Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Please give me some feedback on this scene from a long short story of mine called "Dorothy Parker's Writing Case." I can't decided whether the scene is anti-homosexual and should be dropped from the story. Or if it's more human than that and I should keep it.
Let me know what you think.

Robert's Viewing

 At the time set for the funeral home viewing, I noticed Mr. Martinez, the director, pacing under the St. Agnes canopy, so I knew something was up. He spotted me and rushed over, a fresh pink carnation wobbling in his buttonhole. "Dr. Zimmer, I want to warn you, things are a leetle beet unusual."
"Some kind of problem?"
"No, no. Just be prepared."
Mr. Martinez escorted me to the viewing room and gestured at the buzzing crowd inside. Wow! Guido, my dead brother's lover, must have rung up every number in Robby's address book.
I edged into a room full of cross dressers. I tried not to gawk, but I couldn't help staring at one she-male. She wore a see-through black blouse with a standup collar. Huge chunks of fake amethyst hung around her neck and from her earlobes. Arrows ran up her patterned thigh-high hose; her short black skirt exposed a glimpse of her buttocks. What a pavement princess!
Scanning for Guido, I followed the princess as she sashayed on six-inch heels toward Robby's casket. When we neared the polished wooden box, I held back. I saw that my little brother wasn't inside; some woman was. The Georgia peach ruffles of her ball gown overflowed the coffin's edges.
I turned to leave and bumped into a she-male in a white floor-length gossamer gown. It glittered like a waterfall. Inside stood Guido. I barely recognized him in his shoulder length blonde hair, a gardenia clipped to one side. 
"Trying to pass for a fairy godmother?" 
"Make a wish?" Guido brandished a silver wand. I pushed it away.
"We're in the wrong room," I told him.
He grinned, grabbed my arm, and marched me to the coffin. "You didn't recognize your own brother!"
I peered into the casket. When I saw Robby's face above a Georgia peach bodice smothered with rhinestones, I yelped and clutched my heart. My defibrillator kicked in, a painful jolt in my chest. I grabbed the coffin's rim, hoping not to faint, and sat gratefully in a folding chair someone opened. Around me, voices rose and fell like the chattering of a flock of sparrows.
I knew Robby was gay, but a transvestite? That made him seem like a changeling. Or maybe that fairy streak ran through his veins as he clomped in Mom's shoes, pulled her dresses over his head.
"Oh, Guido! You scared me," the princess said. "I thought you were Robert sprung up from the dead. Where are your roller skates?"
"I don't fit into his shoes, they're way too big for me."
"I know what you mean." The princess leaned over the casket. "Why, this doesn't look like her!" 
She dipped into her Coach bag, plucked a make-up kit, and dumped its contents on the casket's glossy lid. She opened a lipstick and spun out its color. When she leaned over Robby and touched his face, she jumped. "Oh my God, you're cold!"
I chuckled. What did she expect? "Mr. Martinez just took him off ice." 
The princess glanced at me. I cringed as she leaned down to redden Robby's lips.
"Oh, honey," the princess said to Robby, "what have they done to your hair?"
"Don't blame me! I brought a wig, but that old body snatcher wouldn't use it." Guido giggled. "I gave him Robert's dainties, too, but he said he wouldn't need no underwear."
I felt recovered enough to stand. Robby's blood red lips glowed. As for his hair, the undertaker had combed it forward to disguise his bald spot. Nothing wrong with that.
Then a skinny man dressed as a French maid, scurried up shaking her feather duster. She peered into the coffin. "Where's his wig?"
"We'll just have to make do." The princess pawed through her purse, then pouted. "I don't have any hair spray."
The maid cried to the crowd, "Oh my God, we ain't got any hair spray! Which of you bitches has got hair spray?"
A dozen cross-dressers rummaged noisily. Then a she-male in a black leather corset dress pulled a can from her purse and strutted to the coffin. The princess combed Robby's hair and sprayed it. 
I feel nauseous, no doubt from the shock of my defibrillator going off, so I moved away, eager to stop watching those she-males glam up Robby like a carnival doll.  
Guido, standing by the casket, called, "Where's the florals?" 
The transvestites quieted. None remembered flowers, but Guido waved his wand and Robby's friends, moving like a school of fish, left to shop. 
