Thursday, February 14, 2013

Queer as Folk: What It Means To Me

In my last year of college I was renting a room in a house in a rural area out of the city limits on a lot with a steep driveway and surrounded by trees.

On my way to and from the house I used to pass a small field that hadn’t been used for crops for some time, the grass, recurring wheat, and rye grew tall, unmanaged and unchecked.

It was the type of place where it was easy to mistakenly think you were alone if you stepped out in your housecoat to pick up the newspaper.

The man who owned the house and was renting the room to me had two dogs, both were labradors and both had no training.

As I said it was easy to mistakenly think you were alone.  He didn’t like to keep them chained up and he didn’t believe in allowing animals inside the house so he had fixed up an area of the barn for them with hay where they could come and go easily.

It was the year Brokeback Mountain had been released and I was still deeply in the closet.  As part of my seeking for role models and identity I ordered Queer as Folk Season 1 through an online site along with two books.

I had known about Queer as Folk since about my junior year in high school.  Its name had pervaded popular culture enough so that I knew it was based in Pittsburgh (near my hometown) and about gay culture.  I was even able to catch ten minutes of it when my family had gotten a free preview of Showtime on cable.

Ten minutes was all I dared at the time in case someone waked into the room while I watched it.  Then when I was home from college years later and feeling more bold I used to sneak down to the living room and watch a whole episode or two in the middle of the night but by then it was season 3 or 4 and I can’t remember which episodes I caught, so frightened was my mind that it didn’t sink into my long-term memory.

So when I got the chance to order it, to have the first season arrive to my house where I could sit in my room and watch them all in private I was very excited.

The day came and I woke up late.  I looked on the front porch but I didn’t see a box so then I began to fix breakfast while listening for a delivery.  Finally with my food done I looked out one last time only to see something strange and shiny in the driveway.  I put down my plate and ran outside to see that the Season 1 box was alone in the dirt.

The cardboard covering for the season as well as one of the thin plastic DVD containers inside had been chewed upon but none of the DVDs were damaged.

I looked for more remnants.  I saw a cover to a book and I thought I would find the rest but I didn’t find anything else.  There was no shipping box, no books.

Did I mention the dogs were loose?  The two dogs had gotten into the box and ripped it to shreds, destroyed the books.  All I had left was the DVDs themselves in chewed containers.  I was pissed and amused at the same time.

Much later when one of them had puppies, because the owner until then didn’t believe in neutering animals, I found scraps of the pages in the nesting.  By then I was no longer angry and found some humor at the site.  Is there humor in that?

Anyway, the box had been destroyed by the landlord’s dogs so I called him and told him what had happened.  He wasn’t the type of man to offer compensation right away and told me I should call the place where I ordered it.  I did.  But at the time I had shame about what I was buying.

After dealing with the two different companies and complaining in my best angry but polite phone voice the representative told me to return the DVDs to a local store to get a replacement or else get my money back which I said I would.

I was full of anxiety but also enough frustration that I drove there.  With the DVD box in my bag I walked into the store, right past the return section all the way to the back of the store and through its many aisles.  We’ll say it was to let myself breath and regain focus.  I did.  And I ended up in the gay and lesbian book ghetto where a few older men lurked nearby sometimes looking for someone eager and naive.  There were a few there this time.

It was that kind of town.  It was that kind of store.  I was creeped out by the old men so I decided to confront my fears and go to the return section.  As I waited patiently to be called to the return counter one of the old men who had followed me from gay ghetto began to look at a display of calendars.

As I tried to determine his intentions he picked out one of the calendars that was a beefcake fireman one with a picture of several shirtless men on the front.  He lifted it into the air and began to look at it in a very brazen manner.  I looked away.

I’m not saying he was stalking me.  I’m not saying I wasn’t paranoid.  I am saying coincidence is a bitch, especially when you’re ashamed of the thing you are carrying with you.

I was called up to the counter where I presented my item to the cashier and told her my story along with providing the remnants of my receipt.  Oh yes, remnants of the receipt, I forgot to mention that was the other thing I found.  She had to get the manager and my anxiety grew.  In a town like this I didn’t know what type of manager I would get.

I was slightly relieved when he was only a few years older than myself, had a goatee, pierced ears, and set off my gay-dar, but only slightly.  I explained to him what had happened and he very politely told me I would have to call back to the representative and tell them he couldn’t accept the item because they didn’t carry it in the store so he couldn’t swap.  I thanked them and left the store.

Hours later I explained this to my coworker at my student work job in much the same way I am telling you and she laughed then I laughed.  She said it must have felt like God had intervened  with getting my first real gay, real defining gift for myself and it kind of did if I believed in those sorts of things.  But it didn’t stop me.

Later I would get myself several other gay interest shows and films as well as the series box set of Queer as Folk, without God’s intervention they all arrived safely.

In fact that box set was how I ‘outed’ myself to my new boss at work who himself was an out and proud gay man.  I remember standing in his office talking about something and then working into the conversation that I was between seasons.  His response was that it wasn’t the best representation of gay culture but that he watched it.

Which is a long way to saying how I feel about Queer as Folk as a show and as a series: it isn’t the best representation (what could be?) but it was and is very meaningful in my life.

My negative feelings about the show aren’t necessarily rooted in feeling that I wasn’t represented or that others, namely heterosexuals, will get a poor impression of me, because let’s face it if they are homophobic they aren’t going to watch the show, but rather some of the superficial and insulting elements to members of the LGBTQ community many of which triggered or added to my own internalized phobias and prejudice about how members of the community judged each other when it came to looks, gender, and sexual activity.

