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Mini Sledgehammer November 2016

A big perk of having multiple people to rotate hosting responsibility is that the hosts can win sometimes too! Daniel Granias has been one of the hosts for Mini Sledgehammer for more than two years, and we’ve long admired his writing style. We’re glad to see his story chosen as this month’s winner. Congratulations, Daniel, and thank you for all you do!

***

Prompts:
Character: An Australian tourist
Action: Passing the salt
Setting: A beach resort
Prop: A hat pin

***

Untitledimg_0191

by Daniel Granias

Like bones, our hearts are strong, but also easily broken. Little did Amos Dickson, a forty two year old truck driver from the great state of Texas, ever imagine that he would get tossed on a plane and sent to a beach resort in Sydney, Australia by a gas company sweepstakes. Little did ChoYoo Park, an air hostess for KoreanAir, know that the international terminal at Sydney International would run into their third week of union strike on the day of her last flight home to Seoul.

But there they were, three stools apart at the bar of the Applebee’s between terminals A6 and A8. Amos was on his third beer, building up his liquid courage to leave the airport, entering the only other foreign land he’d set foot on besides Oklahoma. He first noticed the young Korean air hostess, her jet black bangs pinned to the left, and her red and blue KoreanAir scarf tied elegantly to the right. It was mildly surprising that she ordered a margarita with extra salt. It was extra surprising that she drank it as a chaser to the two shots of tequila that were hiding behind it. “Pass the salt!” she whined in a sing-song sort of happy-angry familiarity. Amos slid the salt down the waxed oak counter, and upon receiving it, ChoYoo caught a glance at the lonely American.

Perhaps it was a result of watching a Korean-dubbed version of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” but between his denim shirt, strong, bearded jaw, and his light blue eyes, there was something about his smile, the way his grin looked left while his eyes looked right into her dark umber wells. They stayed in their seats for the remainder of their drinks, but just as Amos made his way out the bar, ChoYoo surreptitiously kicked her suitcase over from her barstool. Like a drunken show horse, Amos leapt into the air, kicked his legs out, but caught the handle of the mobile luggage and tumbled head over spurs.

Laughing together, ChoYoo helped Amos to his feet and he held her elbows, stabilizing himself against her polyester jacket. Amos looked at ChoYoo’s eyes, but they were looking downward, directly in the central vicinity of his pants. Following her gaze, Amos noticed that his belt buckle had come undone and was hanging limp by one hinge. Giggling mischeviously, ChoYoo took the pin from her folded pillbox hat holding her bangs in place and corrected the hinge, unabashedly grabbing Amos’s belt in a full-fisted grip.

They were an unexpected pairing, like polka dots and plaid. East met west in the Great Down Under. They spent another two hours at the bar, learning about the other’s homeland, and what brought them to Australia. But just as they were about to leave the bar together, the A6 terminal announced the end of the International Union strike, and all KoreanAir staff were to report to their flights in the F-lines. Three other Korean air hostesses appeared from the Applebee’s out of nowhere, picked up ChoYoo’s bags, and carried her away before she could look back at the lonely Texan.

***

Daniel is a writer, teacher, and visual artist specializing in ceramic sculpture living in Portland, Oregon. His writing practice has been regularly fueled by the Mini Sledgehammer series since 2013, and is forever grateful to its community for their undying enthusiasm and support.

Mini Sledgehammer August 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

While the judges were mulling over the big Sledgehammer stories, we held a Mini Sledgehammer in Portland. Thanks to everyone who showed up!

***

Prompts:
Character: The warden
Action: Peeling back
Setting: Train car
Phrase: “Do that again and I will…”

Congratulations to Daniel Granias, who took the prizes, not for the first time!

***

It hadn’t struck us that it was illegal per se to live in a train yard. When we first arrived we’d set up camp in an open freighter that had been retired from the coal lines from Union Pacific. We had nothing more than our matching denim frame packs that we’d been issued by the foster center in Colorado. Charlie, my little sister, and I had hitchhiked our way to the northwest after the Colorado wildfires had smoked us out of our center. It had been a week before we’d seen any trace of life in the yards, and when it did, it was in the form of an old, saggy bloodhound, jowels sweeping the gravel, having traced our soot footprints to our car.

“Shhhh—shhhh—shhh…. Easy there fella,” I said. The hound first glanced at me, swooped its head back to the south, then returned its drooping eyes to Charlie, and let out a “wooo-rooo-ruugh” kind of grumble.

“Shut up!” Charlie whisper-yelled, “Do that again and I’ll tie your ears to your tail!” Not a fan of this proposition, the bloodhound lifted its nose to the sky and let out a warbling bellow of a howl.

“Who’s ‘ayre, Buckeye?” came a sharp beckon from behind the line of tracked cars south of our camper.

At that we ran, sending a combination of coal dust clouds and gravel confetti at the dog and warden, who presented himself in hot pursuit, clad in olive security uniform and mirrored aviator sunglasses.

Dodging and weaving between cars, tracks, and gates, Charlie and I headed for the station, where we could get lost in the everyday traffic of passengers and pedestrians. But before we could get through the last stretch, Charlie tripped over a set of tracks and cried out. I had been leading, and y the time I heard her cry I was at least forty yards ahead. Peeling back, the bloodhound was making as fast a gain on my 8 year old sisters as I, and it was only a second before he made to pounce that I was able to grab her and throw her over my shoulder as I made way for the station.

After bursting through the door, we ran into the lobby, only to run straight into a team of officers meeting in the lobby.
“Where do you kids think you’re going?” One asked.

