Jun 25, 2016

"The Bicycle Man": A Very Special Episode of "Diff'rent Strokes"

Diff'rent Strokes (1978-86) is one of those iconic 1980s tv series that everyone knew about but no one watched (at least no one I knew watched).  Everybody could quote Gary Coleman's incredulous catchphrase, "What you talkin' bout?"

The plot was standard "fish out of water": old, rich white guy, Mr. Drummond (Conrad Bain) adpots the two poor African-American kids of his recently deceased housekeeper (hey, Rich White Guy, if you had paid her a living wage, or offered life insurance, maybe her kids wouldn't be poor).

The teenage Willis (Todd Bridges) is suspicious and surely, but the chipmunk-cheeked preteen Arnold (Gary Coleman) is adorable.

The cast was filled out by Drummond's teenage daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato) and current housekeeper Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae).  Later there were other housekeepers, Willis's role was minimized, Kimberly was written out altogether, and Drummond married a woman with a cute preteen son (Danny Cooksey) to bond with Arnold.

 Early episodes involved various friends, relatives, classmates, and social service personnel being shocked by the arrangement.

I didn't watch many later episodes.  Not enough beefcake, not enough gay subtexts, and it aired either opposite my favorite programs, Taxi and Barney Miller, or during the date-and-outing time of  Saturday night.

But I heard about its string of Very Special (that is, very depressing) episodes, apparently meant to impress upon kids the dangers of life in the 1980s:

First Lady Nancy Reagan stops by to give her famous advice on drug prevention: "Just say no."

While hitchhiking, Kimberly and Arnold are kidnapped.  Arnold escapes and rushes to fetch the police, arriving just in time to save Kimberly from being raped.

Danny (shown here with the Dukes of Hazzard) is kidnapped, too, by a grieving mother and father who want him to replace their own dead son.  Arnold rushes to the rescue.

The only Very Special Episode I watched was "The Bicycle Man," which aired on February 5th and 12th, 1983.

Arnold and his friend Dudley (Shavar Ross) befriend bicycle shop owner Mr. Horton (Gordon Jump) who cagily flirts with them:

Horton [Giving Arnold a radio for his bike]:  I scratch your back, you scratch mine.
Arnold: You give me this present, you can scratch me all over.

After advising him to keep their relationship a secret, Horton plies them with wine and X-rated cartoons, and talks Dudley into posing for shirtless photos.  Arnold finally gets uncomfortable and bails, but Dudley stays.

Mr. Drummond and Dudley's Dad finally figure out that something is wrong, and rush to get the police.  They arrive just in time to rescue the dazed, "goofy" Dudley, who says that Horton gave him a pill and tried to "touch him."

They then sit around for five minutes discussing what parents should do in such a situation: don't blame the child, call the police rather than confronting the guy yourself, etc.

Willis says:  "I never would have guessed that Mr. Horton was...you know...gay."  The word is so distasteful to him that he has a hard time saying it.

Detective Simpson corrects him:  "He's not, Willis.  That's the common fallacy about child molesters.  They're not gay, they're only interested in little boys or little girls, not adults."

Arnold: "Look, I'm only eleven years old!  Should I be hearing all of this?"

Arnold has kept quiet or cracked jokes through the conversation about child molesting, but when it turns to gay people, he objects.

That's the only time gay people were mentioned in eight seasons.  I'm guessing the theme song was talking about something else:

Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum.
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.

Grease Live: Still No Gay People at Rydell High

Grease (1978) was my coming-out movie, mostly because of the theme song, with lines I misheard::

The adults are lying, only real is real.
We stop the fight right now, we got to be what we feel. 

The movie itself was unremittingly hetero-horny heterosexist: boys and girls circle each other, preen, posture, try to hook up, and finally succeed, with some uncomfortable gender politics.

No gay content except for a couple of homophobic jokes.

I just saw Grease Live (2016), a live version that aired on Fox.  Nostalgia about nostalgia, a 2016 broadcast adapting a 1978 movie which was itself an adaption of a 1971 musical set in the year 1959.

