By N.S. Palmer
What if they threw a gay pride celebration but nobody knew what they were celebrating?
I’m not criticizing, just asking.
I’ve been all over the world and speak six languages, but now I live in my old hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.
It’s in the middle of the industrial Midwest, though there isn’t much industry left, most of it having high-tailed to impoverished countries where it could hire people for five cents a day and not have to put up with all those pesky environmental and safety regulations. It’s also in the middle of the farm belt, though most of the family farms are gone and the remaining farms are owned by agribusiness.
Local banks are gone: Indiana National, American Fletcher, Indianapolis Morris Plan, and a dozen other smaller banks were wiped out by Bank One and other out-of-state financial behemoths, which were in turn wiped out by Chase and Bank of America. Local stores are gone: O’Malia’s Grocery was acquired and then closed. Atlas Market, where late-night TV host David Letterman bagged groceries as a teenager, is gone.
I went to school with the Ayres kids, of Ayres department store; it was acquired and expunged by the Macy’s national department store chain. And with the Vonnegut kids, of Vonnegut’s hardware store; that’s gone, too. (Yes, that’s author Kurt Vonnegut’s family, though Kurt himself was something of a bete noire in conservative Indiana.)
Summers during college, I worked as a night watchman for Blocks department store and knew Maurice Block, as did most of the employees. Blocks was acquired and closed; the main store downtown has been turned into condominiums. Stationers and other local office supply stores were wiped out by Office Max and Office Depot. Hundreds of other smaller local firms were crushed and plowed under by Wal-Mart and its ilk.
Hooks Drug Store was acquired by one national drugstore chain, then by another, and was finally closed; now you can buy your drugs anyplace you want, as long as it’s a Walgreens or a CVS. The only remaining Hooks Drug Store is an exhibit in the drug store museum at the state fairgrounds. It has a lunch counter where you can get a Coke for five cents. That’s the only place you can still get a Coke for five cents. And it’s the only place at the state fairgrounds where you can get anything at all for less than five dollars.
Two of the local daily newspapers were closed, including the one I delivered on my bicycle when I was eight years old, and another one for which I was a columnist two decades later. The only remaining daily newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, is now owned by the Gannett media conglomerate and is essentially USA Today with a little local content added.
A lot of people here are hurting, but they remain true to their vision of an America that doesn’t exist anymore. They have faith that if they are honest, work hard, and don’t give up, then justice will prevail and their ship will come in. I’d like to live in the society that they see in their heads. Well, mostly. Hoosiers aren’t cosmopolitan, nor are they especially open-minded, but most of them are pretty good people.
So I like Indianapolis even though it’s not the most avant garde of communities. Nothing much ever happens here, but you don’t need to worry about missing anything.
I did, however, miss the “gay pride” celebration last weekend.
There were two reasons. First, I’m not gay. Yes, I know that some people regard being straight as a disability, inasmuch as I can neither dance nor color-coordinate. Life can be cruel. I soldier on as well as I can, wearing mismatched socks and tripping over my own feet on the way to the coffee machine.
The second reason is that publicity for the event was so circumspect about its purpose that you couldn’t tell what it was. My first awareness of the gay pride event was on Sunday at the grocery store, where I asked the girl at the checkout if she’d done anything interesting over the weekend.
“I went to the pride celebration downtown,” she said.
“Pride? What was that?” I said.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were gay,” I said, smiling benevolently.
“I’m not,” she said. “I just went for all the free stuff they were giving away.”
Okay, I guess that’s a reason. If you could recruit people to one sexual preference or another by giving them free stuff, it might be a winning strategy. Though I think that most fundamentalists in Indiana would object. They already suspect that’s what’s going on. But consider the therapeutic possibilities for “cure the gays” clinics. Just give a gay teenager a Nintendo game console and suddenly he becomes straight. It’s another miracle of modern psychiatry.
Today, while driving, I passed a billboard for the event. “Indy Pride Celebration,” it said, giving directions to the downtown parks where it took place. The directions were explicit. But there was no mention of what the participants were so proud about: Just of living in such a darned good city, perhaps?
Indianapolis still is a darned good city, albeit a sleepy one and afflicted with prejudices of various sorts. I spent part of my childhood here, and my first “real” job was as a copy boy for one of the local newspapers downtown. On my lunch hours, I occasionally ran into an old lady who accosted people as they waited to cross the street.
“Are you a papist?” she growled, a fanatical gleam in her eyes, her lips smacking and her dentures rattling in her mouth.
“Papist,” for those of you who came in late, is a nasty way of saying “Catholic.”
I’m Jewish. But just once, to see what came next, I said “Yes, I am a papist.”
Immediately, she started screaming at me about “that papist whore Jacqueline Kennedy,” referring to the wife of the U.S. president who was assassinated in the 1960s. The Kennedys were Catholic, and the old lady seemed to think that Catholics viewed Ms. Kennedy with a reverence only slightly less than that bestowed on the Virgin Mary. As for why the old lady hated Catholics so much, I never got to that part. I was, after all, on my lunch hour.
Another instance of bigotry occurred a few years earlier when a gay psychopath in Texas murdered a dozen or so young men. In one of the most shameful acts of journalistic malpractice I’ve ever seen, an Indianapolis newspaper identified a local gay man and printed his photo on its front page. The article with the photo stated that he slept in a coffin and might be a danger to local youths. No, I am not making that up. And yes, people did believe the article. Even as a kid, I thought it was horribly wrong.
The implication was clear: gay people were potential murderers, and that man in particular was a string of serial killings waiting to happen. I never heard anything of what happened to the man; perhaps the reporters and editors were so ashamed that they didn’t want to touch the story again. But if he didn’t leave town or commit suicide, I’d be very surprised.
Things are different now, which is why I get a little impatient with gays who think that gay marriage is the be-all and end-all of their liberation. They don’t realize how far they’ve come.
Not only do local news media no longer imply that gays are murderers, but gays are now having “pride” events downtown with no fear of harassment or arrest. Most people really don’t care much if anyone else is gay or straight or Martian. Well, maybe if they’re Martian, it would be an issue because they’d be illegal immigrants. But things are good for gays now. Why do they seem to be so p*ssed off all the time?
And if they’re going to have a gay pride event, why can’t they say the word “gay” when they advertise it? Aren’t they proud of it?
Of course, I might have things all wrong. Maybe that billboard I saw really was about civic pride in general.
Indianapolis is a darned good city, after all.
* That’s a reference to the poem “Two Loves,” published in 1894 by Lord Alfred Douglas. He referred to homosexuality as “the love that dare not speak its name.”
Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.