“We don’t know, sir.” I said, confessionally.

A second guard took a close look at the label on Charlie’s tattered frame pack, and mentioned, “You kids from Boulder?”

How did he know?

“Yeah I was stationed there not too long ago, my wife knew them folks that ran that youth center. We can get you back home there if y’like.”

By that time the original warden had entered the group.

“you left this behind.” And he handed my pack.

© 2014 Daniel Granias

“A Sight for Sore Eyes” by Daniel Granias

A Sight for Sore Eyes

by Daniel Granias

 

1.

The dorms inside Wabash Juvenile Correctional Facility were as expected: cold, steel, bare bones bunk frames and foam pad mattresses that smelled of mildew, reinforced plate windows set sealed in concrete walls, and the yellowing linoleum floor, scuffed and scrubbed and buffed and waxed to the point of mirroring every flickering fluorescent tube exposed overhead.

Halsted thought back to his bed at the Cottage Grove Home for Boys. Miss Ashland knew he liked corners, so she found a room with a special nook with three sides in which his mattress fit perfectly. Halsted was the only boy in the group home with a single room and was the envy of the other residents, but nobody wanted to bunk with Halsted anyway because of his staring; he’d just sit there, hugging himself, rocking back and forth, squinting his eyes towards one boy or another, muttering under his breath.

At Wabash, Halsted was bunked with five other teens. Nobody made any attempts at greeting their new roommate but when Halsted began to rock and stare, a smiley sixteen-year-old boy named Morgan asked him, “Hey, you that fortune-teller kid they been talkin about ain’t you?”

“Maybe.”

There were twelve residents in the upper-school division of the Cottage Grove Home for Boys. Miss Ashland ran a strict house and if anyone wavered out of line, she’d never hesitate to lock him up or dismiss him to the streets for the night. As rigid as she was in punishment, she was just as fierce in her love when it was earned. Every boy had a different fable she’d tell to serve as a moral compass. All the upper-school boys had been there since they were young, so they all knew their stories by heart, though some had chosen to reject their fantasies for the bitter reality that faced them the day they turned eighteen.

“I heard about his case,” Morgan told the other bunkmates, “Something about a drug dealer and his bitch, yeah. They’re saying Squinty here assaulted her!” Morgan theatrically gyrated his pelvis to emphasize the ridicule.

“You really think that kid would attack a hooker?” a bunkmate asked incredulously.

“Man, I don’t know but I don’t want nothing to do with this woo-woo-ju-ju crap of his! Who does he think he is, Merlin the Martian? I heard he got sold out of his house for a dope deal, dude, and been kept in this basement measuring bags and shit for some drug lord.”

Growing up at Cottage Grove, Halsted spent most of his time reading mythic folklore, books on mysticism and astrology, and collected the horoscopes from the newspaper every day. When given the opportunity, the fourteen-year-old would fixate on an individual and mutter in a rapid monotone whisper, “Saturn is in your rising house and the Wood Element of the Dragon in your Third Quadrant burns under the Fire of Aries. Your temper will elevate under rising atmospheric climates, but your wealth will prosper as the Moon reaches its Fourth Quarter Phase.” To which he was often met with responses like, “Man, YOU’RE the one making my temper rise! Shut up and leave me alone!” Or was simply punched in the belly while Miss Ashland wasn’t looking.

In Wabash, Morgan asked Halsted to read his fortune.

“You’re not going to believe me,”

“Naw man, it’s not like that! Besides, what else are we gonna do in here?”

“Very well,” Halsted squinted at Morgan, “Your moon is in Virgo, and the bravery of Mars will introduce you to highly influential people. The Water in your Sixth House will bend the time between your present and your future.”

Halsted was the youngest of the twelve upper-school residents at Cottage Grove. The oldest was Harlem, who’d spent his entire life there since the day he was delivered as a newborn—the only infant Miss Ashland had raised from scratch. Miss Ashland may have controlled rule of the house, but Harlem was the ambassador to the people. Harlem’s second-in-command was Austin. Once, when Cicero and Pulaski, the twins, got sent to the Lock Shed for breaking the lamp in the dining hall, Harlem got Austin to distract Miss Ashland with a ballad of “Amazing Grace” and “Clementine” while he picked the pantry lock and smuggled four boxes of M&Ms to the pale-skinned troublemakers through the broken plank in the back of the shed. He’d had a lot of time to work on that opening; being Miss Ashland’s oldest ward also meant Harlem had spent a great deal of time in isolation.

“Remember, Halsted,” Miss Ashland would say, “Every dream needs a dreamer. Every story needs a teller. Your story is to tell stories. Help people see who they are by telling them who they can be.”

“And to help you see these stories better,” Miss Ashland reached for her purse and pulled out a black, oblong case, “They’re not exact, but judging by how I’ve seen you reading, these should help.” The lenses were nearly half an inch thick, perfectly circular, and set inside equally thick tortoise-shell plastic frames of dark amber checkered with black, yellow and chartreuse spots. The frames were loose and slid down Halsted’s nose, magnifying the lower half of his eyes as if he were a crocodile peering over the waterline.

After he got his glasses, Halsted was even more of a bug-eyed pest than usual. His rocking became more aggressive and he’d rub his arms as if he was freezing, and his stare became even wider, rounder, and unbroken, magnified by his lenses, as if in constant shock. The other boys’ patience quickly diminished, and led by Harlem, they plotted to get rid of Halsted for good.

