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With two best-sellers and a Lambda Literary Award under his belt, Michael Thomas Ford is still cranky. Lucky for us. The author of Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me and That's Mr. Faggot to You returns with more skewed observations on the strange state of the queer union. As fans of his previous collections have happily discovered, little escapes his attention, and no topic is too controversial or sacred to be tackled. "The Condensed History of Gay Pride" is enough to send any politically correct gay leader shrieking ...
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With two best-sellers and a Lambda Literary Award under his belt, Michael Thomas Ford is still cranky. Lucky for us. The author of Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me and That's Mr. Faggot to You returns with more skewed observations on the strange state of the queer union. As fans of his previous collections have happily discovered, little escapes his attention, and no topic is too controversial or sacred to be tackled. "The Condensed History of Gay Pride" is enough to send any politically correct gay leader shrieking into the streets. But Ford's favorite target remains himself. The fact that Cher's butt is more famous than he is really irks him, and he is willing to pretend to be straight in order to get help while shopping for clothes. He murdered his rival's "egg baby" in high school to secure a good grade, and he sacrificed his own to a chocolate cake. Whether he is equating becoming a man with buying a barbecue in the very moving "Rite of Passage" or considering the state of parenthood in the unforgettable "Cheaper by the Dozen," Ford continues to observe life in ways that help us more closely observe ourselves-while never, never forgetting to make us laugh.
"In Ford's hands, pretty much anything can yield a laugh. He is an idea humorist-genially misanthropic, suspicious of ideology and convention, cynical or passionate depending on the occasion. And he is something else: a good read.-Lambda Book Report
Michael Thomas Ford's previous essay collections, Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me and That's Mr. Faggot to You remained on best-seller lists for months, earning him unanimous critical praise and a Lambda Literary Award forhumor. His syndicated column, My Queer Life, runs in dozens of papers nationwide, and his weekly radio program of the same name can be heard on Stellar Networks at www.gaybc.com. He lives in Boston, where he is finishing his first novel.
I ought to be famous. I say this because my name has appeared in an issue of Entertainment Weekly. Harrison Ford is on the cover, and I am on page 118. I have the clipping to prove it.
Never mind that not one of my many friends who eagerly devour the magazine each week even noticed my mention, and that I only found out about it when one of the guys at the gym said, "Someone with the same name as yours is in the new Entertainment Weekly. Isn't that weird?" Forget for a moment that there is only one sentence about me. Ignore the fact that the only reason I'm there at all is because I put Alec Baldwin's name in the title of one of my books and someone thought it would be amusing to point this out. These things are not important. What's important is that I am in Entertainment Weekly, right there in the same paragraph with Al Franken. I think that entitles me to something.
I have always loved those stories in which some small incident starts a chain of events that results in fantastic good luck for someone. You know, like when you hear an actor talking about how only six months ago he was living in squalor and licking the stains on the couch because he couldn't afford food, but then some director happened to catch a commercial he made for shaving cream and decided to cast him in the biggest movie of the summer, launching him into superstardom. Or when some television mogul on a cross-country flight needs something to pass the time and reads a really great book by this writer he's never heard of butwhose book he picked up because it was the first thing he saw at the newsstand, then likes it so much he calls the writer to see if maybe he'd like to try writing a sitcom, ending that writer's worries about paying rent.
These are very nice stories. Unfortunately, they do not happen nearly as often as one would like, especially if you are one of the struggling actors or writers waiting for one of these life-changing phone calls. It is all well and good to believe that just when you are on the brink of running out of money and becoming homeless that the manuscript you sent out a year ago and forgot about will be bought for a million dollars by someone who has just plucked it from the pile on his desk. In my experience, however, what is more likely to happen is that while you're waiting for the phone call that will change your life, your agent will send you an E-mail informing you that she has just returned from a meeting at which it was decided that no one likes you and you should die.
Still, I try to remain optimistic. So when I discovered my name in Entertainment Weekly I was fully prepared for the phone to start ringing off the hook with offers from people in Hollywood. I didn't know what kind of offers exactly, but I had ideas. I thought surely they would find the title of my book so hysterical that they would beg me to turn my talents to the screen, big or small; I didn't care which one. After all, I'd always been told that agents and executives scan the pages of such magazines looking for previously unknown talent to exploit. Surely at least one would see my mention and decide he had to have me.
Well, this did not happen. During the first couple of days after the issue hit the stands, I barely left the house. I knew that if I did I would miss a call from Steven Spielberg or the producers of Will & Grace begging me to lend my talents to their latest endeavors. I blamed their silence on the fact that I was on page 118 and they probably hadn't gotten that far yet, being busy with other matters like deciding where to take me to lunch once they found me. I fantasized about what I would do with all the money they were certain to offer (get the dog a new hip and me a haircut), and I checked the phone often to make sure it was working properly.
