Feb 18, 2017

Davy Crockett and the Coonskin Cap Craze

During the mid-1950s, there was a craze for "coonskin caps" among the first generation of Baby Boomer boys: a faux-fur cap, round and furry, with a long tail, striped like a raccoon.

The next generation of Boomers found them ridiculous, but remember, this was the era of the crewcut.  With your hair trimmed so tightly that there's not much left, the coonskin cap serves as a nice substitute in cold weather.

And it gives you a nice phallic symbol to play with (imagine putting over your crotch instead of on your head).

Girls had big hair in the 1950s, so crewcuts were a means of gender polarization.  They were so popular that they had their own advertising icons, such as Johnny Crewcut in Boys' Life.   Here he advises kids to "practice undressing fast before bed each night."  The optimal time is under 20 seconds.

I've gotten guys out of their clothes faster than that.

The coonskin cap craze was generated by Davy Crockett, five episodes of the Disneyland  TV series in 1954-55, based on the real Jacksonian-era politician and folk hero, who died at the Alamo in 1835.

Davy was played by 30-year old Fess Parker, who had a master's degree in theater history from USC, but found himself playing coonskin-cap frontiersmen for the rest of his life.  Here's a rare shirtless photo.

I've never seen the miniseries, but they give Davy a sidekick, played by Buddy Ebsen (later Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies), so there may have been some buddy-bonding gay subtexts.

He also hung out with such folk heroes as Jim Bowie (Kenneth Tobey) and Mike Fink (Jeff York), so there may have been some beefcake,

Davy Crockett has appeared in over 50 other movies and tv series, played by a surprising number of recognizable stars: Fred Gwynne, John Wayne, Johnny Cash, Billy Bob Thornton, Brian Keith, and John Goodman (on Saturday Night Live).

Jake Wynne (seen here at the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival) played Crockett in A Man of Reputation (2012), swapping tall tales with Mike Fink in a bar.

But none of them have ever come near the fame of Fess Parker, his coonskin cap, and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett"

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, 
Greatest state in the Land of the Free. 
Raised in the woods so he knew every tree, 
Killed him a b'ar when he was only three.

Sleeping with a High School Boy on the Way Home from Hell-fer-Sartain

St. Louis, May 9th, 1985

7:00 am

After 210 execrable days of teaching bonehead English to redneckes in Hell-fer-Sartain, Texas,  I finally managed to escape.   I've been driving all night, except for a couple of hours sleeping at a rest stop, so I'm quite a zombie.

 And I'm angry and frustrated, after watching someone masturbate through a glory hole, but not being allowed to get any of the action.

Time for breakfast.

I get off Interstate 55 in a neighborhood south of downtown St. Louis and stop for breakfast in the Mississippi Mud House, the only gay-friendly restaurant in St. Louis, according to my Gayellow Pages.

It's not entirely gay: there are heterosexual couples, some businessmen in suits, and a scattering of college students.  Actually, I don't see anyone who sets off my gaydar.

Except for a cute guy about my age sitting by himself at one of the little tables: tall and slim, with thick sandy hair, dark eyebrows, and pink lips.  Wearing blue jeans and a pink polo shirt.

Maybe I struck out last night, but this time it's a sure thing.

 I try to make eye contact, but he won't look up.

Who cares?  My discretion has vanished.  When my order arrives, I pick up my plate and coffee cup and plop down in the seat across from him.

"Hi! I've had a rough night. Can I join you?"

He smiles. "Sure."

His name is Dwight.  He's 17 years old, finishing his junior year in high school, with a job lined up as a life guard during the summer.  He comes to the gay coffee shop almost every morning before on the way to school, hoping to meet someone, but he never does.

"You haven't been with a guy before?"  I ask.

The full story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Feb 17, 2017

Spring 1983: T.S. Eliot. Oh, Swallow, Swallow!

When I was studying for my M.A. in English at Indiana University (1982-84), my professors and most of my classmates agreed that Literature consisted of:

1. Ulysses, by James Joyce
2. The Waste Land, by T.S. Elliot
3. The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass
4. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
5. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

And maybe a little Shakespeare.  Everything else was footnotes or hack work.

I hated all of the pretentious rot, but I loved to hate The Waste Land the most.  The only way my gay Indian English-major friend Viju and I could get through it at all was to imagine a gay theme.

It begins with a quote in Latin in which the Cumaean Sybill speaks Greek.  I knew smalle Latin and lesse Greek (see, I can be pretentious, too), but we assumed that anyone speaking Greek is talking about gay people.

Tom (T.S.'s real name) is watching the sunlight over the Starnbergersee (in Munich), saying "We're not Russian" (in German), and calling someone the Hyacinth Girl.  Hyacinth was the gay lover of the Greek god Apollo, so we assumed the Hyacinth Girl is a boy.

Then, wandering around London, Tom sees a guy he knows and asks if the dead bodies he's buried have risen yet.  Tom calls him "mon semblable,—mon frère!"  My double -- my brother!  Charles Baudelaire, who was probably bisexual, wrote it in the gay-themed Fleurs du Mal.  

After a chess game and an elitist dig at pop culture, Tom meets with Lil.  Her husband Albert keeps wanting sex, but she won't put out because she keeps getting pregnant.  Meanwhile someone keeps saying "Hurry up, it's time" (presumably time to die).  Aha!  A critique of the futility of heterosexual marriage!

Tom wanders around London, saying bad words in Elizabethan English.  Mr. Eugenides, who has a pocket full of currants (or maybe he's just happy to see Tom) invites him to a weekend at the Metropole.  Presumably that's a gay hotel, so he wants a homoerotic liaison.

Illustration to Eliot's "Animula" (1927)
Suddenly Tom turns into a man with breasts -- so he thinks that taking the passive role in sex is feminine?   He watches as a working-class man sexually assaults his girlfriend.  She says "Well, I'm glad that's over" and puts on a record.  A critique of heterosexual sex!

Then he takes a barge down the Thames and says "Highbury bore me."  It bores me, too.

A dead guy, Phlebas the Phoenician, floats by.  Tom thinks "he was once handsome and tall."  We were all for depictions of masculine beauty, even in a poem about how we're all going to die.

Then Tom goes to a dry desert where everybody is dead, and wonders if the person walking next to him is a man or a woman.  Androgynous, huh?  Or maybe a drag queen?

The young Tom Eliot
Tom and a friend reminisce about  "the awful daring of a moment’s surrender, which an age of prudence can never retract."  Sounds like you guys had a hot fling in your youth: "by this, and this only, we have existed."

So sex is the meaning of life?

Or is it surrendering to passion: "your heart would have responded  gaily, when invited, beating obedient to controlling hands."

Then everything goes crazy.  People say things in Italian, Latin, French, and Sanskrit.  Come on, Tom, you were born in St. Louis, and everybody knows it.

Somebody quotes an obscure Elizabethan playwright and a 19th century French Romantic poet.  Tom responds "oh, swallow, swallow."

At this point, Viju and I couldn't stop giggling.

This interpretation might not be orthodox, but it did get us through a late-night study session.

And it was a lot of fun to walk up to random guys and say "Oh, swallow, swallow!"

By the way, some contemporary biographers think that Tom was gay, but deeply closeted.