Got all that?

The plot stays the same: at Rydell High in 1959, Danny, leader of the T-Birds, and Sandy, member of the Pink Ladies, play a game of desire and rejection, "cool" greaser vs. "good girl" amid such nostalgic settings as a malt shop,a sleepover, and a drag race.  In the end, Sandy abandons the good girl act and pretends to be sexually voracious, thus driving Danny wild and winning his heart.

Meanwhile, each of the other T-Birds hooks up with one of the Pink Ladies.

The T-Birds are:

Danny: Aaron Tveit (top photo)
Kenicke: Carlos Pena Vega (left)

Doody: Jordan Fisher (left)
Putzie: David Del Rio (below)
Sonny: Andrew Call

How did they update the 1970's classic?

1. The cast is multi-ethnic, with plenty of interracial couples.
2. Sandy is from Salt Lake City, Utah, not Australia.
3. Danny defends Eugene the Nerd, and eventually invites him to join the gang.  Eugene also gets a girlfriend, a female nerd, and shows killer moves at the dance contest.
4. Pink Lady Jan, previously ridiculed for being fat, is now ridiculed for being weird.
5. There are male and female cheerleaders, but the dialogue, oddly, assumes that they're all female.
6. They changed some of the dirty lyrics, but they kept the rape-promoting "Did she put up a fight?" from "Summer Nights"

Gay Changes
1. During the dance contest, the coach reads the rules: in 1978, "male-female couples only," followed by a homophobic joke against Eugene.  In 2016, the line was changed to "couples only, no singles, no triples."  Which would have been great if there were same-sex couples, but there were none.  As the scene stands, it completely erases even the awareness that gay people exist.

2.  In 1978, Kenicke asks Danny to be his "second" in the drag race at Thunder Road; they hug, then jump apart in homophobic panic.  In 2016, they see the other guys staring before jumping apart. Kenicke asks "What are you looking at?"  Seems more homophobic.

3. In "We Belong Together" in 1978, each T-Bird is paired with his respective Pink Lady, except for Sonny, who looks shocked when he is paired with a dog instead of Marty.  This shot was cut in 2016.

I looked carefully, and couldn't see anyone who looked like a same-sex couple in any of the crowd scenes, at all.  In "We Belong Together," everyone pairs off into male-female couples.  Even the curtain calls are male -female couples.

If director Thomas Kail could introduce interracial pairings as unremarkable and commonplace in the 1950s, when they were anything but, then surely he could have introduced a gay couple or two into the dance contest or the final carnival scene.

But he didn't.  38 years later, gay people are still not welcome in the world of Rydell High.

See also: Grease 2: The Gay Connection; I Lost It at the Movies.

A Date with the Somali Teenager

Moving to the Plains, I expected to meet a lot of Swedes and Norwegians who hung out at saunas and ate lukefisch, or Germans who did complicated gymnastic routines at Turnerverein.

And, in fact, 30% of the population of my adopted state is of German ancestry, 30% Scandinavian, and 10% Native American.

But I didn't expect to meet Somalis.

Before coming here, all I knew about Somalia was:
1. It's a country in East Africa, bordering Ethiopia and Kenya, 99% Sunni Muslim.
2. The government is in ruins after a revolution in the 1990s.
3. The Somali language is Afro-Asiatic, similar to Arabic and Hebrew.

Shortly after arriving, I learned a lot more:

With the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, thousands of Somalis fled the country and immigrated to Canada, Britain, South Africa, and the United States.

There are about 150,000 in the U.S., mostly in the Midwest, especially the Plains. Since I live two blocks from the Islamic Center, my neighborhood has a lot.  I see women in hijabs and chadors about as often as I did in Turkey.  I hear conversations in Somali and Arabic.  Local grocery stores offer halal products.

 With 17 million speakers (as many as Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish put together), Somali is the largest of the languages in the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic Family.  Arabic and Hebrew are in the Semitic branch, so they are related, but as different as English and Hindi.  It takes an expert to see the connection.

