Tuesday, December 26, 2000
Richard Grayson has a column in the Arizona Republic today (: "Bronzes Are 'White' Only," about the lack of racial diversity in J. Seward Johnson's statues on display in downtown Mesa.
Sunday, November 5, 2000
The Orlando Sentinel today (Sunday, November 5, 2000) presents Richard Grayson's platform in his write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate.
The Arizona Republic today (Sunday, November 5, 2000) features a State Lines column by Richard Grayson, "On Living Where There's No There."
ON LIVING WHERE THERE'S NO THERE THERE
By Richard Grayson
A few weeks after moving to Arizona last spring, I was sitting in the café of a Valley megabookstore, staring out the window at the multiscreen theater and big-box stores on the other side of the shopping center. About to drive home, I fretted about the heavy traffic I'd be facing on the Florida Turnpike.
Then I noticed the mountains.
Shaken, I realized I was in the Ahwatukee Foothills and not in Boca Raton.
Less than a year away from official AARP-dom, I had just experienced my first "senior moment."
Upon further reflection, however, I recognized that my mistake was quite natural, considering I was in a "power center" which almost exactly resembled one I frequented near my former home in South Florida - down to the layout of the Barnes & Noble and the number of theaters (24) with stadium seating in the AMC megaplex.
Actually, everything was pretty much the same as in other shopping centers I'd been to in recent years, from Saratoga, Calif. and Garden City, N.Y. to Billings, Mont. and Willow Grove, Pa. Oh sure, the misters cooling off outdoor diners at the trendy restaurants should have clued me in as to the desert locale, but the slight variation from the norm only seemed to emphasize the similarity.
That was the moment I knew Arizona was home.
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like every other place.
I live in a garden apartment in Mesa, just off the Superstition Freeway at Dobson Road. It is very similar to the garden apartment I lived in last year in Davie, Fla., just off an exit of Interstate 595. As in Florida, my "rental community" here has swimming pools, a tennis court and a clubhouse. Nearby are subdivisions of "executive homes" on cul-de-sacs and artificial lakes. Palm trees line the wide, traffic-clogged streets. My day-to-day environment is essentially identical to the one I experienced 2,300 miles away: a suburban neighborhood whose density has made it de facto urban. There's a bus stop nearby to use in case my car breaks down, and a Starbucks is literally our next-door neighbor. I live amid the stucco and concrete of what architecture critic Melvin Webber, describing emerging metro areas of the West, has called a "non-place urban realm."
I can walk to the same supermarket (Albertsons) and bank (Bank of America) as I could in my former suburban Fort Lauderdale neighborhood. I'm still within a five-minute drive of a regional mall, golf course, library, park, and dozens of strip malls - though I must admit that in Florida I did live a lot closer to the local branch of the University of Phoenix.
If I'm in need of "shoppertainment" in the form of outlet stores, video arcades, foreign tourists, mall TV and dining amid mechanical denizens of the rain forest, I can take myself to nearby Arizona Mills, a carbon copy of the Sawgrass Mills by my old stamping grounds.
In Scottsdale I can use my Neiman-Marcus credit card and find that once exclusively Southern confection, Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
I now get my hair cut at the same worldwide chain that I've patronized in Gainesville, Fla., and Sheridan, Wyo. A short drive to Tempe and I can purchase my gourmet frozen dinners at the same Trader Joe's where I've shopped in Silicon Valley and on Long Island, and I pick up organic produce at the same Whole Foods Market I've patronized in South Florida, as well as in the suburbs of Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia. Although I subscribe to a different local paper here, I also continue to get home delivery of The New York Times.
Adjusting to life here was a snap. After all, not only did I already own a pair of Arizona jeans and regularly consume AriZona Iced Tea (the diet green variety, mostly), but when I lived in Manhattan in the 1980s, I'd eaten at the fabulously fashionable Arizona 206. In our global economy, what more needs to be done? After all, on Planet Consumer, whatever is unique to a region is reduced to mere buyable kitsch - like the saguaro-shaped pencils on sale at the local Walgreens.
