Eddie Sarfaty: “Mental: Funny in the Head” | Talks at Google

Eddie Sarfaty: “Mental: Funny in the Head” | Talks at Google

>>I’m happy to introduce Eddie Sarfaty, stand-up
comedian turned writer, whose new book, “Mental” — he’ll be reading briefly from and talking
about today. He effortlessly captures the everyday absurdities
of life, blending self-deprecation and sarcasm, which I’m sure, we all will appreciate.
His autobiographical essays touch on career lows, cheapskate exes, the wonder and hell
of family psychopathic cats, and so much more. That just sounds funny, describing it.
And so, without further ado, Eddie Sarfaty.>>[Clapping] Eddie Sarfaty: Hi. Thanks for coming today
on your lunch hour to the Google Author Series. As he’d said, I am a stand up comic.
I’ve been working as a stand up comic for the past nine years full-time.
And like a lot of stand up comics, I’ve written a book.
And a lot of people express sort of concern about that.
Like, “What’s he doing writing a book? He’s a stand up comic.”
And I wanted to talk a little bit today about how I felt that that prepared me to write
a book. I certainly, you know, I’m educated enough
and can write a sentence clearly enough that I could have attempted to write a book nine
years ago. But I don’t think that, without my experience
of being a stand up, that it would have been nearly as good and nearly as funny and or
nearly as smart of poignant or anything that it’s turned out to be.
And I have to take a little side note and say it’s kind of unusual for me to say nice
things about myself, because I’m a stand up comic and a neurotic Jew who’s completely
self-deprecating. So if I’m saying that it’s smart and funny
and poignant, it’s probably smart and funny and poignant.
One of the things that I think really was helpful about being a stand up comic is that
it let the book end up sounding like me. Several people have e-mailed me, called me,
told me in person that, “I read your book and I could hear you saying it.”
And that was a really huge compliment. Because, you know, if you can’t her me saying
it, I don’t know that you are going to get it.
And I think that’s a hard thing to do, because we’re not used to writing to be heard.
We’re used to writing to be read. And stand up is all, of course, about writing
to be heard. And especially when writing a book in the
first person, nonfiction voice. I think that’s really key.
If you’re writing a novel or something fictitious or in an omniscient voice, I guess it’s not
as important. But writing from your own point of view, it’s
got to sound like you. One of the things I really feel strongly about
in writing comedy — in being a stand up — was the idea of being an outsider.
Now, as a Jew and gay — I was a fat kid growing up, I never felt like I quite fit in, which
I think is really kind of important — necessary — when doing comedy.
You know, every comic who’s successful, who people relate to, is an outsider in some fundamental
way. You know, there are a million Jewish comics
and African-American comics and women comics and gay comics.
There’s not a whole lot of heterosexual, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male comics.
And if you’re funny looking — unless they’re funny looking — or they’re had some horrible
experience. So if you’re a heterosexual, white, Anglo-Saxon,
Protestant male with a full bank account and wears a 42 regular, you’re probably not a
laugh riot. And the thing about being an outsider can
happen in a bunch of different ways. It could happen culturally, you know, which
is why Jews are completely over-represented in the comedy world.
I mean, Jews are the ultimate outsiders throughout history.
It can happen — your family. You can be from a broken home.
You can be — personally, being a fat kid was a very horrible at the time but, you know,
humor — my sense of humor developed as a survival technique.
And I think that was very instrumental in helping me create a comic voice.
And I think that, in America — there’s a guy who wrote a book.
His name is Ted Cohen. And it’s another great book called Jokes.
He’s a professor at the University of Chicago. And he — it’s a short little book which is
filled with great jokes. But it also talks about the function of jokes
in American society. And how, it’s this little moment of intimacy
that we can all, you know, use to connect with each other when we’re all so different,
from different parts of the world, different cultures, with different beliefs.
You know, it lets everything else flow away for a minute.
There’s a very cohesive thing in American culture.
