Thursday, April 23, 2009

[The Life of Shaun #339] Gay Grand New Greater Grand Forks!

Many of you didn't know me eleven years ago, but it was not a happy period of time in my life. I had fairly recently left Fairbanks, Alaska, which I actually loved, and moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, which I actually hated. My boyfriend, Brent, at the time had been accepted to medical school there and the move was a noble attempt to keep the relationship going.

There were no gay bars in Grand Forks - indeed, there wasn't a single gay bar in the state of North Dakota (Fargo gays had to tromp across the Red River to Moorhead, Minnesota for sodomic socialising). The one gay night I had out was when the University of North Dakota gay & lesbian organisation arranged a night at a local hotel. I went, and the day after I wrote about it, squeezing as much venom about my situation into it as I could (and as many exclamation points and as few returns, apparently!!!!!!!!). Russ recently found a print out of that letter and typed it up for me last night.

So, below, a peek into The Life of Shaun 1998.

Cheers,
Shaun



Date: Saturday, 18 April, 1998 12:57:46 PM
From: scoley@prairie.NoDak.edu
Subj: Gay Grand New Greater Grand Forks!

OK, I have lived in many different places of varying degrees of gay life. Las Vegas was no mecca, and Fairbanks was merely a drop in the bucket, but never have I been to as sad a gay function as last night, here in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the Sunflake City, the Heart of the Red River Valley…. It was actually about what I expected, but maybe a little worse! First off, the dance is held at the end of the Westward Ho. Yes, it’s held in the Chuckwagon Room in the Westward Ho. The Westward Ho is “frontier” style – nasty looking wood trying to be Western. Didn’t work. Anyway, it was an unreasonable $5 to get in (if you added up the cover charges of every other place in “Great New Greater Grand Forks” that night it might have totaled a quarter…). We paid since Brent had med school friends that were there. Anyway, the people. The PEOPLE! They were… well, you know what it means when someone tells you someone they met is “interesting” – well, they were ALL interesting! ;P Most were 40+, overweight, dressed like you’d expect an overweight 40+ North Dakotan to be… About a 1:8 gay man/lesbian ratio. The dancing… Ugh! There was this one man who insisted on hopping the whole night. He was wearing a flannel with the arms cut off, and would stand with his hands in his pocket and HOP. Of course, he hopped off beat too. Well, not that the music was good anyway! (Surprised?!) Fairbanks had bad music too, but this was out of control! At one point the DJ played Madonna and people danced some, so after that for quite a while EVERY OTHER song was a Madonna song! Finally that stopped and she actually played a couple decent slow songs (Sarah McLaughlin and Jewel – Yay!), and STARTED playing Robert Miles. However, the CD was skipping, so then she tried to fast forward past the skip! Which sounds REALLY great on the dance floor! :-) So that CD went off… A little later she played “I Will Survive” (is that by Donna Summers?), then the next song was Supermodel, then the next song was “Express Yourself” (Madonna again), then – GET THIS – she played “I Will Survive” *AGAIN*! Just 2 songs later! We also heard YMCA twice within one hour, and then to add insult to injury she played “Macarana”! The North Dakotan version of the dance seemed a little different! At least at this dance! Here they do one part where they put their hands on their butts and swish it from side to side, and then they crouch down with one hand in front and one behind and rock back and forth touching the floor in front of and behind them. It was truly, truly sad. And I couldn’t event drink myself into apathy! The LI Iced Teas had so little alcohol in them they tasted like Kool Aid!!!! Obviously, I did something very, VERY bad in this life to have had to endure this, and I promise to any forces that be, I won’t do it again, whatever it was, cause this is TOO MUCH! So, that was my experience with gay Grand Forks… Anyone still wonder why I am 100% willing to transfer to my 6th undergrad university? :-)


Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK

http://www.nocirc.org
http://shaunism.blogspot.com

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

[The Life of Shaun #338] On the up & up!

My friend David sent me Justin Bond's Facebook status.  Justin Bond is the performer who does Kiki of Kiki & Herb, whom I love, and who  represent so much of what I love(d) about New York.  The news is good!

"Justin Bond just saw a naked girl pissing in the street outside my house. She dropped her phone and her purse in the pee puddle. Clearly NYC is on the rebound!"

