Friday, September 21, 2012

Hood Mansion

Marion Howard

(1900 1992)

There's an embossed, bas relief quality to her earlier photo. It's almost as if she were a Greek goddess come to life or perhaps Roman, Etruscan, Cretan queen-bee? Maybe it's just the way her profile stands out on the page her tightly-knit coiffure, her cool eyes, her light smile, her poise for the camera?  On the other hand, it could be her Columbia education, her East Coast poise, her NYC way of looking at things? Or is it her gift of language, her fluent Spanish, her trips to Madrid? Which side of the Civil War was she on did she favor Franco? I really can't say I guess I was more enamored with Mabel King. I plodded my way through Latin translating Caesar's commentaries and the Gallic Wars as best I could. I had flashbacks at night of Roman soldiers dreams about the Baths of Carcalla. I dreamed I was St. Sebastian sacrificed in the Coliseum jaded pagans famished for my long drawn-out demise. Oh those ruthless gladiators and hungry lions!!!! Back then I had a crush on dead languages English was my favorite. So many dead languages so little time. I did kind of like Spanish though like during wrestling practice. When Arnold Lopez whispered sweet nothings in my ear.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Red Bricks & Sandstone

I wonder sometimes—if Emporia hasn’t always been that way? Red bricks & sandstone facades—along Commercial Street?

A kind of gothic Americana intermission—during the whole Westward Experience Movement thing? A brief pause, an interlude—while the Santa Fe Railroad made a stop there. Then kept its way going onto the West Coast?

What’s left for us—fourth generation Kansans who can look back on it all & still remember their grandparents, maybe even their great-grandparents? Caught up in the Now back then—of what we’ve still got left around us?

Kansas consciousness—what was it? Like the C of E campus. What was it? Is it disappearing now? The big cities on the west coast—they’ve got ghost malls but still things keep growing. While back in the midwest—everything is falling apart, decaying, disintegrating, turning into ghost towns not just ghost malls.

What really makes me feel helpless & nostalgic for the past is up there in Republic County—and all the farms being taken over by corporations & Monsanto. A lot of the churches, schools, banks downtown, bridges—they’re built to last with limestone cut from the quarries like in Strong City west of Emporia. The facades of some of the older buildings like this building on Commercial Street—so solid & not going anywhere. Pastels & patinas—jazzing it up a little bit. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Jimmy Stevens

Writing drag permits many stages of elaboration: cabaret, burlesque, gender fuck—as well as poetry, novels & filmscripts.

Sometimes drag just happens—it’s spontaneous like a gay cheerleader’s pretty pirouette up into the air waving pom-poms so gayly.

The first out-of-the-closet drag queen I met and got to know in person—was way back when in the depths of my faggy bildungsroman beginnings in closeted high school.

There she was, Jimmy Stevens—displaying, flaunting her true talents as a flaming drag-queen during basketball and football games.

Nobody except maybe me really thought very much about it—Jimmy the Drag Queen doing her thing in front of the bored, ho-hum mob.

I had seen Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel—I loved the way she sang “Falling in Love” to the Weimar cabaret crowd. But beyond that drag and transvestites was, well—terra incognito. Or rather terrifying cognito—something nobody talked about.

Later Jimmy graduated and got outta town—going to the university in Lawrence. I heard he was in the choir up there—and probably doing other things as well.

Like the steam baths in Kansas City—or maybe even trips to New York City. He ended up with aids though—and died in late-1990’s. I often wondered what he was like—once he bloomed from his small-town closet. Did he do drag—burlesque?

It’s a sad kind of gay story—somewhat like the one with Vernon Sheffield. What do small-town gays do in the stuffy Red State Midwest—there in stoic, gothic Kansas where drag is much too much?

Jimmy Stevens got out of town—but ended up dead in his thirties. Vernon Sheffield stayed there—and lived into his seventies. How did these gay men lead their lives—what was it like to be gay back then?

Like Jimmy Stevens—I got out of town, then I headed for SF and the West Coast. But a part of me stayed back there like Vernon Sheffield—a kind of Tall Grass Prairie Other.

A sad doppelganger—there beneath the shadowy elm trees. A James Barrie double—haunting Peter Pan Park.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Kenyon Hall Gothic Manors

Kenyon Hall Gothic Manors

“It was all very queer—
but queerer things were
yet to come.”
—William Holden,
Sunset Blvd

Yes, this is Kenyon Hall, Emporia, Kansas.

