Mar 1, 2014

The Penis Festival of Japan

You've visited the Penis Park of Sinnam, Korea and the Naked Man Festival of Okayama, Japan.  There are a few days left on your tour of East Asia, but not enough time to visit Bhutan, the Land of Penises.  What to do?

How about a Penis Festival?

The Kanamara Matsurai, Steel Penis Festival, is held every year during the first week of April in Kawasaki, Japan, a suburb of Tokyo.  Vendors sell dozens of varieties of phallus-shaped objects, including home decor, toys, and candles.

There are giant penis-shaped seesaws that you mount to increase your fertility, your potency, or just your joie de vivre.  

You eat dried sardines, a Japanese aphrodisiac, or penis-shaped sausages, ice cream cones, lollipops, and rice candy.

The highlight of the festival is a procession of the omikoshi, the giant steel phallus, from its Shinto shrine,  joined by several others, including a pink one carried by drag queens.  You should join the procession in costume.  People wear penis costumes or strap giant dildos to their crotches.  Crossdressing is common: men wear kimonos, women wear fundoshi.

There are various heterosexual legends for the origin of the festival, the most graphic involving an iron-jawed demon that hid inside a woman and castrated any man who tried to have sex with her. Then the Steel Penis intervened, broke the teeth of the evil demon, and made the world safe for sex.  It was probably a metaphor for venereal disease, and people still come to the festival to pray for protection or healing.

But today it's not for heterosexuals only; there are many gay and transgender people in attendance, and the Kanamara Matsurai has become a fundraiser for AIDS research.

Not a lot of male nudity, but occasionally you see men in fundoshi or jockstraps.  Or Batman.

The festival takes all day, but if you have time left over, visit the Kawasaki Daishi, an important Buddhist temple, or the Fujiko F. Fujio Museum, dedicated to the Doraemon manga and anime series (about a robot cat and his boy).

Also see the Penis Festival of Greece.

Feb 28, 2014

Time Tunnel, 2006: Ruining the Best Gay Couple of My Childhood

I don't remember any tv programs before the 1966-67 tv season, when I was five-six years old, but then the memories come in with amazing clarity, program after program "good beyond hope," opening a whole world of beefcake and buddy bonding: It's About Time, Run Buddy Run, Gilligan's Island, The Monkees, The Invaders, Batman, Lost in Space, That Girl, My Three Sons, Flipper, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible...

And especially Time Tunnel, about two scientists accidentally zapping through history: young, impetuous Tony (James Darren) and older, level-headed Doug (Robert Colbert), protecting each other from danger, rescuing each other over and over, falling into each other's arms at the end of each episode. It would be two years before I got my first boyfriend, and ten years before I learned what "gay" meant, but Doug and Tony remained in my memory forever as what a same-sex romance looked like.

Fast forward 40 years, to the summer of 2006.  I know what gay means.  I have a Ph.D. with a concentration in Gay Studies, I've published books and articles on gay studies, I've seen lots and lots of gay couples and gay-subtext couples in books, movies, and television.

I see a tv movie advertised: The Time Tunnel, a pilot for a potentially updated series (it was actually produced in 2002, and is airing now just to "burn it off.")

Do I really want to see what havoc they wreak on my cherished childhood memory?

But I check it out.

1. New plot: a "hot fusion" experiment goes awry, causing a "time storm" that changes reality, and a team of scientists is sent back to fix it.
2. Tony is now a woman, Toni (Andrea Roth).
3. Doug (David Conrad, left) is morose, but when he discovers that after the time storm, he has a wife and kids, he perks right up.

4. He is recruited for the mission by Flynn (Kavan Smith, top photo), who dies before they can do much buddy bonding.
5. Their team also includes J.D. (Tawny Cypress) and Wix (Bob Koherr).
6. There's hetero-romance everywhere.

If you're curious, it's on youtube.

This happens all the time: gay subtext tv of the past gets a remake, with all of the characters carefully heterosexualized.

Audiences are more aware of gay people now, so it takes more time and energy to reassure them that, in the world of your movie, only heterosexuals exist.

