Wendel All Together
Cruse, Howard. Chicago: Olmstead Press, 2001. 280 p., $17.95, paperback. ISBN 1587540126.
In a nutshell? A time traveling experience that resonates, eliminates, and ultimately preserves the distances between events. In the days of the Moral Majority, Reaganomics, and ACT-UP, a cast of average fags and dykes came together in the imagination of Howard Cruse to unfurl their beautiful lives through the pages of Wendel All Together. As Andre Breton aptly remarks in Nadja (1960):
A certain attitude necessarily follows with regard to beauty...neither dynamic nor static, I see beauty as I have seen you...Beauty is like a train that ceaselessly roars out of the Gare de Lyon and which I know will never leave, which has not left. It consists of jolts and shocks, many of which do not have much importance, but which we know are destined to produce one Shock, which does...Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all (159-160).
Believable contingency, to the point of pure suspension of (dis)belief, Cruse weaves fields ever green going on golden -- this fall lasts -- stories or real-scripts for two-dimensional performance artists. From 1983 through 1985 - INTERMISSION - then from 1986 through 1989, Wendel staged regularly in The Advocate. Before my knowing of time really, but like his Beautiful graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, Cruse truly brings us into the lives of these beings. If they have drank, smell the sweet alcohol on their lips. Feel the heat of their love. Stick your foot in your mouth when they utter embarrassing cues, closing the distance between our shared elements of the Negative. Shiver when we fear the re-election of Reagan. Social art opens spaces for pursuing the elusive and infinite knowing. Exploring intrepid details of the determinations of closely knitted fabrics of narrative, Cruse invites our souls to share in the love, struggle, rejoice, and pain with Wendel and Ollie, and all their family and friends during the tumultuous times for gays and lesbians in the 1980s.
Tripping over Ollie's tongue-tied insecure bank accounts and Reaganomics; "Tainted Love" and tennis shoes cutting the dancefloor; Sterno flames and politico rants; Homeless dreams fighting for the cover of Time magazine and the safety of security: You must understand, if but one thing, there is no other way for me to write this review now -- especially now. Broken towers and black bloated smoke burned on the screen. Layer upon layer, flowers with jeweled eyes gaze dumb now, no attention no longer needed. Yet Wendel still shines through the smoke and falling bodies, the pterodactyls smashing their heads against the mirror-shade geometrix. The event has grossly called into question the charred flag and its henchmen. Dour heads spin downward, crashes dead. Awaken to blurred screens unknown floors, the walls are still up. I know why they dance in the streets. I will dance in the streets when the Reaganator rusts in pieces, but this is a difference of another sort. Innocence if it ever existed is a stack of dimes -- impotent to our dreams. Globalization is no longer an advertising slogan. In the calm eye of terror Wendel was a bit of bright suns piercing the blackout and gently taking me hostage to another place.
What's the use in paragraphs? By the time Wendel, Ollie, and all their friends, family, and enemies lived across Cruse's cells I was not yet open to the world. The 1980s, as they exist in my memories, were worlds of vampiric wrinkly selfish Golems parading hatred publicly, adolescent boys, ghosts, roadkill pets, and cornfields. Too young and rural to really know of AIDS or the truth of white hot evil draped in the fresh, still steaming, skins of trustworthy old men -- my grandfathers they were not. I can only recall images and dislocated sound bites grinding forth from the gross orthos of gnarled fangs and splintering tongues -- hissing lurid spells against the children of Dionysos. Even if by training, context still seems so important. Tangentially is the only way in which I have known AIDS -- a friend of a friend's survival or suffering and death and all the strange and glorious lands in-between.
Central trains of thought collide in contextual references -- queer life in the American 1980s. All manner of "normal" life depicted. Cruse's invites us to interact with a variety of census binarisms -- intersecting through strata rich and poor, lipstick and dyke, gay-traditional and Queer, youth and season, politicos and slugs, the beat, the hip, the smoking, the worn-out-shoes, and the downright square. A cold heart in an amphibian shell, slimy wrinkles drooling down gnashing teeth decayed through speed in the countenance of patriotism, impotent thrusting tongue lapping oil from migrant skull-bowls lined in gilded pennies -- Ronnie Reagan and the technologists of white-power so terrified of their own desires they demanded witch-trials -- burning witches and their faggots. Tied to beeches with their own strands of blood, gays and other cultures in America were expected -- or at least hoped -- to asphyxiate on their imagined inhumanity. In the grim battle of positioning in the public imaginary the notion of all subgroup realities of true Being and humanity, Howard Cruse speaks in crystalline threads of Truth, as fine as spider's silk glistening with dew, complicated in the dynamics of chaos and entropy, generously allowing the lives of his/our creations an autonomy only abstracted in real life. Cruse's imagination spills onto pages divided by art and tradition, cells not prisons, Wendel, Ollie, Twerp/Farley/Branman, Clawboy, Sterno, Deborah, Tina, his characters spiral on into finite avant-garde-lite archetypes. Fall is approaching, pillars of sky have fallen, and a smoldering black hole grows worm-like between hearts and minds, sweet nosegay of rotting leaves and honey, crisp air moves through our walls -- cell walls -- unfolding in a flowering tapestry of red silk and burnt offerings. A familiar smell each year at the close of the yellow season, an invisible dense cloud of cool ether foreboding warm cider, jack o'lanterns, slasher flicks, pagan worship, and celebrations of the dead. This is how Wendel comes on to me, or am I coming on to him? I swear that I've known him before, we all have in way or another, yet he remains unpredictable -- convulsively alive.
Breton, Andre. Nadja. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Grove Press, 1960.