This is not the beginning. The beginning is here.
This is the middle.
Go. Begin at the beginning. That way, you’ll see the middle more clearly and anyway, the beginning’s the better bit.
Here in the middle, we flash forward twenty years. Two decades since that dark parking lot with its red bricks and its singing nuns and by now there are two things I have learned.
First, Ray Hill made the world a better world. No question. The world is better for his having been here.
He’s a hero.
And second, you should never meet your heroes.
I have met Ray Hill. There have been radio shows where we’re the only two guests and Transgender Galas where we’re the sole cis attendees. For two years, we were the only non-attorney members in a group of local gay attorneys who got together for brunch every month.
If you gathered together all our radio shows and political meetings, the television programs, the chance meetings at Kroger, and all of our what-have-yous, then in your hands you’d have fifty, maybe sixty encounters between Ray Hill and myself through the years.
And in every last one of these fifty or sixty encounters you have, I am introduced to Ray Hill as though this time were the first. He’s like Groundhog’s Day. Like a dewy newborn baby blinking in his very first sunrise. Like Montgomery Burns asking Smithers about that portly fellow working in Sector 7-G.
“It’s good to meet you, Katy.”
And if the topic of alcohol should ever arise – and it has arisen a number of times – Ray will look back into his memory, he will clear his throat and he will say:
“I remember the last time I had a drink. Havana, 1959! I’m hunched over a toilet, the Cuban Revolution raging right outside the window! Flew in there low and just under the wire using a French press pass…”
This is not a function of his advanced age or his ill health. No, it’s a function of everyone being fungible. It’s a function of everyone being nothing more than a pair of ears through which to listen to Ray Hill’s seven stories.
There was once a time when I was an intern at a nonprofit doing educational programs in Texas prisons.
This was a few years back now.
One day, in Dayton, I walked in, set up my table and I looked out across a sea of inmates in their white uniforms and their prison-issued Barry Goldwater glasses. There, a couple feet away from me and about to get up to speak, was Ray Hill. He was leaning in, joking with some inmates and it was clear they were delighted to have there him as a guest.
And he said:
“I’m with you. I understand. I can remember the last time I had a drink. Havana, 1959! I’m hunched over a toilet, the Cuban Revolution raging right outside the window! Flew in there low and just under the wire using a French press pass…”
My boss walked by and she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come on, let’s go over here and I’ll introduce you to Ray Hill.”
I said, “No. No. Thank you, but I’m good.”
My boss stopped. She crumpled up her brow. She said, “Do you know who Ray Hill is? He’s quite a guy.”
I said, “He IS quite a guy! He’s a hero of mine.”
She said, “Well then, come on. It’ll just take a second. He’s really nice.”
I sat down. I straightened my brochures and my informational packets. I smiled and I looked around the room. I said, “No. Really, thank you.”
I said, “I appreciate the offer, but I always make it a point to never, ever, meet my heroes.”
I was once introduced at a rally to an ambitious young politician who was running for his first elected office. He shook my hand, looked me dead in the face and said, "Really great to see you again! How have you been?"ReplyDelete
We'd never met. We'd never meet again. And despite his best intentions, he lost my vote that day.
Now, I'm a person who can't remember a name two seconds after you've introduced yourself to me, and I won't remember your name if you repeat it. But if we shake hands, look at one another, I'll know your ass if I see you again ten years from now.
There's something disconcerting about a person who doesn't remember you (after multiple introductions), as if you don't matter enough for them to make the effort. It's also bothersome when someone "remembers" you from an imaginary meeting.
You make it a point not to meet your heroes, and now I'm sitting here trying to think if I even have one anymore, now that Kurt Vonnegut has died. "So it goes..."
There is something disconcerting about it, yeah. And it is not as though I were some fangirl - I knew him.Delete
But I don't know how I'd handle the general public if I were a public figure. I always think of the Clintons standing onstage, pointing at unseen individuals in the audience and smiling big as though they're thrilled to see them.
I always wonder whether they actually know whomever it is they're pointing at.
Bill might- I met him twice (via my maternal unit's Democratic party work) before & after puberty and he remembered my name & that Billie Carr liked me. It was eerie but explained a lot of his success.Delete
That's remarkable! There's a trick to that, and I don't have it. One of those Sherlock Holmes "palace of the mind" sort of things.Delete
I've never had and real heroes other than my dad for his sense of humor and humble generosity. I have people I admire, but I think that is different. I don't think of myself as cynical but perhaps I am and that may be my problem.ReplyDelete
In the 50's Superman, Batman, and the rest of the JLA, possibly John Wayne. But they are went the way of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
Is it a bad thing to be hero less in my Golden years? (That was a rhetorical question.