Alone, I sat next to a plain wooden lectern, hoping eulogies would start soon. I longed to say my piece and go home. 
Soon Robby's friends, covered with florals, poured into the room. The French maid, a red rose wreath circling one arm, cried, "We cleaned them out!" 
Like a schoolmarm, Guido used his wand to orchestrate the placement of each basket, spray, wreath, and bouquet. The room became a riot of color with fiery spears of red and orange gladioli, heart-shaped wreaths of red and pink roses, white calla lilies, bold yellow chrysanthemums, orange birds of paradise, and arrangements in peach, pink, crème, and lavender.
How had Robby merited this? How had he touched these lives to receive a viewing so exuberant, so full of love? 
In a flash, I envisioned my own demise, in an empty room, devoid of eulogies and florals. I shook my nasty thought away, and watched a short, heavyset nurse plug in a boom box. 
Some of Robby's friends sang and danced their good wishes to his corpse, while others fought about music. They booed "Killing Me Softly"—"who wants to be killed, any old way"—in favor of "Sugar Daddy" and "Two to Tango." 
Watching dancers twirl reminded me of a costume ball Dorothy Parker attended. She'd sat in the balcony watching hordes of young men dressed to the nines as young women. Finally, unable to bear it, she shouted, "Come on up, anybody. I'm a man."
At last, Mr. Martinez slipped through a side door and launched the eulogies with a canned accolade. Guido broke down while giving his. This crowd tied my tongue, but I resolved to speak honorably.
"This is a sad day," I said. "Robert's death was so sudden. When I heard the news, I could not believe it. My little brother was too young to die. However, I'm not here to grieve his life but to celebrate it.
"You probably know that Robert was quite a character. Oh, he had a serious side, but he did know how to joke. I'm grateful for the special moments he left me, and probably you. I'm sure he will live on in our hearts and minds." 
To my surprise, my voice caught when I turned toward the coffin and said, "Robert, you are gone too soon, and you will be missed."
A hefty fellow in a swashbuckler's hat spoke next. The hat, trimmed in black lace and red satin bows, featured a towering ostrich feather which bobbed when the speaker moved. I found him hard to understand. He spoke about a Skatin' Kate, someone I didn't know.
"Remember that gorgeous white gown," he said. "Three-quarters length, of course, to highlight her calf-high roller rink skates. White leather."
Cheers and whistles erupted.
"Liked to skate in the Village," the swashbuckler continued, "particularly Christopher Street. It was her stage. 
"She'd twirl down the street, looking for a button-down square. Did she know how to pick 'em! She'd spot one, swoop down on him, tap his head with her wand, and cry, 'Abracadabra! You're a fairy.'"
The crowd roared with laughter.
Then the swashbuckler turned to me and shook his finger. "You should carve 'Skatin' Kate' on his tombstone, sir. I mean it! Hundreds of people know him that way."
Good God, was he talking about Robby? 
Guido wept again. Huge sobs exploded and tears rushed down his cheeks. That broke up the eulogies. The French maid slung her arm around Guido's shoulder, and they walked toward the door as Robby's other friends streamed out into the sunlight.
I couldn't move. I was reeling. I stayed until Mr. Martinez and I were the only people left.
Then I watched him lean over the rental casket, inspect the polished finish where the princess dumped cosmetics.  "Look at that!" I thought. "Figuring how much he can charge for scratches. Guess my little brother is going to stick me with one more bill before he goes." 
When I left, I saw Guido under the canopy talking with friends. I approached, and silence dropped. Compelled to speak, I said, "Guido, you know, when I told you to pick out clothes for Robby, I thought you'd choose a suit."
"For Robert?" he said. That broke the ice. 
"For his job interview," the swashbuckler said.
"More likely for his court date," the maid replied.
From the edge of the circle, someone called, "Initiate him, Guido!"
Other voices joined: "Go ahead, Guido." "Give him one for Skatin' Kate."
Guido did. He faced me, lifted that damn wand, tapped me on the head and cried, "Abracadabra! You're a fairy."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Big Grattan Shootout

My new book, THIEVES, RASCALS & SORE LOSERS, looks at some of the Dirtiest Deals in early Nebraska history. To my mind, the Grattan Shootout, a Great Plains fiasco, was even dirtier. But it didn't happen in Nebraska, so it's not in my book. Instead, I offer it to you here.

