Dan Valentine – The Pink Cigarette Lighter, Part 2

July 13, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part 2

I was out on the veranda–inhaling my first drag from a cig, slurping my first sip from a cup–when the morning receptionist appeared.

Upon seeing her, I took a look at an imaginary watch on my wrist (my true watch is in my carry-on–the band broke months ago) and said, “You’re late!” I was joking. I didn’t have the slightest idea what time it was. I wrote into the wee hours.

“You, too?” she said. “Nobody lets me be me in this world.” She was half-joking, but all humor has a serious side, or it wouldn’t be funny. No identification.

I guess, she WAS a little late and Gabby, the manager, had gotten on her case. I can relate. She’s gotten on my case more than once, and I’m a guest.

The other night I was outside, having a cigarette, thinking, pacing, when two Mexican gentlemen stopped to inquire if I had any food to spare. “We not eat.” They were homeless and penniless. They had just come from L.A. where they had found little or no work and had returned home across the border. I told them to wait a sec.

I poked my head inside and told Gabby, “There are two gents in need of something to eat.”

She’s a teacher. In her spare time, she teaches a small group, of four or five, creative writing here at the hostel, which she was busy doing at that moment. She couldn’t very well say no in front of her students, so she got up and went to the kitchen and filled two plastic bags full of goods. She may have even taken a well-guarded and cherished jar of strawberry jam out of the locked safe and included it. (I shouldn’t be so judgmental. She probably would have done the good deed on her own, without me or her students here or not.)

She gave the two gentlemen the bags–in return, the two sincerely thanked her and went on their way– and Gabby turned to me and said, “Charming? Yes?”

Si, indeed!

Sunday afternoon–the staff’s day off–she’s about to leave with no one here but me. I asked, “Do you want me to stay around?” You know, just in case someone wanted to check in.

She sad, “No. Leave. Leave forever!”

I had to laugh.

But where was I? Oh, yes. “Nobody lets me be me in this world.” I love that phrase. It says a lot.

I told her so, and she, the morning receptionist, sat to have a chat about this-and-that. Sat-chat-that. Perfect rhymes. Imperfect world.

During our conversation, among many other things–now aware that I was writing a piece on gays and lesbians and those in between–she informed me that three transvestite prostitutes had been found murdered recently and left on the side of the road between here and Rosarito, a small town up the Baja coast–killed by some macho Mexican male or more, she supposed.

One may have very well been wearing pink, I just thought to myself. It doesn’t take much–I know from personal experience–to fuel the fervor in some to kill or hurt another fellow human being.

The Aztecs used to execute homosexuals, and you don’t wanna know the details of how they went about it. Transvestites–whatever their sexual preference–were executed also and, again, you don’t wanna know the gruesome details.

Under Spanish rule “maschismo” was introduced to the Western Hemisphere: Men are men and should act accordingly. Make war not love.

In the mid-’90s, a Mexicana airline pilot had security guards at Guadalajara International Airport escort two San Francisco-bound lesbians off the plane for engaging in immoral behavior. They were seen holding hands.

Two dozen homosexuals were murdered in Mexico during the first-half of that decade, most of them transvestites. And now, years later in 2010, three more can be added to the list.

My fellow Americans, north of the border, I sincerely and humbly apologize. We are not alone, not by a long shot, not that I thought for a moment that we were. Hatred for those who are born different is universal.

Pearl Harbor was the home port of my first ship when serving in the Navy. This was many decades before don’t-ask-don’t-tell–1969 or so. The scuttlebutt on board at one time was that several snipes in Engineering–not just two but several–had been swiftly discharged for gay activities. From first-hand experience, I know you can’t believe everything, or anything, you hear aboard a ship.

To get from the Naval Base to Waikiki Beach, you had to catch a bus that let you off on Hotel Street in Honolulu, where you waited to transfer to another bus. On Hotel Street, at night, you’d see countless prostitutes plying their trade, many with a large pink button–pink! that color again!–that informed those who could read: “I AM A BOY”! It was the law back them.

You might as well have painted a pink bull’s eye on their chests or backs or foreheads or all three. On the bus coming back at night, you’d see them again, on the side of the highway, plying their trade. I’m sure there were many a gay-bashing. Probably a killing or three. Macho guys just wanna have fun.

On the other hand–there’s always a flip side–the large pink warning labels may well have saved a life or three. False advertising can very well get one killed, too.

I believe in education. I believe in magnet schools, comprehensive public schools, high-school level, with different specialized curricula. Reading-writing-and-arithmetic is all fine and dandy, but you gotta teach everyone, as many as you can, how to make a living, how to put bread on the table. The United Kingdom has nearly 3,000 of ‘em, each specializing in a specialized trade. My sister attended one. The London Royal Ballet School.

