Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Winnemucca Woman

Finished Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City this morning prior to my ultrasound, and again felt the pleasure of enjoying a good read. (Goal is to make it through all 9 volumes before July, but going on Library copies from this point forwad, since I've managed to lose my collection.)

Anyway, while some of the darkness we got a small peak at in the first volume pops up here, it's not nearly as much of a character as it winds up being in later volumes. I mean, really, the worst we get to deal with is the Cannibal Episcopal Cult at Grace Cathedral, and even that is not quite as bad as later events.

We start on Valentine's Day as Michael and Mary Ann make resolutions for their love lives. As it turns out, Mary Ann's boss (who was having an affair with their landlady in the last volume) left her a substantial gift in his will, allowing her and Michael to take an 11 day cruise on the Pacific Princess to Acapulco. Much to the chagrin of new boss Beauchamp, who's busy dealing with the revelation that his wife DeDe is giving birth to twins from a Chinese father. DeDe's mother, Frannie, on the other hand, is dealing with turning 60 when she gets a surprise for her birthday. Mona is having issues with being alone, so she hops a bus to Reno and instead gets suckered in to working phones at a whorehouse in Winnemucca. Brian, now living in Norman Neil Williams's little house on the roof, is busy watching a woman with binoculars in another building. And Mrs. Madrigal remains as she has been, with hers being one of the largest revelations in the book.

On the cruise, Mary Ann meets and falls in love with Blonde himbo Burke, who has amnesia about his 3 years in San Francisco. Michael resigns himself to being alone until he hits the only gay bar in Acapulco and runs into his former lover Jon. Sparks fly, and by the time they reach San Francisco, all of 'em are happily coupled again.

DeDe manages to befriend D'orothea unexpectedly after she leaves Beauchamp. Beauchamp, upset over the scandal of her children hires someone to beat her up to terminate the pregnancy. (The fact he's cruising the bathhouses looking for men is evidently less of a concern to him than his wife's mixed heritage babies.)

Burke, as it turns out, has issues related to his amnesia like a feal of fenced walkways and puking at the sight of roses. He also remembers a strange rhyme in his sleep and recognizes a man with a hair transplant.

Mona, out in Winnemucca, discovers her name in of the books, calls San Francisco, and the big secret comes out. Mother Mucca, nee Mona Ramsay, is her grandmother. Mrs. Madrigal is actually Mona's father (sort of).

Mrs. Madrigal does try to get Mona and Brian together, but the lady across the city causes issues.

Michael comes down with Guillain-Barre and winds up hospitalized while his mother writes him letters about she and her husband joining Anita Bryant's Save Our Children. Which does lead to a very powerful moment when Michael writes home to mom and dad, discussing his own homosexuality. 

By the end, we find out Burke's amnesia was due to trying to break open a story about a cult eating human flesh during Communion, we find out Brian's nightly appointment was actually Mona's mother, we find out what the anagram in Mrs. Madrigal's name is, and we get to see Michael and Jon happy for the moment. (Spoiler: this doesn't last. They're divorced and reconcile in the next book, then Jon dies off page in book 4.) 

While this volume ramps up the soap opera nature of the narrative, it's still so much fun to read.

Friday, May 17, 2019

I've got that JOY JOY JOY JOY deep in my heart!

With this author, I need to preface this with the fact he's my brother. Indeed, I along with my other siblings show up on the dedication page.

In other words, anytime I review something by someone I know, I do my best to remove my connections with them when reviewing, which is a bit like Jimmy Carter removing himself from his peanut farm after becoming President.


So, The White Angel of Death actually refers to a character, but she doesn't show up until about the midpoint. Which does make her a better character than say, John Galt, who doesn't show up in his novel that he's the main character of until 3/4 of the way through. Mostly, we're following around Michael "Mickey" Weston, a keyboardist for several local bands (most recently, the Balding Orangutans, who fired him, but kept his riff on their national hit "Monkey With Your Love".) Mickey works as a record store and is dating a girl named Trish, who mostly seems to want to argue. We open on Mickey's mom calling him to let him know his brother is in the hospital and likely dying. Frank not only is an addict, but he is also in late stage Acquired Manic Syndrome, the current plague. AMS basically screw with serotonin transmission, making the infected very happy. Second stage screws with the actual synapse, and third stage leaves you paralyzed but orgasmic, essentially left to die of a good time. The disease follows AIDS like transmission, through blood or other bodily fluid.