English: I have a big sausage
Somali: Waxaan leeyahay bolse weyn
Arabic: Laday nawe min alkhubz alkabir

English: Come to my mouth
Somali: Kaalay afkayga
Arabic: Tueal 'iilaa fimy

Of course, I didn't plan on using any of those phrases.  Somalia, like several of the Muslim states on the Persian Gulf, has draconian laws against gay people.

I assumed that the Somalis in the U.S. are equally homophobic, and oblivious to the existence of gay people in their midst, even though there was a gay-friendly coffee house with a giant rainbow flag in the window right across the street from the halal market.

Most of the Somalis I saw every day rushed past me with angry glares or tried to avoid eye contact, but I assumed that they were apprehensive of morally-bankrupt Westerners, not specifically identifying me as an abomination.

There were several Somali families in my apartment building, including one at the end of the hall with a teenage son.  I saw him several times, leaving his apartment or checking the mail,  Once his car was smashed in a hit-and-run accident right outside my window.

He was tall and slim, very dark, with a long neck, frizzy hair, and thin features.  Very attractive.  But I was hesitant about cruising him.

Plains, June 2014

One morning in late June, shortly after my visit from Eli from Amsterdam, I am walking down the hall toward the exit on his side of the building, and the teenage son bursts out his door and glares suspiciously at me.

"Subax wanagsan (Good morning)" I say, the only Somali phrase I know.

"I speak English," he says harshly.  "Last year I was in AP English at East High.  I also speak Somali, Arabic, and French, in case you were wondering."

I start to burn with anger.  I was just trying to be friendly!  Besides, he can't beat me in the language department.  "Je vais courir," I say in French.  "Je cours 3 milles chaque matin."  I'm going jogging.  I jog 3 miles every morning.

"It's too hot out," he says, if he doesn't believe me.

"I don't mind the heat."

He continues to glare.  "I'll bet you collapse from heat exhaustion after one block, Awoowe."

I suspect that Awoowe is an insult (actually, it means "Grandpa").  I should just leave, but I'm so used to getting cruised by twinks that an invitation comes out automatically: "Want to tag along and call 911 when I collapse?  If I survive, I'll buy you a smoothie."

He breaks into a wide grin.  "Hang on, I'll get my running shoes."

We jog down the hill, to the University, and then back toward the Islamic Center, an easy three miles.  He tells me that his name is Key, short for Keynan.  He's been in the U.S. for twelve years.  He just graduated from East High, and he'll be enrolling at the University in the fall as a biochemistry major.

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

Jun 23, 2016

Icarus: The Boy Who Flew Too Close to the Sun

I mentioned before that artists interested in depicting men without women around have only limited mythological and religious themes to choose from, and most involve tragedy.

Take the tragedy of Icarus:
According to Greek mythology, skilled inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus were imprisoned in Crete.  To escape, Daedalus made them wings from bird feathers, held together with wax.  The plan would have worked, except that Icarus flew too close to the sun, so the wax on his wings melted, and he plunged to his death.

In the ancient world, and through the Middle Ages, the story was used to illustrate the folly of over-confidence, trying to do more than you are able.  But more recent artists and writers have a different take: strive to be all that you can.  You may fail, but at least you were able to fly.

Or they just like to portray a muscular nude Athenian youth, before, during, or after his flight.

Daedalus and Icarus (1645), by French painter Charles LeBrun, shows the moment when Daedalus rouses Icarus to try on his wings.

Icarus and Daedalus (1869), by Lord Leighton shows the same scene, but now they're on top of the tower, and a thin swath of fabric keeps Icarus from full nudity.

The Lament for Icarus (1898), by Herbert James Draper, substitutes naked nymphs for the mourning Daedalus, but it has a particularly striking dead hero (modeled by Luigi di Luca)

The Fallen Icarus (1997), by Neil Moore, who does a lot of mythological themes with realistic touches.