The Big Grattan Shootout

Soldiers at Fort Laramie, located on a bluff overlooking two rivers, kept tabs on the tens of thousands of people then using the Oregon Trail each year. It also watched over neighboring Sioux tribes. The old adobe brick fort, once a trading post for buffalo robes but now owned by the army, became a primary stop for travelers. 
The fort had been peaceful since 1851 when Congress appropriated $100,000 for a council or "Big Talk." Some 10,000 Indians showed up, the largest group ever gathered on the high plains. Whole villages of Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Crow, Shoshoni, and various Sioux tribes arrived with elders, kids, women, and an astonishing number of dogs and ponies. Their men parleyed with the 300 Americans: government officials, soldiers, missionaries, and frontiersmen. 
An amazing treaty resulted. The tribes agreed not to fight with one another, to live where the American officials told them, and not to molest wagon trains winding up nearby Oregon and Mormon trails. The Americans, in turn, promised to give tribes $50,000 worth of supplies, including guns and ammunition. This they would do each year for fifty years, a number the Senate slashed to ten.  
Three years after the treaty, on August 18, 1854, some 600 native lodges dotted the North Platte valley ten miles east of Fort Laramie. About 4,000 Sioux camped there. They'd come, as they had each year since the "Big Talk," to collect their U.S. supplies. The various Sioux tribes included Conquering Bear's Brulé Sioux camp with 1,200 warriors. 
As the tribes waited, a lame cow from a passing Mormon wagon train ambled into Conquering Bear's village. Its owner followed, saw hundreds of Sioux, and withdrew. 
When High Forehead, a visiting Sioux, saw the Mormon leave, he figured the cow had been abandoned. So he killed it. His family and friends helped him eat it. 
The Mormon went to Fort Laramie and reported the "theft" to the commanding officer, Captain Hugh B. Fleming. He summoned Conquering Bear, who offered to make amends.
"I can't replace his cow," he told Fleming. "My people prefer to eat buffalo, so we keep no cows. But I have a herd of sixty horses, and he may have the best pony out of my herd."
Ponies provided substantial wealth to the Sioux, so this proposal seemed generous. However, Conquering Bear didn't trust the translation of the fort interpreter, Lucien Auguste. Auguste spoke broken Dakota Sioux, not the Lakota Sioux spoken by the Brulé, Oglala, and Minneconjou bands in Conquering Bear's camp. Besides, the man seemed belligerent.
So did Captain Fleming. He refused the offer. "Bring High Forehead to the fort," he ordered Conquering Bear.
"I can't do that," the chief said. "High Forehead doesn't belong to my people. He belongs to the Minneconjou, and is a guest in my village. I can't make my guest come to the fort."
Fleming smarted. This redskin defying him? He'd be dashed if he'd let an old Injun call the shots! The treaty be damned! He'd see to High Forehead's arrest himself.
The captain chose hot-tempered, rash Brevet 2nd Lieutenant John L. Grattan, in his early twenties and fresh out of West Point, to arrest High Forehead. Moreover, Fleming gave broad powers to young Grattan, a well-known "headstrong package of inexperience." 
"With thirty men," the young man said, "I can crush all the Indians on the Great Plains."
The next afternoon, Grattan left with twenty-nine soldiers, a wagon, two twelve-pound howitzers or cannons, and the fort's half-breed interpreter, Auguste. On the ten-mile excursion to the Sioux camp, they stopped at nearby trading posts. The interpreter got soused, hollered threats at loitering natives, and ignored Grattan's attempts to quiet him. 
Auguste continued to shout obscenities as the soldiers advanced on the Sioux village of eighty Brulé and twenty Minneconjou tipis. He rode his horse up and down at a full gallop, as though he readied himself for combat. The Sioux knew a threat when they saw one.
When the soldiers entered the camp, Auguste called the Sioux warriors "women." A dismayed Conquering Bear urged Grattan to use the Brulé's translator. 
Instead the soldiers marched to High Forehead's lodge where the cow-eater stood in plain sight. Grattan ordered him to surrender, but he refused. He said he'd die first.  
Troubled, Conquering Bear and other chiefs offered more ponies and still more, until the Mormon could have his pick of five ponies from five different Brulé herds. The chiefs begged Grattan to wait for the Indian agent to arrive, but the hothead refused.
Outraged Sioux encircled the lieutenant and his soldiers. Women and children fled toward the river. A soldier fired. An Indian fell, but Conquering Bear cautioned warriors not to shoot back. 
"Fire the howitzer!" Grattan said. It missed the village, but mortally wounded Conquering Bear. When he slumped to the ground, High Forehead killed Grattan and the Sioux camp went wild.
The soldiers retreated, fighting a running battle, but before they could escape, they were dead except for one who made his way to the fort. Once there, he could say nothing. His tongue had been cut out. Auguste, the interpreter, perhaps?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Do men have areolas?