But if you're expecting a lecture filled with terms like "soulless interchangeability," "unremitting déjà vu," and "sterile artifice," you won't get it from me. The sameness is exactly what I love about my part of Arizona. I like the fact that the only way I can tell I am entering a new neighborhood is when the fast-food outlets and chain stores start to repeat themselves. To a guy who's moved around as much as I have, the uniformity represents stability. The conformity makes me comfortable.
Of course it wasn't simply a familiar environment I craved. An important reason I chose to move to Phoenix was its diversity. Before coming here, I looked at Valley phone directories to check for ample numbers of Patels and Nguyens, Rodriguezes and Changs. I need a place where supermarkets carry kimchi and kasha, quinoa and collard greens, platanos y boniatos. Where there is a large enough gay community to accommodate lesbian Scrabble leagues, gay Realtors councils, and bitter longstanding feuds. Where there are synagogues representing all major branches of Judaism, including atheism. Where I can find an Ethiopian restaurant, Caribbean music, Iranian movies, an active Green Party and local punk and hip-hop scenes.
When a childhood friend from Brooklyn, who is Sikh, informed me that within a few blocks of her Coronado district home there were two different gurudwaras, I knew the Valley had the diversity I wanted.
Whatever natural beauty Arizona has to offer is not evident in my daily life. It would probably be lost on me if it were. Having grown up in New York City, I would not care if the whole world were paved over.
My formative years occurred in an environment not altogether different from the "non-place urban realm" of Sun Belt suburbia. Our house was in a remote part of Brooklyn, a 15-minute drive to the nearest subway stop; an hour's trip to Manhattan was always called "going to the city." We had a backyard swimming pool, and I was eager to learn to drive as soon as possible.
Although our neighborhood did leave me with a sensibility equidistant between that of Seinfeld and The Sopranos, it was also a neighborhood that didn't have a name until the 1970 opening of Kings Plaza, the Big Apple's first enclosed mall, just a three-block walk from our house. It featured the same anchor department stores I can find at Fiesta Mall.
Although I loved living in Manhattan as an adult, my annual visits confirm that even that quintessential urban locale is morphing into something else. The sleazy but vibrant honky-tonk of Times Square has been replaced by an environment as safe and artificial as Main Street in Walt Disney World. Other once-distinctive neighborhoods are looking more and more like everywhere else as they are invaded by the same chain stores all around me in Mesa.
Three years ago, in order to write a new book, I left a job as an attorney in Gainesville - where I lived off an interstate highway exit in a garden apartment across the street from a series of power centers complete with the mandatory Albertsons, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, T.G.I. Friday's, and Red Lobster. For a while I lived at artists' colonies and mooched off suburban friends, mostly women I knew from my 1970s undergraduate days and their tolerant husbands. In exchange for being a charming conversationalist and doing such genuinely enjoyable tasks as picking up dry cleaning and dinner sushi, looking in on elderly grandparents at nursing homes, walking Yorkshire terriers, and accompanying third-graders on class field trips, I got a spare bedroom ("the Lincoln bedroom," my friend Nina calls it) or a futon in the den. I did my writing at Burger Kings and Borders bookstores across Power Center Nation.
The artists' colonies - Villa Montalvo, the Ucross Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation - generously gave me the luxury of time and a room of my own to write. While I enjoyed being close to such fine examples of the natural world as the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the majestic landscape of Wyoming's high plains, and one of the last pieces of pristine prairie in the suburbs of Chicago, I often found myself abandoning nature in favor of the coffee bars of Silicon Valley, the McDonald's counter at the Wal-Mart in Sheridan, or the food court in the Northbrook Mall - places where I would sit with my iced tea or Diet Coke and scribble away to my heart's desire. The truth is I did my best work in these palaces of conspicuous consumption. Writing about American culture circa Y2K, I need bland commercial conformity for inspiration.
Arizona provides me with more than enough inspiration.
So I am happy to be an Arizonan. For now.
Like many other state residents, I don't expect to be living here for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I'll probably be moving to a place that looks just about the same.