So I think that being an outsider and being lucky enough to be in the U.S. has been really
helpful to me in figuring out how to connect to people who are very different than me.
One of the surprising things about the book is that, I’ve gotten e-mails from people completely
outside of who — the audience that I thought would be interested in it.
You know, I had a letter from a housewife in Virginia who said, “I was at the bookstore
in the romance section where I always go, and my 14-year-old daughter came bounding
over with your book and said, ‘Let’s get this’.” And she said, “What is this?”
And the daughter said, “I don’t know. It looks silly.”
And she said, “I never in a million years would have picked it up, but I looked at it
and I picked it up.” And really made her laugh and made her think
outside her experience. And so, that was a really rewarding thing.
One of the other things about doing stand up in preparation for writing a book was that
it enabled me to figure out who I was. You’ll see stand up comics often say, “Oh,
it took me ten years to find my voice.” And I think that part of that’s getting older.
You become more yourself as you get older. You become more the person you’re meant to
be. And a lot of people attempt stand up comedy
with an idea of what they’re going to be. People come in saying, “I’m going to be the
neurotic Jew.” Or, “I’m going to be the angry, young man.”
Or, “I’m going to be the put-upon housewife.” And all those things are fine, and they may
be part of who you are. But it’s kind of like decorating a house and
you say, “I’m going to have a house that’s decorated in French country.”
And then, you go out and buy all the right things and you end up with a house that’s
a beautiful house that looks like every other house that’s decorated that way.
Whereas if you just went out and bought the things that you thought were attractive, interesting,
funny, smart, pretty, then at the end of ten years or whatever, you have a house that says,
“You.” And I think stand up comedy is kind of like
that. You have to not be afraid to just do what
you think is funny and not try to be something else.
Because, you know, you’ll get people who will try to be the next Roseanne Barr or try to
be the next Joan Rivers or the next Richard Pryor or Henny Youngman.
And I think it doesn’t work. I think it just makes you generic.
Because if you try to be everything, you’re nothing.
And, you know, you have to be something specific. Which is something else about stand up comedy
that I think helped me write this book, which is specificity.
You know, people get up and do stand up comedy and just think that they’re going to talk.
You get a lot of people who do stand up comedy who are hysterical at the water cooler or
the class clown or the life of the cocktail party and they are.
And certainly, if you are that person, that’s great.
And I’ve been that person and loved those people.
But you’re operating at — you have a head start in those situations, because more often
than not, you’re saying something funny in response to something that someone’s just
said or something that’s just happened or requires — is based upon you having some
shared information. And when you’re a comic, you don’t have that.
I don’t know any of you. You know, your lives could be so different
from mine and then, I have to figure out how to connect to you quickly and specifically.
So that — the thing is the specificity — I’m getting a little lost here myself, so
please bear with me — writing a joke is kind of like writing a poem.
You know, people think you just get up and talk.
And it’s not. It’s very specific. When you write a poem, if you read a Shakespeare
sonnet, every word is chosen specifically for the sound, for the emotional content,
for the number of syllables. It’s all very, very carefully planned.
And I believe — and probably there are people that disagree with me — that a joke should
be the same way. I mean, if you can say something effectively
in ten words, don’t say it in 12. Pick the words specifically.
The trick of stand up is making it seem like it’s effortless, but there’s so many machinations
that go into the structure of the joke. I mean, hiding the machinery I think is really
the art of joke telling. So all of those things were really helpful
to me in writing the book. I think a couple of things that were also
helpful were, Learning how to tell the story with immediacy.
You know, if you’re doing stand up comedy, you can’t be as affected if you tell things
in the past tense. No matter what you say, I always recommend,
put it in the present. Of course, we know that what happened on the
subway this afternoon happened six hours ago, or whatever.
But if I start the sentence, “So I’m on the subway,” rather than, “I was on the subway.”
Everyone’s right with you. It’s right there. It’s immediate.
And nine out of the ten short stories in the book are written in the present tense.