The boys all attended the public high school together and were expected to keep quality grades, though they all struggled, Harlem the most. In detention, Harlem grew close to a girl named Kedzie who did business with a drug dealer named Clinton in the same neighborhood as Cottage Grove. In addition to distributing, Kedzie often accompanied her trades with her abundant teenage sexuality, and Harlem decided how he could use her.

That afternoon, on their way back to Cottage Grove, Kedzie met up with the boys.

“Who’s this?” She asked, winking at Halsted and wrapping her arms around his shoulders, “Cute specks!”

Nervously, Halsted stared back at Kedzie and adjusted his glasses, saying, “B-b-by your expressive demeanor and f-f-flirtatious ph-phy-physicality you must be a f-f-fire sign l-l-like a, a-a L-L-L-Leo? Women born in the sun of Leo tend to be quite g-g-greg-reg-gregarious and express-ss-ssive.” Halsted shrugged to shake Kedzie off his shoulders and began hugging himself as they made their way home.

“Oh my gawd, you’re SO cute I love it!” Kedzie feigned, “My cousin is totally into astrology and all that, I think that’s the coolest thing evah, tell me more!”

As Halsted continued stuttering about prosperity in her seventh house, Kedzie once again wrapped her arms around his shoulder, this time gracefully sliding a bag of weed into Halsted’s backpack, secured the clasp, and kissed Halsted on the cheek in one swift motion.

“Later boys! Bye Haaaa-aalsted!”

Once in sight of Miss Ashland, Cicero and Pulaski started pushing Halsted back and forth between them. Once they grabbed her attention, Cicero ripped Halsted’s backpack from his shoulders and threw it to the ground at Miss Ashland’s feet, spilling its entire contents on the front lawn.

“Whoooooo! Dang man!” Austin called, “now we know where our little fortune teller been getting his ‘inspiration’!

Miss Ashland stood motionless, stone-faced. In a low, steady tone she spoke slowly, “Everyone to your rooms. Halsted, come with me.”

“B-b-b-but Miss Ashland! I-I-I I don’t— they did— it was—!”

“Now, Halsted.”

The rest of the boys ran inside to watch from the kitchen window as Miss Ashland took Halsted by the arm, heaving and sobbing, to the Lock Shed. As she locked the door, she glared through the window and the boys scrambled to their rooms, but Harlem stayed, holding her gaze as she pocketed the key and came back inside.

As dusk began to fall, Harlem cued Austin to ignite a quarrel between Cicero and Pulaski, drawing Miss Ashland to the other side of the house. Quickly Harlem stole straight to the key hook opposite Miss Ashland’s bedroom door, ran downstairs and opened the shed. Surprisingly, Halsted was quite calm in the tight quarters, staring thoughtfully out the narrow opening in the roof at the emerging stars on the horizon.

“Mercury is in retrograde. You’re not supposed to sign contracts or travel for the next three weeks, you know,” Halsted whispered.

“Oh you’ll be traveling alright,” said Harlem as he gagged and beat Halsted and bound his wrists and wrapped his arms to his torso with an orange extension cord. Outside, on the other side of the chain-link fence that bordered the Cottage Grove property, Clinton and Kedzie stood waiting. They had bent and pried the bottom of the fence enough to slide Halsted, limp and listless, through to the outside, but not before Harlem snatched the tortoise-shell glasses from Halsted’s weeping face.

“Just take him—” Harlem said as he slid the bag of weed he’d repossessed from Miss Ashland’s room back to Kedzie through the fence, “and we’ll call it even.”

One hour later, the boys came crashing into Miss Ashland’s room and presented the lone glasses, claiming they found them in the open Lock Shed. Frantically—and to Harlem’s envy—Miss Ashland spent the night on the phone with the police reporting a lost minor—something she’d never have done if he, Harlem, had ever left unannounced from the Cottage Grove House for the streets.

“…and the Crow’s nest grew riddled with pesky mites, which just happened to be the Field Mouse’s favorite treat; and even though the Crow liked to do everything himself, and would rather have eaten the Field Mouse for dinner, he learned to be humble and ask the Field Mouse for help saving his home. Can you understand why he did that, Harlem?”

“Mr. Morgan, get me tomorrow’s voter summaries and catalog last week’s briefs from the meeting with the state Board of Education, please. And make sure you get approval from legal before sending the tax deductions to the accounting office.”

“Yes sir, Senator Clark. Where would you like these files for the last eight years’ polling trend forecasts?”

“How are you at reading that data?”

“Awful sir.”

“Yeah, me too. Ever meet anyone who’s good at that kind of thing?”

“Actually sir, I think I might know just the guy.”

“Hey Squinty!” yelled the Wabash guard, “Your presence has been requested in the warden’s office. Get a move on, stat!”

“Adam Halsted, your sentence has been abbreviated for good behavior and you are to report to community service at the campaign office of Senator Madison Clark starting Monday next week. Any questions?”

“Mr. Halsted, I’ve heard a lot about you. I understand you did time in Wabash with Mr. Morgan?”

“Y-yes sir, Mr. Senator, sir. B-but I can explain why—“

“Mr. Halsted, please. I don’t concern myself with that kind of thing. What I’m concerned about is this campaign and how you can help me, do you think you can do that?”

“I suppose, sir, but I’m not really sure how…”

“I hear you have a knack for telling people’s futures, is that right? Reading signs and what-not?”

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, sir.”

“That’s exactly where you come in, Mr. Halsted. And Jesus, Morgan, help this guy get a decent pair of glasses, will you?”

And so Halsted became Senator Clark’s data analyst, studying past campaigns’ demographic returns, donation summaries, and poll forecasts. With Halsted’s help, Clark was able to steer his campaign in all the right directions, targeting communities that would have gone undetected without Halsted’s savant study skills.

