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September 15, 1999 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-09-15

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 15, 1999 - 11
SC teacher Rechy creates chiling DS ier

Los Angeles Times
The scene: a hot night in the City of
Angels. Santa Ana "devil winds" breathe fire
through the canyons.
The time: Summer 1981 - the final
ments before the AIDS epidemic.
The cast of characters: gay pornographer
Za-Za LaGrande; Dave, a leather biker into
S&M; Jesse, a lusty young street hustler; and
Clint, a handsome fortysomething from New
York looking for love on the streets of L.A.
John Rechy, America's pre-eminent chron-
icler of sexuality in the world of gay men, is
back.
After a dozen books about subjects rang-
ing from life in the barrios of East Los
ngeles to runaway teens to the myth of the
len woman, Rechy, author of the 1963 best
seller "City of Night," has returned to the
place where he began - the violent intensi-
ty of desire in the sexual underground of
Southern California.
And the question Rechy asks is still potent:
Would you die for sex?
Rechy's sizzling literary response - "The
Coming of the Night" (Grove Press) - is as
exciting as it is chilling.
"I wanted to re-create the time when AIDS
s creeping up on us as whispers. I wanted
to generate that same heat and the mounting
terror," Rechy says.
"In this pre-millennium era, people are
rather ignorantly thinking this (AIDS threat)
is over. It is not. And while this book still
champions rich desire, it is also admonito-
ry."
At an age when many authors are gather-
ing anecdotes for their final memoirs - a
"smashingly 60ish" (his words) - Rechy's
st novel returns almost nostalgically to a
ti e when sex, even street sex, was more
carefree, and, if not entirely safe, at least not
life-threatening.
"In 1981, at about 2 in the morning on a
hot windy night, I witnessed an event while
cruising a small park in West Hollywood that
was so raw and, in retrospect, so frightening,

that I knew someday I had to return to it if I
was going to understand that time."
In "The Coming of the Night," Rechy
shares what he saw in that park in his own
last days as a hustler who unapologetically
peddled his promiscuity on the streets of Los
Angeles.
Although his sexual outlaw days ended
more than a decade ago when Rechy settled
down for the love of one man, the heat of
those pre-AIDS times still burns.
There is no air-conditioning in the Los
Angeles garden apartment where John Rechy
has lived for 20 years. On an overheated
afternoon recently, Rechy appears as cool as
the collection of icy crystal displayed on his
glass coffee table.
Rechy is freshly showered after his habitu-
al midday workout with weights.
"Yes, yes, I still do the bench presses, and
the waist crunches - like sit-ups but to the
point of tension - seven sets of 50."
His muscled torso - a smooth, tan trian-
gle - is lightly freckled beneath a sleeveless
white undershirt.
His hair, lush and wavy, is hennaed to
match exactly the shade of his heavy eye-
brows. Rechy's jeans are fashionably faded
and frayed, and he is wearing his favorite
Tony Lama cowboy boots, mahogany leather
with stacked brown heels.
It is here in this apartment, beneath the
oversized black-and-white likenesses of such
Hollywood icons as Bette Davis, Carol Baker
and Cary Grant, that another generation of
young writers sit at Rechy's feet, learning not
only how to write, but how to survive as writ-
ers.
As a creative writing teacher for the
University of Southern California and other
schools, Rechy has sheltered and guided
such now-thriving authors as Gina B. Nahai,
whose novel "Moonlight on the Avenue of
Faith" (Harcourt Brace) has enjoyed great
success this year, and Kate Braverman, who
wrote the popular "Palm Latitudes" (Linden
Press, 1988).
"I started teaching when I was 22 and in

C {pN
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IIA

attacked Rechy in a column that appeared
beneath the headline "Fruit Salad," Chester
went so far as to question Rechy's very exis-
tence.
"City of Night" - Rechy's sensuous and
often sinister fictionalized diary of a male
hustler on the make from Santa Monica to
New Orleans - was an instant best seller.
But because Rechy went underground, pur-
posely avoiding any public promotion of the
book, Chester and others speculated that the
"true identity" of the book's author was more
likely someone as famous as Tennessee
Willians or James Baldwin.
Now that Rechy has returned in his work to
the setting of "City of Night," he is worried
less about his literary identity than about
how this latest work will be received.
Leaning against a wall in his combination
writer's den and workout room, thumbs
hooked into the belt loops of his jeans, Rechy
shakes his head in mock dismay.
"Some may wonder why am I looking back
now? I can only say, 'It was time. This had to
be written."
By returning to the setting of a book that
has in three decades become an international
best seller translated into 20 languages,
Rechy has achieved a certain literary and
personal symmetry.
By chronicling a day in the sex-obsessed
lives of a group of gay men on the eve of the
AIDS epidemic, Rechy celebrates what he
calls "the golden age of promiscuity" while
at the same time exposing its darkest side.
"This is a very sexual book - maybe my
most sexual - and that is by design," says
Rechy.
"Because I think we need to look back and
answer the question of where we were going
with our sexuality."
Now Rechy -- who between books teaches
creative writing at USC and in private semi-
nars - is ready to move on. Last month, he
finished the manuscripts of what he calls his
"new, new novel."
The title? "The Naked Cowboy." And you
thought the summer couldn't get any hotter.