It's about 5 o'clock in the morning. That's the demolition squad, complete with cranes, trucks and jack-hammers. They’ve done their job renovating and remodeling the old wreck of a building.

The whole place seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis—out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion.

Come to think of it, the whole campus seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis... out of beat with the rest of the world... crumbling apart in slow motion.

There was once a college... or rather the ghost of a college... with faded buildings and sagging roofs... And of course it had an administration building. What college didn't then?... It was empty now. Or was it?

It was a big pink elephant of a place—the kind that crazy college people outta the past built. An old dumpy place gets an unhappy look—and this one had it in spades.

It was like that old dame in Great Expectations—that Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress. And her grudge about being stood up—taking it out on the world. But now the game was up—either renovate and remodel it into a senior housing apartment building… Or tear it down.

They renamed it the Kenyon Hall Gothic Manor—the single and double bedroom apartments soon filled up. The same with the Broadview Hotel—down on Sixth.

I paused in the desolate overgrown patio—overgrown with the usual decaying Emporia decadence. A naked Cupid here & there—an empty building left standing. The Carnegie Library a domed fossil ruins…

“What kept you so long?”

I looked up at one of the apartment windows. It was Anita B. Rice—good gawd, I thought she died years ago.

“That’s what they all thought,” she said. She could almost read my mind—I was simply shocked.

Sometimes it's interesting to see just how bad bad acting can be. This promised to go the limit.

There's nothing tragic about being a thousand years old. Not unless you're trying to be like a hundred.

How could I breathe and exist in this retirement home full of Norma Desmond clones? Around every corner, Anita B. Rice... more Anita B. Rice’s... and still more Anita B. Rice’s?

So she was waiting for me—she’d heard through the grapevine that I was doing a story on Kenyon Hall Gothic Manor. Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Anita B. Rice. She was ready now to tell her whole Story...

Thanks to genetic engineering and the wonders of modern medicine—she’d not only undergone a face lift but also she’d been transplanted into a new cloned body crafted after the visage of Margaret Hamilton the Wicked Witch of the East from The Wizard of Oz!!!!

The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her in an aura of terrifying horror. She had the same out-of-style teardrop eyeglasses perched on her pointy nose—with tiny little glinting rhinestone fake diamonds glittering at the ends of her glasses.

I couldn’t see them but I bet that she was still wearing those lace-up black clod-hopper boots—the ones with huge heels the size of Firestone tires. And she was mean-looking too—looking forward to getting her claws into me once again after all these years.

“You're a writer, they say.”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Well, are you or aren't you?”

“That's what my byline at the Emporia Gazette says.”

“And you have written biographies, haven't you?”

“I sure have. Want a list of my victims?”

“I want to ask you something. Come up here.”

“Last one I wrote was about Lorne Anderson. The whole thing played on a torpedo boat.”

(I was thinking about the old familiar story. You help a timid little old lady cross a crowded street, she turns out to be a multimillionaire and leaves you all her money.)

Upstairs in her apartment, Anita had piles and piles of manuscripts. A whole history of EHS and generations of dummies. It was going to be a small town expose—entitled “I’m Simply Appalled!”

“That's the trouble with you writers, you think you know all the plots.”

“Anita, you're a woman of 150, now grow up. There's nothing tragic about being old, not unless you try to be 50.”

Kenyon Hall Mon Amour

Kenyon Hall Mon Amour

”It is like being
mailed into space”
—Sylvia Plath
“Wuthering Heights,”
Crossing the Water

There’s no life—
Way down there below

Just slow-motion ants—
For the fly-over jets above

Everything down below—
It's getting nowhere fast

A vast flat horizon—
People stuck down there

Generation after generation—
And I was the fourth one

I got born down there—
In Newman's Hospital

There on Twelfth Street—
Not far from the Cemetery

And that's where I died—
On the old C of E campus

There on the lonely hill—
In Kenyon Hall Gothic Manors

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Peter Pan Visits Emporia

Peter Pan Visits Emporia

So much for Tinkerbell—
Magic Fairy Dust and lovely
Never Neverland dreams

Nothing’s more devastating—
And terribly tragic than one’s
Fiftieth High School Reunion

All my hunky Sweethearts—
Bald, pot-bellied, toothless
Such Studs they once were

There in that Kansas town—
With Peter Pan Park & even
A Peter Pan Ice Cream Store!