By this time, all the upper-school boys who had accompanied Halsted at the Cottage Grove House had since turned eighteen or older and had heard news that Miss Ashland had contracted cancer and could no longer run the house on her own. Harlem had been living in an auto garage in exchange for helping with repairs, and it was there he rallied Austin and the twins to discuss what they could do to help Miss Ashland. Austin had since been working at the homeless shelter and had heard about a new government assistance program to help fund homeless and foster youth centers in the city. None of the men knew how to tap into the program formally, so Harlem decided they go straight to City Hall to tell their story. The secretary at the mayor’s office told the boys to contact the governor’s assistant, who would contact the assistant to the senator. After a week of filling out paperwork and signing affidavits on behalf of Miss Ashland and the Cottage Grove House, Harlem, Austin, Cicero and Pulaski finally met with Senator Clark’s personal assistant, a finely dressed individual in sleek designer lenses.

To his dismay, the four Cottage Grove boys did not recognize Halsted, and when he read their request to save the home, Halsted decided to test his foster brothers’ newly presented integrity.

“Your temper will elevate under rising atmospheric climates, but your wealth will prosper as the Moon reaches its Fourth Quarter Phase.”

“Tell me, Mr. Harlem,” Halsted asked, “How many of you were there when you lived under the authority of Miss Ashland?”

“Twelve, sir. Well, eleven, after—we lost one.”

“I don’t see any reports of that in your affidavit, Mr. Harlem. What do you mean by that?”

Harlem bowed his head. “It was our fault, sir. We were young. We got rid of him. We regret it now and hope he’s alright, don’t we guys?”

The others nodded quietly.

“Well Mr. Harlem, I’ve heard all I need to hear. I’ll present your case to Senator Clark and will have notice sent to the address listed within the month. You may go now.”

“Thank you sir.”

As the four men made their way for the door, Halsted took off his glasses, squinted his face, and shouted back at them,

“And guys? Does Miss Ashland still keep kids in that tiny Lock Shed in the backyard?”

 

© 2014 Daniel Granias

Mini Sledgehammer December 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

It’s the time of year for thinking about, well, time. This month’s prompts speak to that. Congratulations to this month’s winner, Daniel Granias, who wrote in memory of Elissa Nelson.

Character: Timekeeper

Action: Pencil it in

Setting: Calendar sales rack

Phrase: Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana

***

Untitled

Dedicated to Elissa Nelson, beloved friend and former Mini Sledgehammer facilitator, who first introduced me to the series.

In my dreams, my father rides on the back of a whooping crane. It flies through an amber sunset, its neck undulating in a long S. Together they splash and patter in the high tide while the rhino burrows its great iron horn in the glittering sand searching for nematodes. The crane takes my father’s belt in its long beak and throws him into the dusty lavender thickets, where he rolls across their dense beds under the cattail reeds that tower eight stories high. The king of the nematodes carries an hourglass with three bulbs; one for red sand, one for yellow, and one for green. When he turns the glass, the sky turns grey and my father and I are sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for the nematode secretary to call our name.

“Bastille! Bastille! I’ve been calling you for the past century! Where have you been? You’ve missed your bicentennial treatment again, now we must pencil you in for the next millennium, and we’re booked through Julaugustary!”

The day-by-day calendar on the desk curls its pages into lips that say, “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!”

With a flourish, my father throws on a lime green doctor’s coat and lifts me in its folds. He takes me to the bookshop he owned, to the corner where my mother quilted the pillows and blankets in so many shades of violet, plum, and indigo.

It is there I wake, beneath the cherry-cedar rocking chair where he’d take me in his lap and read me tales of places near and far, while I stared at the pictures of birds and mammals on the calendars we sold on the rack by the register. The pillows still smell and feel like my mother’s bosom; it was so long ago I fit in the linen nest of her apron before her cancer took hold for the year that followed, each day feeling like a month, each visitation hour like a second.

Now I’ll sort and stack the pillows, activate the register, and flip the paper clock in the window back and unlock the doors as parents and children visit our rows of pop-ups, pictures, and puppets, and I’ll assume my place in the cherry-cedar rocking chair and read the next tale to this afternoon’s visitors just as my mother and father did.

©2013 Daniel Granias

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cub, or, The (Bear) Catcher in the Rye: The Coming-of-Age Saga of a Homosexual Hipster in Portlandia” by Daniel Granias

Prompts:
An animal trainer
Cornfields
Doughnuts
“Don’t eat that!”
Spending $4
Owls

***

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cub,

or,

The (Bear) Catcher in the Rye:

The Coming-of-Age Saga of a Homosexual Hipster in Portlandia

By Daniel Granias

1. BEARRACUDA

 

User ID:                           BigBadBareBear

Height:                             6’3”

Weight:                            280 lbs

Age:                                   37

Ethnicity:                         White

Status:                              Single

Identify As:                     Bear, Muscle Bear, Daddy, Dom/Top

Looking For:                   NSA*, Casual Encounters, Twinks**, Boys, Chasers, Subs/Bottoms

About Me:                      i like stanky pits, bubble buts, and using my nightstick to teach boys ur lessons. Bottoms only, no fatties. Tested neg….

User Online:                   2 hrs ago

Located:                           3.9 mi away

A cold drop of water crawled down my forearm and hung by my elbow—overflow from the mix of condensation from my well-whiskey soda and the nervous sweat that had accumulated on my palms. Deep bass thuds bounced their way through the speakers and subwoofers mounted every three feet around the club, obliging me to bob my throbbing head and pout my lips in such a way that I could look like I was as chill as the last remaining ice cube dissolving in my cocktail glass.