And also, I think one of the other things that was helpful was to make it be about me,
which sounds kind of narcissistic. But it’s more interesting for me to talk about
my point of view rather than try to guess other people’s, because mine can be specific
and I don’t know what theirs is necessarily. So in terms of writing, all of the exercises
in writing stand up comedy really helped me write the book, because I learned how to be
specific. I don’t think that, without that, I would
have taken the care to choose just the right words in so many places that I did.
The other thing is that, in stand up, you have to know your audience, or at least be
able to read them. You know, being an open-the-gate comic, there’s
definitely jokes I’m not going to tell if it’s a mixed or straight crowd just, because
they wouldn’t get it. It doesn’t mean I’m going to closet myself.
There’s definitely things that I wouldn’t tell an audience where there are no Jews,
because they’re not going to get it. Again, it doesn’t mean that I pretend not
to be Jewish or try to ignore it. One of the freeing things I found about trying
to write the book was, there is no audience sitting there.
And I didn’t really have to worry about that. And it’s good, because if I did worry about
that, I think it would have hindered me being me and, you know, worrying about, “Will the
book sell?” Or “Who’s going to read it?”
Or “Are people going to like it?” And quite frankly, maybe a big goal of the
book was just to have it ‘not suck’. That was the only goal that I could make myself
live with. Otherwise, I would have never — I would have
been freaking out every day trying to write it.
The other thing is, you know, we’ve all heard “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And that’s very
true. You know, I teach a comedy workshop.
And people come in with the joke. It’s a great idea, but it’s 50 words before
it gets to the punch line and basically, one of the keys to humor is that, the impact of
the punch line is inversely proportional to the length of the set up.
You know, if it takes you 50 words to get to the punch line, you probably lost your
audience and it’s hard to get them back. Or you better have a really great punch line
if it’s 50 words to get there. The other thing that I think people don’t
talk about a lot in comedy is an emotional component.
You know, you can be smart. I think you have to be somewhat smart to be
a decent comic. And I’m not necessarily saying educated or
book smart, but you have to have some kind of intuitive sense of people and an awareness
of the absurdity of things in general and hopefully of yourself.
But if you’re not — if there’s no emotional component in what you’re talking about —
you’re clever at best. You can’t really be funny.
You can’t really connect with people in that intimate way, which I think is really important.
And you can, you know, I’m fine with ‘clever’. I love clever. I love bad puns. I love silliness.
But, at the end of the day, a 300-page book of just that is kind of a snore.
And that also requires you being able to be willing to mock yourself and to expose things
that maybe aren’t so pretty. And I think that that’s really the gift of
humor is that it lets you get through things that are difficult and horrible.
I mean, you know, I’ve had hard times in my life.
I talk about them in the book. The book covers, you know, my troubles with
depression, bad relationships, you know, my father’s illness, just money problems and
drug use and all these other things and, quite frankly, if I hadn’t had a sense of humor,
I don’t know that I could have gotten through any of that.
You know, if there’s anything that’s so completely horrible that I can’t find something to laugh
about it, I rather don’t want to know what that is.
And this book was really — has been really well-received I think, because I was willing
to do that. And that brings me to sort of the idea of
fearlessness. One of the things about learning to be funny.
People say, “Can you learn to be funny?” And as I said, some people are funny at the
office or in the classroom, but — and you know people say, “Can you learn to be funny?”
“Can you learn to do stand up comedy? Can you learn to be funny?”
And you can learn to put things in the right form for it.
I think it’s hard to be funny if you’re not funny.
But learning to be funny in a way that connects to people requires a kind of fearlessness.
I mean stand up comedy is hard. You know, they say in all the polls that public
speaking is the worst fear that people have — it’s worse than snakes or drowning or
plane crashes or anything. And stand up comedy is public speaking made
a hundred times more terrifying. And so, you have to go up there with the willingness
to be completely disliked and to make a complete fool of yourself.
And that’s, you know, a little bit of bravery that a lot of people can’t seem to muster.