I still have people that represent certain things in my head - things that probably have no relation with who they are/were in real life.Delete
But I still value the things they represent, so they're still my heroes. Alan Watts, William O. Douglas, Peter Gabriel.
Fortunately, two out of three of those guys are dead, so I'll never risk meeting them.
OK - now you are committed. I am expecting Parth Three to appear soon!ReplyDelete
We'll see what happens. If anybody in the Houston progressive scene reads this, I could be burned in effigy.Delete
Which might be cool, actually, because I've never had anybody feel very strongly about me either way...
You've interacted with him 60 times!?! I have good friends, friends who have asked me to get ordained online in order to use those internet powers to unite the couple in holy matrimony whom I have not interacted with that many times. Hearing that he keeps hitting that "last time I had a drink" story was a bummer, but then to hear, in his own words his strip club vigilance was a super bummer.ReplyDelete
There are way better clips of him I could have used, but I kept laughing at the line, "I talked about them and their mothers... at great length."Delete
I think your advice is sound. When your heroes are human there will be nothing if not disappointment. Animals will never let you down and they rarely drink.ReplyDelete
"Animals will never let you down" are words of a person who's never owned a fucking cat. Or a well-trained Labrador who waits 'til the field trials to forget how to fetch. Or a horse that seems docile until it has a chance to drop kick your skull into next month.Delete
But even with these momentary lapses, I'm WAY more trusting of animals than most of the people I've met.
Maybe my heroes should be furry.
My ex was one of those "I like animals more than I like people"-type people.Delete
She was eventually eaten by cats...
OK, that last bit isn't true, but might as well have been. She has converted the bathtub in her extra bathroom into a giant kitty litter box.
When you've reached that point, it's only a matter of time.
I have 9 cats, one dog, and 8 horses, but I have always, so far, been able to walk away from any harm they have done to me. So far I have managed to outlive many of them and most of those reside in the pet semetary. Then I never go out of the house on Halloween.Delete
At one point, before the great tarantula die-off of 2015, she had four cats, one dog, two turtles, seventeen tarantulas, ten scorpions, one grass snake and an amblypygid.Delete
I'm glad she never got into horses. Especially living in a townhouse near downtown Houston like we did.
You have meet quite a few heroes, you just didn't know that they are heroes. You see, real heroes are generally not in the spotlight...ReplyDelete
Heroes Come In All Shapes and Sizes
I'm going to click the link, but if this ends with my having a Bonnie Tyler song from the 80s stuck in my head all day, there's going to be hell to pay...Delete
I forgive you, mostly because every time you link to my page, it drives a whole lot of traffic over here. This week, I've had 133 hits off of your site.Delete
I agree on Kurt Vonnegut. And I'd add Maurice Sendak. He doesn't just have wisdom, but heart, too. Chris Hitchens and Chris Hedges are/were a little too strident, although I agree with almost everything they've ever said.ReplyDelete
I accidentally ordered "Breakfast of Champions" on our Kindle this past weekend, attempting to sync the device with my PC. But now that it's on the Kindle I'm re-reading it, and laughing as hard at his words as I did the first time back in the '70s. I'd give anything to have met Kurt Vonnegut, and I have no idea why, or even what I'd want to say if I could go back and do so.Delete
Funny how that works.
For a long time, Vonnegut was the voice in my head when I wrote. I would open up "Breakfast of Champions" to a random page to get the cadence into my head.Delete
That's the book where he does things like "Back in those days, a cow was an animal that looked like this:" followed by a drawing of a cow.
His writing taught me to say the things I want to say in a way where other people would understand them.
Plus it's got a lot of heart.
It's true -- all idols have feet of clay, as they say. Heroes are best admired from afar.ReplyDelete
Everybody is human (except for the Doctor), and humans have foibles and flaws.Delete
What I look up to is certain characteristics I have convinced myself a few people have. Which is why I should not meet the people who represent those characteristics to me.
Wow. Yeah, I believe I thought through that one correctly.
I am not surprised. Heroes tend to have lower extremities composed of clay.ReplyDelete
Hell, I wonder what any of the people who allegedly admire me would say if they ever met me.
I always assume that you hold secret knowledge that guides all your words and actions.Delete
It would crush me to discover that you're just a guy who writes well.
Great story. Makes me wanna light up a Cuban cigar.ReplyDelete
Are we going to be allowed to do that soon?Delete
I'm not sure why Obama is playing footsie with the Cuban government if we're not going to get some cigars out of it.
