March 29th, 2007


Two Little Stories About the Passage of Time

1. When I was about thirteen, I read some comic columns by a man called Michael Frayn - he then published a couple of novels of vaguely sf interest, a terrific book about being a Fleet Street Journalist ('Towards the End of the Morning') and an absolutely wonderful comic novel about Heaven {'Sweet Dreams'). Then he started writing plays, and I have liked a lot of those as well.

In my twenties, Chris Reid the poet and my ex-flatmate went to work for Claire Tomalin as carer to her son, and this meant that some of us spent a lot of time hanging out in her house with her and her partner Michael Frayn. Later on, when I first transitioned, Claire gave me the odd bit of reviewing doing short notices on the Sunday Times - she wasn't my editor, and that was Julian Barnes, who went on using me because he liked my work, and liked that I could make a hundred word capsule mean something, a skill I learned then and have always kept.

Over the years, Claire and Michael have become people I occasionally exchange vague pleasantries with at parties - not really conversations. The other week, I found myself talking to Michael at greater length because he asked me what the music playing was, and I went into an explanation of how most of the music we were hearing was traditional tango, and some of it was new tango and this particular bit was music in tango style but not actually Argentinian. He was actually interested, and impressed that I knew a bit about this, and it was one of those moments when I feel like a grown up finally.

Then Claire arrived and we smiled and I moved on, and went to listen to the band. Years ago, I first got interested in tango music because of the dance in that not very good film True Lies and got to know a lot of the music in the course of tracking down 'Por Una Cabeza' by Carlos Gardel, which is what that was. They were playing it and noticed that I was standing close to them and loving it, and they asked me about it, and I said 'Por Una Cabeza' had always been my favourite Gardel tango, and so they played it again.

2. I will be posting, in due course, about the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival which I am covering for the TLS this year. This evening, I saw a pleasant little documentary called Lulu Gets A Face Lift which is all about how a fifty-something drag entertainer gets a face lift, no suprises there. Lulu is from Chicago, went to San Francisco and was in the Angels of Light (spin off from the Cockettes, long story); my ex-flatmate Susannah was also from Chicago and was also in the Angels of Light. (Also, I helped organize the archive on both Angels and Cockettes in the San Francisco LGBT archive.) So I wander up afterwards and ask if he remembers Susannah and he goes 'Omigod! how is she?' and I tell him she is living in London still and renovating garden follies. And he is still looking interested/concerned so I start to tell the story about how we had to leave Chicago ahead of a hit. He goes 'I know that story' and we swap bits of it, and I explain about how she got to live here - another long story. Oh OK, her ex lost a fight with her and put out for his boss who had Mob connections and so we got on a plane, not that long a story.

And Lulu remembered Panama, whom I met. Panama was this transwoman uberwhore about whom everyone told stories.

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One time she had blown a taxidriver in order not to have to crack a fifty for the change and made him give her his cigarettes as well.

By the time I met her, she was a mess - the silicon dropped out of her ass into her ankles - but was still quite wonderful. The reason that novel is called 'Tiny Pieces of Skull' is that she had had her browbone shaved and everyone told exggerated stories about this.

So anyway, Lulu remembered Panama, who is twenty years or so dead. And I don't imagine any one else does except for Suze. Panama was on the cover of a Cars album and that is that.

So we hugged and went our ways, because apart from all that, there was not much to say.

Only this, Lulu said that he had wondered about the truth of the stories about why Susannah and I left Chicago and back some twenty or so years ago, I wrote this in Tiny Pieces of Skull: 'They locked the door and handed in the keys to the super. They got into Hennie's car and drove through the neon-lit dangerous streets to the station and they boarded the train, and they went away from cold Chicago silently and without arguing about it. You have to leave places sometimes; accepting loss goes with the territory.

For a week or two, people would ask after them, and why they'd gone. Johns would want to know. The story would get garbled; it always does. Sometimes it would have been Carlos and Mariella and Salvatore; sometimes Tiffany's parents, or Rosalie-Ellen; sometimes Smithers or Gunderson or something to do with mark and Randolph. One way or another, the messenger had come for them. The apartment was shut up and the fridge turned off.'

And that, it seems is pretty much how it was.

Like I say, time.