Frank, the brother, ends up spitting blood on Mickey, who does have a cut on his hand, and who does indeed contract the, I assume, bacteria. (The cure bears a similar name to antibiotics, so I assume bacterial.) As such, Mickey does indeed slowly start transitioning into his life of being a "Happyhead", one nickname for folks infected. While going to get tested, (which is when we find out about government response to AMS, which basically boils down to "You get cured, and if you refuse, we will arrest you and cure you whether you like it or not", under the theory that if the disease mutates into another transmission vector, people who don't deserve it will wind up with it), we also hear about White Angel, an organization run by Jane Alison Tippet, who' initial paperwork reads as if it's your right to die happy than live depressed.

Mickey tests positive on the first round, then demands the second test for confirmation. Then he starts refusing the cure. Indeed, with the sort of help of a coworker (who had AMS and got the cure, which essentially keeps you from ever recontracting the disease), Mickey starts joyholing, which is pretty much happyheads prostituting themselves to the uninfected. $300 an encounter, and the stamina to go 3-6 times a night. Just watch out for the cops, kid.

Mickey does actually get almost caught in a sting operation, and contacts the local White Angel chapter, who provides him a motorcycle and a contact in Chicago. (We start in Columbus. Sadly, most of the landmarks mentioned in this maybe 2 decades ahead of us setting are long gone, razed and built over with utilitarian capitalist venture that the average college student can't afford but make the parents think the area is safe.)

In Chicago, an encounter with his White Angel contact and the bartender who's a CDC mole ends up with him meeting Iz, who's part of an unaffiliated Permanent Floating Rave. The PFR is in a bad neighborhood, and the happyheads are paying protection money to a local gang to leave them alone while they all joyhole (or in a few cases, provide other outlets) for money. Anyway, thing eventually go south, and Iz, who really doesn't like White Angel ends up leading the remnants back to the main house, where Jane Alison Tippet herself resides and runs classes for AMS sufferers, as well as safe houses for them. Mind you, as we sit through Ms. Tippet's class, we find out her philosophy isn't much better than the governments. It draws from the fun 19th century theory that since more people eat up more and more limited resources, the poor should suffer so that more resources become available. Indeed, she thinks of AMS as a gift from G-d, a plague that lets the infected die happy. Which translates into shoving her charges into brothels, providing all the vices they could want, and keeping the money they raise.

In the background, we have national news that we gets bits and pieces of in the context of someone riding serotonin overload really isn't paying attention to national news. This means we hear bits about the Texangelicals and their militias, who in the end help defend President Burlinson from being evicted from the White House following his impeachment.

Honestly, reading this was a bit like remembering my own brief time on antidepressants back in '01, wherein there are some seriously bad things going on, but you don't really pay attention to them because your new brain won't let you. It's very interesting, with the darkness buried under layers of sex, love, and drugs.

Ordinarily I'd post a link to the place to purchase it, but evidently the publisher is slowly going out of business, and Chuck's trying to get the rights back to publish it again. You may get lucky on Amazon, you may not.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Under the boardwalk

On a whim, I picked up what's currently published of the other M/M paranormal romance of Morgan Brice, BadLands.

We start with Simon, who has a doctorate in folklore, who lost his university post and his lover and now runs a New Age store and runs ghost tours on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. He's also a psychic medium of some strength. Simon also keeps contacts with his Skeleton Crew, other folks with powers, most of whom are untrained. As we open, the Boardwalk is being haunted by the Slither Slasher, a serial killer hunting down predominantly seasonal workers but also folks with psychic powers.

We then switch perspective to Vic, an Italian cop who moved to Myrtle Beach after running into something supernatural while taking down a killer in Pittsburgh. While he is not a believer, he does come around as the story progresses. Particularly since Vic is working on the Slither case.