Dag Hammarskjold: Gay Isolation at the United Nations

Augustana College, my alma mater, was founded by Swedish Lutherans, and most of the students were still Swedish Lutherans, so there was an obsession with all things Scandinavian.

So everyone read Markings (1963), by Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish economist, diplomat, and finally Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953 to his death in a plane crash in 1961.

Discovered and published after his death, Markings contains no references to Hammarskjold's illustrious career; instead, it talks about his spiritual journey, his search for God, his loneliness and isolation and existential dread.  His desperate search for a love that he never found.

Why was this famous public figure, surrounded by people all the time, so overcome by loneliness?   I noted that he never married, and there were a few glimpses of masculine beauty in the brief poems and phrases.

When he told me that he had many friends, could easily make new ones, it struck hard like a blow which had been very carefully aimed. A question had become meaningless.

Narcissus leant over the spring, enthralled by the only man in whose eyes he had ever dared -- or been given the chance -- to forget himself.

In the Stone Age night
A church spire, erect on the plain
Like a phallus.

I had no doubt that he was gay.

 There were a few biographies in the Augustana library: Dag Hammarskjold: Soldier of Peace (1961), Hammarskjold: A Pictorial Biography (1962), and Dag Hammarskjold: Strictly Personal (1969).  None of them mentioned him being gay, of course.

Even the most recent biography, Hammarskjold: A Life (2013), by Roger Lipsey, argues that he may have experienced same-sex desire, but he certainly never engaged in any of that yucky sex stuff.  Besides, it was a trivial thing, utterly irrelevant to the qualities that made him great.

But Noble Lives (2005), by Marc E. Vargo, argues that 1. Yes, he was in fact gay; and 2. It was not trivial; it played an important role in his career.

In 2011, the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York featured Borders, an exhibition of 26 life-sized androgynous statues by Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir.

Though representing "cultural diversity," the statues do not interact, as they do in the Norwegian Penis Park; they are sitting, standing, facing each other but not touching, isolated and lonely.  Like Hammarskjold himself.  (They are currently on display at Chicago's Park District).

Yuri's Date with John Benjamin Hickey

Before I wrote the story of My Date with Andrew Lloyd Webber,  I didn't remember the name of the guy we met at the Broadway Cares Flea Market, who invited us to the party in Brooklyn Heights -- cruising Tom Wopat and getting tacos with Andrew Lloyd Webber sort of drowned out everything else.

I asked Yuri, but he didn't remember, either ("We just kissed and fondled a little -- I wasn't that into him").

So I looked up the Broadway stars who were at that flea market, and by process of elimination came up with John Benjamin Hickey.

I thought that he was much older than me, but he is actually 2 1/2 years younger.  He has been on Broadway since the early 1990s, with roles in several important gay-themed plays, such as Love! Valour! Compassion! and Cabaret.

He won a Tony for his portrayal of a gay man dying of AIDS in the 2011 reprise of The Normal Heart.

On screen, he reprised his role of Arthur Pape in Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997), and starred in a number of other gay-thremed or gay-subtext movies, including The Ice Storm (1997), The Bone Collector (1999), Capote (2005), and Pitch Perfect (2012), as well as a dozen tv series.

In 2003-2004,  It's All Relative, about the daughter of a liberal gay couple married to the son of a conservative heterosexual couple.

In 2010-2013, The Big C, about a woman with cancer, as her eccentric, anti-establishment, bisexual brother (left).

Not a bodybuilder, but a nice solid physique.

His partner is Boomerrey Richman, writer and producer of gay-positive tv series like Wings, Frasier, and Modern Family.

Maybe Yuri should have paid more attention to him on that September night fourteen years ago.

Feb 27, 2014

John Milton: 10 Gay Things About the Author of "Paradise Lost"

In one of the iconic scenes in Animal House (1978), Professor Jennings admits that he hates English poet John Milton (1608-1674), author of Paradise Lost:  "He's a bit long-winded, he doesn't translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible."

And, I presumed, as heterosexist as most of the other "great writers" purveyed by English teachers.

A few months later, I started my freshman year at Augustana College, and my English Literature survey assigned Milton's  L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. 