Although, I do have to say, it’s one of the things — like most things that people are
afraid of that’s more terrifying in theory. You know, because the big fear is you’ll get
up there, you’ll tell a joke, and people won’t laugh.
And it will be horrible. And the worst thing that ever really happens
is that you get up there, you tell a joke, no one laughs, and it’s horrible.
And then, okay. It’s horrible, it’s over, you’re still alive,
you’re in one piece, and it’s not as bad as you thought it was going to be.
And I think one of the things about stand up is that you really have to be willing to
know that 95 percent of everything you do is going to suck.
And I think that’s particularly true of comedy. I think it’s true of all creative endeavors.
I mean, people make bad paintings, people write bad books, people make bad movies.
You know, all kinds of stuff. But once you get past the fact that 95 percent
of everything you do is going to suck, you’re okay.
Because then when it sucks, it’s to be expected. In college, I was very fortunate to take an
acting class with a woman named Nancy Marchand, who was a wonderful actress on Broadway who
also played the grandmother in the Sopranos. And she said something one time about how,
as an actor, you can’t expect the audience to suspend their disbelief unless you can
suspend your shame. Meaning, just that.
And I think that’s true of any art form. You can’t worry. You can’t hold back.
You can’t be afraid and expect people to connect to you.
And, you know, I think that’s been so important with comedy and so important with the writing.
Is this a really serious lecture for a comedy book; isn’t it?
But the point is, comedy is a serious business. You know, the torture and the agony and the
self-doubt and everything that goes into every joke, you know, is there.
It’s just hiding the machinery and having the joke come out and people think it’s effortless.
That’s really the art. Now, one of the things about stand up vs.
the book which I liked — or I liked more about the book was that — stand up you know
you fail immediately. You tell a joke, it bombs, and you have to
address it. Everyone in the room is uncomfortable, you
know. Hopefully, it’s one joke and not the entire
set, because that’s the worst. And with the book, it was kind of nice not
to have to worry about that. “I think this is funny. Oh yeah, it looks
funny. I’ve reworked it. I can move on.”
And then, it grew actually to reverse where, you know, a joke bombs, it’s over.
The audience in the room didn’t like the joke; maybe the next audience will.
The world doesn’t think you suck. Whereas, you know, you write a bad book, it’s
kind of permanent, it’s out there. You know, my big fear was that I would walk
down the street and people would be like, “Oh, there’s that guy Eddie; he wrote that
horrible book.” You know?
Or, you see it in the clearance bin in every store I passed.
And so, I really. I was glad I had the fearlessness or the erratic
fearlessness — I must admit there are times when I am terrified — but the erratic fearlessness
of stand up when writing the book. Because otherwise it would have been completely
overwhelming. I guess one of the other things I wanted to
talk about is, writing comedy is sort of luck. Sort of, you know, you want to be aware of
who’s in your audience, but you can’t really change who you are completely.
And you have to just sort of hope that someone’s going to connect to you.
You know, I don’t think you can be a good comic and be dishonest.
You know, I can’t pretend to be some straight WASPy guy who doesn’t have depression, who
didn’t go through what he went through. And, you know, with writing the book, I just
had to hope people would find it, you know, that it would click with someone.
And luckily it has, but I was sort of prepared for it not to be — not to happen.
And so, it’s been a really good prep for writing the book, I have to say.
And the book — tell you a little bit about the book — the book is ten short stories,
autobiographical, humorous, yet also smart and funny.
Ranging from everything — adopting the world’s worst shelter cat.
My quest for unconditional love from an animal. Having the biggest cheapskate in the world
as a boyfriend. I took my parents on a trip to London and
Paris for their anniversary when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which is really
my favorite story in the book. And I think quite poignant because a lot of
people deal with that. It was very accessible to everyone.
I talk about having my heartbroken going online dating.
