My 1982 manuscript, “The Rapture of the Believers”, as written on a TRS80 in Dallas

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On December 1, 1981 or thereabouts, I bought my first PC.  It was a Radio Shack TRS-80.  I also bought an Okidata dot matrix printer and Scripsit software.  There was no hard drive; everything had to be saved on floppy disks.

At the end of 1981 and through much of 1982, I worked on a novel manuscript that I called “Rapture” (the same as the 1992 film with David Duchovny) or “The Rapture of the Believers”.  At the time, I lived in a modest but ample one bedroom apartment in Harvey’s Racquet back in the Oak Lawn Section of Dallas (about two blocks north of Cedar Springs, a mile from the bars, a mile from Love Field).  The computer was in a little alcove near the front door.  It broke down a couple times and had to be repaired, so I just kept working on a typewriter.

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The novel was autobiographical, providing episodes of life through “my second coming” in New York City, through 1978, and my move to Dallas.  It then envisions a series of events that lead to a Communist attack on the homeland, a “rapture”, and then rescue of the “believers” taking them to another planet.

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The novel presents several other men who would become significant in my life.  In the first version, their backstories were presented more or less chronologically.  Some of the characters would gradually come into Bill’s life (I’m “Bill” again) as the years progress.

After a trip to Britain in November 1982, I decided to restructure the book and cast it as a collection of more or less standalone “stories” that could be published separately.  Backstories were taken out of chronology and put into the story corresponding to a particular character or issue.  It’s more useful to discuss the plot in terms of this structure.

The first “story” was based on my “first coming” in the high school years, my friends in the Science Honor Society, my exposure to the outdoors (“A hike in the mountains is worth any grade”).

The second “story” more or less matches “Expedition” in “Do Ask, Do Tell III” (“Speech is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege”).  I present the idea of upward affiliation with another young man in the workplace, and where that can lead.  There is more material about that person and the workplace here than in the final published story, but it had come from the original draft of “Expedition” written on a typewriter in 1981 when I lived in my first condo, the Park Lane Townhomes in North Dallas.

The third “story” is probably the central episode.  It covers the attachment I had to a particular “boyfriend” in my last year living in New York City, between the Villages, in 1978.  There is a particular evening and sequence that leads me to be concerned that he has a medical problem that will probably lead me to feel less attracted to him in the future.  (This did not turn out to be factually true, but I present the possibilities had it been true.)   That eventually leads to my own moving away and starting a “new life” in Dallas.  It is ironic that this whole sequence occurred several years before AIDS was known, although the very first cases had already been percolating.  If you read the stuff now, it gives an idea what gay life was like in the City in the years before AIDS, but well after Stonewall.  Everybody was quite jealous of his own life.  People didn’t care about “equality” the way we do today; separation was OK if they could make a living and were left alone.  At the time, it was more about “privacy”.  This was the time shortly after New York City’s financial crisis, and the Yankees’s tremendous 1978 season (and Bucky Dent’s notorious home run in Fenway Park in Boston).  The economy was difficult, struggling with inflation, overregulation, and the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo a few years before.  My belief that I could not remain “interested” if the other person underwent chemotherapy (a subject just starting to get a lot of attention in the media) generates a lot of “moral energy”.

The fourth “story” presents a couple new friends in Dallas, and finally winds up centered around a particular chess tournament (and my accidental self-outing with the local chess club).  There’s also a preview of communal living with visits to the Lama Foundation in New Mexico, where I write an introspective essay and share it in a camp-like dormitory. At church (Metropolitan Community Church, in the days it was on Reagan in Oak Lawn) Bill learns a lot about the “Rapture”.  One evening, a new friend helps start a healing merely by playing guitar and singing “He’s alive.” In Dallas, on the Bible Belt, there was something to being a Believer and not a Doubter.  People would recruit to save others’ souls.

The fifth story presumes economic challenges occur, threatening my job.  The employer becomes involved in supporting the earlier versions of FEMA, and the “civilian defense reservist” program that got some attention in the 1980s.  I wind up getting sent to an “academy” in West Texas.   The idea of being “re-educated” and re-socialized in a “boot camp” out on the boonies became a theme in several of my manuscripts.  There was not, at the time, the appreciation of diversity and immutability that we have today.  The mentality was more that everyone should “pay his dues”.  But there was an idea that people needed to learn more self-sufficiency, and not depend on “buying their way” out of trouble.

The sixth story presents the coming of the Rapture.  (Maybe this is like a Sixth Symphony, maybe Mahler’s, or maybe Vaughn Williams.)  First, “Bill” meets a particularly charismatic young man at the academy, named Charley, who has what I call “The Theta Property” (which confers certain powers). Charley is by far the most exciting person Bill has ever met, and there is the start of some intimacy, remaining clothed (mostly).  Then Bill is sent on a maintenance trip to Alaska.  He gets a call to come back home, and then is sent to New York for one more assignment.  While he is there, he goes to the baths, and while in there the facility is evacuated when there is a radioactivity dispersion device let loose in the city by “indignant communists”.  Yes, I had envisioned the idea of a dirty bomb back in 1982.

The practices developed at the Academy are put into place, and people are herded into communal living, which turns out to be dystopian.

The seventh episode does as much as possible with this environment, which is far short of what JJ Abrams does with “Revolution” although again, that is what has happened (another theme in all my books).  Bill does encounter his parents, and learns a particularly old-fashioned idea of the derogatory word “faggot”, which is taken to refer to someone whose limelight-seeking demoralizes others upon whom he is dependent but doesn’t know it. (This is 1982, the days of the Moral Majority, remember.)  But Bill gets with Charley, has a final intimacy which prepares him to be “raptured” and then board the space ship to leave the solar system forever. Note that the “communal living” in this chapter is different from the “academy” earlier;  it’s an end-in-itself.  It may sound a bit like an “intentional community” today, but in this novel circumstances have forced this “sustainable living” concept on the people.  But at the very end, Bill really does go to outer space, however changed.

One problem with this whole concept, of course, is historical obsolescence.  It pre-dates AIDS, but is curiously prescient of it.  It is predicated on the Cold War, but it recognizes the indignation of individual “revolutionaries” and the harm that they might do asymmetrically, an idea we didn’t really grasp until after 9/11 with radical Islam.  And it’s not too kind to those who are different in such a way they can’t port their own water jugs.

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Around 1983, a computer operator at Chilton Corporation in Dallas showed me a short story he had written, called something like “The Mutants of Lake Murray“, about an alien attack on a popular resort lake in southern Oklahoma, followed by a nuclear war.

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Published: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 12 Noon EDT

 

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