Category Archives: The Proles

Film treatment: “Two Road Trips”, based on the fiction section of my DADT III book

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The “Fiction” section of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book concludes with two short stories that present parallel road trips.  The first is called “Expedition“,  set in the Allegheny coal and strip mine country, and has a character like me about 28 years old; the second is called “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, and has me at my current age in present day, and is largely set on and near an “intentional community” in the Virginia Piedmont.

It would be natural to propose a two-part film based on this material, with each story taking 50-60 minutes.  I might have called this film “On the Road”, except for the fact that such a title has been used for a film about Jack Kerouac.  So I could call it “Two Road Trips“.   Or maybe I could title the entire work “The Home Team Bats Last“.

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The two stories in the book are preceded by a long chapter from my previously unpublished novel “The Proles” (March 25, 2014), depicting my 14-week experience in Army Basic training in 1968 after “volunteering” for the draft.  That section does not lend itself to film by itself, because there is no rooting interest involving other characters actually on site besides me (the novel has external characters who matter outside this chapter). But the period of my military service is important to connecting the two “road trips”.  So I pondered how I would present the relevant material in such a film.  I first thought the entire feature should have a 30-minute middle section, between the two road trips, with my narration, and showing the experience of Army Basic in fast images with relatively little dialogue.  But that setup would involve “author intrusion“. So I need a way to work the material back into the two real stories as flashback material.  And in film, the flashback may show “reality” as the narrator really experienced it in the past, but it must be clear how the other characters “on stage” understand the flashback material, and it must be material in some way to the overall plot.

The first of the two stories  is “Expedition“.  In 1972, “Bill” (Me at 28) attends a going-away-roast for a coworker Mark, whom Bill has admired with “upward affiliation” (today’s post on DADTNotes).  Then, to celebrate his own freedom from Mark’s influence, Bill heads (from a government Naval office in Washington DC) heads for Appalachia, where he will meet up with a former roommate from graduate school, Randy.   The two will tour the strip-mine country together, scarred by mountaintop removal. But Randy will have a surprise for Bill, a fiancee.

The second story is “The Ocelot the Way He Is” is in the book (Amazon).  starting on p. 281).  It is slightly longer but more complex.  In present day, Bill has put his dying mother (almost 100 years old)  into hospice. (In actual fact, she passed away at the end of 2010.)  That night, he goes to a piano concert given by a friend, whom he met at a local church, who is also a freshman in college somewhere in Virginia.  (I guess he will major in music, and he may resemble “Shane Lyons” [played by Timo Descamps]  from “Judas Kiss” a bit; he is charismatic and manipulative, but I wouldn’t say the negative things about the popular film character.) I called him Nolan, after the likable computer magnate [played by Gabriel Mann] in ABC’s “Revenge” — who is also charismatic, but quirky and manipulative.  You get the picture.)

Nolan’s grandfather keeps a hideway cabin for him in the Blue Ridge foothills, not so far from college, where Nolan works in his music and technology.   The cabin is near an intentional community, with its own cast of characters, just a short bike ride or hike from the cabin.  There’s some interesting stuff there, and a gym on the border of the property.

Nolan invites Bill on the road trip out to the cabin for the afternoon Saturday.  In the meantime, there is a threat of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes, severe space storms (like maybe a Carrington Event, with a coronal mass ejection expected to trigger northern lights all the way down to Florida Saturday night).   Bill gets specific directions by email Saturday morning, and then a mysterious visitor knocks on the door (David Lynch style) and makes a threat, and a strange phone call comes.  Bill finds that an computer flash drive has been left by the visitor at his porch, and wonders what is up.

Bill makes the visit, which involves some time recording his own music and making a visit to the intentional community, and, yes, the gym.  In time, it gets more intimate (maybe with a bit of the movie “Old Joy” as a clue.)  Nolan drives him home, where he finds his world in disaster, while he gets a call to the effect that mother has recovered.  The national disaster and Bill’s own situation now get into stuff that would amount to spoilers.

The question, however, is how to weave all the other background material into the two film parts.   And the best way is to work inside out.

In the first story, neither Mark nor Randy have themselves served in the military.  And neither know that Bill had been thrown out of William and Mary in 1961 as a freshman for saying he was gay.