I used to agree that you should never meet your heroes, but now that sort of sounds like advice you give to somebody who hasn't quite grown up all the way and can't handle a hero being like someone other than that poster they have of them hanging on the wall. Now I think maybe you *should* meet your heroes, so you'll see for yourself that flawed, damaged and otherwise irretrievable people can still do some pretty good things in the world.ReplyDelete
I can see that. My ex once said to me, "I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you."Delete
People ought to understand that everybody is a human being with huge flaws.
On the other hand,... Billy Corgan. Yes, Billy Corgan. I find Smashing Pumpkins nearly unlistenable now because his personality is such a turn-off.
Mostly, though, I don't have anything to say to strangers. What do you say to your favorite musician if you run into him on the street? "Thank you"?
Billy Corgan. Ha. Yes, he might be an exception to this rule.Delete
You know, I watched "Selma" the other night, and there's only one very slight reference in the movie to King's adultery. If that man isn't a testament to the incredible works you can do in one very significant respect, while being somewhat sorry in another significant respect, nobody is.
It's funny you should say that, because I once seriously gave some thought to what I would do if I ran into one of my favorite musicians (I'm sure I was supposed to be doing something else while I was thinking about this) and the answer I arrived at was something along the lines of "Thanks for all the music." That seems perfectly acceptable to me.
Makes you think about cable stations taking "The Cosby Show" off the air or that horror award that used to be named after HP Lovecraft changing names (turns out Lovecraft was a raving racist at times, in 1910).Delete
I mean, I read Lovecraft, who certainly would not have approved of my "lifestyle."
Just tell me if you want to get into discussing Lovecraft- As someone who runs annual Cthulhu LARPs & is trying to do my part to tear down white supremacy, I have a lot of feels.Delete
I like Ray but this is precisely right:Delete
"This is not a function of his advanced age or his ill health. No, it’s a function of everyone being fungible. It’s a function of everyone being nothing more than a pair of ears through which to listen to Ray Hill’s seven stories."
I'm reading the gigantic biography on Lovecraft right now, "I am Providence."Delete
I'm kind of fascinated by how he has these awful angles to him, actually. Not just the racism but, you know, he had real issues.
Which is fine with me. I can appreciate when someone's thinking isn't strictly along the modern left/right spectrum.
I won't pretend to know who Ray is. I'm glad you shared this though, every piece of history is knowledge necessary to our growth...well my growth anyway. I loved your reply to a comment about your ex being eaten by her cats lolReplyDelete
Thanks. I generally try and stay away from writing posts that are too local, but I thought disappointment in a hero was a little more universal. Of course, in 2 weeks, I'll post a list of my favorite albums of the year where no one will be familiar with any of them, that will have NO universal meaning.Delete
Katy. Heroes is as heroes are. OK, maybe that should be, "...are...is." And maybe those we most admire are admirable because of their strength in spite of their flaws. Like how conservative Christians still worship Jesus in spite of His considerable flaws. Like that entire greed dealio and the caring for the unfortunate and sick, and then we have your basic turn the other cheek situation. Oh, and that whole Jewish thing.ReplyDelete
OK, and having said that, as your premise is anchored in actually meeting, it isn't difficult to envision Sarah Palin posting a pic of Jesus with a sniper's scope painted on his chest. And originally I had a point.
Oh yes, what if it is the opposite with people whose public image you truly don't like? Like if I met David Koch I'd be all like, "Hey, Davie boy, how's about we hang together; smoke a couple doobies, consume a tincture bottle of my Gram's mushroom potion; drink some cold ones and talk trash."
Then again, why? So why don't we all just Fuck Walmart!
You know, I was having this exact conversation the other day with Bill Cosby, Justin Bieber, and that guy who jacked up the prices on that AIDS drug.Delete
We all agreed that sometimes the public doesn't get the true gist of what someone's is all about.
Avoiding heroes would be good advice if there really were such as thing - other than in our minds. There are people who do extraordinary things. But individual acts of bravery, compassion or political courage do not make one a hero - only a person who did the right thing in the moment. No one deserves to carry the mantel or the weight of being labeled a hero. All that said, Pope Francis is pushing the envelope of Red's resistance to ever selecting a personal hero.ReplyDelete
Of course, Red goes the other way on villainy.
Hi, Red! Yeah, I think I might have mentioned in another comment about how certain people represent ideas to me. They might be better off that way. Or at least more useful to me.Delete
It's sort of like objectifying women, except instead of sex it's politics or mysticism or intelligence.
I'm not really sure what that last sentence means...