Icarus in flight over the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, was sculpted by Russell Whiting

In Ennis, Ireland, John Behan erected this statue in 1990.  It's supposed to be Daedalus, but the locals call it Icarus, and the name stuck.  He actually looks more like one of those scary Winged Men from paranormal stories.

This Icarus is by James Fatata, 13" high, the perfect accessory for your desk or nightstand.

The top photo, of course, is from fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.

The most famous Icarus painting is by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Icarus's crash is depicted by two legs in the lower right hand corner of the painting, while everyone around goes about their daily business, oblivious.

William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about it:

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

What's Gay about "Married with Children"

One day in 1988, I was at the gym in West Hollywood, and I saw someone wearing a t-shirt reading "Married...with Children Fan Club."

I knew about Married...with Children.  On Sunday nights, my roommate Derek and I always watched the beefcake-heavy: 21 Jump Street and Werewolf  on the fledgling Fox network, but we turned the tv off when the "Love and Marriage" theme song began.

Who wanted to watch a tv show that praised the heterosexual nuclear family?

Big mistake.  Married skewered the institution.

Al (Ed O'Neill) and Peggy (Katey Sagal) are a middle-aged married couple who hate each other.  Sexually voracious Peggy keeps trying to trick, cajole, or berate Al into having sex with her, but he isn't interested (although he likes women in general).

In the first season plot arc, Al and Peggy have fun trying to destroy a naive newly married couple, Marcy (Amanda Bearse) and Steve (David Garrison).  They're like George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, except their tactic is criticizing wives and husbands, respectively, and it works!  The couple soon divorces, and Marcy hooks up with metrosexual boytoy Boomererson (Ted McGinley).

 Other episodes involve problems with the kids, the promiscuous teenage Kelly (Christina Applegate) and the rowdy preteen Bud (David Faustino) -- soon a nerdy teenager.

No significant buddy-bonding, although Peggy and Marcy and Al and Boomererson come close.

Lots of beefcake -- Kelly had lots of shirtless, muscular boyfriends, such as Dan Gauthier, and in later seasons, Bud began to muscle-up big time.

Gay people appear only once.

Yet Married -- at least in its early years, before the downward spiral of Seasons 7-10 -- artfully revealed the flimsy foundation of the "fade out kiss," the myth of universal heterosexual destiny.  In the heart of the Reagan-Bush Era of conservative retrenchment, that was worth any number of "old friend visits and turns out to be gay" episodes.

Amanda Bearse came out in real life in 1993, and the rest of the cast are strong gay allies.

Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate have made public statements supporting gay marriage.

Ed O'Neill now stars in Modern Family, as the patriarch of a family that includes a gay son and son-in-law.

David Faustino played gay characters in Get Your Stuff (2000) and in Killer Bud (2001), and in Ten Attitudes (2001), he played "himself," not gay but on the gay dating circuit (for a sleazy reason). He also played "himself" in the webseries Star-Ving (along with buddy Corin Nemec).  See his post here.

He's currently in talks with producers about a Married spin-off, with Bud as an adult, married...with children.

Jun 22, 2016

Allan Kayser: the Bodybuilder of Mama's Family

During the 1970s, a series of sketches on The Carol Burnett Show featured the young Vicki Lawrence in old-lady drag as the abrasive matriarch of a dysfunctional Southern family.  In 1983 she spun off into Mama's Family as the elderly Thelma Harper, still grumpy but considerably nicer -- a champion of the underdog, fighting such social ills as illiteracy, nursing home abuse, and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Her family consisted of her conservative sister (Rue McClanahan, later of The Golden Girls), her dimwitted son Vint (Ken Berry, center, previously of Mayberry RFD), his sexually voracious wife Naomi (Dorothy Lyman, right), and his kids.

The son was played by Eric Brown, left, star of the sex farce Private Lessons.

After a season, the show was cancelled.  It returned in syndication in 1986, with the sister and kids gone, and Allan Kayser (left) introduced as Bubba, Thelma's juvenile delinquent grandson.