Going online screwing, actually, for a period of months — to try and drown my sorrows and
the craziness that happens there. Luckily my mother was online dating at the
same time, you know, which was kind of a trip. And other stories include, I worked at a
— I had the good fortune in retrospect — the misfortune I thought, at the time —
to work at an upscale gentleman’s bar on the Upper East Side, which was filled with
men in their sixties who were bitter, drunk, old, nasty queens.
And I thought, “Oh, you know” — and as a 20-something gay guy — I was like, “Oh, is
this the future? I’m out of here.” You know? And it really made me be able to see everyone’s
struggling, everyone’s trying, everyone’s got something, you know, fantastic about them.
Everyone has a story that would break your heart.
Everyone has a reason for who they are, and it’s fascinating.
And it made me, I think, be more aware of my own level of sympathy, my own level of
judgmentalness. So those are some of the things that I cover
in the book. It’s — Oh, I talk about — I was talking
about my depression, about — I was also unfortunate enough to be the company manager for an ill-fated
Portuguese production of Phantom of the Opera, which was by far, the worst experience of
my adult life. And ended calamitously in an emergency room.
But, you know, comedy is born of pain, and it made me stronger.
And I think that that’s covers a little bit about what the book is about.
And what’s inspired me to write it and what prepared me to write it.
And I guess you guys have some questions about it?
We can talk about that. Thanks for participating. That’s really helpful.
All right. Q I was interested to hear you talk about
stand up in terms of writing jokes, because I’ve actually heard other stand up comics
say very specifically, they don’t write jokes. They don’t tell jokes. Eddie Sarfaty: What do they do? Q I think their point was that what they’re
doing is more, you know, situational stories that are funny rather than jokes as such.
I wonder if that distinction. I kind of wondered if you were getting at
that with your comment about “hiding the machinery.” I’d like to know a little bit more what you
mean by that. Eddie Sarfaty: Well, I think that as I said,
I really do believe that the impact of the punch line is inversely proportional to the
length of the set up. And that if you have a joke and you’re taking
a paragraph to get to the punch line, the punch line is dilluted.
Unless, of course, your paragraph is peppered with other jokes.
You know, then it’s a series of jokes, it’s not.
I think storytelling is a great thing. I wish that the American tradition of storytelling
was more widespread than it is, because there are wonderful places like The Moth, here in
New York and Speakeasy in D.C., where people tell wonderful stories.
Some of them are comedic. Some of them are certainly not.
People have a different definition of what they term a joke.
You know A priest, a minister, and a rabbi go into a bar.
People think that’s a joke. Or a knock knock joke, people think that’s
a joke. People think that jokes aren’t serious.
That they’re not, you know, that there’s no depth to them.
And I dispute that. I think a real joke has to have an emotional
component. You know, and I love a joke that draws you
in because of the emotion and then twists at the end.
You know, a joke I tell is about my boyfriend, you know, he was from this Christian right
family in Idaho. And his parents couldn’t deal with the gay
issue; they couldn’t deal with sex issues at all.
You know, when he was 12 years old, his mother caught him masturbating.
And she was so stressed about it that she smacked him so hard that she knocked him out
of their pew. Now, that’s a joke that has emotional content
to it, because people understand that. The stress of dealing with a child sexuality.
It’s something no one’s comfortable with — acknowledging that children are sexual
beings. And then, it twists at the end.
So it gets people to think about the subject, but also makes it safe, because it’s absurd.
So I like jokes. I think jokes are, as I said, a wonderful
American vehicle to connect with people and relieve stress.
And in our multicultural world, there’s a lot of stress.
Anybody else? Please. Q Something I have often wondered about when
I listen to a stand up comic is, How much of the persona they’re presenting is character
and how much of it is them? Eddie Sarfaty: Well, as I said, there are
some people, you know, there’s a range of what’s considered stand up comedy and I certainly
embrace the range, because I think people have different strengths in bringing different
things to the stage. Some people are definite characters.
Some people are great mimics. I have a friend who can go from being Joan
Rivers to being Robert Muir to being a Hoover Upright in ten minutes, and it’s brilliant.
