On a very hot day, sometime in the summer of 1991, my father and I were driving to a destination of which escapes my memory. Inside his blue Ford Ranger he had the air-conditioning on high and his country music to match it. A typical Cincinnati summer of torpid heat and humidity.
We neared Schott Buick, a car dealership owned by Cincinnati Reds owner and disgraced bigot, as I would learn in my adult years, Marge Schott. I was eleven years old.
My father’s mother, Mary, was dead by just a few months, a passing that would come to shape my childhood and entire adult life, and father had somewhat began to turn into a different person by then. He asked me if I wanted to see if Marge was there. I quietly said yes.
I had never met a celebrity before and my father was never spontaneous. Quite frankly he was never home. He worked twelve hour shifts at the Ford factory in Cincinnati for what seemed like six or even seven days a week to support myself, my working mother, and my two older siblings, my older brother Andrew and my younger sister Jennifer.
Attending Cincinnati Reds ballgames at the now demolished Riverfront Stadium was a family tradition, but more so with my father’s sister or brother, or his parents. I have no memory of attending a ballgame with my father, whom knew a well-known Cincinnati Reds player through growing up on the same street as him in the neighborhood of Mount Healthy in the early 1970s.
There was and still is for me, as well as many other Cincinnatians, a magical past time tradition of attending a Reds game. My father had memories of attending with his father at the old Crosley Field (1912-1970), which gave way to my memories of attending at Riverfront Stadium (1970-2002), which has now been replaced by the Great American Ballpark (2003) which will someday, most likely in my lifetime, be torn down because Cincinnati loves its stadiums, and it loves even more to replace them. It’s these three ballparks in a century’s quick passing exhibits that Cincinnati is a baseball town. I used to love when the summer sun would disappear and a colorful twilight would become. The stadium’s flood lights would glow and Eric Davis would hit another home run. The seventh-inning stretch; the crackerjacks and soda. The fat drunks rendering Take me out to the ballgame in all their beer-belly-belting glory.
When Dad and I entered the showroom of the dealership we saw a few people standing over near a desk, behind a few of the behemoth Buick’s that shined on the floor. Dad was the first to hear her, he said, “I hear that voice of hers.” Sure enough she was over there, holding court with a handful of white salesmen. I asked my father if he had a piece of paper so that I could ask her for her autograph. Producing a small receipt from his wallet he handed it to me and I began a slow walk toward the lady whom, had I not known her through her appearances on local television and on the field at the Reds games, could’ve been anyone’s midwestern grandmother.
She saw me approach and quickly greeted me, “Hi sweetheart. Would you like an autograph?” I said yes and handed her the paper and she said, “Oh come with me dear, I have something better.”
My father motioned that it was okay to go and he followed a few steps behind me. She took me through the showroom to a hallway where steps lead down to the basement were more offices were, including a lounge of sorts. In one of the offices she produced a big poster of herself and her world-famous Saint Bernard, Schottzie. “Would you like to meet her?” she asked, referring to her dog.
She walked me to the lounge where not only her dog lay sleeping on the floor, which I squatted down to pet her, but Eric Davis and another Reds player were sitting in the lounge. They shook my hand, calling me little man, and Marge autographed the poster, as did Eric Davis, and a paw print she drew in black marker to represent that enormous Saint Bernard. They all shook my father’s hand and we parted ways. In my mind I had scored a grand slam.
Ten years later, in 2001, I was working for a Credit Union in Cincinnati that was next to a well-known hospital. Both businesses shared a parking lot. One winter afternoon as I ate lunch in my car, Marge’s limo pulled up to the back entrance and she soon thereafter stumbled out of the hospital and into this bright white limo that nearly blended in with the snow. It was one of many times that year that Marge was hospitalized. By then I had become familiar with her racist and bigoted views and had developed a lack of empathy for her.
In 2003, at age twenty three, during what would be my last year of college, I took a seat on the board for Stonewall Cincinnati, the gay rights organization that when Marge referred to a Reds player that pierce his ear as a “fruitcake” they sent a fruit basket to her that had an earring on it. It was a formidable year for me. The country was at war, I was kicked out of college for becoming ill, my parents divorced, my relationship with my first lover Brent had just ended in his adultery, and the upper middle class life I had been exposed to since the year I met Marge was now ripped from under me.
It was the year I changed my name to Montgomery Maxton from Michael.
Michael: An Autobiography, will be released in 2021.
Montgomery Maxton, age 5, 1985
I started writing my forthcoming novel, now called Moonlight on the Sunshine Roses, on January 11, 2009 in a tiny Arcadia notebook that I bought at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati with the last $20 that I had to my name. I was broke, unemployed, and on the cusp of homelessness, having only escaped that by the good graces of my brother, whom took me in on his farm in rural Ohio after a relationship ended and I hadn’t prepared myself, foolishly, to take care of myself—having placed all my trust in someone I had been with for four years. We learn hard lessons in life and this was one of them.
I hand-wrote that first draft over the course of four months, adding a second notebook to it. But eager to get started on typing the second draft, I only outlined the last quarter of the book, which is technically a novella, even in its final draft, coming in at just over one hundred pages. There are no chapters, only sections divided into calendar seasons. You follow the story of the protagonist, Matt Wright, for one year, starting in the Spring season of 2008, the same time the Great Recession has started and the candidate of Barack Obama is about to secure the nomination for the Democratic ticket, launching a historic election unlike anything the country has seen before.
There is an epic albeit brief scene in the town grocery market where Matt, a gay white liberal, overhears a couple ahead of him looking at two magazines on the rack, one with Obama on the cover and one with Clinton on the cover. The wife asked the man who he was going to vote for in a sort of mocking, baby doll voice as she rubs his fat beer belly that’s covered in only his grease stained t-shirt. His response to a black man and a woman running for President of the United States is nothing short of expected.
