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For a while, I only trusted gay men with my hair. As a child, my mother cut my hair: every two months or so, I sat on a chair set upon spread-out newspaper on the basement storeroom, and my mother worked my head with a trimmer set that nicked my ears and spewed out hot ozone. In middle-school, she started taking me to haircut franchises: Great Clips, the Hair Cuttery—but after one too many fucked-up cuts, we settled on a Vietnamese woman who had shop in the Far East Shopping Plaza. While I got my hair cut, she shopped for groceries.

Patrick, though, was my first stylist. He worked first out of Cherry Creek, but when he opened his own salon in Englewood, I followed. We hung out for  coffee and occasionally hit the bars together. He introduced me to having my hair slightly askew and tousled, as if I’d just woken up. (How can anyone tell the difference? asks Matthew.)

When I returned to Denver after grad school, Patrick had closed his salon and had moved to San Diego. I tried other gay men, but results were spotty, depending mostly on the mood of the stylist that day. But Matthew introduced me to Meechie, who worked at the Supercuts not far from our apartment, and from that day on, only sassy black women have cut my hair.

I have great respect for hair stylists. When I told Tomacina, my current stylist, that I’d like a Mohawk for the summer, she didn’t bat an eye, but worked the clippers until all the white hairs at my temples were on the floor. “Not too bad,” she said.

In The Rock, the gay barber (“stylist,” he insists) is played for laughs. He’s a hideous stereotype: prancing, mincing, and prone to the vapors. His complaint that he’s not allowed to use scissors is played off as evidence of frivolity. What’s a pair of thinning shears when compared to the fate of San Francisco, a city under threat of being poison gassed? He’s on-hand to give Sean Connery, a wrongfully-imprisoned British intelligence officer, a haircut. They sit, guarded by FBI officers, on a high hotel balcony, with the San Francisco hills roll behind them.

Michael Bay admits that Connery essentially reprise his most famous role: “a rusty James Bond,” he describes the character. A friend recently explained why she doesn’t like James Bond movies. “Whenever I see Bond driving through a crowded marketplace, overturning the stalls and sending everything flying, I don’t care that Bond is trying to save the world,” she said. “All I can think about are all the poor merchants who’ve just had their lives upended.”

“I guess I’m not the right audience,” she concluded.

Connery uses the haircut as a pretext to escape, of course, flinging his captor off the balcony. The stylist flees into the elevator, where he cowers from Mason. But he knows that his work is no less important than Mason’s work to save the world. “All I care about is,” he says, “Are you happy with your haircut?”

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Matthew and I were visiting the father of one of his friends who owned a condo near Vail.  Neither he nor I skied, given our combined income at the time.  Vail Village can make you feel very poor very quickly.  Women in high heels navigate the cobblestones with effortless ease and whisk into shops with names that sound like aspirations:  Fantasia Furs, Jewels of the West, Worth Home.

At the Wedgwood storefront, I said, “Okay, let’s each pick a pattern,” because it’s a sure harbinger of doom when two gay men can’t agree on a china set.   But we concurred:  Persia.  We went into the store, were ignored by the shopkeepers, and walked back out.

*

The Wedgwood teapot (Jasperware, white-on-pale blue) that the Cary finds in All That Heaven Allows is a sure symbol of her materialism.  She’s drawn to it even though it’s in broken, and her love interest, the rugged Ron, takes it out of her hands and tells her that it was there for a reason:  it’s in pieces.  She looks at him, slightly embarrassed.  It’s only a god damn teapot, after all.

That teapot, nowadays, with its body restored, could probably fetch anywhere from $250-500 at auction.

*

Every year, Matthew’s relations in upstate New York ask him what he wants for Christmas.  They take the holiday and gift-giving very seriously, and his protests that he don’t need anything fall on deaf ears.  One year, I offered to help clear the table and stack the plates (Lenox, Eternal Gold-Banded) after dinner and was told, in no uncertain terms:  “We do not stack the plates.”

So we asked for our own china set, and not soon after, received place settings for eight (Wedgwood, India).

“One of these days,” Matthew says, “we’re actually going to use them.”

*

Ron repairs the teapot and surprises Cary with it.  It’s his invitation:  come live with me here, in this restored barn, in the forest.  But she can’t; she’ll miss her comforts, her standing in the community, her solid upper middle-class reputation.  As she gathers her coat to leave, the edge catches the teapot and it falls, breaking again—this time, irreparable.  Ron gathers the fragments and tosses them into the fireplace.

