That's Mr. Faggot to You: Further Trials from My Queer Life

That's Mr. Faggot to You: Further Trials from My Queer Life

by Michael Thomas Ford
     
 

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In this hilarious follow-up to the best-selling Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me, syndicated columnist Michael Thomas Ford takes you even further inside his queer life, from the social faux pas of sending a man flowers to owning a CD player possessed by the religious right to the perils of using lavender-scented soap as lubricant to the angst of talking his 12-year-old

Overview

In this hilarious follow-up to the best-selling Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me, syndicated columnist Michael Thomas Ford takes you even further inside his queer life, from the social faux pas of sending a man flowers to owning a CD player possessed by the religious right to the perils of using lavender-scented soap as lubricant to the angst of talking his 12-year-old nephew through his first love triangle. "I wasn't sure how to talk to him about, you know...girls. More specifically, I didn't know how to talk to him about what boys did with girls. Girls and girls I could do. Boys and boys as well. But this was the stuff that had made me queasy even as a kid." Ford's eventual advice: "Pick the butchest one." The essays in this wild and wide-ranging collection are often poignant and always funny--a true look at living a queer life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555834968
Publisher:
Alyson Publications
Publication date:
06/28/1999
Pages:
248
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

Summer is here, and I should be in shape. I even promised myself that this year I'd go to the gym and just do it. But once again I'm not ready. My stomach is still too big, my shoulders too small. Blame it on Wally Shufelt.

Wally Shufelt — Mr. Shufelt — was my fifth grade gym teacher. One of those aging ex-jocks who failed to make it to the majors, he told us at least once a month how the Dodgers almost signed him right out of high school but a knee accident sidelined him before the start of spring training. Instead, he spent his years taking out his frustrations on the boys he used to be, dedicating his life to making men of us. And he took to it with a fervor generally found only in missionaries and defenders of the spotted owl.

I think for most gay men gym class was a black or white thing. For those of us who could actually do things like tackle, hit balls, and sink free throws, it was a junior version of nirvana, complete with sweaty bodies and blossoming hormones. For those of us completely bereft of any coordination whatsoever, it was a different story altogether.

Today I can enjoy physical activity — I have even been known to watch sporting events from time to time — but back in my school days I was decidedly in the second camp. Although my father had been the star athlete at the same school 25 years earlier, I inherited none of his talent. And in a backwoods school where excelling in academics was nothing compared to being able to score 42 points in the first half of whatever game one was playing, this was a decided disadvantage.

How I dreaded those alternating days when fourth period came and I had to enter that cavernous, wooden-floored palace of misery with its stench of varnish and unwashed adolescence. Many were the mornings when I would wait for the bus and pray as hard as I could for God to bring about the Second Coming before 11:00 rolled around and I was forced to see what new ordeal Mr. Shufelt had prepared especially for me.

You see, although we engaged in the usual seasonal gym class cycle of soccer-basketball-baseball, Mr. Shufelt was happiest when putting us through the paces of some activity of his own design. He was of the firm opinion that athletics must involve 1) the hurling of some kind of solid object at a target, 2) winners and losers, and 3) pain. His favorite activities featured all three of his sports criteria, and the crowning jewel in his jockstrap was bombardment.

This clever game involved first dividing the class into two teams. Placed at opposite sides of the gym, we would wait, twitching with terror or anticipation depending upon our natures, as Mr. Shufelt walked into the center of the gym holding seven hard rubber balls. When he dropped them and blew his whistle, we would run as quickly as possible to snatch them up.

Then the slaughter began.

The object of bombardment was, essentially, to kill one another by throwing the balls with terrific force at your opponents. If you were hit, you were out. If you caught the ball thrown at you, whoever threw it was out. Eventually only two people would be left to face off against each other like gladiators in a ring.

In theory this game could be amusing. In reality it was a bloodbath, especially for the small and uncoordinated. Since having your ball caught would disqualify you, the larger boys avoided this potential embarrassment by pitching them with such force as to knock any reasonably sized target unconscious.