I can’t do that. There are some people who’ve created a persona.
You know, like when Roseanne Barr first began doing that whole Domestic goddess thing she
did was a persona, but it’s based on her. You know, there’s got to be some truth in
what you’re doing. You don’t want to see somebody be — I mean,
you go see a play if you want to see somebody be somebody different.
The thing that fascinates me is that, people as diverse as Richard Pryor and Henny Youngman
and Roseanne Barr can all touch the same audience and connect to the same group of people.
If they were all on the same bill, it would be a fantastic night.
They’re all completely different. And their stories are so different.
But they’re touching people. For me, the big pleasure about stand up comedy
is that I get to be me. I was a theater major in college.
I thought I wanted to be an actor since I was a little kid.
And I discovered that it was much more fun to get up and say what I wanted to say, the
way I wanted to say it, rather than trying to figure out what the author’s intent was,
and take into consideration the director’s point of view and all this stuff.
I think that. Yeah, I guess that’s about it on that. Go
further. But I hope you have another question, because
no one else is talking. Q [inaudible] Eddie Sarfaty: I’d be happy to read. Something
short. I’ll read the first piece in the book. It’s
only four pages. And this was a story about when I, at 21,
told my grandmother that I was gay. And the book — although I’m reading the gay
section — is not only gay. There’s a lot of stuff for everybody.
And people worry about, “It’s a gay book. I can’t read it.”
[reading now] I make my grandmother cry. I come out to her, and her fists close and
her eyes fill up. And she’s silent for the longest moment.
And then, speaking through the tears, she astonishes me, “It’s that gym where you go.
That’s where they all are.” Her assertion makes me laugh.
How could she possibly know that? She’s never been to my gym.
How could my frail, little grandma, a sheltered girl from an orthodox family, a woman who
has barely left the house for the past 30 years, have any kind of insight on the subject?
The conversation continues with her becoming progressively more and more upset.
She’s perched on the upholstered, green rocker from J.C. Penney, a half-finished afghan in
her lap, and I’m sitting Indian-style on the wall-to-wall carpet facing her.
I’m peripherally aware of my mom and dad listening helplessly to the whole exchange as they pretend
to wash dishes in the next room. Though I came out to my parents at college,
as a rule, I manage to find a million nonsexual things to talk about when visiting them, a
relief since when I was with my friends, sex was the only thing we ever seemed to talk
about. But this time, Granny brings up the issue
and continues pressing it, until I have no choice but to come clean.
She also confesses to having purposely avoided the subject of my sexuality until now, but
has finally decided to take the leap. “Well, I thought that you were.
And I made up my mind I was going to ask you.” “Well, how do you feel?”
“It’s a shock.” She sheds more tears, and my soothing accelerates
to match her distress. I hand her a Kleenex, and I hold her hand.
My mother, accustomed to taking charge in a crisis, takes advantage of my grandmother’s
poor hearing, tiptoes behind her rocker, shakes her head, and mouths to me, “You shouldn’t
have told her. You shouldn’t have told her.”
That’s a big help. With an evil stare, I sent her back to the
sink and continued my comforting. Two seconds later, the phone rings.
I hear my mother pick it up and I can tell from her voice, it’s my brother Jack, who’s
in grad school in Chicago. I turn my attention back to Granny as my mother
calls from the kitchen, “Ed, Ed, pick up the phone.”
Annoyed, I yell back, “Not now, for God’s sake.”
And then, I hear my mother announcing, as if into a public address system, “He can’t
come to the phone. He’s telling Grandma that he’s gay.”
And so, I’m outed to my brother, and I think, “Okay, one less call to make.”
I spend the next hour or so quietly seated on the floor, and then leave my grandmother
to catch the train back to New York and the apartment that I share with three other 20-somethings
— all gay, and in various stages of self-loathing. The incident is constantly on my mind the
entire week. It’s still on her mind too when I call two
days later, “Hi, Granny, how are you?” “How do you think I am?” A pin drops.