But there is a small backstory where Bill had visited Mark’s apartment a few months before  (we’re back in 1972),  and Mark had demonstrated his own workout routines with free weights in the apartment. (That’s in the DADT III book on p. 54.) There had been a hint of intimacy, but nothing like what will happen in the second story.  At the going-away-bash, Mark remembers this, and recalls the section in Bill’s “Proles” manuscript where Bill had to work with very primitive workout equipment in Special Training Company while in Army Basic in 1968.  That in turn justifies a flashback, 2-3 minutes, of Bill’s whole experience with STC, including passing the PCPT, his direct commission application, and eventual interview.  Then later, after Randy surprises Bill with his fiancee and baby, Bill realizes he will have the motel room (in a small eastern Kentucky town) to himself.  There are other flashbacks (like the one time Bill was almost arrested in 1971 for trespassing on a stripmine) but then there is a dichotomy that, while Bill hasn’t grown up in a way to get married while Randy has, Bill at least did serve in the military.  Well, he “served without serving” and was sheltered away from combat.  (That stimulates another little flashback about the period in the Pentagon.)  Randy recalls how Bill dreaded the idea of being maimed in war, and how he had said he would never come back if that happened.  Randy, on the other hand, has to admit that he himself sidestepped the entire experience by staying in grad school and being “lucky” enough to get a job in college teaching.  Some more Army flashbacks occur, such as one where Bill learns that most of his Army buddies in Basic got infrantry — he’s practically the only one who escaped.  And he also recalls he left Basic in reasonably good shape for the one time in his life (flashback to a church softball game right after where Bill hits a homer).

In the “Ocelot” story, Nolan knows Bill’s history, having read Bill’s blogs and books.  The military issue has been fading somewhat from public scenery after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  But when they get to the intentional community, where Nolan has an invitation to bring Bill to dinner, the subject of the military comes up, because an older man (also gay but somewhat “retired” even from gay life) challenges Bill as to whether he was a coward in the way he handled his military service.  The flashbacks here emphasize Bill’s transition from graduate school to the Army (the steps of losing your freedom), and then the periods after Basic.  The period of Bill’s induction had a curious incident, which fits into the theme about gymnasiums and weight lifting (which Nolan also does) — he had spent a night in a hotel in Richmond (put up by the Army) before being sworn in, and had another “roommate” who turned out to have been horribly scarred in the chest area by a chemistry lab accident in high school.

There are other flashbacks, such as Bill’s own period of heterosexual dating, which is compared to Randy’s in the first story.  Nolan has a relationship of sorts with a medical student named Brian, which is also (through videos at the cabin) worked into the story to make a point, particularly at the very end.

The film would require accurate makeup, to show Bill at different ages, not only in the obvious change over several decades between the two parts, but also the subtle changes in his appearance associated with his military service.   In this film, characters are not easily interchangeable as to qualities like race, age, and sexual orientation, since some specific sexual tensions are present in the second story.

At the very end, when the national catastrophe is now clear, there is also another “trick” where Bill can look back into Nolan’s life and solve one more erotic puzzle.

Oh, yes, this could become a “franchise” of two separate indie films.  At the “West End Cinema” the tagline is “All stories told here.”

(Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 11:45 PM, EDT)

“The Proles”: How to design a cable television series

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So, how could “The Proles” (two posts ago) be made into a television series?

The rather obvious example is set by “Revolution” (previous post).

And the hooker is that the character “John Maurcek” is “stored” and “reconstructed” three times, based on the idea that I mulled in that 1970 summer in Indianapolis (post here ).

The way “The Proles” was set up, John apparently goes to “The Tower of Ned” (I’m drawing analogy to similar images in both “Revolution” and “FlashForward”), which may be somewhere in the northern Plains, like North Dakota, in early 1970 after getting out of the Army.  The book might have to be changed to show that he does have a job offer.

So incarnation #1 happens immedidately.  John Maurcek is reconstructed after about two hours, and leaves the facility (as if wakened from general anesthesia for surgery, the first time in his life), apparently not much worse for wear.  Maybe he is a little more bald.  He goes to New Jersey, and spends his first year employed just as in history (including time in Indianapolis).  He gets laid off (the only layoff in “my” career until 2001).  Then, partly out of a personal animosity, John does something impulsive, or compulsive, and really bad.  He is almost immediately neutralized and taken out by one of his “friends” (maybe Rado Suhl) with the doomsday laser gun. It’s important to note that factually this catastrophe did not happen.