In Manhattan, I lived just up the block from one. The Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art & Performing Arts. I spoke there once, representing the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Ving Rhames, Freddie Prinz, Liza Minneli, Dom Deluise are/were all graduates.

But why just the arts? Whether it be plumbing, carpentry, or automotive mechanics, you gotta teach the young how to make a buck, the earlier the better. A magnet school can give the process some intensity and prestige. Just my own personal opinion, but I’m no expert.

My junior year in high school, I came home after my first day at class, and my dad asked what courses I had signed up for. I told him I had signed up for Creative Writing for one. He told me to check out immediately. Take typing. I did, and it has served me well through the years. In the past, I have always been able to get a job typing. Except in Nashville!

I was stationed in Bremerton, Washington, in the Navy for a couple of months. While there I signed up to take a course in shorthand at the local junior college, taking my dad’s advice again. I had to check out. I was the only male and all the women in the class, the professor said, were so well advanced that she was going to skip the first few chapters of the textbook. The women in the class had all taken shorthand in high school.

My dad also told me when I was VERY young to get a part-time job at a Chinese laundry. This was more than 40 years ago. He said Chinese was the future and I could always get a job as a reporter. My dad was a very smart and savvy man. Stupid me, I got a job delivering the Deseret News instead; it might have been bagging groceries at Albertson’s. I can’t remember. I did both at one time or another.

On one of my first days working for Orrin Hatch, he took me aside and told me what the business at hand was all about. “Economics. Economics. Economics.” He might as well have said the whole world, from beginning of time. Maybe he did.

It’s all about the money, sad or not. And you gotta teach people how to make some. I believe countless magnet high schools throughout the nation would be a good start.

Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, or so it’s said. And I believe it. Those who don’t have a trade often choose the oldest one, whether by choice or by circumstance, for there is always–and always will be–those who will pay for a prostitute’s fast-fix accessibility.

Straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender, many have sexual needs that can’t be met at home by a loved one, if they have a loved one. Some are attracted to transvestites. Some have a desire–it could very well even be sexual–to murder ‘em.

There is a street in Ensenada, I was told by a visitor from San Diego, known by those north of the border and cab drivers here as Tranny Alley. I asked Salsador about it. He’d never head of it. I had to explain to him what the word “tranny” meant. “Tranny” hasn’t entered the Spanish lexicon–as of yet. Where it exactly is, I don’t wanna know. Somewhere in the world–I have no doubt–is a block of ill-repute known as Granny Alley, too. As an aspiring lyricist, I hear a word and automatically match it in my mine with a rhyme. Tranny. Granny. I’d Google it, but I don’t wanna know.

In the Netherlands, and in a few other European countries, prostitution is legal, as it should be. Take it off the side streets and out of the back alleyways–get rid of the pimps!–and supervise the activity. It’s a revenue-maker for city and state. It’s a good idea just disease-, violent-crime-, and you-name-it-wise.

In Amsterdam, it’s even a tourist attraction. Tourists go view a Rembrandt, take in a Van Gogh, taste-test some funny stuff at a Coffee Shop, and visit what is called “The Street of Women” to take a peek at “The Women in the Windows.” Not necessarily in that order. My dad, when he visited, took a stroll down the street and even convinced my mom to tag along. At first, being raised a staunch Presbyterian, she said no-way. “What will people think?” My dad replied, “They’ll simply think a beautiful new girl’s in town.” Ha-ha. My mom thought it over for a moment, pursed her Presbyterian lips, and joined him for a peek. She was a trouper.

I, myself, took my bestest friend for a peek on our first visit there. We walked by a window showcasing a painted woman with a poodle on her lap. “That’s the job I want!” my good friend said. “A job you can take your dog with you to.” She’s very funny. In Houston, she did stand-up comedy for a time–wrote her own material. “How would you come up with the rent?” I asked. “You gotta entertain a customer or two, at the very least. She pondered the proposition for a sec. “Well, that is a problem, isn’t it?”

All the world’s a Catch-22.

My artist brother, Jimmy, who inherited more than a drop of my mom’s Presbyterian blood, was on a first-name basis with a number of prostitutes in Amsterdam. He painted their portraits while they sat in their windows waiting for customer. There was a gallery showing of the paintings called “Women in the Windows.” It received good reviews. Most everything I own is now somewhere in a Houston dump. I kept the few paintings I possessed by my dear departed brother. One or two are of the women in the windows.

My dad often brought copies of police reports home from The Tribune. In his heart of hearts, I think, his dream was to one day write the Great American Novel. One report, I remember, concerned a sex decoy (an undercover cop) and a prospective John. She was standing on the corner of West 2nd South in Salt Lake. It was well-known at one time for prostitutes. Perhaps, still is.