And the jaws of gay men everywhere dropped.  The 22-year old Kayser had a dazzling smile, a stunning physique, and an amazing bulge, and he knew it.  And the producers knew it.

In every episode, he was crammed into muscle shirts and sweatpants or painted-on jeans, and his body always got the limelight, even when something else was going on.

Mama's Family immediately became must-see tv.  It aired on Saturday nights, so we watched Mama's Family and The Golden Girls before going out to the bars.

The only gay content was Thelma's subtext friendship with mousy neighbor Iola (Beverly Archer).  Bubba's plotlines were standard teenage sitcom fare -- school projects, teams, dates --  with no significant male friends, except his Uncle Vinton, and that relationship was avuncular, not romantic.

But sometimes beefcake is enough.

During the 1980s, Allan also starred in a few B-movies that allowed him to show off his bulge and biceps, including Hot Chili (1985) and Night of the Creeps (1986).

When Mama's Family ended in 1990, he retired from acting, married, and moved to Missouri.  He has appeared in only a few small roles since.

He still has a stunning physique, and he is still gracious to his gay fans.

See also: The Golden Girls

The Shy Kentucky Boy at the Bathhouse

January 7th, 2011.  Cleveland, Ohio.

My boyfriend Troy and I are traveling crosscountry from Upstate New York to Indianapolis to visit my relatives.  Cleveland is a convenient halfway point, so we get a room at the Flex Club, which offers a full gym, two swimming pools, a steamroom maze, and a bar downstairs, and bathhouse facilities and hotel rooms upstairs.

7:00 pm

After we check into our room, Troy hits the cruising area, and I go to the gym.  The only other guy there is not particularly muscular, obviously not a gym regular, gamely trying to figure out how to bench press.

I go over and offer to spot him.

His name is Lester.  He's in his 20s, of medium height, unruly black hair, black eyebrows, and sharp features, not handsome but pleasant in a quirky bohemian way,  He has with a thin chest, prominent nipples, and nicely rippled abs, plus a soft Southern accent that I find attractive.  He reminds me of my Kentucky Kinfolk.

 I steer him toward the Nautilus machines and demonstrate proper form.

"So, are you from Cleveland?" he asks.

"New York, actually.  I'm just here for the night.  My boyfriend and I have a hotel room upstairs."

"Wow, I just have a locker.  I heard the hotel rooms were nice -- I've never been in one."

"Well, come on up, and I'll give you a tour."

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

Jun 21, 2016

Corn on the Cob, Fireworks, and Naked Men: 34 Reasons to Like Summer

Summer is my least favorite season, and we're right in the middle of it, with the heat, humidity, tv reruns, people forcing you to play outside, all of your friends away on vacation, long, boring days with nothing to do, and unnaturally bright evenings where the sun refuses to go down.

Here are the things I liked about summertime when I was a kid.  Maybe I can translate them into adult activities.

1. All of the boys and teenagers in the neighborhood walked around with their shirts off.  Even the adults, sometimes.  I remember two super muscular grownups sitting on lawn chairs on their patio, drinking beer.

2. The Denkmann Summer Carnival.  Games, cotton candy, and a sort of flea market where you could get comic books cheap.

3. The bookmobile came every Tuesday.  It wasn't just a place to get books.  I met lots of cute boys there.

4. Sitting on a blanket late at night to watch the 4th of July Fireworks.

5. Mother Goose Land.  It's not as lame as it sounds.  They had an Old West town, where you could ride burros and pan for gold.

6. A trip to Indiana to visit our relatives, but it was always followed by a horrible week camping in the Northwoods.

7, Nazarene summer camp.  I complained at the time -- nothing to do but Bible study, sports, and church -- but I got to hang out with lots of cute guys, and our counselors were always hunky teenagers.  Besides, I got to see Brother Dino naked in the shower.

8. Sitting in the kiddie pool, those round plastic things that you filled with a garden hose.

9. My birthday excursion, where I could bring 3 or 4 of my friends to any place in town that I wanted.  My birthday is actually in November, but I always postponed the trip to summertime, when the fun things like Niabi Zoo were open.

