Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Disappointed, Nostalgic but Sweeter.

I am in the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport waiting for my flight back to the Wretched Little City. I am at the gate, studying the carpet, wondering what she looked like, the designing woman who suggested the installation of a pattern composed of orange hibiscus and giant purple moths over a sea of tealish twigs.

airport carpet

If only the moths would wake up and chew this carpet, the airport might replace it with something less lurid. I bet she looks like that frail single woman with the jet black hair who designs yacht interiors, and who lives with her mother in the apartment next to ours. They both use the same bottle of hair dye. (A gossipy queen clutching a tiny dog in a red plaid jacket told me this in the elevator this morning. His eyelashes fluttered as he said, “The color is called ‘Raven’s Wing’”)

First, the disappointment.

My affection for NBA basketball is ancillary to my affection for Jason Kidd who plays for the Nets,


and is rooted in my experience as captain of my High School seminary basketball team…cheerleaders. Grabbing the belts of, and climbing up the rumps of my larger squadmates after shouting “Gimme an S!” and then looking at the approvingly ecstatic Catholic faces in the packed gymnasium bleachers from atop a human pyramid of future priests made me giddy, as they screamed their love at our athletic erection by dutifully repeating the spelling of the name of our patron saint (which should have been, but was not, Mary).

Given this, I was first in line at the bookstore of the Galleria Mall to get John Amaechi’s autobiography, Man in the Middle. Mr. Amaechi is the only NBA player to come out of the closet. This is his story.


I regret spending $25.00 on this book (plus tax). Here are the reasons:

1) This is the story of a very tall, fat and friendless kid whose admirable single mother escaped a threatening husband and raised her family in England, giving her son the drive to become something even bigger than his shoe size (15). He temporarily sheds his fat and builds a body to match his acquired athletic skills. You would think there would be the usual set of photos inserted on glossy pages about half way through the book that are de rigeur for this type of breezy bio. I always go through them before reading a word of the text. The best of the lot were the ones in Liz Taylor’s effort, Elizabeth Takes Off, and in Katharine Hepburn’s Me. In this case, the only photo is the one on the dust jacket. Surely there's a snap of him shoveling a plate of his beloved Twinkies down his throat? Are we to assume this to be an effort to make us take the story more seriously? I think not, given that it is ghost-written in carelessly comic book cadence by the flogging-worthy Chris Bull, who makes Mr. Amaechi seem like a darker and taller version of Caspar the Friendly Ghost. Without the before and after pics, my heart strings sag, untugged. (Really, I bet the publishers cheaped out on the production of this book, doubting it would sell much beyond its headline moment.)

2) This turns out not to be a story about a gay professional basketball player as much as it is the story of a sad child who uses his elongated body to patch together a life that he rather regrets in the long run. He admits to never having loved his sport. Eventually rich, he builds himself a grand house with a huge hot tub before realizing that he has no friends to fill it. He spends a lot of time hammering us with his post-basketball charity work as a helper of needy children. OK, but that’s standard pageant patter. What else ya got ta say?

3) This is a miserably unsexy book about a really sexy circumstance: the locker room and hotel-life of professional sportsmen. Mr. Amaechi seems to have barely been there. Did he even glance at his team mates? If he’s just trying to take some sort of high road by not acknowledging, let alone indulging our sexual fantasies, well I’m sorry, but the result passes beyond prudish clear through to boring. He mentions having had one boyfriend who remains, in this dry account, entirely faceless and mute. He mentions having had sex repeatedly in a library bathroom at Penn State. I was stunned at the blandness and brevity of the telling of this, his first gay sexual experience. He mostly avoids gay bars and wouldn’t consider internet trolling. Too big to be really prissy, he calls to mind the Brontosaurus: hugest of it species, and yet, a taciturn vegan.

4) Mr. Amaechi seems like a nicey-nice fellow, and I would like to have sex (once) entangled in his banyanesque limbs, but given his addiction to carbohydrates and his swishy attitude about Earl Grey tea, God help the man who becomes his boyfriend, forced to sit by the fireplace every night watching Mr. Amaechi’s hips swell faster and larger than K.D. Lang’s.

