Briefly Told Lives

Briefly Told Lives

by C. Bard Cole

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In Briefly Told Lives, C. Bard Cole presents a wild panorama that sweeps from the urban gay ghetto to working class suburbia to the counter culture of punks and sex workers, a shockingly original view of lives lived on the edge of both straight society and the gay 'mainstream'. A broad tapestry in which conventional dividing lines begin to loose their fixed

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In Briefly Told Lives, C. Bard Cole presents a wild panorama that sweeps from the urban gay ghetto to working class suburbia to the counter culture of punks and sex workers, a shockingly original view of lives lived on the edge of both straight society and the gay 'mainstream'. A broad tapestry in which conventional dividing lines begin to loose their fixed meaning, these characters spin their own master narratives, revealing lives rich in meaning and bought dearly through pain and compromise.

Intense and rewarding, Cole's debut collection exposes the complexities and contradictions of personal identity in a world devoid of grand truths and shared values. Briefly Told Lives is brash and insightful, bringing a very different, hidden world into the literary limelight.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With obvious nods to gay literary icons Dennis Cooper and John Rechy, alternative zine author Cole's aggressive, uneven first collection--16 stories set mostly in and around New York City--introduces an assortment of hapless characters on the margins of the gay community. Gay, straight, but for the most part somewhere in between, Cole's protagonists live sexually charged, unstable lives. Many of the stories are named after their major characters. In "George Gordon Plowhees," 19-year-old Geordie moonlights as an exotic dancer. He is "more or less a gay boy but he doesn't like older men, he likes guys his own age and he likes them to be his friend and not so much boyfriends. Geordie loves his girlfriend too." Drugs, sex and hustlers rule in many of these tales, and those looking for love often wind up taking a beating. A young porn star survives Hollywood, only to overdose in New York in "Darin Brock Holloway." In graphic, laconic "Mitch Huber," the 18-year-old protagonist helps 16-year-old Ted dismember Ted's parents, in return for oral sex. An unexpected note of hope is sounded in "James Loughlin Childes," in which a spirited paraplegic falls in love with a man with cerebral palsy. Cole is at his best when he writes about relatively ordinary men and boys. Three teenagers--two are gay and one is straight--discuss their sexuality in matter-of-fact terms in "On a Railroad Bridge Throwing Stones." In "Young Hemingways," ostensibly straight Jon has a long-term crush on his literary college roommate, Dale. Cole's uninflected prose is sometimes artfully affectless, but his deliberate lack of stylistic flourishes eventually just sounds flat. The author's own computerized line drawings preface each tale, and are as intentionally crude and faux-na f as the stories themselves. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cole s debut collection of short stories, some previously released in anthologies such as Men on Men, presents a refreshingly new slant on the gay experience. Although the stories are limited in focus, with many of the characters sharing similar backgrounds, people like the average, beer-drinking guy who happens to be gay are not usually represented in other collections. Often, the characters sexuality has little to do with the actual plot: some of the told lives include an Asian American trying to fit into a society that interned his parents as children; a paraplegic looking for love; an interracial couple consisting of an older, educated black man and a twentysomething white gang member; and an Irish immigrant storing weapons destined to be smuggled to Ireland. Cole has been publishing fiction and cartoons in underground presses for quite awhile. By joining the mainstream, he is sharing something original with us. Let s welcome him. Recommended. Theodore R. Salvadori, Margaret E. Heggan Free P.L., Hurffville, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Briefly Told Lives

By C. Bard Cole

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 C. Bard Cole
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-27425-2


Mark Findlay

At age twenty-four, Mark Findlay was a part-time bartender at an Irish bar, Mike Riley's, on First Avenue in New York City's East Village. He worked Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Sunday afternoons, and Fridays as the secondary bartender on duty. He had shoulder-length reddish-brown hair and because of him college girls and other young people started to come to the bar to drink, play pool, and play the jukebox. Before this, Mike Riley's had been sort of an old-fashioned neighborhood bar with an older, working-class male crowd. Mark had been permitted by his boss to select music for the jukebox, and he had gotten some Pogues, Clash, U2, and other popular music onto it. He was amiable and considered good-looking, though mostly because of his accent, which was fairly rare among young guys. Mark was from Ireland. He lived in Yonkers with his uncle but eventually got an apartment on East Twelfth Street.

Mark liked to mix odd drinks, but because young people did not like to drink so many odd cocktails he would sometimes invent them fancifully while his fans played pool and then offer what he had made to them for free. This was an acceptable business strategy because it made these kids like the bar and also to drink with abandon, forgetting that they were, in fact, paying good money for at least three-quarters of what they were drinking. He was also tipped very well. Sometimes he had to pay himself for the free drinks he made if he had used expensive liquors to make them.