Sunday, October 1, 2000
Richard Grayson has a letter in the New York Times today (October 1, 2000), "California's Freeway to Learning":
To the Editor:
Re "California Makes College an Entitlement," by Abigail Thernstrom (Op-Ed, Sept. 26):
If Ms. Thernstrom wishes to raise academic standards, she is not helping with her comment that ''a B is hardly a bang-up grade.''
When I was an undergraduate in the 1970's, I was quite happy with a B, which I felt reflected solid achievement if not excellence. But as a college instructor, I have found that students have come to see the once-honorable B as a badge of shame. Just today, a composition student came up to me after class to complain that the B-plus I'd given her on a competent but not outstanding essay was the lowest grade she'd ever received. Ms. Thernstrom's comments only contribute to the mind-set that good, solid work always merits an A.
Mesa, Ariz., Sept. 26, 2000
The writer teaches English at Arizona State University.
Sunday, September 3, 2000
The Fall 2000 issue of JOEY Magazine (issue 3) features a review of Richard Grayson's The Silicon Valley Diet:
The Silicon Valley Diet
Red Hen Press - $14.95
A collection of twelve short “Seinfeldian” stories (i.e., funny, clever, lightly written and neurotic, while simultaneously about nothing in particular). Richard Grayson’s The Silicon Valley Diet delivers its strongest material in the twelfth story, the one from which the book garners its title. The final story is about a formerly fat Caucasian gay male trying to get his diet book published, while deciding whether or not he should date an English-language-challenged Vietnamese immigrant whose main goal is to return to his country of origin. (Still with me?) Peculiar as that set-up sounds, it works because the main character in the story, like the best of Grayson’s characters, balances his neurotic self-awareness with a genuine sense of empathy and healthy serving of humor. While the stories of various gay men don’t achieve any particular kind of character arc, that’s largely beside the point. Grayson offers up several “that’s-exactly-how-I-feel” moments in the snippets he reveals from his characters’ lives—bringing humor, reality and touching sadness to the small, if occasionally obscure, moments that fill their days. The other fun stories include a liberal who’s obsessed with the depleting supply of the world’s cocoa and dating a non-chocolate-eating conservative, a teenage junior college student who has a distinctly un-salacious affair with one of his professors, and an endearing bass-player in a gay punk band who writes crappy angst songs with titles like “You Fucked Me,” and battles with his ex-boyfriend/lead singer over various mediocre names for their band. The cast of characters entertain while often feeling eerily like people you know, love, hate, lust after, or happen actually to be from time to time
Sunday, August 27, 2000
The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News of Florida interviews write-in U.S. Senate candidate Richard Grayson today (Sunday, August 27, 2000) on page E8 of its Martin County editions:
UNITED STATES SENATOR
home town: Davie and Cyberspace
number of years at that location: 20
number of years resident of the city, county or district you seek to serve in office: 20
present employment: Author, "The Silicon Valley Diet" (self-employed)
military experience: Draft dodger, 1970-1973
education: BA, political science and MFA, creative writing - Brooklyn College; MA, English - College of Staten Island; J.D. - University of Florida College of Law
elected offices previously held: None
community activities: Gadfly and pain
immediate family: Self, goldfish (Frisky) and occasional boyfriends
What reforms do you favor, to put social security on a sound long-term
We need to raise the current cap on FICA taxes so that incomes over $70,000 are taxed fully. We should raise the retirement age to 75 and increase payroll taxes. We should not put retirement funds at risk in the Wall Street casino.
What specific Florida concerns do you think most need federal attention, and what will you do to make sure they are addressed?
We must make sure Everglades restoration funds are authorized. Increased funding for education should be a federal priority. And the federal government should step in when Florida's moronic state legislators pass unconstitutional bills. Ending the phony "war on drugs" will make Florida a safer place.
In your view, what are the most pressing global concerns for the United States, and how would you address them?
In order to compete with other advanced nations, we must have universal health care, government-funded child care, and increased foreign aid to poor countries. We must end the embargo on Cuba and Iraq. The Senate should ratify international treaties promptly.
