Monday, November 19, 2012

Writers' Workshop

Last night I did something I've never done before, well, maybe in a classroom, but there, only reluctantly.

Last night I read a chapter of my "memoir", a work in progress, at a the Bare Bones Cafe, right here in our town and in front of a small audience.  I am not a person who exudes self-confidence, so I was a little apprehensive.  But I did OK and felt positive about the experience.

I was one of five readers.  We are from a Writer's Group that I was invited to join last May.  The group has been very supportive.  We read our stuff to one another and offer critiques.

I feel very privileged to be a part of the group - the others are "real" writers who've been published.  I'm an amateur, but they have made me feel very welcomed and have been encouraging.

Leon took photos, but alas, he did not take photos of all five of us, mostly just me, so these photos are of "me" doing my reading, followed by what I read:

(c) 2012 Frank DeFrancesco, all Rights Reserved
(Names and events have been loosely disguised to confuse anyone who thinks I've written about them)

       ‘Dead Bob’, as my partner Lee and I would affectionately refer to Bob Windham after he died to distinguish him from the many other ‘Bobs’ we knew, was thoroughly gay.  He was delightfully gay.  He was unabashedly gay. 

       In addition to the Gay Married Men’s Group, Bob attended gay AA and gay Al-Anon meetings, not because of any problem with alcohol, but to cruise the guys.

       “I’m not an alcoholic,” he would protest, “I hardly even drink beer, but I go with my friend Eddie, for moral support.  Besides, the hottest guys are in AA.”

       Bob belonged to Integrity, the gay Episcopal group, and he volunteered on the Council for Sexual Minorities, which comprised several representatives from a number of local, more or less liberal churches.  He also volunteered as a group facilitator with the local Gay and Lesbian Young People’s Hartford support group – GLYPH - which I had been in charge of. 

       You might also find him occasionally at a Gay Pride Committee meeting and any other ad hoc committee that might form at the first inkling of a new legislative initiative affecting the rights of Connecticut’s gays and Lesbians.  If there was a gay march or demonstration, Bob was there.

       Since separating from his wife, Lori, some eight years prior, Bob threw himself wholeheartedly into gay adolescence.  Bob loved sex and talked about it often, kind of like a teenager who had just discovered his big brother’s copy of Playboy and pretends to have done a lot more than he did for real. 

       Bob was not a hunk by any stretch, but certainly not ugly.  He was about five-foot-six and had a slightly pudgy midriff, dirty blond hair that got in his eyes and an Irish-elfin face with a big toothy smile and twinkling eyes.  A single gold tooth added even more sparkle to his countenance.

       Bob was a packrat of sorts.  A borderline hoarder.   He did not have junk stacked in floor to ceiling piles like some hoarders often do, but he definitely had his OCD quirks. 

       A few years earlier, when we flew out to San Francisco with him and Carl, he brought at least ten pairs of sunglasses with him that he had purchased on sale.  “It was such a bargain, I couldn’t pass it up,” he explained, while he chuckled in that mischievous, innocent way he always did.  In addition to his regular luggage, Bob brought his carry-ons which consisted of seven or eight plastic shopping bags, filled with everything from the sunglasses to sweaters, candy bars, magazines, a walkman and a 5-inch black and white TV, “It was such a bargain,” was his refrain. 

       At the airport Bob said, “Let’s make sure we get on the plane first, so I can get all this stuff into the overheard compartments.”  We could maybe justify the ten pairs of sunglasses, but why Bob would need a mini-TV in California was anybody’s guess.

       Bob had been married to Lori, a woman he genuinely loved and had two daughters whom he cherished. For Bob it was the ‘Gay Married Men’s Group’ that helped with his coming out and supported him in telling his wife and daughters about his gay identity.  Even though he was amicably divorced, he remained active with the married men’s group.  I think Bob stayed with the group because, as he would often say, “Married men are so hot.”

       When Bob died of complications of AIDS in early 1996, his lover Carl, who did not live with him during the six or so years they were together, asked Lee and I to help go through his things and clean out his apartment.  Carl called to set the date a few weeks after the funeral and it was April when we finally had a free Saturday to help him with closing up Bob’s apartment.  
       We had agreed to meet Carl at Bob’s old place at 7 am on Saturday.  Lee and I drove over in Lee’s Isuzu Pup – the little pickup truck that guaranteed we got invited to help whenever a friend was moving or when someone bought furniture or firewood.