But I don’t really want to get into the semantics of that argument in this article.

Let’s just say it was a flawed diamond, a treasure that I found in the late hours when everyone else was asleep.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Breaking Bad: Everybody’s Seen This News Story

I, like many others, am anticipating the return of Breaking Bad, starring Bryan Cranston, and created by Vince Gilligan.

Breaking Bad is a well plotted, well characterized show that manages to depict each character’s motivation for their actions, from drug production and selling to even murder.

The show itself is about how good people do bad things, mostly because of pride but also because of the existential crises they face.

I recently found myself thinking that I had heard or scene the news report about how Walter had been caught before, that I had seen that episode of Cops or read about a criminal or mobster in a history book or news article and it struck me that ‘Breaking Bad’, or at least Walter White’s story, could be finalized in a news report.

After all when I was younger I had seen those news reports of criminals, those people who committed crimes, and barely understood their motivation, much less how they went from ordinary law abiding citizen to criminal.  Criminals were criminals.  Ordinary citizens were ordinary citizens.  Cops and robbers.

Though I had my suspicions, the two, in popular culture at least, didn’t cross paths.  I had known characters to break the law.  I had known characters that never broke the law but not seen the depiction of when the citizen became the criminal.

More often I had seen mobster characters as just mobsters, maybe tragic hero in the case of Tony Soprano, but for the life of the show I had only known him as a mobster.  I had never confused him for an ordinary citizen.

Someone else who broke the law was a junkie, or a drug user, such as in Trainspotting, but that was different itself as it was ‘self-medication’, the use of a substance for somewhat passive reasons.  These people committed other crimes but they seemed petty somehow.

Bones, Vegas, Justified, and many other shows all have the characters who break the law when they need to break it, operate outside the law, or are outright sociopathic criminals but this is different.

Breaking Bad to me is something else.  I can identify when Walter’s actions changed, especially when he killed Krazy-8, whom he was about to let go but ultimately decided to kill because he recognized the man as his enemy willing to kill him.  Although I think his nature is still very much the same, a nature that drove him to such extremes throughout the show in reaction to an extreme situation, I had much sympathy for his character.

Perhaps if he hadn’t contracted cancer the actions would not have been as severe but I could still see his character, his nature, reacting in some way to his growing family dilemma.

Regardless, as I thought about the series I also thought about if Walter White, his wife Skyler, and Jesse Pinkman had been caught.  I thought about what that news story would look like as I sat in a bar sipping a cold beer while watching the small television just above the shelves of liquor and this is what I imagined.

Fade in...


Female Reporter

Hello this is Mindy Aprile

Today it was discovered that a former Albuquerque, New Mexico Area chemistry high school teacher Walter White and his wife Skyler White were part of a large scale drug production and money laundering scheme whose tolls add up into the millions in what an unnamed DEA source says is one of the largest busts of an organized production maybe ever in the United States, the kick here is that the brother of the wife to the drug kingpin is a DEA agent himself.

It all started about a year ago when Walter White was diagnosed with Stage IIIA lung cancer, a normally terminal disease for those diagnosed with it.

Facing this terminal disease with a pregnant wife and disabled son Walter like many Americans sought treatment, but like many Americans found that treatment was an expensive proposition.  It was then that Walter turned to methamphetamine production with the help of a former student named Jesse Pinkman.

Like many in the illegal production and distribution of drugs they found the need was great.  With a few store bought drugs, some chemistry equipment and lab chemicals, plus know how these two were able to make a common ingredient into one of the most addictive substances.  From what started out as a small operation quickly grew.

The two men were then on a boat in rising water, dealing with competition and other problems of the street drug trade they found themselves in a constant fight for their life.  They then turned to a man by the name of Gustavo 'Gus' Fring.

Able to pay for his treatment the cancer shrunk until it was optimal size for a very costly surgery which Walter paid for with his money from drug production but he was soon faced with another problem of this illegal business, too much cash.

Like the drug cartels of Mexico Walter had to find a way to launder this money while retaining as much profit as possible.  It is here where it is believed he used his wife and her knowledge of accounting business practices to purchase and fund a legal front, ironically a car wash where Walter used to work part-time.

Perhaps it was the dream of someday being his own boss that was finally realized but it wasn’t enough to get out of the illegal drug business.  Like many men before him when the previous drug kingpin, Gustavo Fring was killed in a sudden and violent explosion that is believed to be cartel related, Walter decided to take over the open market.

He soon found himself with riches beyond his once humble beginnings, riches that came from illegal doings, riches that couldn’t be declared on a tax form, couldn’t be used to buy a large house or anything too flashy and expensive.

And like many criminals he found that his luck was running out as well with the police, in this case his own brother-in-law Hank Schrader.  It is not known yet what exactly happened but suffice it to say Walter White, his wife Skyler White, and Jesse Pinkman are now wanted by the law.  They took a great risk for great reward.

For a man who had once faced a terminal disease and shortened life he now faces criminal charges that could be a life sentence in prison or possible retribution from Mexican cartels.  Whatever his fate this man made the choice to go against the rest of society.

It is believed that Walter White, his wife, and son are all traveling together.  Jesse Pinkman’s whereabouts are also unknown.

All suspects should be reported to the police immediately, do not approach them as they could be armed and dangerous.