BigBadBareB…                                                                                                                   Me

At 9:02pm, BigBadBareBear said,

“hey sexy”

“Hey man!”

“you going to Bearracuda tonight?”

“Is that the party at Branx?”

“yeah u goin”

“I’ve heard about it, some of my friends

are going, I might check it out!”

“i will look 4 u there.”

“What’s your name?”

[BigBadBareBear is no longer active]

 

I lied. My friends weren’t going to Bearracuda. At the time, I didn’t really have any gay friends to go anywhere with, much less a bear party. I was in my last semester of art school and lived in the suburbs. I’d been following talk about Bearracuda over the few online communities to which I subscribed, including OBA, the Oregon Bears Association, Bear411.com, and Grommr, the new social networking site for chubs & chasers, gainers & encouragers.  After much deliberation and soul-searching turmoil, I took a shot of Peach Schnapps (the only alcoholic substance in the house), buttoned my single designated slim-fit “going-out” shirt, and boarded the inbound bus to downtown.

Sucking down my second bottom-shelf cocktail, I found myself excessively grinning out of amusement and discomfort instigated by my surroundings.  Immediately I recognized two distinct facts: I was clearly one of the youngest and smallest people in the room, and I didn’t know a single well-padded soul in the house. I found myself barricaded by plaid flannel walls of bear backs, a salt and pepper static screen of furry fronts, and a bumper car ball pit of bulging bellies. I had never been more excited and awkward at the same time. This was definitely crossing itself off my bucket list as either one of my most awesome solo flight adventures, or one of my stupidest mistakes yet.


2. You’re Talking About Men, Right?

Given that there is a crapshoot chance that a reader may not have any preexisting knowledge of the bear community, let’s start with the basics:

According to Ray Kampf in his book The Bear Handbook: A comprehensive guide for those who are husky, hairy, and homosexual (and those who love ‘em), a bear boils down to “the right size man with the right amount of hair who is willing to do things that Jesse Helms says are wrong.” If it can’t get put any more simply, bears are gay men who are big, furry, and like to cuddle. They are the counter-counter culture to the gelled, tanned, buffed, and polished GQ cover boy drinking Jaeger bombs and dancing in cages at Boxxxes. Unlike the Radical Faeries, bears re-embrace masculinity and share an overlap (but not an entire correlation) to the Leathermen, according to Peter Hennen. Where those distinctions segregate is another chapter in another story, but a highly important one to read nonetheless.*

User PDXButchBear checked you out 6 mins ago

User DomLeatherBoots checked you out 19 mins ago

User Twinktastic checked you out 2 hrs ago

User BigBadBareBear checked you out 4 hrs ago

 

Bears are a jovial bunch and celebrate their girth and gayness equally. A layperson could be intimidated approaching a group of bears—which would appear very similar to a Harley Davidson bike gang, or a rugby team, or a Santa v. Paul Bunyan convention—but if given a moment, they would overhear a conversation such as,
“Oh my stars, I made my husbear a pineapple upside down cake for our three-year beariversary and it was dee-lish! I caramelized some extra sugar on top with the blow torch form Steve’s motorcycle shop and it worked perfectly! And you should see the new side table he got for our foyer! 19th century Dutch teak!”

Bears also date back as far as gay culture has been out and proud. You can bet that there were bears at the Stonewall Riots pounding ass (not an entendre) and then cleaning house with a 15% non-toxic bleach solution with blue rubber kitchen gloves (best to leave that one to those in the know).

Do not be alarmed or confused by the mention of other mammalian species, either. Within bear culture you will find cubs, otters, wolves, silver foxes, grizzlies, polar bears, etc. George Mazzei first put bear identity in public writing in his July 1979 Advocate article, “Who’s Who in the Zoo?” Since then, there have been countless bear clubs, organizations, hanky codes, websites, and now smart phone apps that categorize and define the hirsute realm of homosexual homo sapiens.

3. The Mentorship of Cockrates to Gayto, Part One

User ID:                            MatthieuBooBoo

Height:                              5”11”

Weight:                             180 lbs

Age:                                    31

Ethnicity:                          Mixed/Multi-Racial

Status:                               Single

Identify As:                      Bear, Cub, Vers/Bottom

Looking For:                   Friends, Dates, Relationship, Casual Sex

About Me:                        I’m a Taurus that likes art, sports, nature, and photography. Chill, down to earth (signs!) and looking for same. Neg 4/12.

User Online:                   5 mins ago

Located:                           <250 ft away

Not knowing what to do with myself after approximately twelve minutes of head-bobbing and hand-wiping, I dodged and weaved around the bombastic obstacles between where I stood and the edge of the bar so as to put my glass down and look like I was occupied with the slightest task. Through the crowd, several lumbering superiors made eyes at me, the most mal-proportioned and dermatologically challenged even waved. For fear that any of these men could be BigBadBareBear, I dropped my head and proceeded to return through the crowd of bellies, backs, and butts towards my thoughtful spot. There, waiting for me, was a not-so-bearish fellow with a welcoming and surprisingly non-threatening smile on his face that, without speaking, said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Matt was slightly larger in build than I, dark featured and olive skinned in an ethnically ambiguous complexion, flashed a charming smile wrapped in a black, neatly shaven chin strap, and had a look in his eye that was somewhere between curiosity and deviance. He wore a tight black tank top with a bear claw printed on the left side of his chest; his torso was softly sculpted, marking a healthy balance of barbells and burgers.

