Saturday, August 12, 2006
Sal had checked out the alumni section of the Molloy site and found my very out page. He wrote to say that his first novel is in distribution, available on amazon.com, and perhaps I might be interested. I was, and have it on order (at under $11, new). Here's the publicity piece:
Seventy Times Seven, Gay Novel by Former Catholic Brother
Publisher: Haworth Press, Southern Tier Editions (ISBN: 1560235993)
Salvatore Sapienza's debut novel, Seventy Times Seven, is an exploration of religion and homosexuality with a Catholic brother and teacher at its center – as told by a real-life former religious brother and openly gay man.
Sapienza taught high school English at an all-boys high school in New York and ministered to people with AIDS, working alongside Father Mychal Judge, the New York City fire chaplain who died in the World Trade Center attacks and subject of the film "Saint of 9/11."
Seventy Times Seven is a poignant, sexy and romantic novel about a young man's struggle to integrate his religious beliefs with his sexual desires. The gap between sexuality and spirituality is punctuated throughout the novel with quotes from the Scripture, and from song lyrics from Prince and Madonna, artists who merged the two worlds in provocative and groundbreaking fashion.
Interestingly, I had often wondered during the height of the Catholic priest sex scandal whether there had ever been any accusations against teaching brothers. I didn't know of any at the time and still don't, perhaps because they're organized differently from priests and live very different lives. Although I was a pretty green kid during my high school years, I was aware that a number of brothers at the school were gay--chalk it up to baby gaydar. Sal and I have had an enjoyable email conversation and I sent him an endorsement of the book I found in one of Dan Savage's recent columns.
While digging through what I remember of my extreme youth, my earliest memory is of my second birthday. Just a few relatives were in attendance. There was a single layer chocolate-frosted yellow cake with two red candles. It was on the coffee table that had been moved in front of the blue and white delft tile-trimmed fireplace of our apartment on the second floor of 235 West 72nd Street, New York City.
I can draw the ground plan of that apartment from memory to this day. It was in one of a row of handsome five story buildings, each with a shop (Sklar the Furrier was in ours) on street level, and two apartments on each of the upper floors. Behind Sklar's, there was the choice apartment of the lot that was larger than the rest and had exclusive use of the back patio and garden. While we were living there the resident of this prime apartment was Tibor Kozma, an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. So perhaps I absorbed my musical passion at an early stage from his presence in the building.
These were extremely comfortable, solid, pre-World War I buildings with wonderfully varied architectural details that fascinated me from an early age—the visual designer was already beginning to emerge at about age three. These days, at five stories, they aren't the most efficiently profitable use of land on a Manhattan Island that's apparently screaming to be overstocked with luxury condos. Last time I drove off the West Side Highway and down West End Avenue to Lincoln Center, I passed 72nd and saw preparations being made to tear down the whole block for some new high rise that will trumpet its river views and charge for a studio condo what some people make in a lifetime.
When I was four and a half, we moved to a newly built project of six story apartment buildings in Queens. The less said about all that, the better. Unfortunately, I was blessed/cursed with both a photographic memory and a tendency to be haunted by the past. But I'm still amazed at some of the minutia I still retain from very early in life. Two or three years ago I told Fritz I'd woken up one morning and our phone number in Queens suddenly popped into my head, NE9-2715, and it's remained there ever since.
NE9? This was before zip codes, and most area codes. This was when you could pick up the phone and a fleet of operators would assist for free (in fact HAD to assist) in placing collect or long distance calls. This was still the era of operator over-pronunciation of certain numbers: "Newtown ny-un two seven one fy-uv," for example. The old fashioned telephone exchanges were still in use, before they had to be made much more flexible by eliminating the names and substituting any combination of numbers in the first two places. Newtown was the exchange for our area of Queens.
In Manhattan there were Murray Hill, Trafalgar (my Aunt Olga had a Trafalgar number), Grammercy and a host of others. A big joke in New York City was New Jersey's exchange—the entire state seemed to be on this one--Bigalow. When a commercial for a business came on the radio, everyone waited for them to give the Manhattan number and then chanted along with the announcer ". . . and in New Jersey call Bigalow . . ."
Fritz's Ancestors in North America: Part Two, The first attempts at Colonization
Sir Walter Raleigh was the next in the family to become involved in the New World, as an organizer and promoter of colonies on the North Carolina barrier islands. The first group, all male, arrived in 1585, set up a fort and village but, facing drought and starvation, abandoned it when another English ship happened by. Raleigh's second group of settlers, men and women, arrived in 1586, found the abandoned fort and tried to make a go of it. But all English ships of any kind were soon involved in defending England from the Spanish Armada's attack in 1588. Nobody came to resupply the settlers, all of whom soon passed into history as the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
The idea of colonization languished until 1602 when Captain Bartholomew Gilbert, son of Sir Humphrey, was the next family member to make the attempt. In company with co-Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, Gilbert sailed out of Dartmouth England in March of 1602 with thirty-two men in all. On their small ship, Concord, they crossed the North Atlantic in six weeks by a route dramaticallyshorter than any used before, arriving on the southern Maine coast on May 14. They made at least some contact with the native American population, which they were able to discern had enough contact with Spanish fishermen on the Grand Banks to speak pidgin Basque with foreigners.
Then they sailed south and were the first English to arrive at Cape Cod, naming it for the great schools of the fish they found there. In short order they encountered and explored Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands, naming them and many places or natural features on them all.
They sailed as far west as what we now call Buzzard's Bay and set up camp on Cuttyhunk Island. There they planted an experimental garden, and established friendly contact with the native tribes with whom they traded for food and a great deal of sassafras which was valued in England. Gilbert and Gosnold decided to establish a colony. When provisions and equipment were inventoried, however, they were found insufficient to sustain both a colony and the Concord's return to England. The garden's plants, nine inches tall just two weeks after planting, were noted as an indication of extremely fertile soil, and then all hands packed up and sailed back to England where the sassafras sold for a handsome profit.
Bartholomew Gilbert was at sea again in 1603 in a ship provided by uncle Sir Walter Raleigh, charged with exploring the Carolina barrier islands for any sign of the Lost Colonists of Roanoke. Captain Gilbert sailed first to the Caribbean to cut and load twenty tons of lignum vitae wood to pay for the voyage, after which he proceeded north. He overshot the Carolinas and on July 29 he and his crew became the first Englishmen to enter Chesapeake Bay, a name he transliterated from the Native American K'tchisipik. A landing on the Eastern Shore, today also known as the Delmarva Peninsula, ended in disaster as Gilbert and two other men were killed in a skirmish with a native tribe. Survivors of the attack retreated to the ship and returned immediately to England. It would be four more years before another attempt at colonization could be organized, funded and staffed.