Dec 18, 2014

The Naked Ghost at the Crossroads

Mary Prater was only 16 when her parents announced that they had arranged for her to be married to 33-year old Ell Hicks.

She didn't mind: he was a good catch.  He had a nice farm ear Pyramid, Kentucky, about 14 miles south of Prestonburg.  And he was handsome, athletic, and "well-knit."  Girls had been trying unsuccessfully to land him for years.

Ell turned out to be a good provider.  He bought Mary the latest fashions, and took her to moving picture shows, and in 1904 they became one of the first families in the hills to own a new horseless carriage.

He was always kind to her and the children.  He never raised his hand in anger.

There was only one problem, something that Mary couldn't tell anyone about except her mother.  And many years later, her favorite daughter, Gracie.

Ell wasn' on his...on doing his duty as a husband.

Mary had to coax and cajole him, and even then it happened only once in a blue moon.

She blamed Ell's friends.  That's why he waited so long to marry -- he preferred the company of men.  Especially that wastrel Silas.  Why, they were joined at the hip, like Frick and Frack!

Sometimes those two stayed out carousing until midnight, leaving Mary rumbling around the house all by herself.

Finally Mary put her foot down.  "You can't visit Silas unless I go with you!"

That quieted things down, for awhile.

One day in the summer of 1905, Ell told Mary that Silas's elderly grandmother was sick, very sick, and everyone was gathered at the house to "sit up" with her, like you did in the hills.  She gave her consent for him to "sit up," too, as long as he was back by suppertime.

Well, suppertime came, and then sundown, and no Ell.  At first Mary was worried.  Then she got angry.  Maybe he wasn't sitting up with Silas's grandmother at all.  Maybe the old woman wasn't even sick!  No doubt it was just an excuse to go carousing with that wastrel!

Near midnight, Mary had enough. She woke Dewey, her toddler, wrapped six-month old Gracie in blankets, and set out to catch Ell in the act.

Ell took the carriage, so she had to walk.

It was very dark, but she could see well enough in the moonlight.

She went down the dirt road for about a mile, and then she came to a crossroads.  The left fork led to Pyramid, and the right on to Prestonburg.

There was something glowing on the side of the Prestonburg Road!

At first she thought it was someone holding a lantern.  But no -- the light was pale and cold, like moonlight.

It was like a human figure with legs spread and arms akimbo.  But much bigger -- at least ten feet tall! She couldn't make out a face.

It moaned like a ghost.

Mary was petrified with fear, but she couldn't run away, with Dewey clinging to her legs and the babe-in-arms howling.

She thought of going back, but Silas's house was closer, and there were people there.  So she persevered, walking slowly, with the boy still clinging to her legs and the baby still howling.

Finally she made it to the house, where she discovered that Ell was telling the truth.  It was full of people sitting up with Silas's grandmother, who died at the precise moment that Mary saw the figure in the woods.

But there was a problem: the figure was definitely male.  It was naked.  She distinctly remembered parts. . .dangling between its legs.

If it wasn't Silas's grandmother, who was it?  What was it?

Gracie didn't remember the incident, of course.  Mary told her about it when she was a teenager, just before she married Tony Howard, my grandfather.  She told her other daughters, just before they married.

Years later, Gracie told the story to each of her daughters, just before they married.

Aunt Mavis broke with tradition, and told me.

No doubt the details changed over time, but I'm certain that the core of the story is intact: the wastrel, the sick grandmother, and the ghost in the woods that couldn't have been her.

What kind of cautionary tale is this for mothers to pass on to their daughters?

Maybe to be careful -- some of your husband's infidelities might not involve women.

But wait -- did Mary even know that gay men, or men on the downlow, existed?  Did Gracie? Or Aunt Mavis?

Maybe to be sympathetic -- a wife can't fill all of a man's needs.  Sometimes he needs to be with men.

See also: My Grandpa Howard's Gay Connection; and Cousin Buster: Growing Up a Stranger

American Horror Story: Gay World

The anthology series American Horror Story is a hit in gay communities.  It's stylish, witty, adequately creepy -- and gay inclusive, a rarity in horror tv.   Here's my rating of the gay content of the first four seasons: beefcake, buddy-bonding, gay characters, and gay symbolism.  Scale of 1 (terrible) to 5 (excellent).