* * *

Once he had an apartment in the East Village, Mark would go out drinking to other bars where some of the relief bartenders also worked, or places the kids who came to his bar went drinking on other nights. Sometimes he would go out to see bands play, because he was often invited by band members to come see their bands.

One Saturday night he was hanging out with a small group of kids drinking beer after a band had played and they all decided to go back to someone's apartment and snort some coke. Mark was thought to be very funny. He pretended to get all crazy on coke and pretend-fought with some of the other boys. He made a subsequent beer run with one of the boys, a kid named Doug, and Doug thought maybe Mark was being flirty on their walk, but, as this flirtiness was only a matter of eye contact and an ambiguous smiling, Doug did not regard it with any certainty. It had not occurred to him that Mark could be gay and he didn't know Mark well enough to have been that comfortable making it clear that he himself was gay. Doug did not hang around all that much with gay guys and often the straight guys his friends were friends with did not pick up on him being gay. But he liked Mark smiling at him and Mark always gave him every third drink free so he enjoyed this attention a little more than he would have with another random straight guy.

When the apartment party was winding down, Doug and Mark ended up walking home together. They bought slices of pizza on St. Mark's and more beer at the corner deli and sat on a stoop talking and drinking. Mark said that there was something about himself that he did not tell people, especially his young friends from the bar, because people might not understand and might not think well of him if they knew what his secret was. Doug thought he guessed what Mark was talking about. They were sitting in a peculiar way—Doug on a step midway up the stoop with his legs spread, forty-ouncer of beer by his side, Mark a few steps down, leaning back against the inside of Doug's leg, pressing back harder every time he reached for the beer. After a while, they wandered back toward Mark's apartment and stood, awkwardly, in front of the building for a while, talking bullshit, Doug very awkward and Mark smiling and blushing.

They kissed once on the lips, chastely, briefly and afraid. Then they kissed, for a while, like two people who were going to have sex, their arms around each other's chest and shoulders, their tongues in each other's mouth, the hardening bulges in their jeans rubbing together electrically. Mark stopped to say he could not let Doug come up to his apartment and, after more kissing, Doug told him they could go to his. Without taking his warm hand off Doug's back, Mark said he had to go upstairs and sleep, had to get up the next day, but he would see Doug around, surely. Doug felt weird and anxious walking the rest of the block to Avenue A. The few people loitering around the street may have noticed he was one of two boys kissing on the street. But maybe, because of Mark's hair, they had not noticed he was a boy. Or maybe they did not see, or maybe care.

Doug was very upset by what had happened. He thought he had somehow done something wrong, or else that Mark was not sure of his sexuality and that kissing him might cause ill effects somewhere down the road.

* * *

In fact, Mark could not let Doug upstairs because he had a lot of guns in his apartment that weekend. He had eight semiautomatic rifles lying underneath a plaid flannel sheet on his couch, and several boxes of ammunition as well. He needed to wrap them and pack them into cardboard boxes the next morning so that associates of his uncle could pick them up and ship them out in whatever strange way they had of shipping such things out. He was going to accept two thousand dollars in cash for them and put half of it into his own bank account and take the other half up to his uncle in Yonkers and be done with it all by one o'clock in the afternoon when his Sunday shift at Mike Riley's started. Since it was four-thirty A.M. already, Mark was worried about how tired he'd be. He set his alarm for seven-thirty, lay in bed, masturbated thinking about Doug, and took his short night's sleep.

Mark had emigrated illegally at age seventeen, partly to assist in his uncle's IRA activity and partly because he had always wanted to leave Belfast and live in America. As a bartender he had sometimes allowed himself to be drawn into discussions about Ireland and he was not easily able to repress his opinion but he tried to keep his responses general. This was difficult when he was angry or drunk. Americans did not often understand that it did not matter if the British government was generally democratic or humanitarian or that they no longer enforced discrimination against Catholics; that the violence Americans knew of was almost always attributed to the IRA. The point was, quite simply, that the British had conquered another country and sent their citizens to live there and was now pretending that those citizens were just as Irish as anyone and had a right to self- determination, which meant that his country could be ruled by the British and the British could defend their rule by placing armed soldiers on every street corner of the neighborhood he grew up in—and they could call this democracy and every other civilized nation would pretend that it was, just in order to get along. Even though they knew what kind of imperialists the British were and recognized the rights of people to fight them in Africa and Asia and America and every other place imperialists were no longer wanted by the people they had ruled.

This was, in any case, what Mark felt, and as openly as he would express himself when compelled to say something about it. If anyone should talk about the monstrous rich ignoramuses in Boston or New York who gave money to buy implements of death solely out of some half-remembered asserted loyalty to the shillelagh and the shamrock, Mark would instantly clam the fuck up and shake his head and say he didn't know, it was all terrible.

