The upper middle class upbringing of New York gay author Ethan Mordden gives rise to some curious moments in his seemingly autobiographical novels. Buddies and its four companion volumes have lots of moments when a guy from the deep south is accepted into the close-knit Manhattan gay family. Carlo, that’s his professional “stud” name, tells lots of tales about growing up “gringo”, not the alcohol and vapours milieu of Tennessee Williams, the drawing rooms and the hunts of Mame, but hunting from a ute, lots of alcohol certainly, the rough and tumble life, groped by a preacher, hell bent on exorcising the devil out of him, because he has a ‘nigger’ cock. He is full of insights about the boundary between gay and gringo. In one scene he gets to help with the props for an S/M porn film shoot; he complains that the hangman’s knot is tied wrong, and as one, the crew look at him strangely.
Someone on my FB page left a link to the video of the Melbourne bus where a working class mob turn on a brown French tourist who innocently starts to sing a French song. Before I continue, an attempt at balance should be made. Next to this item on YouTube was posted a re-enactment of an incident in a posh NY store where the shop person had told the African American shopper she was not welcome in the store, that her type shoplifted and that Harlem was more her place. Bizarrely, the camera crew re-enacting this was indignant about the lack of involvement of others in the store. The middle classes are raised on the principle that you keep your nose clean, mind your business and see nothing. Anything else asks for trouble. However, one couple reluctantly reacted, the guy asked whether the complainant had “played the race card”. That’s NY, USA. Several other clips were about African soccer players who had been recruited by European teams; sadly during matches their own supporting crowd would jeer constantly at the imported player, throwing bananas and peanuts onto the field, until the player was taunted beyond endurance and he would try to exit the field in mid-match. This was noted in southern Italy, Spain and Paris. No conclusive analysis had been done about the class affiliation of the crowd in each case.
Of course, no amount of balance prepares you for the spectacle of a crowded Melbourne bus, rioting because an uppity tourist of non-white ethnicity was singing. Ok, Melbourne transport is repressed to an extraordinary degree. Sydney also, if it comes to that, the business day is a serious time; who has the energy to yahoo to this extravagant extent. Hell! if you laugh out loud at something, people make you feel like you just farted!
On the bus three white, working class males [one displayed a Ricky Gervais demeanour] seemed to be the verbal foci of the trouble. One was loudly commenting about the tourist’s behaviour, describing her grossly on his mobile phone; another had two small children in tow. The third was a younger male, spouting a shrill intolerant patter: S>O>D> Speak English or Die, was his chant. He continued: “You’re going to have to get off the bus sooner or later, you do realise that. Everybody hates you.” He also called her an ugly cunt. He then stepped off the bus and smashed a bus window from the outside.
I would like to know what the driver was doing? What were his instructions in such a situation? When would he be obliged to call the police? When someone was finally killed?
I grew up in central Qld; my brothers insisted I accompany them into the scrub to shoot wild pigs with a 303; this I hated vividly as its rebound bruised your shoulder remorselessly. Anyway, I had made these silly macho gestures having joined the cadets at my boarding school, a horrible, nasty experience. During a passing out parade, while I was placed on the perimeter in a sentry function I managed to faint from the heat, most satisfactory.
Tonight I watched an episode of New Tricks, a London crew of retired detectives investigate cold cases, tonight’s involved a “poncy poet”; that was my refuge for the rest of high school. When I transferred to Macquarie University I only slowly realised how rarefied was the atmosphere of my immersion. Macquarie had a couple of violent anti-Vietnam protesters of the marxist variety, one of them thought me a poncy poet for my delicate artistic pretensions, conversely he was intent on assuming a proletarian identity. It reminds me of a comment by Pier Paolo Pasolini about a demonstration by leftist uni students in the streets of Rome, they were proletarian by assumption but petit bourgeois by upbringing; the only proletariat on the scene, said Pasolini, were the despised Roman police.
To these ideological uni students, the working class was the gold at the end of the rainbow; I however failed to alert them to my humble beginnings. Nor is it interesting now to chart the process of ridding myself of telltale speech characteristics. A major modifier of course was that I had spoken Dutch as a small child, and German thereafter, and learned Latin and later French in high school. I have a lot in common with the tourist on the bus. I remember being attacked by older kids from my primary school, when I had just started; my older brother Stan had to hold onto my pants with one hand and fight off the kids with the other, I just did not know what was going on.
My lifelong companion has an equally interesting background: his paternal grandmother seems to have been illegitimate Spanish nobility, she grew up in a regional English cathedral town then moved to Australia. He’s Jewish on his mother’s side; her doctor, noting their ethnicity in common, told her he would henceforth use her middle name and call her Ruth. “When sick for home, she stood in tears amid the alien corn.”
Her son Rod says that colonial Australia was little better than a concentration camp; it is no wonder the way we have treated the original inhabitants, each other, and successive waves of newcomers.