1. Expecting the worst, I plowed in.  Surprise -- not boring at all. The poems contrasted the perennial college student question: should you spend your time partying and having fun, or studying and getting good grades?

 I leaned toward "having fun," since Milton mentions partying with Corydon and Thyrsis, two gay characters from Virgil's Eclogues.

2. During  my sophomore year, a course in Renaissance Literature assigned Comus, a masque (a sort of pageant with minimal plot): a Lady is kidnapped by the evil Comus, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce her while her brothers rush to the rescue.  It was performed for the Earl of Bridgewater, whose own brother had been executed for sodomy.  So Comus becomes a stand-in for a gay temptation.

3. This muscular, shirtless Comus appeared in the only modern production that I'm aware of, at Florida International University in 2010.

4. We also had to read Lycidas: An elegy lamenting the death of Milton's Cambridge classmate Edward King, who drowned (here he is portrayed as a naked muscle god).

Anything celebrating a same-sex love can't be boring.

5. John Fletcher (left) recites Lycidas in his underwear before a blow-up version of Stonehenge.  I don't know why.

6. During my junior year, I took an entire class in Milton, and we read the big, scary one: Paradise Lost, an epic poem the fall of Satan, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from Paradise.  But there were lots of gay subtexts: Satan, an "angel of light," heterosexual sex leads to downfall, and so on.  I wrote a paper on it at Indiana University.

7. And you can't beat the beefcake of the illustrations by Gustav Dore.

8. We also had to read Paradise Regained, about Christ being tempted by all of the pleasures of the world, including: "fair stripling youths rich clad, of fairer hew than Ganymede or Hylas."  So they're hotter than the boyfriends of Zeus and Hercules in Greek mythology?

9. And the "closet drama" Samson Agonistes: the Biblical strongman has been captured by the Philistines, blinded, and enchained.  He bewails his seduction by Delilah: "foul effeminancy held me yoke."  That's right, liking women is effeminate.  Real men like men.

10. Strongman Fernando Lamberty played Samson in a performance at Florida International University in 2009.

John Milton was no doubt homophobic -- who in 17th century Britain wasn't?  But there's still a lot of gay interest in his works.

The World Dwarf Games

If you are attracted to shorter guys, and my story about the Worst Date in West Hollywood History hasn't dissuaded you from their pursuit, check out the World Dwarf Games, held every four years by the International Dwarf Athletic Federation and the Dwarf Athletic Association of America.
In 2013, they were held on the campus of Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI).  395 athletes from 17 countries competed in 15 sports, including archery, badminton, basketball, powerlifting, swimming, track & field, and volleyball.

Milan  Grahovac (left),  the founder of the Serbian Little People's Association, won a gold medal in swimming.

Athletes have different body types, so they are categorized by leg length and arm span.  Both men and women compete, and there is a junior division.  But still, there are more than enough muscular adult men.

18-year old Vivek Bhagria, who won in the adult soccer division, also plays soccer for his college team in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  And ultimate frisbee.

3'5" Joby Mathews, from Kerala, India, won five gold medals, including powerlifting.  A competitive armwrestler, he won the gold medal for India at the 29th World Armwrestling Championship in 2007.

The IDAA forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, so gay athletes and spectators are welcome.

It hasn't announced the location of the 2017 World Dwarf Games yet, but keep checking the website.

Fall 1999: My Date with Andrew Lloyd Webber

I generally dislike Broadway musicals, and I've seen none of Andrew Lloyd Webber's, except for the movie version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and an occasional drama club production of  Jesus Christ Superstar.    

Ok, and the movie version of  Cats, which I hated.  Talk about maudlin tripe!

So I'm the last person who should be meeting Andrew Lloyd Webber, let alone having tacos with him at 2:00 am.  But that's what happened in the fall of 1999, when I was living in New York.

1. As you know, my friend Yuri, the Russian meteorology major, could get any guy he wanted: young, old, black, white, gay, straight.  In the fall of 1998, I let him lose on my stuffy, elitist boyfriend Blake in order to make the "Roommate Switch."  They only dated once, to the opera, but Blake continued to have a thing for Yuri.