Miss Barrie’s quick visit—
His nelly high-pitched Voice
Reading Peter Pan in the Park

They got her back on the—
Santa Fe Super Chief as
Quickly as possible, my dears!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Peter Pan Park

Peter Pan Park

A nice little Necropolis—
Peter Pan Park down there
South of the tracks

Never Neverland—
Devoted to the death
Of young Mary White

William Allen White’s—
Tomb to her Tragedy
Emporia’s kitschy park

Built in the memory—
Of his dearly departed
Daughter his Peter Pan

In love with Tinkerbell—
James Barrie’s fantastic
Victorian Fairy Tale

Miss Walt Disney’s—
Technicolor money-maker
With campy Captain Hook

Monkey Island

Famous cruising spot—
Next to Peter Pan Lake
Weekends were busy

Surrounded by a—
Shallow tacky moat
A rather sullen spot

But lots of bushes—
A pretty little Arbor
A nice place for picnics

I tricked quite a bit—
Growing up there in
That little Cowtown

What else to do—
Other than getting
Drunk at the VFW?

My cute stepfather—
Part-time bartender
I’d bribe for booze

The City Pool

Another Hot Spot—
Worthy of my gay
Queenly Attentions

The cute Lifeguards—
Lounging lazily up
There in their Towers

Usually butchy—
Football team hunks
Showing off muscles

Usually smirking—
At me swishing around
Cruising their speedos

Especially there in—
The showers by the
Locker-room naked

Me giving them—
Artificial respiration
With desperate Lips!!!

Wrestling Team

Later on though—
There was the workout
After-School Specials

The Wrestling Team—
With all the local dumb
Muscle-bound Apes

Butchy Rough Trade—
Turned me on sending
Shivers up my Nelly Spine!

Simply infuriating them—
The more they hurt me
The bigger my Grin!!!

The more they pinned—
Me and roughed me up
The more I loved it

Especially those hot—
Young Mexicans who
Were simply Arriba!!!

Gothic Emporia

Gothic Emporia

There’s nothing more—
Gothic than Emporia
During the winter

The tall stark Elms—
Brooding up & down
The dismal streets

The gothic house—
On Constitution was
Really no different

Inherited from my—
Gone grandparents
Now reclusive mine

The sleek art deco—
Senate Apartments
Now a Frat House

The big homes—
Once historic now
A ghetto slum

Sunken Garden

The Fountain—
Once a rendezvous
For illicit moments

Tennessee Williams—
Summer and Smoke
Lonely interludes

Young male students—
Lonely & far from home
Blowjobs in the bushes

During the summer—
A Garden of Eden for
Me down on my knees

During winter though—
Slim Pickings with stark
Plumb Hall looking grim

That’s when my mentor—
Vernon Sheffield played
Piano sonatas for me

The Boy in the Bell Jar

I met Vernon one day—
In the old Science Building
Going up the staircase

It was my Ritual—
To view the Fetus Boy
In the display cabinet

There he was asleep—
In his Jar of Formaldehyde
But his eyes were open

Looking at me—
From outta History
For how many years?

I would stand there—
Trying to talk with him
Sharing my thoughts

Long before I read—
Sylvia Plath’s “Bell Jar”
The kid read my beads

Vernon Sheffield

Vernon’s office was—
On the same floor next
To the Boy in Jar

He noticed me—
Maybe felt sorry for me
Took me under his wing

He taught Music then—
Mathematics when the
Department changed

Music for him should—
Be taught only by men
He was tres Misogynist

Why I don’t know—
But he enjoyed young
Men very much instead

And so he ended up—
Teaching Mathematics
Instead there at KSTC

Emporia Evenings

We went for long walks—
In the long summer evenings
Emporia different back then

The Eisenhower Fifties—
So very calm and naïve
After the Second World War

My parents were divorced—
Vernon became my guide
My gay Fairy Godmother

I was like Judy Garland—
Stuck there in Kansas & he
Was Glenda my Good Witch

He lived west of campus—
In a small apartment with
A sleek black grand piano

He’d play Mozart for me—
Minuets and lovely ditties
He’d make up in his mind