Incarnation #2 then starts, in early 1971. He has a resume intact.  He is reconstructed again, only slightly worse for wear (but with some small disadvantages).  But he has to own some memories of the year of work, although not of how it ended.  The effect is again like coming out of surgery,  The next 40 years or so of his life proceed, with the familiar story, with all its ironies, nooks and crannies, as outlined in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books.   Maybe this sounds like a Biblical “wandering in the wilderness”, but if so there were a lot of berries to eat.  (OK, Darren Aronofsky can direct this series.)

At the end of this period, he has an accident, perhaps in traffic, resulting in someone else’s severe injury, of which he is not aware.  It’s not quite hit-run.  He comes home, and then has a sudden accident himself, and lies unable to move, likely to die of dehydration if not found.

For Incarnation #3, he is reconstructed again at 26, but with the best possible body justified.  He quickly learns the history of the gay rights movement (from a “Therapist”), and by now knows someone like him went through it.  It was always a problem that he was never attractive enough to be desired physically, but just once he gets to experience this at a disco in Indianapolis.  Then he learns that “Indiana wants him”, and he travels (to escape) to his Drogheda home in Virginia.  He goes inside and finds his older doppleganger dying.  As he is about to dial 911, nuclear Armageddon happens.  (It’s possible to imagine all this “Revolution” style, with an EMP attack first.  But the second half of this 1970 book presumes nuclear war.)

Incarnation #4 is as in the book now.  “Oscar” joins him, just as in the book, and they find out that nuclear war has broken out. (Putin got carried away with things, or maybe it was Al Qaeda, or Iran, or North Korea.)  Some parts of the country are more intact than others.  This time, however, his physical reconstruction is less perfect (you can only do it so many times).  For one thing, his legs are balding, quickly, as if from diabetes.   He will never again be attractive.

The series would be constructed like “Revolution”, with the post-nuclear world as the “present time” with flashbacks.  The backstories would be told when John encounters various characters from his “first past” (the world up to 1970), and then his other three incarnations.  Since John is still relatively “young” although now with defect, some of the revelations could come from his sexual partner in Incarnation 3, but others could come from Zugfel, Rado Suhl (who killed him once).  Oscar is back in his first reincarnation, and Suhl is on his second, and Zugfel, like an angel, is ageless.  The idea of proving he can have a child with Tovina could still stay in the story.

“Part I” of the book (“The Covenant”) could be set up as a prequel, perhaps 90 minutes, aired between the first two seasons.

This material could populate two or three years of episodes.  It would probably have to be on a cable rather than regular broadcast channel because of the somewhat “adult” material.

(Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014m at 11:30 AM EDT)

“The Proles”: My fantasy of Armageddon, Cold-War (1970) style

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The Proles” is my 400-page typewritten “unpublished novel” manuscript, my first.

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Creation of manuscript:

I wrote most of the novel by hand in spiral notebooks while living in the barracks at Fort Eustis, VA while in the Army, throughout much of 1969.  It appears that I finished the handwritten draft in early 1970 after starting to work for RCA in Princeton NJ, and had typewritten most of the manuscript by early September 1970.  It appears that I did some work and revision while on a job assignment in Indianapolis in the early summer of 1970.

In the early fall of 1970, as I went back home to Arlington for a weekend on the train, I accidentally left my only copy at the Trenton NJ Amtrak station.  I got off in Philadelphia and took a commuter train back to Trenton to recover it.  The ticket agent still had it.

I wrote an epilogue and a summary and typed it in 1972.  After starting a new job with Univac and while living in Caldwell, NJ, I contacted someone through old contacts at RCA and sent it to Knopf in the late fall of 1972.  This didn’t get very far.

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Plot and concept:

The novel is in two parts, “The Covenant” and “The Great Summons”.

The first five chapters of the novel are strictly autobiographical.  They closely track my own life as follows:

Chapter 1:  the end of the spring semester at the University of Kansas, 1967

Chapter 2:  a summer job with the Navy Department in the summer of 1967

Chapter 3:  a fall semester at the University of Kansas and completion of my degree, 1967-1968.

Chapter 4: My fourteen weeks of Basic Combat Training in the Army, early 1968.

Chapter 5: My tours at the Pentagon (summer of 1968) and mysterious transfer to Fort Eustis in September 1968, and my remaining time there in 1969.

For these chapters I made some changes.  I call myself “John Maurcek”.  The University of Kansas becomes Kansas Weslyan (even though nothing is sectarian) and Lawrence KS becomes Atkins.  Fort Jackson SC becomes Fort Wilson (half way to Fort Gordon).