How well can our "downsized" military cope with evolving global risks? what changes in U.S. force size, structure or mission would you favor?
I would replace the entire military establishment at the Pentagon with the Girl Scouts of America, a volunteer organization that doesn't sanction huge cost overruns, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, or unworkable science fiction schemes - and their cookies are delicious, if eaten in moderation.
Other than topics mentioned, what do you see as major concerns?
Reparations for slavery must be paid. Increased government funding for the arts is a priority. The Senate must confirm federal judges promptly. We should end the federal death penalty and strengthen affirmative action. Finally, Americans are the fattest people on Earth. We need to lose weight. As a diet book author, I will encourage low-fat meals. I urge all Floridians who can write - admittedly, not a majority - to write me in for U.S. Senate.
Thursday, July 13, 2000
ECHO Magazine's August 17, 2000 issue features a review of Richard Grayson’s The Silicon Valley Diet in Ken Furtado's "Booked" column:
By Ken Furtado
. . . .
Arizona author Richard Grayson’s ninth short story collection, The Silicon Valley Diet (Red Hen Press, $14.95, trade pap.) contains a dozen works of fiction, having in common humor as dry as the desert and an assortment of nerdy-but-likeable Seinfeldian characters.
In “Willie 95,” the narrator reflects on his 30-year friendship with Willie, whose death he learned about on Compuserve, in sections titled after the menus of Microsoft Word.
“Salugi at Starbucks” is told via alternating narrative and e-mail exchanges, again spanning 30 years while Elihu waits in vain for his lover to move in.
The sections of “Anything but Sympathy” are named aftr words that can be formed from the letters S, P, O and T (spot, stop, post, etc.)
Many of the stories involve the inability to find or keep a boyfriend, an affinity for non-Caucasian lovers, and dissatisfaction with the narrator’s height (he’s short).
Grayson excels at a sort of Valley-speak mixed with stream of consciousness; his characters ramble on at length, brain-surfing from one topic or thought to another.
Many stories rely on a technique of alternating passages of complementary text with the narrative, as in “Moon Over Moldova,” in which we learn about Moldova while the narrator tells us about secretly loving this hot South American, then developing similar feelings for the guy’s lover. Effective for a single story, the technique loses its effectiveness when used repeatedly.
But Grayson’s humor will keep you turning the pages. His bullshit detector is dead-on, as in this sentence, from the title story: “I’d long ago given up going to slaughterhouses and trying to approach aspiring Abercrombie & Fitch catalog models emitting radiation from isotopes of unobtainium.”
Sunday, July 2, 2000
The Chicago Tribune's Sunday book section today (July 2, 2000) lists Richard Grayson's The Silicon Valley Diet on page 6:
READER'S GUIDE. New in Paperback.
THE SILICON VALLEY DIET
By Richard Grayson (Red Hen Press $14.95)
A short-story collection uses computer jargon to access the concerns of young
Tuesday, June 27, 2000
The Apache Junction (Arizona) Independent today (June 27, 2000) reports on Richard Grayson's residency at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Monday, June 5, 2000
Richard Grayson has a letter in the New York Times today (June 5, 2000), "Summer Squall in Southampton":
To the Editor:
Re ''Summer Residents Want Year-Round Voice'' (front page, May 30):
It is understandable that the wealthy seasonal residents of the Hamptons and other resort communities want a voice in local taxation issues. But it would be unfair to allow them to vote in local elections in two communities. Americans long ago abandoned property qualifications for voting, in favor of the principle of one person one vote.
Rich people with a Manhattan apartment and a Southampton house should choose one of those locations as their voting residence. Otherwise, their wealth will give them two votes and represent not them but their property.
Apache Junction, Ariz., May 30, 2000
Sunday, May 28, 2000
In today's book review section, The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reviews Richard Grayson's The Silicon Valley Diet:
The (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel (May 28, 2000):
Snapshots of modern humanity
By PAT MACENULTY
THE SILICON VALLEY DIET AND OTHER STORIES. Richard
Grayson. Red Hen Press. $14.95.