A customer propositioned her. A twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy. He said he wanted to pay for sex with her. She told him, “Kid, go away.” He said, “I’ve been saving up for months.” “Go away,” she said. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble.” He said, “My girl friend won’t have sex with me. The school slut won’t have anything to do with me. And now, you, a prostitute, won’t have sex with me?!” By this time, a patrol car had arrived on the scene. He was taken into custody.

Sad, perhaps, but very human …

Elko, Nevada, last I heard, has legalized prostitution. And, last I heard, there hasn’t been a rape in years. But that I find had to believe.

As a kid, we visited Elko many times. My dad wasn’t too crazy about Las Vegas–he’d spent a short time there homeless after the war–but he loved Elko. We always stayed at the Commercial Hotel downtown. In the lobby was a huge white Polar Bear, stuffed, standing upright on its hind legs, in a glass case. Very sad.

When I was little, kids were allowed in the casino with their folks. I remember standing by my dad as he rolled the dice. When he won, he’d give me a handful of silver dollars. And I remember putting them on my bed in our room upstairs and running my fingers through them time and again. Such joy!

My dad told me to save them. They may be worth something someday. I gave them to a longtime friend of mine, a pawnbroker in Salt Lake, a few years ago to sell. He put them in his safe. When I inquired about my silver dollars some time later, he informed me that they had disappeared. Poof! He didn’t know what happened to them. Hmmmm! I had also given him all the foreign money I had accumulated on my travels to sell. Poof! They had disappeared, too. Hmmmmm!

But back to Elko. On one visit with my folks–I was in my teens at the time–we checked in, unpacked our bags, and went down to the lobby together. After a short while, I told my dad that I was going up to take a short nap. I may have even stretched my arms out to show how tired I was and yawned. Movie-style. He bid me goodnight, and I caught the elevator upward. I stepped out, pushed the Down button, caught the elevator down to the garage. I had a mission: I was going to lose my virginity that evening at a whorehouse across the tracks. I walked down the street, stepped into the nearest house of ill-repute, and looked around. At the end of the bar–waiting for me–was my dad!

Needless to say, by the end of the night, I was still a virgin. But it was one of the most memorable nights in my entire life. At the time, The Tribune’s circulation included much of northern Nevada. The working women there were all readers of his column, and huge fans. That night we visited many, if not all, the houses across the tracks. I didn’t smoke back then, but I pocketed a matchbook from each place we visited–their logos on the covers. They, too, are now in a dump somewhere on the outskirts of Houston.

My dad was ill much of the time in his later years. First, it was shingles. Next, it was anorexia. He was a big man at one time. With anorexia, he lost tens and tens of pounds. He couldn’t get himself to swallow a bite. One time my sister Valerie visited from Amsterdam. She was standing by him at a stop light in front of The Trib, his arms, as always, filled with out-of-town newspapers–a Milwaukee Journal, a Denver Post, etc.–when his pants fell down to his ankles. Very embarrassing. My sister lifted them up and tightened the belt one notch tighter around his thinning-waist.

He couldn’t eat, but he could drink. And at night I would sit with him until the wee hours while he did.

I remember my mom walking into the living room one night and saying, “Dan, you’re drinking too much. I find bottles behind the books on the bookshelves. I find bottles underneath the bed.”

“They were empty, weren’t they?” my dad would inquired.

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s good. I wouldn’t want to waste any good whiskey.”

“Dan, please come to bed.”

“I will, Elaine. Just let me sit here awhile and die a little.” And he’d pour himself another shot of whiskey.

He would sip, and I would listen while he shared plot-idea after plot-idea for movies, novels, short stories, plays, musicals. Titles for songs. I clung on to every word. My goal, up until recently, was to write everyone of ‘em. Song title-wise, I accomplished the task. The hooks of many of the songs I have written through the years were first heard in the wee hours from my dad and jotted down by me to write later.

One idea, for a two-act play, he called “Ballerina Baby!”

LIGHTS UP

Act One – Scene One

Place: London

Father/Husband: No daughter of mine is going to marry a goddamn queer!

Mother/Wife: Sssh! He’ll hear you.

Father/Husband: I don’t care. No daughter of mine is going to marry a goddamn queer!

The plot? Some background: At a very young age, my sister was accepted to learn her chosen craft at the Royal London Ballet School. Foreigners were allowed to take classes and graduate, but they weren’t allowed to continue on and become members of the Royal London Ballet unless they were British citizens. Or married to one.

Hence, the story: The heroine, the daughter, is befriended by a gay fellow dancer who is a British citizen. Maybe he is Indian or even Jamaican. That would make it even more interesting. Upon graduation, he agrees to marry the American so she can join the Royal Ballet as a corps member. Her father is a Texas bigot–there are some–and is firmly against the idea, to say the least. To make a two-act story short, the gay and the bigot become friends, each learning something from the other.