Los Angeles Times

John Rechy is the author of "The Coming of the Night."

the Army," says Rechy. "I was working with
people who were functional illiterates. What
I told them, and I now tell my students, is
that the only thing I can do for them is to
allow them to achieve the best they can and,
once they are the best, help them have the
courage to withstand what will come. What I
call the enormous 'NO."'

work.
"Because my mother was Mexican and I
grew up in Texas," says Rechy, "I can be and
have been labeled a Chicano writer. Because
I am homosexual and sometimes write about
gay people and situations, I can be pushed
into that box."
Rechy nearly lost his creative identity
completely when "City of Night" exploded
on the literary scene 36 years ago.
Reviewing for the prestigious New York
Review of Books what would later become a
gay classic, critic Alfred Chester not only

Such rejection

whether by critics or by

ordinary readers - is not easy to overcome,
says Rechy. Despite his personal successes,
Rechy continues to fight the tendency of
many reviewers to categorize him and his

'Snoops' rewrites
role for Gershon

Pious works examine human aith

Los Angeles Tmes
No way, no how would anyone
ever mistake Gina Gershon for a
an.
After all, Gershon is the actress
who mixed sultriness with a mis-
chievous playfulness in
"Showgirls," sizzled in her love
scenes with Jennifer Tilly in
"Bound," seduced Tom Cruise in
"Cocktail" and brought a bold femi-
ninity to testosterone fests such as
"Face/Off'" and "Red Heat."
So it may raise a few eyebrows to
am that the impossibly sexy
ershon is playing the "male lead"
in the new ABC comedy-drama,
"Snoops."
In the series - the latest from
acclaimed "Ally McBeal" and "The
Practice" creator David E. Kelley,
Gershon plays Glenn Hall, the head
of an outrageously high-tech private
eye agency that has gadgets that
would make James Bond salivate.
As originally conceived by
lley, the role of Glenn was written
or a male actor. Gershon actually
was up for the female lead, detective
Dana Plant, and turned it down,
much to the dismay of the produc-
ers. The role eventually went to
Paula Marshall.
But when Kelley, haunted by
Gershon and her reading, rethought
Glenn as a female instead of a male,
Gershon jumped on board.
And one glance at her "work" out-
fits - often skintight leather -
leaves no doubt that Glenn is a
woman in charge of her life, her job
and her sexuality.
"This is a great woman's role,"
Gershon said during the briefest of
breaks in a day crammed with film-
ing, looping dialogue and other
obligations.
"I don't like the roles where the
oss woman has to wear the suits and
ve the tight hairdo. This is a fun
part and I get to have fun with it."
In "Snoops," Gershon's Hall
admits that she and her investigative
cohorts have "more in common with

the criminals - we just have better
intentions."
Simultaneously intrigued and
repelled by Hall's unorthodox meth-
ods is Plant, a by-the-book former
police detective who's looking for a
new challenge.
Rounding out the "Snoops"
,troupe is Roberta Young (Paula Jai
Parker), who is known to wear some
brazen disguises, and Manny Lott
(Danny Nucci), described as "a whiz
with a minicam, a mini-mike and
any woman in a mini-dress."
But much of the focus is on
Gershon, who is making the leap to
TV while riding the crest of a suc-
cessful film career.
The actress will be featured in the
upcoming "The Insider," starring Al
Pacino, and in the Miramax release,
"Guinevere."
Allan Arkush, the series' co-exec-
utive producer and director, said of
Gershon: "Gina is bringing her own
unique point of view, a real confi-
dence and a dark sense of humor.
She's a woman succeeding in a
man's world by being smarter and
knowing more than the people
around her. She projects a lot of
intelligence, and the fact that she's
sexy and gorgeous certainly doesn't
hurt'."
The allure of the versatile role and
of working with Kelley convinced
Gershon to join "Snoops."
"I really had no interest in doing
television," Gershon said.
"I turned down the role of Dana,
and had just moved to New York
because I wanted to do more theater.
The first call I get in my new apart-
ment was from David Kelley, who
said, 'What do you think about play-
ing the guy's part?' All of a sudden,
things were on different terms. I said
I would like to do films, get preg-
nant, play all sorts of characters, and
he said yes to everything. It's pretty
flattering to have someone so haunt-
ed by you that he's willing to work
things out."
"Snoops" airs Sundays on ABC.