*

Yesterday, Matthew and I were in TJ Maxx, the sub-bourgeois discount store, stopping in just to stop in.  While I was deciding whether or not I needed a new tea strainer, he came up to me:  “Look what I found.”

A Wedgwood teapot (Notting Hill).  For $35.

“It can’t be real,” I said.

He turned it over.  It was, indeed, stamped Wedgwood.  He traced his finger along the platinum band ringing the teapot.  “Oh,” he said, “that’s why it’s here.”  The porcelain had a flaw, a dimpled acne scar on its side.  After Wedgwood emerged from bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, the company closed its plants in the UK and moved almost all of its production to Indonesia, where labor is approximately 85% cheaper.  At that time, as well, unemployment in Britain jumped almost 2.5% from a year earlier.

*

so much depends
upon

a blue Wedgwood
teapot

glazed with English
Breakfast

by the wood-burning
fireplace

Orlando, from Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On, on the nature of cruises:  “This is the funny thing about sea voyages:  after a few days, you feel as if you’d been sailing forever.  You feel you’ve always known your fellow voyagers.”

David Foster Wallace, from his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” on the same subject:  “The promise is not that you can experience great pleasure, but that you will…. That they’ll micromanage every iota of every pleasure-option so that not even the dreadful corrosive action of your adult consciousness and agency and dread can fuck up your fun.”

Frank Conroy, on his cruise, as quoted in “A Supposedly Fun Thing…”:  “We entered a new world, a sort of alternate reality to the one on shore.”  And, when asked by Wallace why he wrote that:  “I prostituted myself.”

***

Who hasn’t dreamed of dining with Astors and Guggenheims in gilt Grand Ballrooms?  Dancing to the orchestra; clinking champagne glasses; chewing very, very slowly as not to distort your face while eating.  I’ve suggested a gay cruises to Matthew before, but he takes one look at the brochures, fraught with glossy men who have gestated in tanning oil, and says, “Are you kidding?”  I try to convince him that every cruise will feature an opera competition in the boiler room — but no dice.  He suspects — probably rightly so — that we would most likely be roped off on deck somewhere, like Serbian refugees.

But cruises as a sign of class status have disappeared.  But the democratization of sea voyages isn’t a bad thing, per se — it’s allowed, for instance, people like my parents to travel.  And though they may be the targets of Wallace’s good-natured scorn (retired, prone to videotape and photograph every little movement), they’re still my parents.

Their first cruise they took spun them through Central America.  They retruend with a fist full of photographs and t-shirts for the whole family.  Did I want the nautical flags under the word Panama or Panama: Puente de los Americas?  I chose the former.

I looked through the pictures.  The first was of a tiger.

“That was at the lunch buffet,” my mom said.  “It’s made out of cheese and chocolate!”

The next was an Arcimboldo-style spread.

“All fruit!” she said.  “Every breakfast, you can have all the fruit you want.”

Then came pictures of the bath towels folded into origami animals:  a swan, a snake, a giraffe, a lobster, a lobster wearing my father’s glasses, my mother sitting next to a towel lobster wearing my father’s glasses.

“Never the same animal once during the whole week,” my father said.

“Where’s the Canal?” I asked.  “Where are your pictures of Belize?”

My parents looked at each other and shrugged — “Did we tell you about the midnight buffet?”

Most gangster movies suggest a moral imperative:  no one who receives ill-gotten gains will prosper.  Witness Bob Hoskins’ decline in The Long Good Friday:  despite his high-rolling lifestyle (yacht! champagne! a young Helen Mirren!), his and his compatriots’ lives seem to be shorter, more nasty and more brutish than most.  But few people watch gangster films for moral instruction (at least, I hope not).  They go to see a pre-Remington Steele Pierce Brosnan.  Wet!  In a Speedo!

My own gang knowledge remains thankfully non-existent.  During the mid-90s, I heard about Vietnamese gangs terrorizing Little Saigons around the nation, but I never suspected Denver had a problem.  Asian gangs were, after all, a California phenomenon.  I remember my parents talking about a brazen robbery during a Catholic Mass:  the gang members made everyone lie on the floor and went through the congregation’s pockets, one by one.  No one was killed, but Vietnamese communities coast-to-coast were on high alert:  these could be your neighbor’s gelled and spiky-headed sons! Not your own, of course.  Never yours.