“You need anozzur dreenk!”

“What?” I wasn’t used to attempting conversations in loud clubs with guys who were either drunk, foreign, or both.

“You can’t just stand here with nossing in your hand or else ze ozzurs will zeenk you want ZEM to buy you a drink, and you don’t want zat.”

“No?”

Matt tipped his head and glared at me, “No. And you see zat bouffet table over zaire?” he pointed to a long table set with disheveled bowls and plates of indulgent treats like ruffled potato chips, cakes, cookies, snack mixes, etc. “You DEFINEETLY don’t want to eat ANY of ZAT!” Matt was short for Matthieu, and I had met probably the one and only French bear cub in the bar, much less the whole city. And he had taken it upon himself to educate me on the way of the bear party, which I didn’t quite know how to appreciate.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

“I’m out of cash.” I told Will I hadn’t anticipated the overpriced cover charge upon entry and spent my last four dollars on my empty cocktail.

He scoffed, “Fine, I will buy you your next drink, what is it?”

“What happened to not trusting guys here to buy me drinks?”

“Zey are not me! Now, what is zees garbage you are drinking?”

And so MatthieuBooBoo threw his tenderly toned arm over my shoulder and shoved and dragged me through the crowded club for the rest of the night introducing me to some of the most boisterous and follicularly endowed bears I had ever encountered. Now, I knew what bears were like in theory, mostly from subgenre web communities and video channels that I’d surf in the comfort and solitude of my twin-sized bed, but here I was, very up close and extremely personal, in a claustrophobic club bursting with bears in the most excessive and highly textured flesh. As the beasts they were, the bears could smell my freshness, my fear, and my folly. Tomas, a musty and rotund Belgian with red suspenders, grabbed my hand, lifted his shirt, and encouraged me to give him a thorough belly rub. Perched on the bar behind Tomas, like two neckless owls scoping the crowd left and right, sat Jacques, a squat, silver-haired French Canadian with a bright smile who kindly introduced himself as a professional chocolatier, alongside his squinty-eyed and open-shirted partner André, who baked in patisserie. They greeted me, assured me that Tomas was harmless, then turned to each other and resumed eating a doughnut together in a most unspeakable way.

User BigBadBareBear checked you out 25 mins ago

It was then that I noticed the go-go dancers. Again, this was not an unfamiliar concept: scantily clad and well-sculpted showboys dancing on a box or in a cage with an expression of utmost nonchalance on their faces. Except this was Bearracuda, and the 300+ lb jock-strapped go-gos undulated as if a Chia pet and lava lamp had crossed genetic codes. The sight was disturbingly hypnotic, like watching a Military Class M561 Humvee try to tow a beached manatee back to sea.

Finally, after tearing myself away from the go-go bears, I turned around to find Matthieu making face with Tomas, hands and elbows and bellies and knees and toes, knees and toes. I was afraid to look, but I then saw Jacques and André continuing their doughnut practice, sans doughnut.

User BigBadBareBear checked you out just now.

“So how was your night? Crazy?” asked my cab driver on the way home.

“Not what I expected, that’s for sure.” I said.

“It’s funny how you learn to get used to that.”

4. A Burgeoning Virgin, or, Why Come Out of the Closet When It’s Full of Such Fabulous Clothes?

 

User ID:                             VuVashaVuVasha

Height:                               6’1”

Weight:                              250 lbs

Age:                                     43

Status:                                In an open relationship

Identify As:                       Everything and nothing

Looking For:                     Sharing the love of the earth that supports us

About Me:                      My chosen name is Vuvasha, I practice

Pranic Healing and brew my own

Vuvasha’s Kombucha; I am also a

Professional Manscaper and Resident

Photographer for the Cub Cleaners.

Call my direct line for service info at

XXX-XXX-XXXX

User Online:                   45 mins ago

Located:                            2 mi away

 

It should be pretty clear by now that this was not only my first time out at a bear party, but it was really my first time out out at a club party to any degree. I’d been out of the closet since high school (thanks to a surreptitious cover of being really into WWF Wrestling and Motorcycle Digest), but my being gay mostly served as the target for my own queer humor and sarcasm, and a persuasion to watch Project Runway with all the girls in my dorm. It wasn’t until that year of the February Bearracuda that I attempted to take the leather studded reigns of my sexuality into my own hands and bull-whip my soft and un-touched Asian ass out into the foray.

I was a newbie (noob, noobie, nube, etc.) as explicitly defined by Greg Berlanti’s 2000 D-rated camp classic The Broken Hearts Club:

 

The new millennium also introduced America to Queer as Folk, an overacted Showtime melodrama—and I was Justin Taylor, the blond, baby-faced estranged gay runaway art student who falls in with a group of self-loathing Philadelphian thirty-somethings. Like a good member of the young American public, I soaked up this media exposure like an all-natural oceanic loofah and constructed my identity around it. I expected to have five friends exactly as cliché as each cast member from whatever sitcom or movie, although every character is essentially written so that any self-righteous gay man has all five or six circulating within his gym-going, camera-clicking, rugelach-baking, web-designing, comic book collecting headspace, kept warm and cozy by his cable-knit angora stocking cap. I wanted to have the feisty female “fag hag” attached to my hip like in the 1999 NBC series Will & Grace, which was the first time I saw a gay man exhibit everyday qualities in his life, stabilized by his redheaded Lucille Ball-esque roommate. And so did the majority of the people in the room at Bearracuda, as it was granted that almost every gay man who grew up with a television was keyed into the homoerotic subtext of everything from The Odd Couple to Bert and Ernie to Batman and Robin. But for a practically post-collegiate newbie in 2012, times had changed, predominantly due to the Internet and smart phone technology.