The rest of the story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Feb 26, 2014

Male Nudity in Italian Class

The only good thing about Lone Star College in Houston, Texas, where I taught after getting my M.A. in 1984, was the free tuition for faculty.  There wasn't a lot at that I wanted to take, but the did offer Italian.

It didn't start out well:
Roger e un ragazzo americano. Maria e una ragazza italiana. Roger e Maria sono amici. . .

Roger is an American boy visiting Italy. He goes to a café and tries to pick up a local girl. In the first lesson we learned “What is your name?”, "Your country is beautiful," and "How old are you."

Roger learns the time so he won’t be late for the cinema, learns the names of food so he can order in the restaurant, gets an overview of national history as they tour the museums.  In Chapter 10, we learn the Italian word for "kiss" (bacio).

Why do even language-learning dialogues have to be about a boy and a girl?  No men in Italy?

I never thought of Italy as a "good place."  The only fiction about Italian boys in love was The Little World of Don Camillo, and movies set in Italy seemed to involve mostly horny heterosexuals: Roman Holiday (1953), La Dolce Vita (1960),  Island of Love (1963), Avanti (1972).  Pasolini was entirely heterosexist. I had never seen Ernesto (1979).

I knew about Thomas Mann's gay obsession in Death in Venice, and about Wilhelm Van Gloeden's homoerotic photographs of Sicilian youth, but they were German.

But one weekend I drove two hours into Houston, to the Wilde-and-Stein Bookstore, and bought Ganymede in the Renaissance, about how Renaissance artists used the myth of Ganymede, a mortal boy swept up by Zeus to become his catamite.

And I discovered a whole gay world in Renaissance Italy, artists, writers, statesmen.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci. He got a girlfriend on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

2. Michelangelo.  As portrayed by Charleton Heston in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), he got a girlfriend.

3. Donatello, who sculpted the famously effeminate David, a counterpart to Michelangelo's more macho version.

4. Benvenuto Cellini.  His Autobiography was on the list of recommended readings in my class in Renaissance History in college.  But not a word in class.

5. Caravaggio, played by Dexter Fletcher and Nigel Terry in the 1986 movie.

6. Aretino, who wrote Il Marescalco, about a gay man forced to marry a woman, but she turns out to be a man.

7. Ariosto.  I bought his Orlando Furioso in a Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition, but had no idea.

8. Matteo Bandello, who wrote 12 Novelle, one about a gay man.

9. Dante.  Ok, he was probably heterosexual, and from the Middle Ages, but he wrote the beefcake and bonding classic, The Inferno.

10. The painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed "Il Sodoma"

11. Giovanni, the foreign exchange student I had a crush on at Rocky High.  I spent the whole year imagining a tearful and sexy reuninon.

Forget the Romantic poets -- when I went back to graduate school for my doctorate, I would major in the Renaissance!

Feb 25, 2014

Gay Tales from Junior High English Class

When I was going to Washington Junior High, I read science fiction, heroic fantasy, and maybe some jungle adventures.  Unfortunately, my English teachers -- Miss Dunn, Miss Sunstrom, and Mrs. Wood -- invariably believed that such stories were bad for kids, infantile trash that warped your brain.

Miss Dunn, at least, assigned some Westerns, boring but with muscular, shirtless boys on the cover:

The Pearl (John Steinbeck, 1947).  Pearl fisherman finds a pearl.

The Mallory Burn (Pete Pomeroy, 1971).  I didn't get past the front cover, so I still don't know what a "mallory burn" is.

The Legend of Billy Bluesage (Johnreid Laurentzen, 1961): Boy befriends Billy and warns the villagers about an Indian attack.

Stolen by the Indians (Dorothy Heiderstadt, 1968).  12 stories of kids stolen by Indians.  Most like Indian society better.  I guess -- I only got through a few.

Miss Sunstrom and Mrs. Wood condemned Westerns, too.  You should be reading about real kids with the same problems you have.  Sort of.

A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich: a boy in the ghetto becomes a drug addict.