Act Two – Last Scene

The gay lad and the dad are standing together–talking, etc., whatever–when the gay Brit, out of the blue, pinches his the ass of his new father-in-law! Look of dismay on the dad’s face as …

… the curtain falls.

Through the years, every-so-often, I would work on that play. What little I had is now in a Houston dump.

After graduating from the Royal London Ballet, my sister got a job as a member of the Dutch National Ballet. When she first moved to Amsterdam, she had a flat next door to a gay man who made a living working nights as a female impersonator in a drag revue. On the same floor, across from her, was a straight man who took a liking to her and began stalking her.

One night, late, the straight guy tried to force himself on her. The drag queen next door heard her screams for help, came to her aid, and beat the crap out of him.

My mom soon after flew to Amsterdam and moved in with my sister. My dad son after that visited and took the professional drag queen/hero out for a drink or two. After which, the drag queen invited my dad and mom to see a performance. I can see my mom pursing her Presbyterian lips and saying, “But what will people think?” and my dad replaying, “There’ll just think a beautiful new performer is in town.” Ha-ha. I can also see my mom tagging along. She was a trouper.

One last note in closing: I couldn’t help myself. I HAD to Google “Granny Alley”. And, lo and behold, there IS such a block of ill-repute. Of course! It wouldn’t be Planet Earth without one. It’s located in Liverpool.

You learn something every day, whether you want to or not.

We all have a kink or two. I’m just glad mine isn’t trannies or grannies. Perfect rhyme. Imperfect world.


Dad the Mechanic, vs. Joe the Plumber

October 22, 2008

Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes nails things down again. Tip of the old scrub brush, with extra bubbles, to JD2718.

My father tended to vote Republican, too.  For the first nine years of my life he remained a small business owner, in Burley, Idaho.  When the workers at J. R. Simplot went out on strike one November (1961 as I recall, but I was a child), it doomed several furniture stores in and around Cassia County, and my parents’ was just one.  For the rest of my life my father worked for other people, until he retired.

Still he voted Republican.  He even had a union card, from the old plumbers and pipefitters union in Los Angeles, from when he worked on Liberty Ships during World War II.  I never could figure it.

I do recall the stern lecture I got when I went to the Democrats’ mass meeting my first election, and then when I got elected as a delegate for McGovern and — the only one in my town, as I recall — I put up the McGovern bumpersticker (McGovern finished third in parts of Utah County, behind the American Party candidate).  My father told me that no one in the family had ever voted Democratic before.

It was a great comic scene, somthing right out of Woody Allen.  My father lecturing me about how voting Republican was rather a family duty, with my mother behind him shaking her head “no,” and mouthing “Don’t believe him.  Not true.  No.”

The only president I ever smuggled him in to see was Jimmy Carter.  Carter showed up in Salt Lake City, and spoke in the Latter-day Saints’ Tabernacle on Temple Square, as I recall.  I wangled the tickets, got Dad there and sat with him.  Better than Christmas.  Almost as good as when we watched Henry Mancini from nearly the same seats.

I don’t really know how my father would vote in this election, though.  He was nervous about the civil rights campaigns, about Martin Luther King, Jr.  He’d tell the stories about why he had problems with unions, about how the unions kept him from promoting African Americans he’d hire at United Cigar Stores in Los Angeles (before the Liberty Ship gig).  And he’d say that he wouldn’t have any problem voting for a black man who had a history of accomplishment in areas outside of civil rights, too.   He said he could vote for a black man from Harvard, someone who had the educational background of Kennedy, though he voted for Nixon against Kennedy (and Nixon twice more). Barack Obama might be the guy my father would have voted for.

Life sometimes imitates Thomas Kuhn’s observations about scientific revolutions.  Sometimes the children have to go vote the interests of the parents, especially when the parents don’t, or won’t.

My father voted against Lyndon Johnson, too — twice.  Johnson’s reforms of Social Security, designed to keep American senior citizens out of the county poor houses, kept my father out of poverty after he finally retired (at 75?  77?).  The Republican businessmen he’d put his faith in managed to squander the pension funds he might have had, or cheat him out of the share of the business that would have kept him from having to rely on Social Security.  My father put his faith in Republicans, but Lyndon Johnson rescued him.

I don’t know this “Joe the plumber.”  I knew my father, the former plumber and pipefitter, the erstwhile small business owner, the man who worked from the time he was 14 to help his family get enough education to get out of poverty, first his sisters in college, then his own family.  He never made enough to benefit from tax cuts for the rich.  My father was real, and deserved better.

Go read Mrs. Cornelius’s story.


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