User ID:                             YrBBJoJo

Height:

Weight:

Age:                                     

Status:

Ethnicity:                         

Identify As:

Looking For:

About Me:

User Online:                   Now

Located:                            1,372 mi away

YrBBJoJo                                                                                                             Me

At 1:56 am, YrBBJoJo said,

[PRIVATE PHOTOS HAVE BEEN UNLOCKED]

[TuesdayTaurus is no longer active]


5. The Mentorship of Cockrates to Gayto, Part Two

 

MatthieuBoo…                                                                                                             Me

At 10:17 am, MatthieuBooBoo said,

“Where did you go?”

“Home. You guys looked busy.”

“We were having fun, yes. I also wanted you

to have fun.”

“That’s how you show it?”

“Of course, what do you expect?”

“Something less awkward?”

“Don’t be stupid, sex is meant to be

awkward. We’re going to the Eagle

tonight. I’ll pick you up at 9.”

The Eagle is the place for “Portland’s Mature Men” to enjoy themselves, drink scotch, smoke cigars, and watch gay porn on hi-def screens that supersaturate the pre-tanned models to a shade of burnt orange that pennies envy. As if that’s not enough, that night was the biggest L.U.R.E. Party* of the season. Upon entry, I was greeted by a hulking and giggling gingerbear (readhead w/ redbeard) that stamped my wrist and squeezed my hand with his leather-gloved paw.

CRACK went the woven leather bull whip on the floor as four men that looked like Tom Sellek in leather gear prepped the “participant” for his public demonstration. On the other side of the bar, a big black bear that looked like Mr. T shook the chains on his Hispanic show pony** that pranced on bent knee and hoofed at the air.

“Just wait until ze Pride Festival in ze summer.” Matthieu whispered in my ear as he handed me a beer. “Come out back.”

User DomLeatherBoots is <250 ft. away

User BigBadBareBear checked you out 8 mins ago

I was surprised how comfortable I felt as I slid through the dark bathroom hallway, through a scummy plastic curtain, and onto the back patio, to be greeted by our French chefs as well as other familiar members from last night’s debaucheries. My comfort came from remembering the cab driver’s comment from last night: expect the unexpected. At this point, I was beyond a full-immersion curriculum and had essentially been thrown into the center ring at the circus where bears dance with elephants and leather-clad clowns pull bizarre things out of bizarre places.

Later we were joined by none other than the trainer and his pony boy, panting and sweating but smiling and embracing his A-Team partner. I asked them how they got started in this practice, and the trainer, who’s name was Todd, started, “Well, Fernando and I met at Sunday mass at the Laurelhurst St. Mary’s Parish back in ’82 and there was this flyer for a retreat…”

Matthieu led me to a quieter corner.

“You see? Nothing to worry about here.”

“Are you kidding?” I was bewildered at every bit of absurdity around me.

“Look, you’re safe with me, and even not with me, as long as you are smart, and you are smart, so zare is nothing to worry about!”

“How can you say that?”

“What? Are you saying you are not smart?”

“No, of course not.”

“Zen zare is nothing to worry about. Now shut up and finish your beer.”
DomLeatherB…                                                                                Me

At 11:42 pm, DomLeatherBoots said,

“Hey stud.”

“Hi, look I don’t mean to be rude or

anything, but I’m not really interested.”

“I understand. Have a good night, sir.”

[DomLeatherBoots is no longer active]
As the night went on, I was brought into a group of men who were not only as big as bulls, but wore their entire hides over their shoulders. Just as I was about to get swallowed into a cave of cigar-smoking Husky Harleys, Matthieu crammed through and bolstered me out the patio door and back into the bar towards the exit. “Let’s get out of here, ze smoke is making me noxious! Are you hungry? I know a fantasteek place!”

In all my life, I’ve eaten at Taco Bell maybe twice, but the year that I knew Matthieu, we must have made at least a dozen late night pit stops chomping cheap chimichangas after all manners of events from Amateur Drag Night at Embers to the ballet to the Bear-ly There Underwear Party to my thesis graduation show in the Pearl District. To this day I never want to eat another fast food taco ever again.

6. Luncheon of the Bearing Party

User ID:                             JacquesDilettante

Height:                              5’6”

Weight:                             190 lbs

Age:                                    44

Status:                               In a relationship

Ethnicity:                          Mixed/Multi-Racial

Identify As:                      Cub

Looking For:                    Friends, Bears, Cubs

About Me:                        Chocolate is love, so come share our love!

User Online:                    3 hrs ago

Located:                            3.8 mi away

JacquesDile…                                                                                       Me

At 1:32 pm, JacquesDilettante said,

“Hello Daniel! We are so looking forward to

you joining us for dinner this evening!”

“Thanks! I am too! Would you

like me to bring anything?”

“Just your wonderful smile!

What kind of wine do you like?”

Jacques and André lived in a lovely home they remodeled several years ago with a spacious porch that overlooks the St. John’s Bridge. By the time Matthieu and I arrived they had already laid out an aperitif platter of fresh cut fruit, cheese, and charcuterie, and were just pouring the wine. Hugs and kisses were in abundance, and I was also introduced to Scott, an incredibly sized Nebraskan grizzly bear with a laugh that rang through the river valley. Scott also lived with Jacques and André, but to what level of involvement I left unquestioned.

