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Jery on the set HBO's LITTLE BRITAIN
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9/11 Stirs Bitter Memories!
Well, I'm glad it's over--the 50th Class Reunion at Brevard College Oct. 19, 2012.
I recognized no one and hardly knew the few surviving alumni who were there. I enjoy much meeting again, though, two of my favorite people from those long ago years: The always lovely and charming Betsy Wren--who married the equally handsome, charming Charles Smith. Charles had one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard--he's now singing with the Gay Men's Choir in Greenville, SC.
Although I had originally planned on staying all day for the night banquet, I left right after the luncheon--that was all I could take of the "good old days."
One of my favorite buddies who I always liked was there with his wife and fifty years has turned him into a complete stranger. When I greeted him, it was shaking hands with a complete stranger.
I don't think I'll be attending anymore reunions. Let the ghosts lie buried in their graves.#
I dread to see to see the words "9/11" because I know what that means.
Hours of televised specials, media features about that horrific day that shook the world--and I witnessed it all.
I lived in Manhattan for nearly thirty years.
On that beautiful, brisk September morning, I caught the 8:00 a.m. express subway from East 86th Street to the Wall Street area. My beautiful friend, Roberto, met me for we were going to enjoy an early breakfast and he wanted to show me "his" favorite places along the watefront.
Roberto was a gorgeous, 24-year-old Italian boy and a fireman. We met when he saw me signing my book, HIS EYES WERE DARK, HE LICKED HIS LIPS, for a long line of readers at a Barnes & Noble bookstore on Fifth Avenue. He waited until I was ready to leave that night and came up to me and asked if I thought he might enjoy my book.
"It's about one man's love for another man. Would that bother you?"
He brought a copy and wrote down my phone number. A week later he called, we met, and our bond was so intense that we were thinking of living together.
Roberto's large Italian family had already picked out the Italian girl they wanted him to marry. Everyone waited for him to pop the question. But now, he was trying to decide if he wanted to have a conventional married life in Brooklyn--of, if he wanted to live with another man.
Now, he and I grabbed a bagel with butter and some bitterly hot coffee from a sidewalk vendor and were just walking toward the Bowling Green area when we heard the first, shocking explosion. It was 9:05 a.m.
It shook everything. "Holy Christ!" gasped Roberto. "That was fucking big!"
I still remember that look of terror on his handsome, boyish face, for he somehow knew what we heard was a catastrophe in the making. People were screaming now and we raced up to where a crowd was forming and we could see that horrible, jagged hole in the first tower. Black smoke belched from it. Flames shot out. Roberto hugged me briefly and shouted: "I've gotta go! This is fucking big!" I watched his handsome, heroic figure race down toward the tower.
I never saw him again.
He was massacred that morning along with 3,000 innocent American citizens who had left their homes a few hours to go to their jobs in lower Manhattan. Within three hours, they would be incinerated and two of my favorite NYC skyscrapers would collapse and the world realized that now, America had finally been hit big time by lunatic terrorists.
In the months ahead, I passed by pathetic posters on walls where someone had put up a sign asking if anyone had seen one of the missing workers.
A year after the disaster, I passed by a church on 14th Street which had put up a large display of all the murdered firemen who had perished that ghastly September morning. I found the face of Roberto. Wearing his fireman's regalia, he smiled and I could detect that mischevous grin beginning to form. He had a hilarious sense of humor.
What would he have done if he had not died? Would he have caved in to his Italian family's demands that he marry the nice girl from the neighborhood, raise kids, go to church like all the others.
Or would he have stood up to them and demanded that he be allowed to be his true self and live his life with someone he loved? I remembered those intense nights in my small studio apartment on East 88th Street with a candle flickering, some incense burning and he lay with me. We had planned to move down South, find a small cottage in the mountains, perhaps even adopt a child. He loved children.
Roberto was my last true boyfriend. I think of him many times each day. I dream of him, laughing, joking, dancing iwth me in my apartment. Then I remember that expression of terror on his face when we heard that terrible sonic boom. He knew a catastrophe of horrific proportions was happening..
I see him running toward his death in that burning Twin Tower.
No wonder I dread each anniversary of September 11, 2001.
I Didn't Plan To Be A Cult Author
I was fourteen when my first words were published in a newspaper. I couldn't sleep the night before. And when the weekly publication, The Denton Record, finally appeared at our only drug store down the block one fall day in l957 and I saw neighbors reading it, I was one happy freak. "The Denton School Report" was the dramatic head for my weekly column that ran for three years. At first, I stuck with obediently recording the time and date of the next PTA meeting and other profound occasions. Gradually, I transformed the column into something casual, gossipy, chatty. It became popular with everyone. I had learned the first lesson of writing. I pretended I was yakking with a best friend. Paint a picture in words to entertain the reader. This became even more important after I began work at a real newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina, in l965. I had just experienced five, tumultuous years in college. My effiminate personae repelled many while attracting others. Straight men, then and now, were the main ones I liked being with. Most were just buddies. Several became more than that. Gay men had nothing to do with me. I was "too" obvious. That didn't bother me. I wasn't interested in attracting them anyway. I was fascinated by rugged, macho men and even today, my best friends are your ordinary Joe Six Packs. I don't like intellectuals. I find them pretentious and a pain in the neck. My first real newspaper editor on the Wilmington Star-News was an egotistical monster. "Chip" was the Hollywood version of a charismatic, temperamental, handsome editor. At first, he tried to hide his sharp interest in me by yelling at me and testing me. He'd order me to go out into the rain to get him coffee. He expected me to refuse. I eagerly obeyed and always asked: "Do you want anything else?" He blushed, because he was a real Irishman and that made him even more attractive. We eventually became more than friends. The newsroom knew. You can't hide much at a newspaper. When I told this really troubled man I was leaving to take a job with the Associated Press, he became violent, emotional and vowed I would never leave his newspaper alive. He saw this as a slap-in-the-face to his reputation for keeping the cream of the crop of journalists. He vowed to ruin me if I took the Associated Press job. I made my escape and never saw Chip again. He died soon afterwards. Cause of death: an overdose of pills.