       When we arrived at the apartment Carl said, “Lori and the girls have already taken what they wanted of Bob’s, so take whatever you want, cuz I’m donating or throwing out whatever is left, no exceptions.”

       Amongst the stuff that Bob had collected were lots of skin magazines, mostly soft-core stuff like Blueboy, Honcho and Mandate, which were pretty tame by porn standards.  “But,” Bob always said, “I like reading the hot stories and the articles.”

       “Fran, don’t spend an hour going through porn,” Lee said, when he saw the gleam in my eye.  “We’re here to help Carl.”  

       This was merely a routine scolding from Lee, who has a knack for keeping me on task when tackling a big clean up job or a major home maintenance project.  Lee is almost fourteen years my junior, and we had been together for about eight years at the time, eight years into what I call the second half of the rest of my life.

       Lee and I had crossed paths on occasion, but we ‘officially’ met at a gay swimming hole in Vermont one August afternoon in 1988.  But that’s a whole other chapter.  I put aside the porn after picking out a few good men.
       Bob’s apartment was not neat but not disgustingly filthy either.  It was definitely lived-in with a laissez-faire approach to housekeeping - moderately cluttered with clothing, books, magazines, mail, bottles of vitamins and medications and his precious videotapes. 

       In contrast, his dresser drawers were packed full with neatly folded clothes, though long out of style and with the price tags still affixed, showing both the original price and the mark-down.  There were a half dozen sweaters, all of the same size and label, but of different colors, ten or more identical button down Western style plaid shirts, at least ten packages of tighty-whitey underwear and several six-packs of white crew socks, unopened.

       In his kitchen there were still a few dishes in the sink but the counters and appliances were visible and usable.  The fridge, however, would probably not have passed a health department inspection even when Bob was alive.  We always cringed when Bob would offer to bring a salad to one of the frequent potluck dinners at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. 

       “I brought a salad,” he would announce enthusiastically as he walked in with a large Tupperware bowl, “the lettuce and tomatoes were about to go bad, so I had to use them up.”  Those of us ‘in-the-know’ would usually avoid Bob’s salads.

         On weekends, Bob shared his two-bedroom, one bath apartment with his daughters, Sandy and Pam, and with Carl, of course.  The bathroom was cluttered with all sorts of feminine products, shampoos, beauty bars and various articles of young women’s intimate clothing.  We always teased Bob about his being a closet transvestite, based on what was on display in his bathroom. 

       “Oh, you guys.  Stop it.  But you never know!” he’d smile showing a gleaming gold tooth.

       Bob was Episcopalian; his lover, Carl Baccio, a mostly quiet, serious guy from a typical Italian-American family, was a self-described ‘lapsed’ Catholic.  He and Bob would attend the Integrity service at the Episcopal Church when Carl was at Bob’s for the weekend.  Carl had been ‘out’ since college but Bob ‘came out’ in his mid-thirties and was still somewhere in his gay adolescence.

       Bob was obsessed with old movies, recent movies, TV movies and TV specials and just about all other genres of TV entertainment.  Of course, this was before the world had ever heard of DVDs or other digital media.  Bob would program his VCR to the TV Guide schedule and record every movie or TV program that interested him, and carefully label and store the video tapes to view at some later date.  There had to be over a hundred tapes in the bookcase. 

       That later date when he planned to watch all those movies and taped TV shows never came.  I felt a sense of loss as I was going through his prized videos - knowing he had been admitted to the hospital less than two months ago with a sudden onset of pneumonia.  He remained there for several weeks while his immune system failed him entirely.   He died one night with Carl, his two daughters and his ex-wife all by his side. ......

... Continued... let me know if you want to read more.


Russ Manley said...

Very nice Frank. I almost feel like I know Bob now too! Do keep up the good writing.

Russ Manley said...

Hey Frank, I just re-read this, where's the rest of it? Good writing.

Frank said...

Thanks, Russ.
The rest of it is complete and awaiting a final edit from three members of the writers' group who have offered to be my editors and publisher...and they have formed a publishing company to publish local authors. My memoir is in the pipeline. If and when it emerges as a book, I will post the news on this blog. I have been tempted to just put the whole thing out there myself, but they say patience is a virtue.


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