The obvious solution to the problem was to get hit as quickly as possible. I usually managed to do this within minutes of the game's beginning, taking a whack to the arm or chest and then dashing for the safety of the bleachers. On occasion I even managed to feign being struck by emitting a loud groan and limping slightly.

But one fateful day, things didn't go my way. I tried my best, but some evil angel seemed to be delivering me from shot after shot, even when I threw myself directly in the way of oncoming balls. Before I knew it, I was the last person on my team left on the floor. And I was face to face with Andy Peerson. Andy was the biggest kid in class. Rumored to be 23, he'd been left back so many times, his name filled up every line of the "This book belongs to:" section of his English textbook.

I stood looking at Andy and at the ball gripped tightly in his massive hand. Somehow I also had a ball in my hands. I had no how idea it had come to be there or what to do with it. I'd never gotten to hold one before.

"Hit him!" someone yelled from the sidelines. I wasn't sure if he was yelling at me or Andy.

Andy narrowed his eyes. I saw his huge arm rise up in the air, the ball held aloft. He let out a growl.

I closed my eyes and waited to die. Then I had an idea. In the split second before Andy threw, I could throw my ball and hit him in the legs. It wasn't the bravest way to end the standoff, but it would do, and I'd be a hero for once. On my deathbed, it would be the shining gym class moment I'd recall before passing on.

I opened my eyes and let fly my ball. I watched as it sped toward Andy. My heart filled with joy.

Then he stepped aside. Just like that. My ball whizzed past him and smacked against the wall with a sad little plop.

Andy sneered and threw. I watched as the ball sailed toward me as if in slow motion. It hit me square in the head, and I fell down, my ears ringing and my eyes filled with stars. When I looked up. Mr. Shufelt was standing over me.

"Nice catch, Ford" he said mockingly. "Your team gets 50 push-ups for losing."

Nearly 20 years later, I still see Mr. Shufelt in my mind whenever I think about going to the gym. But confronted with the idea of spending yet another summer indoors because I haven't managed to get into swimsuit shape is enough to scare me out of my desk chair and into the nearest temple of body worship. I decide to overcome my fears once and for all.

I am fully aware that I am a lazy son of a bitch, and I know that I won't do so much as change into my shorts and sneakers without being forced to do so by someone else. I decide that my best course of action is to hire a personal trainer. It's hideously expensive, but I remind myself that since quitting therapy I have more disposable income. Besides, I like the idea of dropping the phrase "my personal trainer" into conversations, much as I used to think saying "my agent thinks I should try scripts" was a real kick.

I begin by looking through the local gay newspaper for a suitable candidate. There are two ads for personal trainers. One features a photo of a well-muscled man wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt and jeans unbuttoned at the crotch. The other ad has no photo. I stare at the first ad. I imagine staring at this man's crotch while he yells at me to "pump it." While this concept is not unappealing, I decide I need a trainer, not a porn star, and call the second ad.

My trainer's name is Paul. He does not wear flannel shirts or jeans open at the crotch, at least not when I meet him at the gym. He is very lively and encouraging, and although I find this disturbing at 7 in the morning, I try not to let it get to me. I'm having a hard enough time being in an actual gym wearing actual gym clothes. I find myself worrying that, like Mr. Shufelt, Paul will demand to know if I am wearing appropriate support gear. I decide to start off our conversation by informing him that I am.

Paul takes this in stride and tells me that we will begin our session by seeing just how fit or unfit I am. I chuckle at this, and tell him that I don't need any help knowing how unfit I am. But he perseveres, and minutes later I am standing in front of a rack of weights while Paul tells me the correct way to lift them.

"Aren't we going to just use those machines?" I ask, waving vaguely at the shiny rows of equipment that fill the gym.

"Those?" says Paul with disgust. "Those are for sissies. Real men use free weights."