10. The Indian Pow Wow at Black Hawk Park.

11. Summer Enrichment Classes sponsored by the Department of Parks and Recreation.  I remember taking Spanish, astronomy, and archaeology. They also had physical fitness classes.

12, Sodas at Country Style.  In the Midwest, a "soda" is a concoction of ice cream and root beer or cola.  If you want the soft drink alone, it's called "pop."  I started calling it "soda" when I was living in California, which got me lots of weird looks back in Rock Island.

13. Swimming lessons at Longview Park.  One summer the teacher coaxed me into jumping into the deep end with the promise that if I drowned, he would give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

14. By the way, the only time I ever saw African-Americans in the segregated 1960s was at Longview Park Pool.  In swimsuits.  Something to look forward to!

15. Dinners comprised solely of corn on the cob (which my parents called roshineers) and tomatoes.

16.  Dinners comprised solely of newly-picked green beans with bacon and onions.

17.  The Prospect List.  Every year the Nazarene Church had a contest to see who could contact the most prospects, people who had attended church or Sunday school just once.  It was lots of fun trying to track them down and hearing their stories: "Well...um...I found a new church that...um...I like better.

18.Playing in the sprinklers in the front yard.

19. Walking barefoot on the hot concrete of the sidewalk.

20. Sleepovers.  Ok, we had sleepovers during the schoolyear, too, but during the summer they often entailed sleeping in tents in the back yard.

21. Summertime boyfriends: guys who you would hang out with while your regular boyfriend was on vacation or otherwise unavailable.

22. Road construction.  It's a pain for adults, but for kids too young to drive, it's fun to watch the construction workers walking down the highway in their yellow jackets and sunglasses.

23. Summer replacement series.  Back before tv series began and ended year round, the summer reruns were sometimes augmented by 10-episode miniseries, weird comedies, musical-variety shows, and even cartoons.

24. Shakespeare, for free, every summer in Lincoln Park. You brought lawn chairs and snacks or even a dinner.  Actually, I didn't go to any performances until college, but I'm sure it was there.

25. Practicing for cross country in the fall by running five miles, all the way downtown and back.

26. Kentucky Fried Chicken. The stores are open year round, but for some reason we just had it in the summer.

27. Baseball games.  The games were rather boring, but I liked looking at the players.

28. Fudgsicles, push-ups, and ice cream sandwiches.

29. Watermelon.

30. My brother and I making extra money by mowing lawns for the Old Lady Schoolteachers and other elderly neighbors.

31. Bicycle Safety Classes.

32. Watching Days of Our Lives and One Life to Live with my mother.  I wasn't a big soap opera fan, but it was a bonding opportunity.

33. For that matter, being able to watch Dark Shadows all the way through, instead of catching the last fifteen minutes after running home as fast as I could.

34. Seeing miscellaneous workmen with their shirts off at unexpected moments.

So, 32% involve seeing cute boys or men, 23% food, 20% excursions, 12% bonding with family members, and 9% the heat.

I think I can turn those things into adult activities.

Only 67 days to go.

See also: Cruising at the BookmobileHow to Avoid the Top 10 Problems of Summer; Do Seasons Affect Your Dating Success.

Will and Scott Have a Wild Night with Keanu Reeves

When I met Will the Bondage Boy in November 1987, he was the picture of a Silverlake leatherman.

He was in his 30s, short and compact, bearded, with a muscular, hairy chest and a little belly.

He worked as a bartender at the L.A. Eagle, he wore chaps, boots, and a leather jacket almost everywhere, and he had a fully equipped dungeon in his basement.

I naturally assumed that he had been into leather as long as he had been out.  But no: not too long ago, he was a West Hollywood twink, with a closet full of polo shorts and cargo pants, Duran Duran on his car stereo, and no bondage experience except for a few vague fantasies.

He claimed that his awakening came in the summer of 1986, during a wild night with film star Keanu Reeves.