Go Ask Alice: a girl in a sanitarium struggles to become sane.

To Kill a Mockingbird: a girl in the rural South learns about prejudice.

Or...I could read about a space cadet exploring Venus, or a quest to find a magic sword and defeat the Dark Lord!

Even worse: those "real kids" invariably "discovered" the opposite sex, agonized over dates, went steady, fell in love.

West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet: packaged together so we could see the parallels between the heterosexual loves from rival gangs.

Mr and Mrs Bo Jo Jones: A teenage boy gets his girlfriend pregnant, and marries her, to resultant conflict.

But occasionally, in spite of the teachers' concerted effort, a Realistic Novel had some gay subtexts.

Golden Gloves Challenger.  A boy joins the Golden Gloves boxing club, and clobbers his former bully.  They become friends.  He starts winning competitions, with his friend to cheer him on.  Lots of buddy-bonding and descriptions of sleek hard muscles.

And one that I can't remember the title or the author:

A boy is blinded in an accident.  He goes to a School for the Blind, where he meets a boy who has been blind since birth.  He starts swimming and begins winning competitions, with his friend to cheer him on.  Lots of buddy-bonding and descriptions of sleek hard muscles.

I've looked everywhere, on Google Books, Amazon, and WorldCat.  But the book that was the biggest evocation of same-sex desire in my childhood remains a mystery.

Andre Norton: Gay Subtext Science Fiction in My Junior High Library

I found The Hobbit during fifth grade, in the Folklore section of the Denkmann Elementary School Library, and thought it the best book ever written.  There were rumors of a sequel, something about rings, so I checked out Moon of Three Rings, by Andre Norton.

That wasn't it.

Thereafter, through junior high and high school, I hated Andre Norton, and refused to read any of her works.

But when I was in college, the bookstore gang loved Andre Norton, especially the girls (any girl who was a sci-fi fan put her on the top of the list).  Mary, who asked me to see if her brother was gay, was a big fan.  So I gave Ms. Norton another try.

And found a homoerotic paradise, where men forged intense, passionate, loving bonds with men, mostly with covers that were beefcake-heavy masterpieces.

The Time Traders: crosstime adventures of crook-turned-adventurer Ross Murdock and his far-future companion Ashe.

Galactic Derelict: Ross and Ashe are accompanied by muscular Apache Travis Fox to investigate a space ship from another galaxy.

Storm Over Warlock: A Terran survey expedition is attacked, leaving only two survivors: elite Scout Ragnar Thorvald and servant Shan Lantee.  They must travel together across the hostile planet to safety.

Voodoo Planet: Same plot, Voodoo Planet.

 Star Man's Son: Two muscular barbarians bond in a post-apocalyptic world.

Operation Time Search: Photographer Ray Osborne is accidentally transported back to ancient Atlantis, where he befriends the muscular young Cho and gets involved in royal intrigue.  And the most explicit gay romance I've ever seen in science fiction.

And on and on -- she wrote hundreds, and is still publishing, though she died in 2005.

There are also a lot of novels about women forming strong same-sex bonds, and a few with heterosexual romances.

I don't know why the gay subtexts predominate.  Maybe Norton was writing for an audience of juvenile boys, and assumed that they wouldn't be interested in hetero-romance "yet."?  Or maybe she thought that the world of intergalactic exploration would exclude women, just as her contemporary society excluded women from the sciences and technology.

I just wish I had read them in junior high.

Feb 24, 2014

Fall 1988: Kicking Oscar Out of My Bed

For gay people, West Hollywood is a sacred site, a Mecca free from the homophobia and other injustices of the straight-dominated world.  Everyone visits at least once, often for an extended period as they try to find some way to stay.

When you are lucky enough to live in West Hollywood, your phone keeps ringing, as gay men you haven't talked to for ten years suddenly remember that you're close friends.

Still, it was a surprise, in August 1988, to answer the telephone and hear "Boomer, darling!  How are you!"

It was Oscar, the retired set designer from Des Moines.  My first boyfriend Fred and I spent a couple of hours with him back in 1980 -- a very tenuous connection!