Already I am feeling depressed. I have issues about weights, having been given a set for Christmas the year I was ten. I had been hoping for a giant stuffed lion, and was more than a little dismayed when I raced downstairs and found a barbell wrapped with a red bow sitting under the tree.

I feel the same way now as Paul has me lift the bar to get used to the heft of it. I manage to hoist it up to my waist and then to my chest as Paul keeps up a steady stream of encouragement. Then down it goes again, dropping into the receiving brackets with a clink.

"Good," says Paul. "Now we'll put some weight on it."

I watch, terrified, as he pulls two weights off the rack and slips them onto the ends of the bar. I was hoping we'd just stick with the empty steel rod for the first time. But Paul has other ideas. He puts two more weights on the bar, then tells me to lift it. I wrap my hands around the bar and pull up on it, tentatively testing the weight.

"Lift!" Paul bellows in my ear.

Caught off-guard, I propel the barbell up and over my head without even thinking. Then I stand there swaying slightly from side to side, not knowing what to do.

"Good man," says Paul, slapping me on the back. "Now you can put it back. But make sure you do it slowly. We don't want you to hurt yourself."

I think it's probably too late for that, but I lower the bar slowly until it's safely in its original position and I can let go.

I look at Paul, and he's writing something in a little notebook.

"This is your workout record," he says, noticing my quizzical look. "I'm writing down how much you can lift. This way we'll know how you progress."

"So what was that?" I ask. "A hundred? One twenty?"

Paul smiles. "A little less," he tells me, shutting the notebook with a slap. "Why don't we move on to some other things."

For the next hour Paul has me lifting and pulling on a variety of weights. I have no idea what any of them are doing, but I duly lift and press and put the weights back again, making sure never to drop them. By the time we end, I am feeling slightly better about this whole workout thing.

"Great," Paul tells me when we finish the last exercise. "Now let's try some cardio."

Trying some cardio, I come to find out, is Paul's way of saying he's going to make me run on a treadmill for 20 minutes. He wants to see if I can do it without fainting. At the five-minute mark, he asks how I'm doing.

"Am I supposed to taste blood in my throat?" I ask.

Paul turns off the treadmill, and we're finished for the day. He hands me the little notebook he has been scribbling in and pats me on the back again.

"Good work," he says cheerfully. "We'll have you in shape in no time."

I go home feeling proud of myself. I have survived an actual training session with an actual personal trainer. Surely I can't be all that hopeless. After all, I was able to lift the weights Paul asked me to without too much trouble. I feel very butch as I swing my gym bag and head for the subway. I imagine running into Mr. Shufelt on the street and kicking his ass, and I laugh.

Later that night, before going to bed, I empty my bag and discover the little notebook. Curious to see just how much I was lifting, I open it and take a peek at what Paul has written there. Almost instantly my good mood vanishes.

Next to the first exercise he's written in 60 pounds. Here I thought I'd been heaving a respectable 100 pounds over my head. But 60? That's the weight of a medium-sized Labrador. Why, my dog weighs 110, and I've picked him up before. But there it is in blue ballpoint. Sixty pathetic pounds. The rest of the numbers are equally depressing. I can't even look at them. I close the notebook and shove it into the bag where I won't have to look at it. Then I crawl into bed.

I fall asleep and immediately start to dream. I am walking toward the front door of the gym. As I open it and begin to step inside, I see all of the men turn from their treadmills and weight machines and pick up the rubber balls thrown into the middle of the gym. Stepping out of the shadows, Mr. Shufelt blows his whistle and I cover my head and scream as the sound of rushing air fills my ears.

When the alarm rings at 6 the next morning, every muscle in my body hurts. Crawling out of bed, I call Paul. I've decided that the gym thing just isn't for me. Luckily I get his answering machine. I leave a message saying that I have decided to enter a monastery after all and won't be needing his services. Then I stumble back to bed, pull the blankets over my head, and go back to sleep. This time I dream of nothing.

Copyright c1999 Alyson Publications

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