Chip was, indeed, an unforgettable man but there were to be many others in the future. The Associated Press was a good place to learn the craft of journalism but it was no place for romance, either in Charlotte, N.C., or in Fargo, North Dakota. Although I was to discover that men in this last city of forbidding terrain can be quite fabulous. I met dozens and dozens of North Dakota farmers and regular guys at the cozy little family bars that dotted main street in Fargo. All were lonely. All were desperate for companionship. I used all my experiences in that snow-frozen metropolis in many stories I was to later write while in New York City. Even today, people ask me in disbelief: "You actually lived in Fargo?" I was glad to leave the snow-drenched universe of North Dakota and accepted a job in Montgomery, Alabama as "star reporter" for the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper.
Most of the men I worked with were bigots, as were many of the those I met outside the newspaper. But--my job allowed me to interview some of the most fascinating Southern guys alive. I interviewed prisoners, politicans, preachers, actors, wrestlers, cops, troopers, mixed-up artists and writers. They gave me tons of material for my future stories. One real tragedy on the eve of my departure from Dixie: my long-time buddy, Art, a jazz pianist, was murdered and eviscerated by a group of black thugs, as he left my apartment building. His killers were later tried in court where they laughed about the killing. Since they were all not l8 years of age, they were sent to a youth detention center and released one year later. I considered them animals and wished that I could have killed them all. That gave me a bitter lesson in American justice.
By the time I moved to Manhattan in l978, I was ready to let down my hair and celebrate my freedom! My stories had become fixtures in many gay magazines and fan mail poured in. I still receive notes and letters and e-mail from my fans who discovered my work back in those halycon days of Disco. Those days wouldn't last long, though, because in l980, we began to hear about a strange "gay sickness" affecting many of the young swingers in Gotham. Quickly, it became an epidemic. Men I knew began dying. The whole landscape changed. In the meantime, I'd managed to finally get my story collection, ERIC'S BODY published and it became an overnight sensation. The collected stories were mostly those that had already appeared in leading gay magazines. More than 200 editors and agents had turned ERIC'S BODY down. Those few who said anything about it laughed in my face and said I should be ashamed of writing "porno garbage." These were the same men busy promoting and gushing over Jackie Collins lusty, graphic hetero adventures that were being pushed in mainstream bookstores. That I was doing exactly the same thing as she--with the exception that I had all males doing it--was seen as too perverted to even imagine. My second novel, THE ROPE ABOVE, THE BED BELOW, came out in late l994. I literally copied pages from my personal journal to describe the wild, feverish hedonism that obsessed Manhattan before the AIDS epidemic hit. My publisher demanded that I cut out much of my original manuscript and cram it full of sexual passages. I fought back. I did not want to write this book as another "porno" job. He took control of my book and when it appeared I was not a happy author. Whole chapters were torn out and it was so heavily edited that the book only ran l50 pages--when it was originally 350! A year later, I sued my publisher for he refused to publish three of the novels that he had brought--because he demanded that we become more than friends. We settled our problems out of court after Court TV wanted to feature my case on their program. The publisher nearly had a heart attack for he had pulled this same little game with other writers who were too frightened of his power to threaten legal action. Over the years, I've written several popular novels as Jason Fury and 'Andrea D'Allasandra.' My long-time companion, 'Big Bill Jackson asked me to help him put together his memoirs and as EIGHTH WONDER, it became an instant hit with his many fans. In Europe and Russia, his cult following is even bigger than mine, darn it. Big Bill shuns parties, the bars, book signings. He's an independent cuss. Men and women have offered him fortunes for a good time. He turns them all down.
When the terrorism attack hit Gotham on Sept. 11, 2001, I was exactly on the crime scene that horrible morning. I had planned to have breakfast with one of my fans, a young off-duty fireman. Roberto had become my boyfriend. He and some of his fire fighting buddies had read both ERIC'S BODY and THE ROPE ABOVE, THE BED BELOW and we had all become close. We had discovered many similar interests and we became very close. On this beautiful September morning, we had just brought bagels and hot bitter coffee from a sidewalk vendor near Church Street when we felt and heard a tremendous sonic boom. Everything trembled around us. I'll never forget the look of terror and shock on Roberto's face. It was as if he sensed a catastrophe was occurring nearby and as we heard the screams and sirens, we saw in horror what that first hijacked plane had done: it smashed into the Twin Towers. Roberto hugged me briefly and said quietly: "Mother of God! Something big has happened! Later."
I watched his handsome, young figure racing toward the twin towers.
I never saw him again. He would become among 3,000 innocent people incinerated that day in the massacre.
The horror still lingers here, although the nightmare occurred eleven years ago. I still remember those intimate hours with Roberto, in my small studio apartment. Candles flickered, incense burned. The man I really loved was there beside me in bed. At least I have those memories to last me for a lifetime. I think of Roberto when I think of 9/11.