"Darling, I'm making the plunge -- I'm finally going to come out and visit West Hollywood.  And I want to see you in particular!"

"Um...what about Fred?"  He had just moved to Pomona, in the San Gabriel Valley, with his boyfriend Matt.

"Oh, I'll be visiting him, too, but he lives so far away, and he has such a tiny apartment, whereas you have such a big house."

How did he know that?  "I'm just renting a room from Derek...."

"Whatever.  Would it be ok if I stay with you?  Just for a few days.  Or a week.  Two or three weeks, tops."

I couldn't think of any reason why not.  I tried.

Derek said it was ok, but he needed the guest room for another visitor, so Oscar would have to stay in my room.  In my bed.

Which means he would know.  In fact, in West Hollywood culture, it would be impolite to refuse. Particularly when you were sharing a bed.

As you know, I am attracted to guys who are dark-skinned, shorter than me, and muscular or husky.  Oscar was tall, thin, and pale.

1. Feminine.  Lots of guys in West Hollywood were attracted to guys with feminine traits.  But I wasn't. Rings, ascots, perfume, overmodulated voices, undulating limbs -- instant turn-offs.

2.  And 73.  I was often attracted to older guys.  When I was 20, I dated a 40-ish college professor.  But an age difference of 46 years?  A little much!

One Friday in early September, Fred, Matt, and I picked Oscar up at LAX, carried his dozen suitcases to my house, and took him out to dinner.  Then they scrammed back to the San Gabriel Valley, leaving Oscar gazing at me in expectation.

"I'm just getting over a cold," I told him, "So it wouldn't be a good idea to do anything tonight."

The "gettinv over a cold" ploy lasted for about three days.  Then I devoted about a week to a whirlwind of sightseeing, everywhere from the LaBrea Tar Pits to the Toy Tiger, a Silverlake bar for older guys.  I didn't enjoy being mistaken for Oscar's grandson or hustler all the time, but the ploy worked: every night, Oscar was so exhausted that the moment we got into bed, he fell asleep.

But sooner or later, he would be wide awake and ready know.

"How long do you think you'll be able to stay?" I asked one day over breakfast.

"Oh, darling, I'm as free as a bird.  I can stay until spring!"

Great! I went out and applied for a job in Turkey.

Maybe I could find him a boyfriend to move in with?  Or claim to have a kinky fetish, or to be a racist, or to have a secret boyfriend?

Then I remembered Oscar's story of dating future president Ronald Reagan, when they were both working for WHO Radio in Des Moines, back in 1936.

I knew Attorney General John Van De Camp, a long-time gay rights advocate.

He told me that Reagan was in town, spending most evenings socializing with friends from his Hollywood days, and he might be able to get Oscar and me invited, if we didn't tell anyone that we were gay.

I ran into the living room, where Oscar was reading Frontiers.  "Guess what!  You might be getting a reunion with your old boyfriend, Ronald Reagan!  The Attorney General is arranging it!"

He turned pale, and his jaw dropped.  "Ronald Reagan? How did you...."

"We just have to pretend to be straight.  You know, Reagan's a big homophobe."

He exhaled sharply.  "Oh, no, my dear, it would be too painful after all these years. Pretending that we didn't mean anything to each other.  Oh, no, it would be dreadful.  I couldn't abide it."

"Are you sure?  I mean, dinner with the President..."

That afternoon he packed his suitcases and called Fred to pick him up.  He spent the rest of his vacation in the San Gabriel Valley.

I'm still not sure if Oscar really dated Ronald Reagan or not.

Reagan was out of office a few months later, but for years I got rid of unwanted houseguests by offering to introduce them to the ex-President.   He wasn't very popular among gay people.

The Gay Anthropologist and the Cannibals

Michael Rockefeller, the "secretly" gay son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, heir to one of the wealthiest families in the world, graduated from Harvard in 1960.  He was interested in anthropology, especially "primitive art," he embarked on an expedition to to New Guinea.

He fell in love with the Asmat men, with their muscular bodies and laissez-faire attitude toward sexual identity, and returned over and over again.