You know, those colored rings around the nipples.

Well, if you can't tell from casual observation, go on the Internet and find the answer: "Yes."

Men have areloas and they have nipples and they display them at will, so why don't they get arrested in Lincoln, Nebraska, the way women do? Women who show a nipple or an areola, that is.

Am I kidding? I wish I were. 

The newspaper saw this as a joke: "Nubile Nebraska Nudie Nabbed."

Police Chief Tom Casady did not. He ticketed women for violating the city's public nudity ordinance. He put it this way: "It's unlawful to be naked in public in Lincoln." 

Unless you're a man, he should have added.

The city ordinances call the sight of a female breast or nipple "an offense against public decency." Along with gambling, marijuana, toxic compounds, paraphernalia, spitting on someone, urinating or defecating in public.

Lincoln officials define "nudity," in part, as "the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering on any part of the areola and nipple." Unless the woman is nursing. How lactation reduces the impact of the indecent sight of a lewd nude female nipple is beyond me.

I see it this way: if Lincoln's going to insist on nipple cover-ups for women, the city should require boobie tassels for men, too. Plus fully opaque covering of the carnal male areola, be it small, big, puffy or flat. 

This brouhaha in Lincoln reminds me of a similar case in Hays, Kansas, in the 1990s. I wrote this poem, "The Provocateur," about that Hays law.


by Marilyn June Coffey

Here I live
in a town whose city dads decreed
a bare body, glimpsed though a window
against the law

Here they punish not he who glimpses
but she who bares the body
except in those rare cases
when baring a body in one's own home
might be justified:

say a matron rises naked
unexpectedly from bed
to dash to the phone
receive the news her pere
at 93 has 'passed away' 
as we put it out here

say her bare body
is momentarily glimpsed
that's not illegal

as long as it's not 'provocative'
explained the fathers

changing my definition of the term
from a woman spraddle-legged
on her porch swing, baring
'beaver' as we call it
or leaning out an open window
bare breasts supported by the sill
crooking a finger: 'psssst!'

to myself, 
trekking naked to the frig at 3 a.m.
suddenly again, after all these years
to him who glimpses me bare
momentarily illuminated
by my night light.

I recall with longing my early naked 
childhood freedom so soon gone
remember my adolescent gazing
at National Geographic spreads
where nubile girls grind grain in public
pert nipples pointing horizonward
where mothers nurse unabashedly
& grand dames swing their dual sacks
hung flat as empty pillow cases 
How I marveled at a life with no 'hurry up
get dressed, Daddy's coming up the walk'
Papa presumably unable to control himself
so I must do it for him.

Can't help but wonder
watching my male neighbor
catch the morning breeze 
on his bare torso
as he mows the lawn
can't help but wonder if
after next Friday when I rise
one-breasted from the surgeon's saw
the other but a tuck & scar
can't help but wonder if our 
city fathers will find it 
should I then strip to my waist
mow my lawn.

Published in The Breast, Global Press, City College of New York, October 1995.