Just that Red does believe there are actual villains out there. Or at least people whose villainy overwhelms any redeeming qualities that they might otherwise have.Delete
Like in the debate last night?Delete
I like what you have going here - both parts!
Thank you! I was really unsure about doing this one, but it seems to have worked.Delete
Plus it was on my Blog Seeds list, so I had to get there eventually.
Maybe Willie had it right when he said "My heros' will always be cowboys". I've only known one well, a guy I grew up with, who was horse crazy and rode bulls while still a teen. Got busted up, broken knee and elbow etc, but he actually worked his way thru college in Kingsville Tx, working at the King Ranch for a few years. He wasn't my hero but his wife was. God she was easy on the eyes, smart, personable and she actually became my friend, although I knew better, or maybe I was too moral or too afraid, take your pick, than to become too good a friend. Truthfully it had to be I knew better because of endless complications, not getting beat up or killed, because that never stopped any real man. That or I was too moral which I never claimed to be, but it served my conscious.Delete
It occurs to me, that maybe Ray Hill was doing exactly what you appear to have been doing. You met and spent time with him some 50 to 60 times. Most every time you met him, someone introduced him to you as they didn't know weather or not you knew him. When you two were introduced again and again, both of you acted exactly the same, or so it appears to me from the way you describe it. Ray Hill pretended he was meeting you for the first time, and you pretended it was the first time you had met him.. Both of you may have been thinking the same thing. He/She doesn't remember me, so I won't embarrass them by pointing out we've met so many times I can't believe he or she is so dense, .
You can be proud of at least three things I can name offhand. First you are writing about a local hero, I've never met Ray but he's much more of a hero than any local celebrity in my opinion (if being in prison, and creating and hosting the Prison Show and his Death Row Appearances etc) qualifies you as a hero. You've had thirty seven comments before this, by some very sharp folks, who never heard of Ray Hill. That's an achievement in my eyes. Second, you've impressed me for around 10 years. I suffer from AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder). Yet you have kept me entertained by impressing me. You don't have to be proud of it but I am and I hope you are. But the main thing you need remember and cherish. The nicest thing anyone said to you, what I wish a few people would have said to me was what your ex said to you., a real complement, I'm dead serious. "I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you." They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression. I think you maxed that test, Might have hurt at the time, but it's a heck of a lot better than some things I've personally heard. Not that they ever hurt because as with jobs, I'd be gone before the fireworks started.
You make me want to write. I've got bunches of stories you cause me to remember. Some actually need to be recorded. Maybe next year in Jerusalem, or maybe Mecca, most probably at the Alabama Ice House..You need to finish this please ..
Hi, Frank! You should write it all down.Delete
I have trouble sometimes because I want everything to have a little spark of the profound or something in it. But when I push past that and decide, hell, I'm just going to write, it always turns out better anyway.
The post that has recently gotten the best response is the one where I just listed blog ideas.
So I just write. before I wind up forgetting everything... which could be any moment now!
I've never really had any personal heroes in which to disappoint me, but my dad met Mr. T in a mall once in the 80s, and was disheartened when he saw that he was taller than him. Mr. T is actually fairly short.ReplyDelete
I meant to leave more of a profound comment but... well, that's all I've got.
I saw James Earl Jones in an airport once, and he was pretty short as well. I don't know why I expected him to be taller.Delete
I have it on good authority that short people got no reason to live.
Katy. Hasn't he been around since the early seventies? I think I remember him from then.ReplyDelete
One and the same.Delete
But you know what? Fuck Walmart.
Katy. When I lived in Houston for a couple years in the early 1970's I had a good friend who managed one of the Gourmet Hamburgers. I guess he'd be called a "bear" in today's gay man world. He had a buddy who always stirring the shit from the sides and bottom of the pot. His radicalism was lost in the sea of strong social causes of the times, but he was noisy and got heard.ReplyDelete
Is Gourmet Burgers still around? I entered a contest to create a new hamburger and came in second place. It was a ground lamb pattied concoction that might have won if ground lamb patties were available. Seems grinding meat in the stores was a safety hazard.
Fuck Walmart, indeed!
I don't believe there are any Gourmet Burgers left around. I only eat hamburgers about twice a year, though so I might have driven right by and not noticed.Delete
Many years ago, I was part of a group that was in the Gay Pride Parade. We ended up behind the bears float, which consisted of two of the aforementioned men sitting in lawn chairs in the back of a pickup truck, kissing.
So for a long time, my entire impression of Pride Parades consisted of... that.
The first pic looks so beautiful!ReplyDelete