When the next week rolled around and the Harrison Ford issue was replaced with the Jennifer Lopez issue, I started to worry. Everyone knows that last week's news is ancient history in Tinseltown, and now I was competing with a whole new crop of would-be stars. I opened the magazine and flipped through it anxiously to see what I was up against. Then I saw it. There on page 34, a whole 84 pages before my mention had appeared, I found an article about some 19-year-old college student who had been paid nearly a million dollars for his first novel, which some studio exec on a cross-country flight happened to read and decide to make into a movie for that oh-so-desirable 18- to 24-year-old market.
I handled this as well as could be expected. I took out the clipping with my name in it and stared at it while stifling the racking sobs that longed to break forth from my throat. Maybe, I tried to convince myself, it was enough just to be mentioned. Isn't that what the people who lose at the Oscars always say while they smile and reach for the Prozac in their handbags? But in my heart I knew it wasn't. I'd gotten so close. I was in the same issue with Harrison Ford. But it was the wrong Ford on the cover. I wanted it to be me up front and him on page 118.
Maybe I wouldn't want fame so badly if I hadn't already had a little taste of it. A few years ago I wrote a number of young adult novels based on a sort of successful television series. There happen to be quite a lot of children on my block, and some of them read these books and realized I was the person who wrote them. From that moment on I became The Writer Guy. Every time I took my dog, Roger, for a walk, a little group of 10-year-olds would cluster around and ask if they could pet him. Afterward, they'd run off looking at their hands as if they'd never wash them again. Sometimes they would drag their little friends home with them and point me out when I walked past. "There goes The Writer Guy," they'd say, and their friends would stare at me with the same awe they reserved for the Backstreet Boys. I found out later that one enterprising little girl was giving her schoolmates tours of my front porch for a quarter a head.
I know, groupies who don't come up to your waist and have no disposable income are hardly something to get excited about. But it was fun being The Writer Guy for a while, at least until the kids started asking why my books weren't as popular as the Goosebumps and Animorphs series, at which point I started walking the dog on a different route.
And at least the kids were excited about seeing a real live writer. Adults couldn't care less. Only twice have I ever been recognized in public because of my books for adults or from my newspaper columns. Once was at a bookstore, where a man charged over to me and said, "I know you. You're that guy who signed my book." It took a minute for him to remember which guy and which book, but eventually he did, at which point he smiled and said, "You have a nice signature." Just what every writer in search of fame wants to hear.
The second time my writing brought me a fleeting moment of celebrity was at the gym, where I was standing in the locker room after having just run five miles on the treadmill. I was contemplating the thrill of a post-workout shower when I had the strange sensation that someone behind me was staring at me—very hard. I turned around and discovered a man gazing with great concentration at my butt.
"You're the guy who wrote that column about your ass, aren't you?" he said.
I had, in fact, recently written a newspaper column about this very subject. However, this is a very disconcerting question to be asked when one is standing, holding nothing but a sweaty jockstrap, in front of a stranger. All I could do was nod.
"I thought I recognized you," he said, and walked out without saying another word.
You'd think I would be excited over finally being noticed. But having someone recognize me because of my ass was not really what I had in mind when I dreamed about fame. Besides, now I was convinced that every single man in my gym was secretly looking at my butt and forming opinions about it. Probably they all talked about it when I wasn't there and smiled meaningfully at one another when I passed by. This was not reassuring in the least.
I suppose it's better than what I usually get, though. Many times I've walked into bookstores where I'm scheduled to do a reading, only to have the salespeople look at me blankly when I walk up to the counter. "You don't look like you," is the usual response when I finally tell them who I am. I'm not sure what this means, but it unnerves me, like I'm running around impersonating myself and pretty soon someone is going to get me for it.
My friends think this is funny. Once, while standing in line at a local gay bookstore to pay for our purchases, my friend Mark David noticed that my book That's Mr. Faggot to You was right next to the cash register with a big #1 BEST-SELLER sign on it. When he reached the counter, he picked up a copy of the book—which has my picture right on the front cover—and turned to the very bored-looking clerk. "Is this any good?" he asked.
The young man looked at the book, looked right at me, and said, "Everyone seems to love it, but I don't see what the big deal is. I didn't think it was that good."