There is hope yet!

Cheers,
Shaun

Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK

http://www.nocirc.org
http://shaunism.blogspot.com

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

[The Life of Shaun #337] The British Mason-Dixon Line

Like America, England has a deep psychological divide between its North and South. Conversely to America, Southerners scoff snidely at the provincial Northerners, Northerners cast the Southerners as snooty with upside-down values. Being largely a unipolar country, London is the glorious jewel in the crown and, roughly, the farther away you get from London, the more Philistine you are supposed.

Prior to moving here, my only experience as an adult outside the M25 was Manchester, which I absolutely love, at least Canal Street and its environs, which really is all I ever see, so I never really believed it was that bad (er, different) up North. But now that my Northern exposure is growing - Middlesbrough, York, Blackpool, Preston, Nottingham, Birmingham (these last two aren't strictly Northern, but they're not exactly Southern, either) and now Bradford and Leeds - I am beginning to understand the truth in the generalisations.

Bradford and Leeds form two ends of a single conurbation (in Britain, 1.5m make a metropolis). My plan was one night in Bradford and two in Leeds, the more urbane, vibrant and worldly of the two.

Bradford is soul-destroyingly bad. Physically, it's not instantly offensive like, say, Middlesbrough or Croydon, but there is no discernible life in the city. Even Middlesbrough had a pulse (as chavtastic as it was); Bradford literally seemed to be draining the spirit out of me as I happened from one lifeless spot to the next, and its gay scene was the worst I have seen this side of Reno.

I can say just one thing to Bradford's credit, and this is that I had one of the best curries of my life there (and, truth be told, this was all I really hoped to get out of the city) at the "world famous" Mumtaz (replete with cardboard cutout of the Queen dining there). This comes from the South-Asian population that has become the majority in the city. I have to say, I think it's rather nice. It reminds me of Detroit - both are cities whose residents abandoned to die, and Muslims have immigrated from around the world to take their place. Now, they haven't turned either into a new Mecca, but at least they are giving the cities some chance of a new birth in some form. I say, if migrants are willing to try and rebuild dead and dying cities, we should cast an open door to them*.

As soon as I woke up the next day, I packed and headed East to Leeds, which was instantly an improvement. It is actually quite a lovely little city. I am not sure what brought the city into obscurity in the 1960s, but whatever it was, Leeds should be thankful as its centre is largely devoid of the concrete travesties that proliferate most British city centres. Its streets are lively and vibrant, its shops and pubs full, and there is a general air of contentedness. The gay scene is small-to-medium, but diverse and there is a compact, but distinct, gay district in the heart of the city. It would be a great city to live some years younger in life, when your ambitions and prospects are fewer, and I can see why it's so popular for university.

I had very nice night exploring the half dozen or so bars and ended up in bed earlier than is normal for me on a gaycation, but I wasn't disappointed. I then woke up at 08.30 the next morning, completely awake, and not able to think what I was going to do with myself for twelve hours in Leeds before I could start drinking in earnest again. I just didn't feel like staying, so I impulsively packed my bags and headed back to London on an early train. And then I got to London and wondered if I should have stayed. I fettered away the day, restless but uninspired. I wanted to want to go out, but didn't. I eked anxiously from one idle task to the next, till I gave up and settled in with a valium, glass of red and a book and put an end to my testy day. Turns out what I needed was a potato day with a friend, which I had with Argie for an Idolathon on Monday. I felt totally reset and revived afterwards. Travelling is my obsession, but sometimes nothing's better than eight hours of TV and conversation with a friend at home.

Cheers,
Shaun

*Canada has a policy where if you are willing to settle in less popular areas, you can migrate more quickly than those aiming for Toronto, Montréal and the other hot spots. It's caused some controversy, but I think it's a brilliant idea.


Full pics:

Bradford: http://www.facebook.com/p.php?i=713081334&k=4XGUPYVS4X4MYJ1FSD64W

Leeds: http://www.facebook.com/p.php?i=713081334&k=4YA4XXU6WVXMYJ1FSD64W


A selection:



01. DSC00002 - Not a pic from the trip, but I love my new PJ top :-)


02. DSC00003 - View from my window, and the first signs of the crime of the 1960s (of course!) planners who razed acres of the Victorian buildings to build "The Bradford of Tomorrow!"