Most readers will find something familiar in the ninth collection of short stories, a paperback original, by the Fort Lauderdale author and college instructor Richard Grayson.
I, for one, enjoyed revisiting my old stomping grounds of Plantation and Tallahassee, and being reminded of the taste of croissants from Zabar's in Manhattan. I nodded as I read Grayson's renditions of the daily dramas that unfold in e-mails, the concerns with what we eat, the trauma of teaching community college students to write five-paragraph essays and the quest for good, if not always true, love.
Gay readers will most likely appreciate the affectionate and funny portrayals of gay men in tender and troubled relationships. Straight readers shouldn't have any problems identifying, either. All the protagonists in these stories seem to be looking for the kind of lifelong commitment that Mom and Dad embodied.
Although memorial services for young men seem commonplace in Grayson's fiction, the stories are not tragedies. They serve up slices of life as we know it right here and now with hate crimes, weight worries and easy money for Internet whizzes.
Structurally, the stories do not provide traditionally rendered scenes, and they don't move linearly along from point A to point B to point C and so on. Many of them are broken up with italicized passages that serve as a counterpoint to the narrative. I like stories that bring disparate ideas together, but occasionally when reading them en masse, the technique becomes superfluous.
That small quibble aside, let me say that the stories overall are funny, intelligently written and original. "Spaghetti Language" mixes the narrator's love for a dead grandfather, a friend's beautiful 4-year-old child, and his lover, Terence, a gorgeous, tall, young black man who appears in several stories with learning computer programming language. There is a connection.
"Boys' Club" drops the reader smack dab into the lives of a gay punk band. This is probably the most traditional story and my favorite. The narrative voice is so authentically young and misunderstood and rebellious and poignantly philosophical: "Anarchism doesn't only mean destroying the government. It could
also mean destroying the forces dictating how people have to live. It was more acceptable to be out in the punk scene than in mainstream music culture even before you were able to slam around with other boyfags in lingerie."
Grayson's writing is full of delicious nuggets. Here's an insight in the title story about the narrator's hunt for a meaningful relationship: "I'd long ago given up going to slaughterhouses and trying to approach aspiring Abercrombie & Fitch catalog models emitting radiation from isotopes of unobtainium. After enough `access denied' messages, you don't want to do anything but log off."
Other cool stories include "Those Old Dark, Sweet Songs," about the narrator's complicated relationship with Terence; "The Five Stages of Eating at Cuban-Chinese Restaurants," in which Terence breaks up with the narrator; and "Anything but Sympathy" about a 30-year-old man's first relationship with another man.
These stories accurately capture snapshots of our culture at a very interesting moment. The Silicon Valley Diet and Other Stories sets out to prove we haven't really lost our humanity under the deluge of technology. And we probably never will.
Pat MacEnulty, a former promotional writer for the Sun-Sentinel, is a short-story writer and freelance fiction editor in Charlotte, N.C.
Monday, April 17, 2000
In "Notes on Fiction," the current (May 15, 2000) issue of Publishers Weekly has a brief review of Richard Grayson's The Silicon Valley Diet:
Compulsively talky and engaging disjunctive, the 12 stories in The Silicon Valley Diet, Richard Grayson's ninth collection, flash snapshots of gay men in their 20s, 30s and 40s battling it out in an online world. Lighter and funnier than much gay fiction, the stories riff on contemporary consumer culture (I'm wearing Calvin Klein chhinos like the sexy adolescents I spotted this morning in full-pages in Wired and Swing) and introduce sweet, mixed-up characters like Terence, who has a child "slept with a teddy bear -- even when he was practically, by his own admission, a teenage prostitute." Grayson knows New York City -- where many of these stories are set -- inside and out. (Red Hen,$14.95 paper 182p ISBN 1-888966-23-4; June)
Saturday, January 15, 2000
Richard Grayson has a letter in the New York Times today (January 15, 2000), oppsing reparations for the victims of crimes committed by prisoners who were brutalized at Attica and compensated for the government's brutality.