The next time this boy Doug came into the bar, he was very shy and would not stray very far from his friends. Mark tried to be very friendly and encouraging to him when he came to the bar to buy their drinks but Doug had been somewhat scared off by being sent home alone. After his friends had grown too drunk to play pool well and the crowd had thinned out, they all wandered over to the bar and chose stools and slumped over their drinks. Mark asked for one of Doug's cigarettes even though he had his own and leaned in to ask Doug to light it even though he had his own lighter. He wrote his phone number down on a napkin right in front of Doug and slid it to him and said, "I hope you'll call me." Doug took it, somewhat confused, and put it into his pocket.


Paul Honishiro

Paul Honishiro grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Glendale, Maryland. He was born in 1964. His father was an engineer for Martin Marietta. He had an older sister and a younger sister. His mother was a moderately religious Protestant. His father told stories sometimes about having been in an internment camp in California in the forties, when he would have been seven and eight. His mother was a very self- sufficient type who believed that anyone could achieve what they worked for in America. She leaned towards Republican politics and liked Ronald Reagan. His father earned good money and voted for local Republican politicians who promised low property taxes and good schools, but he remained wary of American-dream-type politics because of what he remembered being done to his parents and himself during World War II.

Paul was in accelerated programs for the gifted in mathematics while he was in public elementary school. He was good at math but it gave him a headache. He preferred playing Little League softball and soccer to doing schoolwork. Sometimes the parents of his friends would ask him where his family came from and Paul would tell them San Jose, California, which was where his grandparents lived and his father had grown up. This was not what anyone meant by asking, but he kept answering with this response even when he was old enough to know what they meant. His father had gone to Stanford University, and his older sister wanted to go there too and study medicine. His mother, however, valued and praised Paul's interest in sports. She took it as a sign of Americanness and felt, on some level, a need for her family to distinguish itself from the more relentlessly academic grasping which she associated with Asian immigrant types. Mrs. Honishiro was somewhat of a snob. Paul grew into a large adolescent, almost six foot and one hundred seventy pounds at age fourteen. He got a spot on the junior varsity lacrosse team at his high school and was the youngest boy on the team. His grandparents called him their jock and his grandfather asked him about girlfriends, of which Paul had none.

Paul's high school was not very racially diverse but he did not notice this much. He was the only Asian boy among the preppie jock clique—the boys who played soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring and whichever sport in the winter they were good at, basketball or wrestling. Paul did not go out for wrestling because he had wrestled in gym class and the position of having your crotch pressed up against another boy's butt filled him with anxiety and dread. So Paul went out for basketball instead. He was popular and had many friends. Many girls liked him and would hang out with him and his friends at the mall or at school after games, but he did not often place himself in dating-type positions.

One girl in particular, Kelly Burckholder, was a good friend and when Paul needed to go to a school dance with a girl he would go with Kelly and not even have to ask, really. Kelly was a big-boned preppie blond girl who played field hockey and basketball and girl's lacrosse, though their junior year she was coaxed to pitch for the softball team and that year they won the state championship. Paul and Kelly did not kiss or feel each other up when they were alone. They went to parties together and drank beer and told each other funny stories when otherpeople stopped paying attention to them because everyone was drunk or gone off to make out.

That same year as he started drinking beer and going to parties, Paul started to like a boy, and he knew he would have liked to have sex with this boy but did not see how it was possible, so he did not pursue it except as a friendship. This boy was a foreign exchange student from Spain with sculpted cheekbones and little muscles or spit glands that bulged slightly at his jawline. He liked soccer a good deal. They would practice together, their sweaty shirts off, stuffed into the elastic of their gym shorts, from which they hung like tails. By age sixteen Paul had soft, straight black hair in a line up his stomach and right around his nipples; he had this hair at the small of his back. His Spanish friend would say that Japanese people weren't supposed to have body hair and Paul would say, "Well, I do." And his Spanish friend would say that Japanese people were supposed to have smaller dicks and Paul would say, "Not as small as yours, I bet."

But Paul did not have a small dick and his Spanish friend didn't either, except Paul noticed his friend's foreskin with some interest in the locker room. No one had foreskins so all the guys noticed it. The Spanish friend was not embarrassed or shy about showing it off a little. Sometimes he would even touch it, not to get it hard or anything sexual but like it was just a part of his body it would be strange and odd to avoid touching while showering or drying. Which was not what American boys like Paul felt about their dicks. Masturbating was something dirty to do in secret and when you pissed in a urinal you barely did more than pinch some loose skin to pull your dick out of the fly of your boxers and make sure it was aimed right. In the shower at school you might accidentally brush your hand against it while soaping your stomach but you would never lather up your hand and roll your dick in your palm. Which is what Paul's Spanish friend did when he took a shower after practice.