They first meet unexpectedly at a Boardwalk coffee shop, flirting over cappuccino. Then they meet as cop and store owner, as Simon uses his powers to contact the victims' ghosts. While he's under, he accidentally hears from one of the Pittsburgh ghosts, which sets Vic on edge.

Anyway, as is to be expected, Vic and Simon go through the initial rush of starting a relationship (complete with whatever the male equivalent of a heaving bosom would be) then end up backing away from each other as Simon playing Nancy Drew gets him under suspicion. Of course, by the end, Simon is vindicated and he and Vic are free to heave bosom together.

While it does fall under a formula, it's still fun reading, and focusing on older characters takes some of the...exuberance...out of the romance that haunted the Witchbane initial outing. While they are heaving quite nicely, they're also not violating several laws of refraction in the process. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Golden Years

I hadn't been planning on revisiting Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City quite this early, but I needed something in a hurry, so I grabbed it off the shelf again for a quick trip back to Bicentennial San Francisco. While I doubt my July trip to the city will find the magic within this particular volume and its subsequent sequels, it's so much fun to visit.

We start with Mary Ann Singleton, Cleveland native, as she decides to quit her job at the fertilizer company and move to the City by the Bay. Mind you, she telephones her parents from the city to tell them this as her mood ring turns blue... She moves in with her friend Connie briefly until she can secure an apartment and a job. Connie is very... kitchy. She has a pet rock. She introduces Mary Ann to the Marina Safeway dating game and the Dance Your Ass Off club. Eventually, Mary Ann finds Mrs. Madrigal and her rooming house at 28 Barbary Lane on Russian Hill. Mrs. Madrigal grows marijuana with names like Barbara Stanwyck in her garden. She also has a hidden past that we only get hints of in this volume.

In the house, we also have Mona and her eventual roommate Michael. Mona works as a creative copy at Halcyon Communications, although she ends up quitting when one of the clients says some really rude things to her. Michael is gay (shocking in 1976 San Francisco), and his horrible love life forms part of the narrative. In this volume, he meets gay gynecologist Jon at gay skate night, then eventually loses him when Jon walks in on him dancing in his jockey shorts at Endup.

We have Brian Hawkins, a former civil rights lawyer now waiting tables at Perry's. He's straight and making the most of the meet market that is San Francisco.

Eventually we get Norman Neil Williams, who... well, he's really not very nice.

Mixed in with this, we meet Edgar and Frannie Halcyon, Mary ann and Mona's boss and his wife; Beauchamp and DeDe Day, Edgar's daughter and son-in law; and D'orothea, Mona's ex lover who she winds up moving in with again.

All of these lives wind up mixing with each other, as Beauchamp ends up sleeping with both May Ann and Jon, Edgar and Mrs. Madrigal have a nice affair as he deals with renal failure, Brian and Mary ann date briefly, Brian and Michael become good friends, Norman falls off a cliff, D'orothea turns out not to be as black as she pretended to be. (I never said it wound up being politically correct.)

As I recall, I wound up reading the first three in high school after watching the miniseries based on book 1. I read what was the last 3 much later in college, and what's now the final 3 as they were released. My love for them remains strong, even now. Reading the first volume again reminded me of how much I loved the interconnected nature of the narrative, a gay character (who, even if he is referred to as a twink) I could relate to, and the idea that friendship is found in strange places.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

It Was A Fine Affair

So, this should be interesting, since Fosse by Sam Wasson covers subjects that are both entrancing and downright vile on occasion.

As you could probably guess by the title, the actual subject matter is Bob Fosse, dancer, choreographer, director, writer, womanizer, heel, etc. One gets the impression her rode the wheel round and round, his highs high and his lows almost a bottomless pit.As a side note, the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon was based on this particular volume, although there are a few events in the series that didn't appear in the book. The series also has the advantage of being a visual medium, allowing you to see what they're discussing as well as using some of Fosse's own visual tricks to get their point across. On the other hand, the book delves much deeper into Fosse's entire life, although his women are almost sidelined in the narrative. Which is a shame, since it would appear that Gwen Verson and Ann Reinking both kept his legacy alive and helped translate what went on in Bob's head to the people he was working with.