On November 17th, 1961, his boat overturned about 12 miles from shore, and he decided to swim for it.  He was never seen again.  Extensive searches of the area -- the Rockefellers could afford very extensive searches -- revealed no clue to his fate.

Sounds like a tragic but easily explainable event: Rockefeller drowned, or was eaten by a shark, during the 12-mile swim.  

But paranormal authors latched onto the story.  He was abducted by aliens, or swam through a time vortex, or was living as the god-king of a lost tribe, or was living incognito in Hollywood.  The fact that Rockefeller was "secretly gay" increased the aura of scandal.

A more plausible theory has him reaching the shore, where he was killed and eaten by the Asmat.  They weren't usually cannibals, but the play The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller (2010) suggests that Michael (Aaron Strand, top photo) represented a sexual threat.  

His barely-contained homoerotic interest in Designing Man (Daniel Morgan Shelley, left) threatens his lover, Plentiful Bliss (Tracey Jack), who happens to be his best friend's wife.  So Michael must die.

The book Savage Harvest, by anthropologist Carl Hoffman (2014), documents the murder theory with eyewitness testimonies from villagers.  But he minimizes the sexual-threat angle, suggesting that the Asmat killed Michael in retaliation for some murders of their people by Dutch traders a few years earlier.

See also: The Disappearance of Sean Flynn; He Walked Around the Horses.

Spring 1979: Why I'm Not a Novelist

When I was in high school, I thought of becoming a writer.  After all, my friend Darry and I wrote a heroic fantasy novel back in junior high, I was the editor of our literary magazine, and I published an article in the Rock Island Argus.  

What changed my mind: Well, several things, but mostly a class in Fiction Writing, my freshman year at Augustana.  We met once a week to analyze a "model" short story or novel, and then we criticized student writing (you had to submit three times).
Bernard Malamud, “Black is My Favorite Color."  “Charity Quietness sits in the toilet eating her two hard-boiled eggs.”  If you still have the stomach to continue after such a disgusting opening, it's about an old Jewish guy in love with a black girl, who won’t marry him because he’s Jewish.  And old.

Student Submission: "Temperature Inversion."  A man and a woman gripe because it's too hot to have sex.

Me: "Werewolf Planet."  Two anthropologists in the future discover that a “primitive” species actually has developed intergalactic travel.  Kind of interesting, right?

Wrong.  “Terrible!  Awful!  Don't demean yourself with that sci-fi trash!”

Rule #1: Modern Literature must be about the dull, boring lives of people living in New York.

Flannery O'Connor, “Good Country People."  A Southern woman is depressed because she lost a leg as a child, so she majors in philosophy.  A traveling Bible salesman convinces her to climb up to the hayloft for a romantic evening, but instead he steals her artificial leg. Disgusting!

Student Submission: "Chicken T***s"  An adult woman has an affair with her uncle, who dumps her over fried chicken. (By the way, birds don't have t***s; "breast" is an old word for "chest").

Me: "The Island in the Sky." A boy befriends a grade-school bully, and they fall asleep reading comic books. Kind of touching, right?

Wrong!  "Terrible!  Awful! There's a happy ending!  Where's the misery?  Where's the tragedy?"  

Rule #2: Modern Literature must always be depressing, preferably with death at the end.

J.D. Salinger (left), "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."  A man kisses a five-year old girl  and then kills himself while his wife waits.  Disgusting!.

Student submission: "Hand Sandwiches." A guy's wife is cheating with his best friend, so he assaults the friend and cuts off his "hand."  

Me: "The Letter."  In the 1930s, a guy dies of polio, and his best friend keeps his last letter in his pocket at all times.  Forty years later, the friend is dying, and the ink on the letter is so faded that a nurse in the hospital thinks it's a blank piece of paper, and throws it away. .

It's about a dull, boring life, and it's depressing. A sure-fire hit, right?

Wrong!  "Terrible!  Awful!  Where's the emotion?  Where's the men longing for women?"

Rule #3: Modern Literature must always be about heterosexual desire or romance.

I went on to major in literature, get a M.A., and almost a Ph.D.  But, except for unavoidable required classes, I never read or write Modern Literature.