The general idea is that John meets a number of students and various people in the Army and pieces together a “conspiracy theory”.  One of the most charismatic, Hans Zugfel, appears at his summer job in Chapter 2, and seems to have a mysterious history of trips to the Soviet Union.  It seems that the Reds have developed a doomsday weapon that can vaporize matter but encode the information that created it digitally.

In Chapter 6, one of John’s other cohorts, named “Rado Suhl”, fights in Vietnam and witnesses the effect of the weapon.

In Chapter 7, John has not actually found his first job yet (in actual fact I had), and Zugfel summons him on a treasure hunt.  He winds up meeting “Oscar” (another friend from Fort Eustis) near a military base in North Dakota.  He enters the facility and loses sense of time.  He and Oscar are let go after a little while, and given a ride.  At the first gas station, they learn that nuclear war has broken out and destroyed most of the country.

Part II has six chapters named after sections of the Requiem Mass.  (Maybe the structure is a bit like Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony”).  John meets a woman, Tovina, and with her travels a wasteland, eventually making it back to the East Coast.  Eventually, after some misadventures (including a place called an “Amusement Tent” in Nebraska and the delivery of some more characters)  he and Tovina (now possibly pregnant) arrive on the East Coast near the remains of Princeton .  Zugfel judges Bill regarding Bill’s hero-worship of him, and then Bill has to decide if he and Tovina are game for a long space voyage to a new planet.  The Earth, however, is finally destroyed.

Relation to my other Books:

Chapter 4, called “Interlude”, giving the details of my Basic Training in 1968, is reproduced in the “Fiction” section of the new book “Do Ask, Do Tell III: Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege”.  A more compact account had been provided as Chapter 2 of “Do Ask, Do Tell I: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” in 1997 (totally as a non-fiction narrative using Fort Jackson as the place).

The more detailed account in the new book is disturbing.  It tends to portray me as a mooch or coward, concerned about his own comfort when thrown into a situation where others make gender-related demands for the supposed common good.  But of course these demands are only valid if the “domino theory” of communism as understood in the 1960s holds and if the government indeed has the legal warrant to conscript for this common good.

The previous chapter 3 (“Development”, following the earlier “Exposition”))  gives some of the details of “John’s” experience as an assistant instructor at graduate school in Kansas, teaching a section of algebra designed for slower students.  John exudes “power” of the students in a manner similar to how he thought teachers and authorities in general had wielded power over him in his own teen and early college years.  Many students flunk, including one given an automatic F for cheating.  John knows that some of these students could lose their draft deferments if he fails them, and wind up more likely to serve as cannon fodder (especially in infrantry) in Vietnam.  The chapter also describes some travels with a roommate (one dedicated to Ayn Rand’s individualism, and with whom he has good rapport, compared to what had happened at William and Mary), as well as the last two weeks of transition from graduate student (with some powers in teaching himself), going through Master’s orals, to Army life as a “prole”.  There is a posting on my companion site with some passages from early pages of the book that develop this point, here.

Another story in the DADT III book, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, brings up the issue of sending other college students to the draft by flunking them, as if John had played both sides of the issue.

The Chapter that follows Basic, 5 (“The Investigations”) chronicles his life in permanent party.  He spends three months in the Pentagon and living on post at Fort Myer.  He makes some jokes in the office about having been a “bad detail man”.  Mysteriously, he is transferred to Ft. Eustis.  This seems to have to do with his previous psychiatric history, and this may be the only portion of the novel where his expulsion for “latent homosexuality” is discussed.  Once at Fort Eustis, he makes friends in the barracks in his own way, as most of the other men are similarly relatively well educated.  One campadre, “Oscar”, had enlisted for three years to ensure staying out of combat.  Oscar, while studying genealogy in conjunction with joining the LDS church, is quite taken in by John’s hangups about latent homosexuality, joins in the jokes, with repeated caricatures of Tiny Tim. (and “The Gesture”, where moonfaced Oscar bends his wrist and says “O Go Way Butterfly” — we called that “OGAB”).   But other characters, for whom John assigns “animal names” like Lizard, Ostrich, and particularly The Ocelot,  impress John, who starts to imagine how they could fit into (or have wind of)  a particular “conspiracy”, to rid the world of the parasites and underserving.  (John is called “Chickenman” — because he’s everywhere.)   By the time I was at Ft. Eustis, we all knew about the proletariat “cultural revolution” in China, where everyone took turns being a peasant, and thought that the Soviets would ensure that the same thing could be imposed on us, one by one, even if took nukes to do it. Even, I thought that the USSR’s National Anthem (performed in the 1981 movie “Reds”) was much more stirring than our own.

