Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March 28

 Lads in plaid

Gay Poet Fitz-Greene Halleck

I just cracked open Adventures in Old New York* (Bowery Boys 2016), a birthday gift presented to me last month. There’s an entire chapter on Central Park, which I have visited too many times to count, but I didn’t know the quarter mile path bordered by huge American Elm trees that makes a straight shot north from the zoo to the Bethesda fountain and terrace is called the mall**, and that the southern part of it is known as Literary Walk. It’s here that our Bowery Boys make the gay connection. Literary honorees include Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Shakespeare, but there’s also a statue of Fitz-Greene Halleck. Who? Never heard of him.

Turns out Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) was a Connecticut-born writer of romantic and satirical poetry who was so popular that 10,000 rabid poetry fans joined President Rutherford Hayes for the dedication of his Literary Walk statue in 1877, marking the tenth anniversary of  the writer’s death. Considering late nineteenth-century mores, they likely played down the gay part. Halleck was dubbed “the American Byron” during his lifetime. Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck.” Charles Dickens spoke fondly of Halleck, and Abraham Lincoln read his poems out loud to friends at the White House. Newspapers published his newly-minted poems all across America and Great Britain. Those are huge endorsements, considering that Halleck’s writings had “gay” written all over them.

Halleck was love sick for a certain fellow poet Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), who partnered with Halleck in writing the Croaker Papers, a satirical send up of New York society. Published anonymously and serialized in leading newspapers, these poems seemed to delight even their targets of derision, the upper crust of New York City. Drake’s relationship with Halleck was fictionalized in what many call America’s first gay novel, Bayard Taylor’s “Joseph and His Friend” (1870). Taylor knew both men and even delivered a speech at the dedication of a Halleck statue in Connecticut.

Drake's image on a vintage cigar box label (below):

But Drake, who had studied medicine, was unable to prevent his early death from tuberculosis, and Halleck mourned the loss for the rest of his life. Drake had married a year before his death, and Halleck reluctantly served as best man.

“I officiated as groomsman, though much against my will...He is perhaps the handsomest man in New York – a face like and angel, a form like an Apollo...I felt myself during the ceremony as committing a crime in aiding and assisting such a sacrifice.” Such was the extent of Halleck’s obsession with Drake that in his will the poet asked for Drake’s body to be exhumed and buried next to him.

Halleck’s biographer described the poet’s last major work, “Young America,” as both a jaded critique of marriage and a pederastic boy-worship reminiscent of classical homosexuality.

All of this is news to me. So a recent warm spring day found me strolling Central Park’s Literary walk, where I located Halleck’s granite statue. There he sits, with legs crossed, for all eternity (image below). According to the Bowery Boys, his was Central Park’s first statue of an American.

*528 pages of fascinating details of NYC’s history told in a way that never fails to captivate. The Bowery Boys are the transplanted midwestern guys – Greg Young and Tom Myers – who produce award-winning podcasts about NYC, their adoptive home.   

**The "mall" is on the east side of the park, running roughly from 66th-72nd streets.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26

Man nips:

Men who wear glasses...

Those Repressed Republicans:
Oklahoma Senator & his 17-yr.-old boy toy

Republican state Senator Ralph Shortey (Oklahoma), part time trophy hunter, is married to his high school sweetheart and has three children.  Previously he was the Oklahoma chair of Donald Trump’s campaign during last year’s primaries. Shortey (ironically 6-ft. 6-in. tall) was also arrested last week on three felony charges: engaging in child prostitution, transporting a minor for prostitution and engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of church. The minor is a male teenager.

As a result, the 35-year-old politician submitted his resignation to the Senate, stating he would step down immediately. The allegations also led to Shortey’s removal from his volunteer position with the Oklahoma City YMCA’s Youth and Government program, in which he has been active for 17 years, serving as a chaperone on several out-of-state trips (!).

Acting on a tip from the teenager’s father (!!), police say they went to a Super 8 hotel (!!!) earlier this month and smelled marijuana coming from a room, where they found Shortey and the seventeen-year-old male. A search of the teen’s tablet revealed sexually explicit exchanges in which Shortey referred to the teen as “baby boy” and offered him cash in exchange for “sexual stuff.” The conversation had started with the teen messaging Shortey that he needed money for spring break. Officers also found lotion and an open box of condoms in the room.

Police say Shortey and the teen told officers that they had known each other for a year, having met through Craigslist. They later communicated via the messenger application Kik.

In the state Senate, Shortey routinely voted with his Republican colleagues on bills targeting gay and transgender people, including a measure passed earlier this year that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay people. Even though the aroma of marijuana was wafting through Shortey’s hotel room, earlier this year he had sponsored a bill to stiffen the penalties for drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school or church, although voters in November passed a law to make such crimes misdemeanors. Shortey should be glad his own bill went nowhere.

Speaking of Republicans, Donald Trump went on record to blame Friday's failure of the Republican sponsored American Health Care Act on DEMOCRATS, because "not one single Democratic" vote was offered in support. He failed to mention the dozens of REPUBLICANS who would not vote for the bill. The man is in such denial. His lifelong habit when facing failure is to deflect blame to someone else. He threatened and bullied congressional Republicans that they either vote in favor of this bill or lose their seats in reelection. He must not realize that congressmen don't particularly like being threatened or bullied. At this rate, when congressional elections next come around, it will be those who supported Trump who will lose their seats. And Trump's plan to work harder to tweak a bill until it will pass a House vote? He's moving on, wanting Obama Care to "explode" until Democrats come begging for help from him. Ha! The man is not even smart enough to know the difference between the words "explode" and "implode." God help us all.