We’ve all seen the Craigslist, Grindr, and Scruff ‘need-not-apply’ lists — fats, fems, non-whites, etc., but queer disabled men are so invisible they rarely even appear in those litanies. However, Raymond Luczak puts them front and center in this great collection of powerful and empowering stories, The Kinda Fella I Am.
The umbrella opened by the word “disability” is large, so this collection has a lot to deal with and it does so admirably–in less than a hundred and fifty pages. Quads, paras, psoriatics, Deaf men, and men whose disabilities are never revealed all have representation here, and that’s a beautiful thing. You’d expect the stories to be either rageful or “samey” after a while, and although that anger-fueled voice does appear from time to time, these tales are anything but alike.
The title story, first in the collection, tells you right up front what you’re in for:
When I show up at the Eagle, I scare the shit out of strangers. There’s the mud-splattered spokes of my wheels, the beat-up edges of my seat, the crud-smoothed-over bike bar handles behind my shoulders. You could say this older chair’s my Harley-Davidson. I got on my t-shirt and leather vest, and my jeans folded underneath my stumps…But tonight is different. I’ve caught you standing by the wall with your buddies, drinking and talking…You’re in your thirties. Cute smile. Sharp flattop. Nice ass…Oh yeah. I’m gonna snooker you before the night’s over. You just don’t know it yet.
The bravado of this voice is not a defense, an act, or a persona. The character reveals it as a well-honed honesty pared to a sharp edge by years of disappointment and anger intermingled with flashes of kindness and humanity from others. It is challenging and meant to be so.
Picking favorites here is tough because each of these pieces has something to recommend it. However, some of them have stuck with me in the days that followed after I finished this. “Cartography,” about a man with psoriasis who prowls the bathhouses wearing a t-shirt to hide his lesions, was a hopeful lesson in connection, as was “A Crip Fairy Tale.” I also liked “This” a great deal, an involving story dealing with two Deaf dancers, one of whom always provides money, home, and a safe haven for the other, despite the way his friend takes advantage of him time and time again.
I also liked “September Song,” a very engaging tale about an able guy working at a carnival. This kid is terrified of his homosexuality and afraid to come out until he meets a straight paraplegic he helps onto the ferris wheel he’s tending. After he puts the guy back into his wheelchair, the para outs him:
“You’re a homo…It’s okay if you are. Fellas like you were always nice to me after I got my legs chopped off, so I don’t care if you’re that way. Doesn’t matter none to me…You looked at me. Everybody pretends I’m not there, and if they see me, all they want to do is to thank me for serving in Germany. Or they act like I’m a freak show. Dames think that if you got your legs chopped off, you got your dick chopped off too. Damn, I can’t find me a girl. But you–you’re different. You didn’t get flustered or tell that I can’t go up or it’s unsafe for me to get on the ride. That’s all I want from anyone.”
That lesson in involvement, in engagement, in inclusivity, gives the kid the courage to think about quitting his dead-end carny life and moving to Greenwich Village so he can be truer to himself.
And that, ultimately, seems to be the goal of The Kinda Fella I Am–to provide lessons on how to be true to yourself despite those around you who encourage you to do otherwise. Highly recommended.
© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler