldilocks wig was perfection and her mascara was applied by the gods. Only her somewhat hooked nose detracted, but even that had its place in a well crafted suite of elegantly styled preparations.

“Can you get up, dear?” Brooks asked.

“Not very well,” Mother uttered, gasping, desperately not giving in to tears.

“Let me help you,” Brooks said, whose youthful vim lifted Mother to land legs once again. “You’re wet from head to toe. Did you mean to perform today?”

“Of course.”

“You’d best hurry then. Let me get the cart in and watch your step over the . . .”

“I know, I know,” Mother said, exasperated, but relieved to get the support of someone at last.
Through the door, a blast of steamy heat and smoke struck Mother. It felt like home — the aroma of sweaty men and cheap perfume — heaven in cabana.

“What’s she doing here?” asked another drag queen.

It was Hilly Billy, the vamp of the tramp set.

“Never you mind,” Brooks replied. “Just help me get her settled.”

Suddenly, a short dude in a leather vest and panties blocked the way.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” he said.

“Who are you calling a cat, Dooley?” Brooks said. “Just get the line up and move it along.”

“Who made you boss?” the Emcee barked. “The line up’s set and I don’t see no Mother on the list.”

Mother halted, shaking her wet mop wig until it slid askew.

“I am always on the list.”

“Not this time you’re not,” he said. “In fact, you shouldn’t be back here. Get your bony ass out front and find a seat in the audience.”

There wasn’t much to differentiate the backstage from the front — a rough curtain separating the wee platform from rows of folding chairs, strewn on what otherwise would be the dance floor. Today even the chairs were hard to see, three deep in bikers and leatherettes, many hefty bears and their fuzzy-wuzzy cubs, boisterous and bidding — cash flying like kites at Kitty Hawk. But it was for a good cause. Every one was bidding on cakes, artwork, stripper clothing and filling the passing jars while Flabba Gasted sang a cheery round of It’s Raining Men.

Brooks snapped the clipboard from Dooley’s hands.

“Give me a pen.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making a late addition to your line-up.”

“I don’t have a pen; and even if I had one, I don’t take orders from some pushy Jersey bitch.”
Brooks turned to the assembly of chanteuses, who were in various stages of paint and prep and pull and tuck and squeeze.

“Anyone have a pen?”

“No pen,” said a young Latin queen. “But use this.”

“How appropriate,” Brooks said, grabbing an eyeliner from the señorita. “Now there. Mother Asphodel follows me and I’m on soon. So dear, you need to get your ass in gear. Find a spot.”

Dooley grabbed his clipboard, grumbling, but he knew better than to go against the grain when it came to the feather boa bevy.

“Yeah, get a move on — all of you.”

He disappeared to the front, Flabba finishing her set. The crowd went wild, the jars filling. Leather Santa came on stage, Flabba Gasted sitting on his lap and making her wish list. Boots pounded the ground. Whistles blew to the roof. It would be a memorable Santa Saturday after all.

Mother moseyed into the slim corridor, which was transformed into a makeshift dressing area — clothes racks draped with silk and satin and feathers and an assortment of dazzling displays. Into this, she wheeled her cart, drawing several sneers and more than one watch out with that thing. How things have changed over the years. Mother had prepared in crowded spaces before — smaller even, with many more armpits being shaved and hairlines cinched. But the performers were sisters all — polite and helpful, sharing and caring. Now these were cats on the back fence balancing their caterwauling to a wintry moon. How sad.

“Is anyone using that mirror?” she asked, spying a small set up in the corner.

“It’s communal,” said the Latina, Maria Maracas. “But be quick. It’s never free for long.”

Mother parked the cart by the wall, and then shod her wet coat and kicked off the galoshes, the things never fitting correctly in the first place. Her old shift hung loosely and slipped off with little invitation. She rummaged through the Hefty bags in the cart, threading out a white chemise and a red velvet and sequined gown, quite the thing in its time, but now frayed in spots, the hem wavering and the straps repaired above the snaps. Distance was its friend. It didn’t take long to drape over her shoulders, a shaggy companion of many shows. It knew where all the contours lay, even if they had vanished in a cloud of years.

“There,” she said, sighing, adjusting her falsies. “That’ll do for now.”

She looked about. No one noticed her; the others busy preparing for their stints. She could hear the stylings of Brook MacDonald on stage — a heavenly rendition ofSomewhere Over the Rainbow.

Mother experienced a pang of jealousy. There was a time when her voice was that sterling. Others depended on lip sync and preen, but never Mother Asphodel. If the piano man could play it, she could belt it.

She retrieved her make-up kit and head cinch. There wasn’t much hair to tame, but she always did it first, since it was weed gray. No sense drawing comments from the lion manes of the younger set. Over it went, tight as a drum. Her makeup box was a mess, having overturned in the cart.

“Jesus,” she said. “I need a new box. Some day I’ll fix it up again.”

The light around the mirror was dim, but what she saw was a bit different than what others saw. While they witnessed a drawn face, bagged and wrinkled, with arroyo canyons beneath the eyes and deep ravines around the lips, Mother Asphodel saw possibilities. She had mastered the art of Revlon — the high court of Estee Lauder. With a few brush stokes, she banished the ravines to mere crags on a precipice. Her powder puff sent the arroyos to the circus. A bit of rouge brought out the merriment of a calliope, while the lipstick, shakily applied, managed to highlight lips where lips were not, even unto the chin. She saw perfection — the resurrection of a face flown south. Others saw a lesson on how to shove one’s head in a flour bag and emerge for a comedy shot.

“There,” she said, ready for final insult.

She raised the wig and fastened it to the cinch plugs, assuring it would only fall off if her head should. That head had a slight shake, as did her hands. She would not show her hands on stage if she could help it — nail polish being a bitch to apply now.

“Where is she?” came a call.

It was Brooks, who had finished her number, wild applause following her beyond the front.

“Mother Asphodel. You’re on,” shouted Dooley.

Brooks was beside her and, upon getting a glimpse, did a double take. But no comment was made except:

“It was hard to get you in the line-up, dear, so look alive. Where are your shoes? Let me help you. Give me that foot.” Brooks grabbed the low heeled, ruby slipper, and then the foot. “How cold. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Mother heard the others laughing — comments best left to ignorance, because ignorant they were.

“Yes, dear. The evening would not be the same without me.”

Brooks finished her task, and then helped Mother up. She then removed her own string of pearls and draped them around her neck.

“You must accessorize, dear. You need something in case of slippage about the breasts.”

Mother nodded, smiled dimly and proceeded to the curtain’s edge.

Chapter Three

Fish Got to Swim

The audience, if she could term it that, fell silent . . . briefly. Mother considered this. Certainly it was out of respect for her well-trodden reputation. But no sooner than her first step onto the platform, twittering began — first from the peanut gallery, and then, like a wave clapping the jetties, moving to the front, both sides and up to her ruby-slippered feet.

“What’ll it be?” asked the piano man, impatiently.

“Oh,” Mother said, and then shuffled to the upright and whispered; “Do you know Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine?

“Bitchin’,” he replied, cracking his knuckles and playing a dazzling intro.

“Easy tempo,” Mother said, and then took center stage.

The laughter receded, but tensely bubbled beneath the surface. She hadn’t warbled a note yet, and they were already whispering about her misplaced lipstick and falling gown straps. The piano man began again, even faster. Mother struck a pensive pose and began.

    Oh listen sister,
I love my mister man,
And I can't tell you' why
Dere ain't no reason
Why I should love dat man,
It mus' be sumpin dat de angels done plan.

There was a problem. The piano man wasn’t playing the verse. He thumped out the chorus and at a tempo far outstripping Mother’s chanteuse tempo. It was a song to be fitted like a glove — each finger put on one at a time, and then swell to the glorious chorus. She stopped and stared at the piano man, who ceased playing. He shrugged.

“You shoulda told me you were startin’ there,” he shouted, and the place broke into peels of laughter. 

Mother sniffed, cocked her head and blinked. Three Leathermen were belly over belly in mirth, tears cascading down their cheeks. Several collegiate types shook their heads, grinning as if they had seen their first clown act. A little damsel with crayon red spiked hair and a blue sequined leather skirt began to do a herky-jerky dance. The piano man began again, this time at the verse. Mother began again, this time at the chorus.

    Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,
I got to love one man till I die.
Can't help lovin' dat man of mine.

    Tell me he's lazy, tell me he's slow,
Tell me I'm crazy, (maybe I know).
Can't help lovin' dat man of mine


Mother was clearly out of tune and her sound was shrill, but now tempo and melody didn’t match. By the time the piano man reached the chorus, he pounded it out in a true buck and wing. The herky-jerky dancer got the rhythm right and soon a number of front row rowdies were dancing to the fishies and the birdies also. Added to laughter now was pointing and a number of noses held.

“Ungrateful,” Mother murmured, but no one could hear her.

She blamed the piano man for this. In fact, she wouldn’t put it past Dooley from putting him up to it. It was a train wreck of the highest order. She nodded her head — a gracious acknowledgement that she was finished. It was met with cat calls and Mother Gotohell. But the piano man played on, the place happy with the dancing and the contribution jar being filled, not by the old hag’s singing, but by the upstart ivory tickler’s beat. Mother turned, and then shuffled to the curtain.

“You ought to hang it up,” said one of her cohorts, she couldn’t tell who and could care less.

There were many shaking heads backstage — the disapproval of the tribe. She brings a bad name to queens of all ages. We should all know when it’s time to burn the brassiere. That face was put on with spray paint.

The world was a blur. Mother felt dizzy. She wanted to run away, but she could hardly walk and where would she run — to the snow banks? She still needed to trudge home in this wintry mess. The thought brought her to an even lower point. She reached the corner mirror and waited for Aida Peach to complete her eyebrows. Aida took her time. Surely she knows I’m waiting. Surely she did, but Aida was an eighteen year old newbie and an up-and-comer. What did she care for a fright in a slipping gown and a frayed wig? But even eyebrows need their finishing touches. So Aida Peach turned smarmily to the older queen and looked up.

“Oh, have you been waiting, dear?” she said.

Mother sighed, not even gracing the query with a reply. The seat was vacated. It was time to wipe off and wash out. The mirror seemed less kind now. The laughter was behind her, but not really. The comments buzzed in her ears, her mind desolate to the moment. And the face in the mirror wasn’t hers. It was something left over from a weary life upon the stage. It had seen better days, better lights and better audiences. But to be brought to this point was unforgivable. Her reputation alone should buoy up their respect. Certainly her voice was thinning and her looks needed bracing, but the performance was sabotaged. Now the craggy mask looking back at her exploded all delusions. It was downright kabuki. Suddenly, another face appeared in the mirror — a younger, kinder face with a hatchet nose, but with an angel’s grace.

“Brooks,” Mother said.

“Don’t give them another thought,” Brooks urged. “They’re a jealous lot.”

“They are, aren’t they? And it wasn’t my fault. The piano was ahead of me and behind me and never at the right place in the song.”

“That’s so like Milton. Give him an audience and spotlight and he’ll steal the thunder from right under you.”

Mother brightened.

“So you did hear me try, dear.”


“And my voice is still in tip top shape.”

“Well, I would be lying if I agreed with that.” Mother frowned, “Do you want me to lie?”

“No, no, dear. At my age, the voice can be a bit spindly . . .”

“And shaky.”

“Yes, that’s what I say.”

“And somewhat out of tune.”

Mother turned.

“Are you trying to bring me down?”

“No, no. Not a bit. I’m just saying perhaps you should rethink your act. Evolution and all that. If it was good enough for Charles Darwin, it should serve Mother Asphodel just fine.”
Mother sighed, and then returned to the mirror.

“I’m shabby. I admit it. I need a new compact and a better wig. Next week’s the New Year’s Eve gig and I intend to join in the fling.”

“Perhaps the fling is not the thing.” Brooks hunkered down, her gown stretched to the limit. “Perhaps a quiet New Year’s Eve with a glass of the bubbly and watching the ball slide down the pole might suit better.”

“I’ll not be alone at New Year’s.”

“No. You should invite over some friends.”

“All my friends are glitter gals and they’ll all be here performing. No, I must take my place among the . . .” She streaked her mascara with her fingers. “. . . among the . . . I look more like Halloween than New Year’s or Christmas, don’t I?”

“It’s not that bad. Let me help you wipe off.”

Brooks applied the cold cream and wiped gently. There were tears in the repellant. Suddenly, Mother began to cry in earnest, her head shaking, her wig jittery.

“There, there,” Brooks said.

Flaba Gasted came over.

“Does she need an Alka-Seltzer?” she asked.

“She needs some peace and quiet, Flabba,” Brooks snapped.

Mother slowly recovered, but when she glanced in the mirror, she renewed the waterworks.

“We need that mirror,” said Ada Tude.

“Suffer,” Brooks said. “Unless you mean to perform a procto, this mirror’s in use.”

Snarls. Fiery glances. But Ada Tude receded to another mirror bumping another queen aside.

“I need to go home,” Mother blubbered.

“Yes, yes. Have a nice cup of tea or perhaps a belt of scotch.” Brooks glanced at the shopping cart.

“Oh, you walked here, didn’t you? Where do you live?”


“That’s too far a walk.”

“I got here, didn’t I?”

“Barely. I saw you on the porch. You looked like a snow queen. No. I’ll drive you home.”
Mother gazed up at this angel.

 “You would do that?”

“Of course. Have car, will travel. Besides, you can brew me a cup of tea or pour me that hooch. Now, pick up the pace.”

“We’re leaving now?”

“Right after they auction off Mr. Leatherman’s jock strap. Wouldn’t miss that for the world. And don’t you want to see who takes home the cake prize? But hustle now, dear. I can only fend off the girls so long before the gloves come off and the nails are sharpened.”

Mother agreed. She stood and let the gown drop. She looked in the mirror no more.

To purchase, click Mother Asphodel

Monday, November 10, 2014

Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet excerpt by Eugene Walter as told to Katherine Clark

In Milking the Moon: A Southerners Story of Life on This Planet excerpt by Eugene Walter as told to Katherine Clark, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, is a  sumptuous oral biography of Eugene Walter, the best-known man you’ve never heard of, is an eyewitness history of the heart of the last century—enlivened with personal glimpses of luminaries from William Faulkner and Martha Graham to Judy Garland and Leontyne Price—and a pitch-perfect addition to the Southern literary tradition that has critics cheering.

In his 176 years, Eugene Walter ate of “the ripened heart of life,” to quote a letter from Isak Dinesen, one of his many illustrious friends. Walter savored the porch life of his native Mobile, Alabama, in the the l920s and ‘30s; stumbled into the Greenwich Village art scene in late-1940s New York; was a ubiquitous presence in Paris’s expatriate café society in the 1950s (where he was part of the Paris Review at its inception); and later, in 1960s Rome, participated in the golden age of Italian cinema. He was somehow everywhere, bringing with him a unique and contagious spirit, putting his inimitable stamp on the cultural life of the twentieth century.

“Katherine Clark…has edited Eugene Walter’s oral history into a book as amazing as the man himself.” JONATHAN YARDLEY, WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

“Milking the Moon has perfect pitch and flawlessly captures Eugene’s pixilated wonderland of a life…. I love this book—and I couldn’t put it down.”

“Surprising and serendipitous.”

“Anecdotes so frothy they ought to be served with a paper parasol over crushed ice.”

“A rare literary treat…the temptation is to wolf it down all at once, but it’s much more satisfying to take your sweet time. The most unique oral history of the mid-twentieth century.”

“An exceptionally fun read.”

Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet
Untreed Reads: (Paperback Edition) (2014)
IBSN: 9781611877700


That Rich Mix of New York in the Forties
Right after the war, before I left for New York, I had worked briefly in the Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, putting the poetry section in order. One day I came across an errata slip that had fallen out of the poetry bookshelf. Cameron and Adelaide, of course, had all the latest books of poetry, whether they sold or not. Some of them stayed ten years on the shelf, twelve years on the shelf. They always got what they thought sounded interesting. A Southern bookshop. Well, this errata slip fell out. It was on good paper and I liked the typeface and I was fascinated by what was on the page. So I went on safari. It took three days going through all those poetry books to find the one this had fallen out of. It was a book called The Ego and the Centaur that had just come out from New Directions. And I thought, Oh, when I go to New York, I’m going to have to go to New Directions and buy me a copy for myself. Because when I was talking about it, somebody was in the shop and right away bought The Ego and the Centaur. I was doing this big thing and talking about it with Adelaide and waving it. Then somebody in there said, “Well, I’ll buy that.” So I thought, Yeah, sure, it’s a bookshop. I’ll have to go to New Directions.
When I got to New York I kept asking the View people, “Have any of you-all met a poet from the French part of Indiana called Jean Garrigue?” I thought it was a man. Jean Garrigue. Well, life being what life is like, and the interwovenness of it all, somebody from somewhere—I can’t think who, it may have been Seymour Lawrence—and I were strolling down Christopher Street, having dined in a little restaurant, and he said, “Oh, look, there’s somebody you ought to meet.” And there was this charming-looking little thing with egret nest curls. Huge blue eyes; you could see across the street they were blue. And she was wearing these dirty slacks, sweeping the sidewalk in front of this slum building on Christopher Street between Sheridan Square and West 10th. Anyway, he said, “You Southerners from the provinces.” And he said, “Jean Garrigue, Eugene Walter.” I said, “WHAT? What? I’m your errata boy.” She thought I was saying erotic boy. Then I told the story about the errata slip. We became great friends. Her building almost backed up to mine in that block. We’d been two years vibrating at each other and didn’t know it. All these things happen to everybody, but most people don’t notice.
Jean Garrigue was Something Else Again. Even before I met her, I considered her America’s only Baroque poet. She wrote her own free verse, except it wasn’t free verse. Just as Walt Whitman has a secret meter, if you read Jean Garrigue aloud, you discover this secret American rhythm. And she was writing about everything: animals, vast landscapes, and vast concepts. She was not one of the race of professor lady poets, saying, “I don’t feel so well, I’m unhappy, nothing goes right, America’s a terrible place to live, there are no men in America or all the men are cavemen in America.” They never have any idea of a civilized male creature. It’s either the Neanderthal or the priss. Anyway, Jean Garrigue wrote big.
And that was surprising, since she was a lady of the old school. A lady. But also a bawd, as all the great eighteenth-century ladies were. Could carry on any kind of conversation. Loved the same sort of dirty jokes that I like. There were a lot of the beginnings of liberated ladies in New York who were tough and nasty. Bitchy, mean, sexually unsatisfied, and putting off the very men who were attracted to them because they had spirit. It was that beginning of the women’s lib thing, though it wasn’t called women’s lib then. But then there were people like Jean Garrigue and a whole bunch of Southern girls who stayed ladies except they learned to say “fuck.” They still had a certain graciousness and, above all, a sense of humor. What some of those New England girls didn’t have was a sense of humor. The men called them the scissors girls. If you weren’t careful, they’d cut your balls off. The scissors girls. Later it was called women’s lib. Jean Garrigue was just an exceptional creature. With this irresistible smile and these blue eyes. She was petite, and she dressed very well. Sometimes she wore slacks and a loose blouse in the bohemian way, but if she was going uptown, she had on a tailored Chanel suit. Her hair was some honey colored. She was adorable. Imagine Emily Dickinson after two glasses of elderberry wine.