Luckily for everyone involved, I was too tired to be horrified. Instead, when it was my turn to pay, I handed the clerk my credit card. He looked at the name on it, then looked at me, then looked at my picture on the cover of the book. He turned an interesting shade of red and said, "Oh, these are on the house, Mr. Ford." I left wishing I'd bought more. But it's always nice to get porn magazines for free, so I'm not complaining.
I guess the whole fame thing is relative. Several times reporters and readers have said to me, "It must be so nice to be at the height of your career." I'm sure these people all have the best of intentions, but I can't help wondering what they think my life is like. To me, fame means not having to clean my own house and not worrying about things like buying food and paying rent. That and being best friends with Cher.
But I have none of these things. Instead I'm still walking around picking up the dog's poop myself and wondering if anyone will buy one of my kidneys for a lot of money. And the only way I'll ever get to see Chef is if I pay for it. Even then I can only afford the cheap seats, so all I'll really get to see is a kind of blurry miniature Cher waving from a distant stage. But at least everyone in the stadium would know that it was Cher. What's even sadder is that while one person recognized my ass, millions recognize hers. Even her butt is more famous than I am.
I do have friends who are truly famous, people who seldom, if ever, leave their houses because they can't go anywhere without being noticed and asked for autographs. They complain a lot about how annoying this is. Oh, boo-hoo. I feel so bad for them. It must be just awful to have people paying you gobs of money for your work because they think you're fabulous. I stay in the house most of the time too, but it's because I'm still waiting for the phone to ring.
|I Want My MTV||14|
|The Condensed History of Gay Pride||20|
|Getting Personal: A Beginner's Guide to Advertising for Love||40|
|Not What the Doctor Ordered||53|
|Playing It Straight||60|
|It Is Hereby Resolved||66|
|Rite of Passage||72|
|Cheaper by the Dozen||78|
|The Nicks Fix||84|
|Welcome to the Real World||90|
|When You Wish Upon a Star||103|
|The Condensed Guide to First Dates||115|
|Test of Faith||126|
|It's Not Mean If It's True||133|
|The Condensed History of Queer Cinema||140|
|Ah-Choo!: A Guide to the New Hankie Code||163|
|Out of Style||169|
|What a Concept||175|
|Thou Shalt Not Have Any Common Sense||185|
|Et Tu, Po?||192|
|It's All in the Cards||199|
|Do You Have Any That Are Already Trained?||204|
|The Condensed History of Queer Sex||210|
|Along Came a Spider||215|
|If the Shoe Fits||219|
|Why I Am Queer||225|
|About the Author||231|
Okay, it was the early 80's. Mistakes were made. The hair was severe and the music sometimes sounded like somebody had recorded their washing machine's rinse cycle and laid some vocals over it. I never claimed that Scandal Featuring Patty Smyth was brilliant. But I did play "The Warrior" and do the hand motions when Patty sang "Shooting at the walls of heartache--bang, bang." And yes, I fell for some things I shouldn't have. Purple hair spray. Don't make me say it again.
For a while in my twenties I looked back on my MTV days with disdain. I was embarrassed by the likes of Duran Duran and Poison. They were relics from childhood, and I was quick to discard them, even disown them. It was time for more mature fare. But then Bill Clinton trotted out Fleetwood Mac to sing "Don't Stop" at his inauguration. It was touted as a reunion. Reunion? I thought. That's not possible. I just saw them in concert. But when I thought about it, I realized it had been a good five years since I'd been at that concert, and even then they were at the tail end of their heyday. Things went from bad to worse. Suddenly we were inundated with "nostalgia" concert tours featuring the wizened likes of Pat Benatar, the Human League, and Missing Persons, bands whose records were the hottest things only yesterday. But apparently yesterday was longer ago than I remembered.
Watching the rock icons of my faded youth being interviewed, I stared in horror at their paunchy faces and lined eyes and thought, So that's what all that pancake makeup was covering up. The guys in KISS apparently realized the same thing, because they slapped the white face back on before they hit the comeback trail.
What makes all of this even harder to take is that so many of today's youngsters are ripping off the old timers. With nothing new to say, songwriters are simply lifting the better lyrics of their predecessors, rearranging them a little, and coming up with monster hits. When The Fugees tore up the charts with their remake of "Killing Me Softly," critics oohed and aahed all over themselves at the originality. The kids who made their album a multi-platinum seller thought they'd discovered something totally new, while those of us who still have our Roberta Flack albums listened to the real thing and shook our heads sadly. More recently, I had a very heated argument with a 13-year-old who refused to believe that Janet Jackson did not write the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," which Janet sampled extensively in her hit "Got Til It's Gone." When I finally proved it to her by playing Joni's version, all she had to say for herself was, "How come I never saw the video for this?"