Season 1: Murder House (2011)

A family moves into a house overrun by the ghosts of previous residents.  Interesting twist: ghosts can become corporeal, with bodies indistinguishable from those of the living.
Beefcake: lots of muscular chests and backsides.  These ghosts get naked a lot.
Buddy Bonding: Troubled teen Tate (Evan Peters) seems to have a little thing for the troubled psychiatrist (Dylan McDermott).
Gay Characters: Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears play a bickering gay couple who were planning to split up.  Then they were murdered in the house, and now they are stuck together for all eternity.  The other ghosts and humans are generally nonchalant about them.
Gay Symbolism: None.
Overall Rating: ****

Season 2: Asylum (2012)

An evil nun runs a creepy asylum for the criminally insane in the 1960s.  With demons, Anne Frank, and alien abductions.
Beefcake:  Not much.  Evan Peters as an alien abductee.
Buddy Bonding: None.  Again, all of the significant friendships are male-female.
Gay Characters: Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters, a lesbian reporter committed to the asylum and forced to undergo a homophobic "treatment" regiment.  In the present, she's a famous writer, out-and-proud.
Gay Symbolism: None.
Overall Rating: ****

Season 3: Coven (2013)

A school for teen witches, a voodoo queen, and the re-animated corpse of 19th century murderess Delphine LaLaurie.  What more could you ask for?  Maybe some gay characters?
Beefcake: Lots.  Madame LaLaurie had a thing for torturing hunky male slaves, and the teen witches build themselves a Frankenstein-monster boyfriend (Evan Peters again).
Buddy Bonding: Some female bonding going on.
Gay Characters: None, except for a fruity Truman Capote-esque member of the Witches Council, who appears briefly in two episodes.
Gay Symbolism:  Witches hiding in the shadows, afraid to let anyone know their true identity, etc., etc.
Overall Rating: ***

Season 4: Freak Show (2014)
A financially-strapped freak show in 1950s Florida, with a murderous clown and his dapper young apprentice wandering around.
Beefcake:  Evan Peters again, the bare buns of a Viking Hustler, a circus strongman, and an amazing bodybuilding little person (his name is Kyle Pacek).
Buddy Bonding: Men are mostly competitors.
Gay Characters: Several.  But for a change, Dandy, the ultra-feminine murderer, is not.
Gay Symbolism: Freaks hiding in the shadows, et., etc.
Overall Rating: *****

Love Beat: Tony DeFranco

Listen to my heart beat -- it's a love beat
And when we meet, it's a good vibration

Whatever that means, it brings back a rush of memories of the fall of 1973: pep rallies at Washington Junior High; accidentally touching my friend Dan's hand in science class; reading Greek mythology and Tintin comics; watching Chuck Acri's Creature Feature with my brother in our attic bedroom

The DeFranco Family never hit the heights of the Osmonds or the Jackson Five, but during the 1973-74 school year, they were everywhere, guest stars on every variety show, fave raves in every issue of Tiger Beat, competing with Tony Orlando and Cher to top the pop charts.  (Here Tony DeFranco competes with Tony Orlando to see who wears the tightest pants).

They consisted of five siblings: Nino (age 18), Marisa 19), Benny (20), Tony (14), and  Merlina (16).

In the tradition of Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson, Tony
was the standout star, the source of many semi-nude pinups and many misty-eyed dreams for the heterosexual girls and gay boys at Washington Junior High.

For all the media attention, they recorded only seven songs, and only three charted -- "Heartbeat" (1973), "Abra-Cadabra" (1973), and "Save the Last Dance for Me" (1974).  They're all heterosexist, heavy-laden with "girls" and "babes."  But sometimes tight pants and a killer smile is enough.

A series of disastrous business decisions -- and the rise of disco  -- and maybe Tony's refusal to embark on a solo career -- led to the DeFranco crash.  By 1975, they were working Vegas, and in 1978 they disbanded, taking jobs behind the scenes in the music industry.

Today Tony works as a real estate agent in Westlake Village, a ritzy suburb of L.A.  He still performs occasionally, for fans who have fond memories of being in junior high in 1973.