Paul ended up telling Kelly Burckholder about his friend's uncircumcised dick and this led Kelly to ask about Paul's dick and this led to Paul and Kelly performing an act of sexual intercourse. Neither of them looked too closely at the other's genitals but they managed fine. Paul's dick would not stay all that hard and he found himself thinking of his Spanish friend and the bodies of other boys so he figured, "Oh, well. I guess I really must be a fag or something." Paul did not want to be a fag. He wanted to like Kelly. They went to the homecoming dance together as seniors and they were elected the King and Queen of Homecoming. They went to the prom together later that year. Kelly applied to and was accepted to Bryn Mawr, Goucher, St. Mary's, and William and Mary, and after talking about it with her friends and family and Paul, she chose Bryn Mawr. Paul applied to and was accepted to U.Va, William and Mary, Towson State, and the University of Maryland, and he decided to go to William and Mary. He had also applied to Stanford to mollify his father but he did not get in. He also did not get into Johns Hopkins University.

* * *

In college, Paul continued to date Kelly for his freshman year. It was useful to have a pretty, jocky girlfriend to have pictures of but who was not around very often. It kept people from setting him up or hitting on him or wondering why he didn't date more. Paul declared his major as political science and played on the lacrosse team, but there were better athletes than him for the soccer team and the basketball team, and most of the basketball players were black. Paul's roommate at college was a blond white boy from Virginia who sometimes had sex in their room with Paul supposedly asleep. For a while they always ate together and went to parties together, but second semester this roommate made some additional friends, which subtracted from his and Paul's hang-out time. One time Paul got very upset over this and almost cried. His roommate knew he was trying not to cry when Paul explained that he had thought they were very close. He thought Paul was being overly emotional, which was not a quality a person saw much in Paul.

Once Paul recognized he had been doing this overly emotional thing, he tried his best to force it back down inside himself. From then on he was cool but friendly to his roommate, and began drinking more heavily with some of his lacrosse friends and political science friends. One time he was very drunk and asked an acquaintance named Tom—to whom Paul imagined he was much closer, emotionally, then he in fact was—if he had ever thought about messing around with a guy. Tom was drunk also and very reluctantly admitted he had. They got drunker and passed out but didn't have sex. A few weeks later Paul did not think of Tom a lot anymore and only saw him around. Paul got a job for the summer as a counselor at a sports camp and he stayed in Virginia Beach in a cramped apartment he shared with four other guys from his dorm.


Excerpted from Briefly Told Lives by C. Bard Cole. Copyright © 2000 C. Bard Cole. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Katharine Weber
C. Bard Cole's provocative and entertaining prose makes Briefly Told Lives an exhilarating collection. Gritty and genuine—a terrific debut.
—(Katharine Weber, author of The Music Lesson)
Dennis Cooper
C. Bard Cole's Briefly Told Lives is fresh, sweet, lucid, raucous, and amazingly free of the corner—cutting, soft—peddling, pseudo—literary tropes that constitute most of contemporary fiction. The way these stories face fucked—up music of lies, sex, loss, and social injustice, and maintain their curiosity and style, is a really new, rare pleasure.
—(Dennis Cooper, author of Frisk and Period)
Poppy Z. Brite
One of the most exciting debuts I've had the pleasure of reading, by a young author whose eye for squalor and tenderness are equally authentic. The characters and voice were so compelling that I literally didn't want Briefly Told Lives to end.
—(Poppy Z. Brite, author of Exquisite Corpse and Lost Souls)
Paul Russell
No one writes more compellingly about sex than C. Bard Cole. He is a master of confused longings, clear—eyed chronicler of ambiguous desire, purveyor of desperate acts of love. He charts the course of badly lived lives with great economy and wit. If this book doesn't stir you, then maybe you should consult your doctor. If this book doesn't make your heart ache, then the situation's probably hopeless.
—(Paul Russell, author of The Coming Storm and Boys of Life)

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Meet the Author

C. Bard Cole is one of the leading literary figures to emerge from the queer punk movement on the 1990s. His fiction and cartoons have appeared in Holy Titclamps, Riotboy, Dirty, Boy Trouble, and queer zines, as well as in self-published chapbooks liked Tattoed Love Boys and Fag Sex in High School. His stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Men on Men 7 and Flesh and the Word 4. Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, he attended Sarah Lawrence College and Parsons School of Design. He lives in the East Village in New York City.

C. Bard Cole is one of the leading literary figures to emerge from the queer punk movement on the 1990s. His fiction and cartoons have appeared in Holy Titclamps, Riotboy, Dirty, Boy Trouble, and queer zines, as well as in self-published chapbooks liked Tattoed Love Boys and Fag Sex in High School. His stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Men on Men 7 and Flesh and the Word 4. Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, he attended Sarah Lawrence College and Parsons School of Design. He lives in the East Village in New York City.

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