Anyway, we start in Fosse's childhood, growing up in Chicago during the Depression, and essentially going to dance class in place of his sister. He had the talent, and his teacher wound up playing his agent, sending Fosse and his good friend, Charles Grass to every vaudeville and burlesque outfit he could get them bookings at. Which, by the sound of it, wound up being every seedy theater that would accept them. Eventually Bob got drafted for the War, where he joined the Entertainment Corps. Part of me remains amused at the idea of bawdy performers entertaining their way across the South Pacific. Eventually, he was discharged and wound up in New York, where he wound up meeting and partnering and marrying Mary Ann Niles. While they toured together, Bob essentially outgrew her and started courting the also married Joan McCracken. Whom he ended up divorcing Mary Ann to marry eventually.

Joan, an established actress managed to get more than a few doors opened for Bob, which eventually lead to his big break, choreographing The Pajama Game. Success and love wasn't enough, as Fosse's extra marital affairs eventually doomed this marriage, although the final straw came with Damn Yankees and Gwen Verdon.

Since I can't get video to work, here's Verdon and Fosse in the movie version. 

Verdon and Fosse wound up marrying after her divorce and having Nicole, who eventually wound up in the original Broadway cast of Phantom of the Opera.

 Fosse started getting more involved in the actual control of creating a musical with Sweet Charity, which sadly unleashed "If My Friends Could See Me Now" on an unsuspecting world, later used to sell Carnival Cruises with Kathy Lee Gifford lip syncing for her life on a cruise.

Fosse and Verdon's marriage was a success on a creative level, but a mess on the personal level. Indeed, while they never divorced, they did separate during the filming of Cabaret after Gwen, having flown round trip from Germany to New York and back to get a gorilla costume arrived to find Bob in bed with several German girls.

Mein Herr

Sadly, Gwen's career stalled while Bob's continued to grow. He won an Oscar for Cabaret, a few Tonys for Pippin and Emmys for Liza With a Z. (The book goes into great detail with how Liza was filmed, with multiple cameras essentially making it one big take.) Pippin was evidently a bit of a fight, since Schwartz, who wrote it, wasn't fond of Fosse's rather ironic take on an earnest story. It also introduced Fosse to Ann Reinking, the other major girlfriend in the legacy.(Seriously. I lost track of everyone he was attached to throughout.)

Not the Manson Trio I was looking for, but....

To help boost ticket sales, Bob ended up shooting the famous Manson Trip in Pippin as a 1 minute commercial spot to boost soft sales later in the run. They also did a TV movie version of Pippin for Home Video, which everyone hated. (By all accounts, it was like Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video's original cut where the dancing was cut in favor of faces.)

We hear about his movie ventures, Lenny with Dustin Hoffman, All That Jazz, which was semi autobiographical, and Star 80, which was really really depressing.

We hear about Dancin', which was sort of a revue of Fosse's style.

We hear about Broadway in the 80's when the big British set pieces came over and corporate sponsorship of shows became the rule instead of the exception.

We meet his friends, like Neil Simon and Paddy Chayefsky (of which one really sad story emerges. A deal was struck after Bob;s first heart attack that if Paddy died first, Bob would tap dance at his funeral, if Bob died first, Paddy would deliver the longest eulogy ever. Paddy dies first, and Fosse indeed tap dances.) We see Fosse do more drugs than all of Height-Ashbury in 1969. We get a brief moment of the dancers in the Dancin' tour dealing with AIDS and how Rock Hudson changed their attitudes. We hear about his rivalry with Michael Bennett, and how that eventually changed like the Nederlander/Schubert rivalry as two old War Horses learning to not fight.

Ultimately though, the book is a really vivid portrayal of the creative person, and the destruction that is the flip side of creation. It also raises questions about it's protagonist, in this more modern era, of whether or not what he achieved justified what he did to create it. (Frankly, had he been around in the past 20 years, we'd not know his work, since he'd have been fired from every show he was part of for his antics. Sexual harassment of the ladies, telling a child actor to stand there naked and get aroused while being harassed by strippers.... the drugs....) And that is up to the reader, on whether creation that benefits all is worth the personal destruction required to achieve it.