It was only revealed much, much later that she was multierotic and the lover of Josephine Herbst, the novelist and revolutionary. But she also had a long list of male lovers. She was not an erotic whiz kid. She was not what was called a nympho. She had a feminine thing of comforting people. I think that kind of lady just goes to bed with guys they feel sorry for. “Oh, poor darling. Poogie, woogie, woo.” And I think she was a passionate woman in the eighteenth-century sense. It didn’t always show. She wasn’t lighting one cigarette after another and hiking her skirt up to her navel. She was a lady, but eighteenth-century: she knew everybody had to have sex.
She died of cancer while I was in Rome. Everybody on earth called me long-distance. Everybody. “Eugene we’ve got— Are you sitting down? We’ve got some news.” By the time I’d had twenty-four hours of this, I thought, People love catastrophe. Now I know why the Greek kings killed the messengers who brought the bad news. Just cut their heads off after they’d given their message. I wanted to bomb the Bell system because I heard so many times that she died of cancer. We had just been corresponding and talking about how we could meet in Paris.
You see, the world is very small. It doesn’t matter how many millions more are born. It’s still that 10 percent of people who reason, who are aware of larger issues, and it’s only 3 percent of the total that’s cats and monkeys. She was cats and monkeys. And I adored her.
I met Josephine Herbst through Jean Garrigue and all the Village set. She had intense blue eyes and graying hair, and she was much older than everybody else. Much older. She was very much of the thirties: a thirties protester. I don’t know if she ever was a member of the Communist Party, but she was extremely leftist. Of course, nobody today can understand what that meant in the Depression period. During those poor, poor, poor years, when people literally were starving to death in the streets, ordinary people had a certain resentment of some of the big wealth. They thought the government was in the clutches of the rich. Indeed it was, still is. I mean Reagan—
Oh, my God. I said I’d never say that in the same room with the monkey.
I’m sorry, darling. I have to apologize. Never again. I’ll say Baudelaire twenty-seven times as penance.
But anyway, nobody can imagine who wasn’t alive, and seeing the problems of the Depression, the rabid leftism of someone like Josephine Herbst. She did not come of a poor family, but she was of a farming family that was self-supporting and proud and red-white-and-blue American.
As a young woman she was successful as a novelist and a journalist. She covered the Spanish civil war and knew Hemingway through all that. But she was rabidly left, and I disapproved of that. Because I had come through the Depression and had seen real poverty with a Southern accent, and I still had a sense of humor. And even the most revolutionary young men never were that hysterical or rabid, where they got absolutely tremulous in talking about it. Even in 1948 she could get all worked up and get “What do you mean by that?” She was one of those “What do you mean by that?” persons. Like high blood pressure. I didn’t like that aspect of her. I always talked to her about gardening. I learned early on that was a safe subject. And I could make her laugh.
How did I make Josie laugh? How do I make anybody laugh? I don’t know. By putting omega before alpha rather than alpha before omega. Who knows? I could make Josie smile with just impressions of other writers

Jis’t like. I only had to give her impressions of someone at a party and I’d get her off politics for a minute.
I remember she took a great exception to Truman Capote. She thought he was a little puff from the South. He was not. He had a mind as sharp as a fox trap. But she, seeing that famous photo of him lying on a sofa—the photo on the back of his first novel—thought he was a cream puff from Alabama.
Then years later when I was living in Rome, I went to meet her in Naples after she returned to Europe for the first time since she’d been covering the Spanish civil war. I went right there and met her boat. Took her to a waterfront restaurant for a dinner, and I lent her my raincoat because she didn’t bring one and suddenly it was damp and cold. But she was too sensitive. I escorted her around and did everything and gave dinners for her when she got to Rome and all that and all that. But there was one evening she called me and she was feeling at loose ends. I said, “I’m sorry I can’t see you tonight because I have the proofs of Botteghe and I’ll be working all night to get these to the printer in the morning.” And she was offended. That’s the last I saw her.

To purchase Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on This Planet click (Purchasing the paperback at 25% off ($22.99)entitles the purchaser to an additional ebook copy.