The Hartford Courant
Paul Wilkestas devoted much of his life to wandering, searching, asking
questions, seeking his true vocation. He spent a year as a hermit. Another
time he sold his possessions and lived among the poor.
Along the way, Wilkes has written a number of books about religion and
spirituality.
His latest, "Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life"
(Doubleday, $21, 244 pages), is an account of a year during which he lived
one weekend each month at a Trappist monastery in South Carolina.
Wilkes wanted to know if the wisdom found behind the walls of a
monastery had any application to daily life for the rest of us.
The result is a profound book filled with a sense of mystery, reverence and
practical wisdom.
The writing succeeds on several levels - as an account of Trappist life, as
an examination of the many threads of monastic wisdom, as a story of
Wilkes' own spiritual seeking and, most of all, as an evocation of the mystery
of God's presence in daily life.
Wilkes structures the book around 12 themes - such as faith, stability,
detachment, mysticism, chastity and vocation - one for each of his monthly
visits to Mepkin Abbey.
He calls faith one of the most difficult virtues to understand and practice,
saying it means "a certain free-fall in life, believing that God will indeed
guide us to the right people and places, that he will not test us beyond our
ability to endure; that God will take care of our needs -- and here is the hard-
est part - in his own time and fashion."
The opposite of faith is control, which Wilkes describes as an "I-centered
approach to spirituality, physical healing and mental wellness."
The wisdom that Wilkes so brilliantly conveys has much in common with
Eastern thinking, particularly in his emphasis on living in the moment and
detachment from possessions.
What makes Wilkes so credible is his willingness to share the pain and con-
fusion of his own journey.
He comes across not as a preacher but as an authentic, sometimes broken,
seeker.
Wilkes' first marriage failed. He says little about the circumstances. He
then spent years "of wondering and wandering in a self-made hell of plea-
sure-seeking."
When Wilkes fell in love again, he initially resisted the idea of marriage
and children, convinced that his vocation was to become a monk. After living
Want to see your work on
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as a hermit at a Trappist monastery in Spencer, Mass., he finally realized that
his true vocation was marriage. He and the woman he had fallen in love with,
who is now his wife, have two boys.
After each monthly visit to Mepkin, Wilkes returns home determined to
apply monastic wisdom to his own life.
The results are mixed. Sometimes he loses his temper and screams at one
of his boys over something trivial.
After one such incident, Wilkes berates himself, calling his year at
Mepkin "a sham, so much pious talk and musings, so little real follow
through."
But the reader comes to see Wilkes not as a failure but as someone utterly
human who makes mistakes yet can forgive himself and begin again.
One of the pleasures of this book is the elegant writing.
When Wilkes visits a dying woman in the hospital, he leans and presses his
cheek to hers, feeling a tear and knowing he is "touching a drop of her soul's
dew."
Elsewhere, in describing his spiritual hunger, he says, "I read the spiritual
masters eagerly, wanting so badly to tuck myself inside the pages of those
books and live the experiences they so eloquently wrote about."
This is a book to be savored and reread. Although Wilkes is a Catholic, this
is not a narrow religious book. His engaging discussion of the mystery of
God's presence will resonate with seekers from many faiths.
The Dalai Lama's latest book, "Ethics for the New Millennium,"
(Riverhead Books, $24.95, 237 pages), contains pious sentiments about love
of neighbor and respect for others, but not much more.
The writing is uninspiring and the message is superficial and simplistic.
The main theme is that all people want to be happy and avoid suffering. The
way to happiness, the Dalai Lama says, is to treat others with love, compas-
sion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness.
The Dalai Lama dismisses the value of prayer and says the influence of
religion on people's lives "is generally marginal," an assertion some people
might challenge.
The Dalai Lama appears to let his enthusiasm for world peace and broth-
erhood cloud his vision.
He says, for example, that while many people believed in the 1950s and
'60s that conflicts should be resolved through war, today "that thinking holds
sway only in the minds of a small minority."
The statement seems preposterous in view of the number of wars around
the world in the 1990s. In general, the book has a tone of wishful thinking.

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