“What are you doing? Watching TV?” “No, I’m just thinking.”
Crickets. “Well, what are you thinking about?”
“WHAT DO YOU THINK I’M THINKING ABOUT?” Similar stressful exchanges occur on days
three, four, and five. Now, being the youngest, the favorite, and
the only one who still lives close enough to visit regularly, I feel a special devotion
to my grandmother. Our relationship is one of the most wonderful
things in my life. She lived with us while I was growing up,
my maturation coinciding with her decline. At the age of 95 — although she’ll only admit
to being 92 — her mind is sharp, but her body is brittle.
As time passes, I find myself more and more in the role of the adult, keeping her informed,
preparing her meals, and helping her into bed.
The possibility that the bond between us could be permanently damaged is crippling to me.
After almost two weeks of tense, awkward phone calls, I again go home for a visit.
There’s no reference to my revelation. The day passes far more easily than I expect.
And it isn’t until late at night when it even comes up.
I’m tucking Granny in, gently, rotating her fragile legs on to the bed while I cradle
her back and slowly lower her on to the mattress. As I smooth out the corner, she brings up
the subject that we’ve managed to avoid the entire day.
“So, you don’t like a girl to get married.” My body tenses. “No.”
“You prefer a boy.” I breathe deeply, “Yes.”
She pauses and then says resolutely, “Well, then that’ll be your life and you will be
happy that way.” “Yes.” My tension melts away but returns when she
says, “But it’s not like making love with a girl. What can you do?”
I see where this is leading, and I try to head it off.
“Well, Grandma, it’s not about sex. It’s about who you love and who you care for.”
But she will not be deterred, “Yes, yes. I know that, but it’s not like with a girl.
What can you do?” I dodge the question, she presses, I parry,
she asks again. I change the subject.
She changes it back. And finally after the fifth, “But what can
you do?” I blurt out, “Well, I have two hands.”
“So, what are you — just jerp each other off?” I’m stunned, horrified, and amused all
at the same time. “Grandma!” She laughs to break the tension.
But then continues, “You know, I hear that some of the boys use the behind.”
I laugh to break the tension. I toyed with a couple of comebacks.
“Wow, Grandma, what a great idea.” Or “Yeah, some of them do.”
But settled for planting a simple kiss on her forehead and saying, “Goodnight.”
Thereafter that, our relationship is almost back to normal.
She’s totally accepting, but it isn’t clear how much she understands the specifics of
the situation. She knows I’m gay, but appears hopeful whenever
I even mention a woman by name. She repeatedly asks my brother, “What made
him that way?” And confides to my mother her worries that
I’m destined to become a prostitute — proposition that, given my precarious finances, occasionally
worries me too. My mother, who joined PFLAG — the parents
and friends of lesbians and gays — immediately after I came out suggests giving my grandmother
a copy of, “Now that you know” — a book that the group recommends, and that I cynically
refer to as, “Everything you always wanted to know about homosexuality, but were afraid
to hear.” I pick up a copy for my grandmother.
Two weeks later, I’m home for a visit and to do some laundry.
I see the book lying on the night stand. The wrinkled spine and folded corners tell
me it’s been read. I turn to Granny, who’s busily working on
yet another afghan, “Hey, Granny, did you read that book?”
The crochet hook stops. She looks up, and says point-blank, “Yes,
and it’s disgusting.” My heart sinks and my guard goes up.
“Disgusting?” “Yes. It’s disgusting.
It says that some of the parents don’t love their children anymore.”
And she makes me cry.>>[Clapping]>>Thanks. That’s a little taste.
That’s the first story in the book. As I tell you it goes onto other things at
other points in my life ranging — that’s the story that takes place in 1986 and goes
all the way up to 2006. And I guess we’re done here.
And thank you so much for taking your lunch hour to spend time with me.
I appreciate it. And enjoy the book.>>[Clapping]

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