5) I’d like to say one good thing about this book. I think it unintentionally provides us with a Swarovski crystal clear insight into the contract negotiation system of the NBA, and into the moronic and brutish behavior of team managers, coaches and owners.

New York Pride is in June. I’m guessing Mr. Amaechi won’t be entirely forgotten by then and will probably be featured prominently in an expensive Savile Row suit, waving at us from a convertible, in the parade. After that, he ought to wait ten years, and then try rewriting this little mess, adding the missing ingredients of his sure-to-be-acquired insight and passion.

On to the nostalgic.

We made on offer on that condo. The agent spluttered into his end of the phone connection but has agreed to place it. A low offer means a smaller commission for him, but I let him know that I did my homework and that I would contact the seller directly if he did not convey my offer, as is mandated by law. No one helps the buyer in this game, so you’ve got to move with stealth and steel.

While poking about the condo, I opened a medicine cabinet. I bet Viola was the mother of the airport carpet designer, and, I bet the contractors went home grateful for her specificity as to which end is up.

Viola cabinets

The agent brought us round back to the pool. It is surrounded on two sides by the dense jungle of Birch Park, on a third side by the condo tower, and on a fourth side by this magical view of the rear of the neighboring building. This epitomizes the pre-cast concrete allure of 1960’s Fort Lauderdale that is so embraceable. So want-to-live-inside-itable. So Ray-Ban. So Pucci. So McGuire Sisters.

fort L 1960's

The Sweeter?

Well, I promised I’d be nicer to the guys I met, and I was, and they were really sweet back. More on that soon.


Mike said...

I forgot where I read it, but one sports writer said that the big reveal in Amaechi's book was his revelation that professional sports players often do that for a living, and not a love of the game. For some of them, it's drudgery. Like you, I wouldn't mind swinging from his appendages for a time or two, but I prefer men my own size (short.) Hope you get the condo.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Amaechi's reluctance to mention stuff is still sheer paranoia. Like if he said how he scoped out all the other guy's asses there'd be a backlash of "see, we all KNEW that's what gays do". Dunno.

You don't know how much I envy you guys getting out to FLL. Be lucky if I get further south than NYC this winter.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Amaechi's reluctance to mention stuff is still sheer paranoia. Like if he said how he scoped out all the other guy's asses there'd be a backlash of "see, we all KNEW that's what gays do". Dunno.

You don't know how much I envy you guys getting out to FLL. Be lucky if I get further south than NYC this winter.

evilganome said...

Wonderful post as always. The weather is obviously bowing to your return. It is trying to fool us into believing that spring is coming and acting warmer and making empty promises of more to come. Good luck on the condo. We shall keep our fingers crossed.

circleinasquare said...

Now that I've seen the exterior, I hold a fully imagined interior in my head, including:

glossy white vinyl wall covering printed with mylar lattice; a circular flokatti floating on oblong travertine tiles; raw tussah silk, chartreuse linen ottoman and lime green patent leather upholstery; cerused oak, nickel plated steel and chunky Lucite; all lit by a Castiglioni Arco lamp and plaster sconces imitating clusters of bleached coral.

Now all we have to do is find a Harry Bertoia Sounding sculpture to stand before the window in the corner.

Bruce said...

Just because Amaechi is the first gay pro basketball player to emerge from the closet doesn't mean that he is either interesting, passionate, or very open with himself. The act of coming out, as courageous as it may seem, doesn't rule out the possibility of being emotionally constipated.

He had a professional life that really didn't engage him; he did it for money. No reason to believe his ghost written autobiography would be much different.

BigAssBelle said...

it's a drag when one of "my people" (for me, drunks, dopers, food addicts) turns out to be kind of ho-hum and ordinary. i relish drama and depth and the extraordinary. he was just another unhappy boy growing up to go to work in an unlikely profession.

i don't know, i don't think she had black hair. that carpet tells me she was a helmet-headed blonde, bubbly and accented and smoking cigarettes one after the other.