I’ve never been able to determine who the antagonist is in this story. I want to say it is actually Matt, the protagonist, but there is the age old argument that the protag and antag cannot be the same, not even if it’s Man vs Himself. The antagonist is perhaps the torture, and lessons, that Matt receives in scenes like that at the market, which are speckled throughout the story as Matt makes his way through the year and, just like in real life, a year’s worth of days provides no shortage of events.
In the third draft my editor made a suggestion that brought the structure of the story to its current state: remove all flashback scenes. Matt had previously lived in New York City for nearly fifteen years (since right after high school) where his relationship ended and he, having no choice, returned to Ohio, to a town nearby where he grew-up, which is why, in the story, Matt runs into many people he knew back then, including a jarring and emotional scene between his high school bully. The story had multiple scenes that flashbacked to Matt’s life in New York and the scenes paralleled that of the scenes that were taking place in Ohio, but on the opposite end of the spectrum and, of course, years apart. Although I was nearly totally opposed to my editors recommendation of the removal of these scenes, I warmed to the idea, followed his advice, and used this opportunity to somehow convey parts of Matt’s previous life (and lessons) in New York in the current setting.
It’s now 2011 and, having lived in Philadelphia for about a year, I lost touch with the magic of writing this story and I shelved the book for four years, which saw me move to New York City myself during that time.
In 2017, at my apartment in Brooklyn, I took the manuscript out of a bin of all of my unpublished writings, read through it, made some handwritten changes, and sent it to my editor with a note that read “remember this?” He wrote back and said that it was almost finished, but that the ending still wasn’t correct.
And then the aha moment happened. Because I had lived well past the end of the story (and it’s no secret that I am almost Matt in the story), I was able to create this beautiful albeit appropriate ending. It’s actually my favorite part of the book. No Hollywood ending. No loose strings. Just a simple Spring morning, a year from the start of the book, that is as beautiful as the most perfect of Spring mornings could be.
Moonlight on the Sunshine Roses will be released on June 29, 2019, which is ten years to the day that I completed the first draft, and is also my 39th birthday. A gift to myself that I’m sharing with the world.
The cover of Moonlight on the Sunshine Roses.
doing cement work
on the classic stoop of
this two million dollar disaster.
We do not speak the same
but I can tell we all speak
so I order six meals
and cram five down
because I feed
to keep them from
calling me a faggot,
but they eventually
their bigotry onto me.
A lot of folks have reached-out to me asking me how I'm doing, especially since I'm not on social media and amid these stupid rumors that I'm dying.
Selfie. October 2018.
In a few days I jet across the ocean for my third visit to Europe. I'll finally be visiting two cities I've had in my top 3 for as long as I can remember: Amsterdam and Paris.
Landing in Amsterdam early Friday morning I'll spend a few days enjoying the city. Then I will be taking a train to Belgium for a quick visit. Then it's off to Paris for a few days.
I hope you come with my on my Instagram + Insta Stories.
Through the course of five years
it was zero balance,
or months unpaid,
or ten day shut-of notice,
but on nights of full power
there was music,
Sean's electric smile,
raw love and
drops of it
shot-up inside me—
but on the rare
days of the dark
there was the man with the
unearthly voice as
deep as the pits of Hell
his shocking rage,
his bloodied knuckles—
and what was I to do but
glide between the two,
until the storm came and
everything was cut-off.
The other night I took at table of one of my top five favorite Brooklyn spots...Rose Water in Park Slope (where I met Cynthia Nixon earlier this summer) with my date. We were seated next to a table of two ladies seemingly having a great evening. They were colorful, drunk on wine, and immediately very chatty with us. Pat (birthday girl!) and Sherry (pink!).
They were there to celebrate Pat’s 85th birthday (can I still be this fabulous a able bodied when I’m 85? Shit, I’ll take 45 in T-minus 7 years). And Sherry, the animated storyteller and center of the universe, told me she had the same thing that “Johnny McCain” had but she’s had it for five years now and to “never let anyone tell you when it’s your time. Make your own damn time!” An intravenous drip or electrical shock machine was afixed under her wrap that came up from a backpack that had a high tech device in it that I had never seen anything like before. It looked like she was carrying a spaceship in her backpack.
Pat reminded me of my auntie Geraldine, my mom’s eldest sister. Same eyes. Same mannerisms. Geraldine was married to Frank, the same name as my date, whom they were both fascinated by the fact that he is from Cameroon. Pat, a world traveler, said she wanted to know more about Cameroon and politely asked Frank about it while Sherry was telling me about Iran in the 1980s and how she had only been to eight countries, “OMG me too!” I said.
“Pat, tell them about your husband!” Sherry said cheerfully, tossing back another sip (big sip, like a Montgomery Maxton sip) of wine.
The story started out so romantic, but the end of the story was anything but cheerful. Pat had met her husband during the Second War of the World and after traveling that very world they settled in Brooklyn. But her husband met a grim fate in 1988 when he was killed onboard Pan Am Flight 103 when it was bombed by terrorist over Lockerbie, Scotland. God rest his soul.
The jarring end to the story barely put a dint in the atmosphere. “Get the pork! It’s the best!” Sherry shouted at me for probably the sixth time as the waiter idled tableside waiting for me to order some twenty minutes after arriving. I ordered my old so-and-so, the chicken dish.
The waiter surprised them with a small birthday cake and candle and I snapped a few photos. Hugs and kisses were given upon their exit and the dynamic duo strolled out into the Park Slope night and seemingly into another great story.
Pat (left), Sherry (upper right), and yours truly with Frank. Rose Water in Park Slope. 9.7.18.
31 August 2018
Thanks for the love, Lance!
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