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Relation to historical truth:

I’ve noted the fictional locations already,  The main deviation from reality starts in Chapter 5.  I propose that the Army canceled the program of specialized MOS’s (like my “01E20” Mathematician) for enlisted men with advanced degrees.  I don’t recall for sure whether the Army really did this, but I believe that it did eventually.   At Fort Eustis, the Berkeley doctoral graduate “Rado Suhl” asks to be transferred and goes to Vietnam, in time to witness the doomsday weapon.  I think he did get transferred shortly after I left (on Feb. 7, 1970).

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In the book, I don’t get a civilian professional job before getting out of the Army, and go right on the treasure hunt.  In reality, I had two major offers (RCA and Bell Labs) by mid December 1969.  I started work at RCA on February 16, 1970, reporting at the Cherry Hill NJ location.

In the book, John is accused of homosexuality in the last few months and placed  on general duty, where he has to live in the bay with Special Troops and share KP.  This did not happen.  But we constantly “feared” being sent “back to the bay”, which we called “BTTB”.

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Psychological Aspects

This whole time, John sees his own life as from outside like an observer.  Everything in his life is about meaning and symbolism rather than direct experience.  He has emotion generated by music and by his ideals, and fantasies about ideal men (as explained in the DADT III book, around p. 44-45. He has no concept of a relationship with someone based on genuine complementarity, even less with the idea that he could biologically father life and that if he did so, that could “mean” anything.  In fact, he might relish communicating the idea that less competitive men should not father children and have a lineage — but that would feed the idea of eugenics.   He seems to lack some basic instincts.  Yet, within his own frame of reference, his own universe with its own rules, everything is fascinating.  Autism (at least in this form mild enough to invite moral disapproval) really works, even rocks.  So it’s possible to view a conspiracy theory through this lens and make it work, even make it funny.  Perhaps it sounds like satire.  You can pick up this 1969-1970 typed manuscript at random passages, and it seems quite seductive and captivating to share John’s beliefs, worldviews, and fears, even about his own vulnerable body image.

There is something very dark about how John sees other people.  You could say, as objects, as pawns or chess pieces, to be scored (that is, a Bishop is “worth” three and a half pawns).  Physical attributes become part-objects, and affect whether John can feel any emotional stake in the person.  It’s possible for someone to “lose it”, either because of his own bad living habits, or because of the actions of others (as in combat).  Then he is forever worthless, whatever the cause.  On a private level that is meaningless, but as people get taken in by it (as they do in the military barracks, especially in Chapter 5), it has its effect.  Politically, it can become dangerous, feeding racism or an attitude that people can become expendable.  Organized crime and fascism both feed on that process;  communism at least pretends that it addresses it.  People need to be able to enter relationships (marriages) and keep them when something unfortunate happens to one partner, all the more if in war.  

Of course, this style of thinking, even if we had just fought WWII to defeat it, had been reinforced by the draft and deferment system, which led that some people’s lives were more expendable than others.

There is a lot of talk of male beauty, and of resentment of the old cultural norm that only women should be valued for passive beauty.  There is some focus on various secondary attributes of men in spots (with phrases like “mannish flesh”).  Nevertheless, all the sex scenes are heterosexual.  Near the end of Part I, Hans Zugfel finally has intercourse with his mystery girl friend “Holdine” (whom John has met clandestinely); the scene builds up very slowly, as John imagines it during masturbatory fantasy.  But John never imagines being with Zugfel or any other male directly in the book.  John’s “second coming” would not occur until 1973.   In the second half, near the end, as written, he attempts intimacy with Tovina, and is disturbed at what he sees when she undresses.  Would it make sense to have children in such a world anyway?

Various men looked at my handwritten manuscript in the barracks, and chuckled at how they were presented.  The standing joke was “The Proles,, rated X”.  Now, that’s NC-17.  But it probably would be rated R if made today.

Will “The Proles” ever sweep across the screen?  That I’ll take up in a subsequent posting.

(Published Tuesday March 25, 2014 about 5 PM EDT.)