Before I went to high school, my family faithfully attended Tết (New Year) and Tết Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn) festivals sponsored by the local Buddhist temple.  After dutifully bowing to my parents’ friends and acquaintances — arms crossed, back sore from the repetitive stress injury, I got to mill about with the other bored kids.  The smell of spent firecrackers hung in a colloidal suspension with oil spritzing off the egg roll frying vats.  You could hear dice rattling and cheers of excitement and disappointment as people played bầu cua cá cọp.

There were always handful of white people at these events — befuddled but patient spouses, hip-before-their-time Buddhists — and one tall guy who always stood out.  He wore a polo shirt tucked into his acid-washed jeans with no belt.  Armed with a few halting words of Vietnamese, he circulated, courteous but watchful, like a guard dog looking for scraps.  My sister, who, at the time, went to the University of Colorado–Denver, a hotbed of Vietnamese pow-wows, told me, That’s JamesHe’s a cop.  The liaison for the Vietnamese community — gang patrol.

James was personable, good-looking.  A trustworthy face, as my mother might say.  He would have had a hell of a time going undercover, but engaging the community was the next best thing.  He tempered his easygoing camaraderie with a firm handshake and steely voice, as if suggesting, You know what I am, I know what you are, let’s all play nice.  I always wondered if he was packing.  But it seemed excessive:  Colorado was not California.  No one had inducted me into a gang.

But chalk this up to my lack of gang-desirable qualities.  As I’ve since learned, the Viet Pride Gangsters (VPG, not to be confused with their nemeses, Asian Pride) have operated in Denver since the 90s.  In 2003, they took a major hit when the police arrested 23 gang members (including one white boy).  Ironic:  they call themselves “Viet Pride” but victimize primarily other Vietnamese.  I suppose nothing says pride like burglarizing neighbors, friends, family.  But not your own, of course.  Never yours.

One of the reasons I like watching movies with Matthew at home is that he’s one of the few people I know who reacts viscerally to what he watches.  Case-in-point:  at certain moments during The Silence of the Lambs, Matthew spoke directly to the screen.  “Don’t go in there!  Look behind you!”  At other times, he turned to me with a murderous look in his eyes:  I can’t believe you’re making me watch this.

But this is also the guy who talks back to voice mails, so I’m not sure what to make of that.

The person who first alerted me to Silence of the Lambs was my sister, who saw it on the big screen when it came out.  “How was it?” I asked.

“Great!” she said.  “The best part is where she’s stumbling around in the dark while the killer watches her through night vision goggles.  You can see her gun shaking and everything!”

My sister has never held back the ending of a movie just in case I wanted to see it myself.

After Silence of the Lambs won the Academy Award for Best Picture, that meant it was perfectly acceptable for me to watch it.  For goodness’ sake, my parents made me sit through Gandhi and Out of Africa, so Silence of the Lambs was, in a sense, a reward.  And even though I knew that scene was coming, and even though I had steeled myself for it, I remember still freaking out uncontrollably.  Only silently, to myself.

The reason the scene is so effective, I think, is because of how it plays on horror movie tropes.  Everyone’s familiar with the “killer cam” — scenes filmed from the killer’s point of view, ogling nubile teens from the bushes or peering into dusty windows.  (Carol Clover points out how those shots are the moments when the audience identifies with the male tormentor.)  It’s become such a cliché that you have to wonder if it’s even effective as a technique anymore.  It’s dramatic irony on the cheap.

But in Jonathan Demme’s hands, an overused movie trope becomes potent once again.  When Buffalo Bill turns on his green seeing-eye glasses, and the audience sees Clarice Starling stumbling in the dark (yes, her gun shakes), Demme taps into the deep well of feeling the audience has built up for Starling, the soundtrack silent except for her panicked breaths.  Everyone, I imagine, has had a moment when they’ve been disoriented by darkness — crawling, perhaps, on their hands and knees, discovering solid walls where before there had been none, knocking their shins on sharp corners.  In that scenes, our own memories of getting lost in the pitch black fire the synapses, and we’re all tense, straining for a stray sound, a whisper of light, and we’re all a girl with a gun, trembling in the dark.  Matthew’s the only one with the sense to yell out, “Shoot your gun!  Shoot him!”

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