As the sun set behind Portland’s southwest hills, André bounced up and scurried inside, shouting back, “It’s time for dessert!”
I looked at Jacques, “No doughnuts.” He winked back at me.

“Not tonight anyway!” Wailed Scott and the entire St. John’s neighborhood vibrated from his tumultuous guffaw.

André waddled back outside carrying a plate of homemade macaroons and truffles; hanging from his neck, a beautiful, shining black SLR camera of a model I’d never heard of before bounced off his hairy, exposed chest.

“Don’t tell customs!” André bit his nails mischievously. “Now, with Daniel as a new member of our family, we must take a picture with him!”
“But—I—”

CLICK And so my bewildered, chocolate-smeared face ended up on their photo family tree, an actual maple sapling from which they hung framed photographs of all their friends, bear and non-bear alike. There were photos of Jacques and Scott in Paris, Jacques and André in Hawaii, André and Scott in New York, and other couples, individuals, and groups of the most colorful persuasions shot from locations atop metropolitan skyscrapers to posing like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” in front of barns and cornfields.

“You see? And some day this tree will grow, and we will tap it for the syrup, and it will be the sweetest nectar of love and life!”

 

7. Caution: Wet Floor

 

VuVashaVuVa…                                                                                           Me

At 3:03 pm, VuVashaVuVasha said,

“Have you ever been to Steam?”

“I’ve heard of it, but never been there.

I always thought it was kind of sketch?”

“It can be, but doesn’t have to be

if you’re smart about it.”

“I do like a good sauna…”

            At the end of our Wet Hot Abearican Summer, Matthieu met some guy from the suburbs and nobody’s heard from him since. André, Scott, and Jacques said that’s what he does, and he may or may not come back, but not to take it personally. It’s been almost a year now, and the only thing I regret is not getting Matthieu’s opinion on SteamPDX.

Steam is your quintessential local men’s bathhouse, as every city needs at least one, two if it’s seriously competitive about its market. Bathhouses were especially big back in the 60’s and 70’s when gay men had to keep their illicit activity under wraps, so to speak. Incidentally, the men that were trolling through the dark halls of Steam on this particular day could all very well have been the same men doing such activity circa 1969. One gets used to admiring male bodies of aesthetically appealing proportions thanks to both public and private media, and Steam is where everyone else hides (although it’s hard to hide when the only approved attire is an equally malproportioned bath towel). But there I was—at the ready—my penultimate test of courage, exploration, and sheer skank. But I knew the signals, and when one hunched, sagging, toothy, and string haired piece of leftovers gave me the “come hither” finger wag, I said “no thanks” and told him to get his precious ring somewhere else!

User BigBadBareBear checked you out just now.

[User BigBadBareBear BLOCKED]

 

            As I pedaled my Schwinn hybrid roadster home from the bathhouse, the unusually cloudy summer Portland sky dripped a small shower onto my glasses, refracting my perception of the world into dozens of topsy-turvy micro-spherical lenses. The fresh humid air was a bright contrast to the heavily menthol-infused vapors in the dark bathhouse sauna. I checked SteamPDX off my mental bucket list of adventures in gay Portland, shook my head, and ditched the whole list in the running gutter on Northeast Broadway Avenue and biked home.

 

User ID:                             TuesdayTaurus

Height:                               5’8”

Weight:                             150 lbs

Age:                                     26

Status:                                Single

Ethnicity:                           Asian

Identify As:                      A person?

Looking For:                    Friendships with the right chemistry

About Me:                        Hi! I’m a working artist in Pee-Dee-Ecks; I enjoy

a good nightcap after a long day in my studio!

Some words that I like:

Trail, Kale, purl, beards, beers, crafts, laughs, vests, vino, vinyasa, matsah, and gazebo.

Some words that I don’t like:

Smoke, coke, corporate, late, or ‘another mate’

User Online:                   Now

Located:                            0 ft away


* NSA: No Strings Attached

** Twink: A young gay male of slender build and boyish features, typically blond, with little to no body or facial hair, often effeminate and/or juvenile in nature.

* Hennen, Peter. Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008.

* L.U.R.E. Party: Leather, Uniform, Rubber, Etc. (i.e. Fetish Night)

** Show pony: Pony play is a popular role play in the BDSM world, historically noted as the “Aristotelian Perversion,” as Aristotle evidently took pleasure in being ridden like a horse. This particular trainer attempted to adapt his show pony’s name to “Hair-Ass-Throttle.”

© 2013 Daniel Granias

Mini Sledgehammer June 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

We were a small group this month, and our winning story reflects the particular casualness of the evening. But a lot of participants or a few, the wine still tastes sweet (or spicy, depending on your glass) and the writing still brings joy. Congratulations, Daniel!

Character: Least likely to attend

Setting: Right over there

Action: To parade

Phrase: Whaddaya know?

***

Thomas Tiffany Tate

(An homage to Shel Silverstein)

 

This is the story of Thomas Tiffany Tate.

Who was always running late.

He was poor with time,

with neither reason nor rhyme.

And with deadlines? Not so great.

 

With the wind his schedule would bend,

At meetings he was least likely to attend.

His biggest charade

Was to march in a parade,

And forget when it would end.

 

Then one morning he woke,

To the sound of a chime that spoke,

“There’s a clock right over there,

That will sound in morning air,

And will keep you on time, no joke!”

 

Thomas had never felt more alive

In extra minutes—he had thirty five!

 

Well whaddaya know?

 

Thomas Tiffany Tate,

Was no longer late,

In fact, he was the first to arrive.

 

© Daniel Granias 2013