For most people, attending their first live concert is an experience firmly etched in memory. While some recall the first time they saw the Beatles, those of us from the original MTV generation had more eccentric fare. The first live concert I ever attended was the Go-Gos. A then-unknown group called INXS opened for them, and the most memorable thing about the entire show was that the big neon Go-Gos sign behind drummer Gina Schock had an O that wouldn't light, resulting in a continuously flashing "GOG-S" logo.
Once I started, I was hooked on concerts. Even if the music wasn't always great, a concert provided two or three hours of escape from the most boring place on earth for a kid with ideas. I saved the ticket stubs, and flipping through them is like reading a who's-who of popular music: The Thompson Twins, Stevie Nicks, Heart, the Psychedelic Furs, Berlin, Robert Plant, the Motels, Starship, and even the Blow Monkeys. I saw them all, even if I sometimes can't remember who the hell they were. But none of them compared to Wendy and Lisa. You remember Wendy and Lisa. They were the ultra-cool women who played guitar and keyboards, respectively, for Prince in his Purple Rain heyday. At thirteen, I had a huge crush on them. I thought they were the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, and I lived for Prince videos because I knew I'd get a glimpse of the two of them. Lisa was so dreamy-eyed as she stood behind her synthesizers, and Wendy rocked her way through songs like "Let's Go Crazy" and "I Would Die 4 U" as if she owned them.
Plus, I just knew they were playing on my team, even though no one talked about it. I used to play the opening to "Computer Blue," in which Wendy and Lisa have a very erotically-charged exchange of dialogue, over and over. Yes, I knew they were dykes. That's why I loved them even more. In a world of genderbending stars who all claimed to still be straight, their understated sexuality said more than George Michael's oversized "Choose Life" T-shirts ever could.
When the Purple Rain tour came to a city near me, I leapt at the chance to go. I didn't care so much about Prince, but I would have given just about anything to see Wendy and Lisa. And I almost had to. My fundamentalist Christian mother swore that no child of hers would ever go to a Prince concert. But eventually I wore her down, and off I went.
It was a religious experience. While everyone else screamed for Prince and fainted at his slightest gyration, I kept my eyes firmly on Wendy and Lisa. I picked their voices out of the mix, and listened for every solo Wendy had. When they did "Computer Blue," I almost threw my panties on stage.
As often happens with adolescent crushes, I forgot about Wendy and Lisa as the years passed and the music of the 80's disappeared. Then, a couple of years ago, I was talking to my friend Hillary, who lives in Los Angeles and knows lots of fabulous people.
"I have to go," she said. "We're having dinner with Wendy and Lisa."
Something in my head clicked. "You mean the Wendy and Lisa?" I asked. "As in the ones from the Revolution?"
"Yeah," said Hillary, clearly not understanding the importance of this moment. "We've known them for years."
To make a long story short, the next time I went to LA I insisted that Hillary arrange a dinner at which Wendy and Lisa would be present. It happened in a small, funky, macrobiotic restaurant.
I am generally not one to be impressed by other people. But I admit that this time I was nervous. This was Wendy and Lisa. I'd seen them on MTV a million times. I could close my eyes and see Wendy in her weird outfit from the "Raspberry Beret" video, looking for all the world like Clara Bow. I remembered just how Lisa's lip gloss had caught the lights in the "1999" clip. The two of them reminded me of everything that was cool about being 16 years old.
Then the door opened, and in they came. But gone were the sequins and velvets, the mile-high hair and black eyeliner. In their place were two ordinary-looking women dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. For a moment, I was confused. I'd spent so long thinking of them in a certain way--as Wendy and Lisa--that I didn't recognize the people standing beside the table. Then they sat down and Hillary introduced us. All I could do was stare stupidly.
"I love you," I said finally. I'd been waiting to say it for a decade.
Wendy looked at me at laughed. Lisa took my hand. "We love you, too," she said. Then we ordered black beans and nachos. I don't remember much beyond that, just that the evening was fun and relaxing and that Wendy and Lisa were just as fabulous as I'd hoped, even without the teased hair and makeup. The artists of my teenage years might have gone on to other things, and the airwaves might be ruled by new names and new faces, but I still had my MTV, and it was every bit as wonderful as I always thought it was.
Posted July 22, 2002
Posted September 15, 2000
I've been a fan of Mike Ford's work for a little while now, and his latest essay anthology of his musings is excellent! I related to so much of what he talks about, and his humor is much like my own, if I put mymind to it. I highly recommend this book, and his others, to all people, gay and str8.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 29, 2010
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