West Hollywood, July 1986

Although Will and I were both living in West Hollywood during 1985-86, our paths never crossed, that I know of.  I was into the Metropolitan Community Church, Asian guys, and Muscle and Fitness.  He was into musical theater, fashion, and...well, dancing.

He and his best friend, Scott, were at the Rage, the twink dance club, with occasional forays to Mickey's and Studio One, four or five times per week, every week, month after month, year after year, dancing and cruising, dancing and cruising.

"It was like we were killing time, just waiting around for our life to begin," Will says.

One night in July, a couple of weeks after Gay Pride, Will and Scott were in the Rage, as usual, when Scott started cruising a Cute Young Thing: tall, thick black hair, sharp features, a soft, smooth chest, and an enormous basket.

His name was Keanu, which he said meant Breeze over the Mountains in Hawaiian.  His parents were native Hawaiian and British, but he grew up in Canada.  He just moved to L.A. a few months ago.  He was living with his stepfather and trying to make it as an actor.

After they danced for awhile, Keanu said "Let's get out of here!"

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

Jun 20, 2016

Jaanipaev: The Midsummer Beefcake Festival of Estonia

In 1998, Yuri and I were in Johvi, Estonia for Jaanipäev, St. John's Day, a national holiday.

The day before, June 23rd, is Võidupüha, Victory Day, commemorating the Estonian War of Independence, and the struggle for freedom of all of the Baltic nations.

St. John's Day, June 24th, is the longest day of the year.  The sun doesn't set until 11:00 pm.

People go swimming, have barbecues, get drunk, and most importantly, light bonfires to signify the triumph of summer over winter.

It's warm -- in the 60s -- so everybody's shirt comes off.  It's a parade of Baltic beefcake.

You're supposed to jump over the bonfire for luck. It's a good idea to do it in your underwear, so your clothes don't catch on fire.

Adherents of Estonian paganism, Maausk, sometimes jump nude.

When it finally gets dark, people pair off and head out into the woods to look for a special fern that just blooms once a year.

Yeah, right, that's what they're doing.

There are similar midsummer festivals all over the Balkans and Scandinavia.  In Finland they involve both bonfires and saunas, naturally.

In the Slavic countries, St. John's Eve is like Halloween, a time when the barrier between our world and the spirit world fails, and there are ghosts and goblins running around. Gay Russian writer Nikolai Gogol's short story "St. John's Eve" is about a man who searches for a treasure that can only be discovered that night, but meets the devil instead.

See also: Yuri and I Cruise in Estonia.

Anton Yelchin

I was saddened to learn of the death of 27-year old Anton Yelchin in a tragic accident Sunday morning. Best known for playing Chekhov in the new Star Trek movie series, Yelchin was a rising star adept at comedy, horror, and drama.

Born in Leningrad in 1989, Yelchin moved to the U.S. with his parents and began acting professionally at age 10, in the tv series ER. 

On a 2003 episode of Without a Trace, he plays a shy, gay-coded boy who is kidnapped along with his classmates.

Starring roles in Jack, Fierce People, and Alpha Dog followed, plus a tv series, Huff.

As a teenager, Yelchin did his share of hetero-horny "Girl Walking in Slow Motion Across Her Yard" roles, but he also did some homoerotic buddy-bonding, notably in House of D (2004), where an adult Tom (David Duchovny) recalls his adolescent friendship with the mentally challenged Pappas (Robin Williams), and in Terminator Salvation (2009), where Marcus (Sam Worthington) goes back to the past to stop Skynet from taking over the world, and bonds with the teenage Kyle (Yelchin).

The Star Trek reboots with Kirk and company just out of Star Fleet Academy, have occupied Yelchin's time for the past several years.  When I was a kid, I thought that Chekhov and Sulu were a romantic couple.

Yelchin still managed to find some independent vehicles, such as a remake of Fright Night, the heterosexist paranormal saga Odd Thomas and the spy caper Dying of the Light (where he buddy-bonds with Nicholas Cage)

See also: Star Trek