03. DSC00007 - This one escaped


04. DSC00011 - "Student Record Officers' Conference" - I could tell I was in for a wild night in Bradford!


05. DSC00012 - Islamic McDs?


06. DSC00013 - I've never had such a holy pee!


07. DSC00014 - Going my way?


08. DSC00016 - The Sun, Bradford's main gay pub. The mostly-destroyed attached building adds a certain charm, no?


09. DSC00020 - Candy, Bradford's gay club. I love the delightful patio area, but mostly I love the barbed wire lining the outside of the club.


10. DSC00024 - The buildings that stood where I stayed obviously did not make it


11. DSC00031 - Leeds is a vibrant, alive, Northern city


12. DSC00041 - And a very pretty city too!


13. DSC00044 - Leeds is the capital of the housing bust in the UK. Tons of high-rise new developments went up in the city centre without taking heed of the fact that the kinds of jobs that attracted people who wanted high-rise city-centre living are mostly in London. People who move to the North want a house, yard and car. Many units are empty, and those that aren't have lost 2/3rds of their value.


14. DSC00047 - A fat drag nun - what's not to love?!

Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK

http://www.nocirc.org
http://shaunism.blogspot.com


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Thursday, April 09, 2009

[The Life of Shaun #336] Britain's self-harming

Heading out the door to catch my plane to Barcelona a few weeks ago, I grabbed Bill Bryson's "Notes From a Small Island" off my bookshelf so that I'd have something light to read should there be delays long enough to run out of battery life and, therefore, The Wire. I'm on my third read of this book now, and enjoying it quite much as it's coinciding with my year to see Britain. His intents are certainly different than mine, and our destinations only overlap in the middle, but the spirit is the same.

I've just reread a passage that explains so well a constant confoundment that comes with living in Britain. The passage is specifically about Oxford, but it could be transfused to any corner of the country and be just as true. So many times you walk around these isles and think "How did anyone ever let that get built there?" (And in the case of Milton Keynes, a whole city.) Fortunately, I am fascinated with ugly architecture, so it's a bit of a paradise for me. But it is still shameful that I am able to quench my fetish so readily in one small country.

Here, better than I could ever say it, is Mr. Bryson's lament:

But there is also so much that is so wrong. How did it happen? This is a serious question. What sort of mad seizure was it that gripped the city's planners, architects, and college authorities in the 1960s and 1970s? Did you know that is was once seriously proposed to tear down Jericho, a district of fine artisans' homes, and to run a relief road right across Christ Church Meadow? These ideas weren't just misguided, they were criminally insane. And yet on a lesser scale they were repeated over and over throughout the city. Just look at the Merton College Warden's Quarters – which is not by any means the worst building in the city. What a remarkable series of improbabilities were necessary to its construction. First, some architect had to design it, had to wander through a city steeped in eight hundred years of architectural tradition, and with great care conceive of a structure that looked like a toaster with windows. Then a committee of finely educated minds at Merton had to show the most extraordinary indifference to their responsibilities to posterity and say to themselves, 'You know, we've been putting up handsome buildings since 1264; let's have an ugly one for a change.' Then the planning authorities had to say, 'Well, why not? Plenty worse elsewhere.' Then the whole of the city—students, dons, shopkeepers, office workers, members of the Oxford Preservation Trust—had to acquiesce and not kick up a fuss. Multiply this by, say, two hundred or three hundred or four hundred and you have modern Oxford.

And in continuation of my journeys around my adopted country, I am spending the long weekend in Bradford and Leeds, a dupolar metropolis in the North. Bradford is known for being the first (or second, maybe Leicester was first) city in the UK that was minority majority and for its race riots a few years back. Leeds is known for, well, everyone knows someone that went to university there. I am getting the same amazed looks about going to Bradford as I did for Middlesbrough and Milton Keynes, so I am braced. At the very least, I expect I can get a decent curry. Leeds, I imagine, will be a giant stag do, but promises to be a fun bank holiday diversion. But in both cases, I am certain the paragraph above will assuredly apply.

Have a great weekend, all!

Still excited to take a journey by train,
Shaun
Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK

http://www.nocirc.org
http://shaunism.blogspot.com

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