Friday, December 29, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 17

In Chapter Sixteen, Wyatt's parents feel the heat for Wyatt's outing Lincoln - a lawsuit from the Mayor for lost business revenue, and the threat of Wyatt's mom losing her job... unless they can bury the story completely. But then, Wyatt's invited to appear on a popular T.V. talk show, one with seven million viewers. His mom is convinced it's their best chance of salvaging the situation -- and getting huge publicity for their struggling B&B. They race to downtown Portland to make it to the T.V. studio in time.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Seventeen!

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Chapter 17
Monday January 19

Ms. Eagle’s Bible Cheat Sheet: Phineas (also Phinehas)
Numbers 25:1-5
The people of Israel were whoring around with the daughters of Moab, and starting to follow their gods, and the LORD told Moses he was pissed off.
Numbers 25:6-9
Phineas, the son of an Israelite priest, saw his countryman Zimri, the prince of a chief house of the Simeonites, getting it on with Cozbi, a high-born Midianitish woman. Phineas got a spear, went into their tent – where the couple was getting busy – and ran them through.
Numbers 25:10-15
God was pleased with Phineas, because he had been zealous for the sake of the LORD. Good things happened for the Israelites after that, because God wasn’t angry with them anymore.

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            The announcer’s voice boomed around Wyatt and his parents as they stood just off-stage. “A conservative in the heart of the liberal Pacific Northwest… A thorn in their back-side… Your friend, and mine… And a Great American… Ernest Von Lawson!”
            The studio audience of seventy screamed like they were at the Superbowl as Ernest Von Lawson walked past Wyatt onto the set in a dark blue suit, white shirt, red tie, and green and black cowboy boots that Wyatt would have bet ten bucks had never seen a horse. “Hello, Real America!” Von Lawson waved like a rock star and sat at his desk.
            The show started with a couple of jokes that Von Lawson read off a teleprompter. They went over big. Someone with a clipboard tapped Wyatt on the shoulder. “You’re on in two.”
            Wyatt’s mom straightened his thin black tie, something his dad had from college, and pulled at the sleeves of the gray dress shirt Wyatt had gotten for his Great-Aunt Freida’s funeral last summer, like that was going to make it fit. The whole time, she was reviewing Wyatt’s robot-programming. “Okay, Sweetie. Remember to call him Mister Von Lawson. Be respectful. Get our points in – Tours. Lincoln Heritage. Cozy Rooms. Yummy food. A real taste of the Civil War-Era.”
            His dad soft-punched him in the arm. “Knock ‘em dead, soldier.”
            He guessed he was. And the battlefield was national T.V.
            Someone pushed Wyatt to start walking. His mom whispered urgently behind him, “Make sure someone says The Lincoln Slept Here B&B in Lincolnville, Oregon, or they won’t be able to find us!”
            Von Lawson wound up his introduction. “He’s one of our youngest guests ever, blogger and ninth grade student at Lincolnville High School in, where else?, Lincolnville, Oregon, please welcome Wyatt Yarrow!”
            There was applause for Wyatt, which he thought was cool, and he followed the line of red tape on the floor out onto the set. He shook Von Lawson’s hand and sat in the black leather armchair nearest the desk. The lights were really bright, and the makeup ‘so you won’t be shiny’ made his face feel tight, but he was pretty pumped up.
            “Wyatt.” Von Lawson leaned forward on his desk, all friendly. Wyatt tried to focus on what Von Lawson was saying and not on the cameras. Which one was on?
            “It seems you’ve decided to try and single-handedly destroy the Republican Party.”
            “Destroy the memory of the greatest President the United States of America has ever had.” Von Lawson paused, making sure he had everyone’s attention. He had Wyatt’s. “Destroy the proud legacy of Abraham Lincoln.”
            Boos. The crowd was booing him.
            Oh no.            
Von Lawson turned to the audience. “Let me tell you what this young man has done. He started a blog, an innocent enough thing, to do a book report on President Lincoln. Honest Abe. Sounds okay so far, right?” Cautious nods. “Gentlemen in the audience, who here has a best friend? Can I get a show of hands?” Men who looked like truckers and farmers and High School coaches put their arms up. Every guy in the audience had a best friend. So did Von Lawson. With a leer, Von Lawson lowered his hand. “Now tell me, are you having carnal, unnatural, immoral relations with him?”
The studio audience bellowed like a zoo full of furious, injured animals.
            Von Lawson patted the air to get the audience to listen. “Well, Wyatt here, he thinks you probably are!” The people in the front row made faces like Wyatt was a steaming pile of poop. A shot of Wyatt’s school blog was projected on a screen behind Von Lawson’s desk, Wyatt’s blog header shouting ‘QUEER AS A FIVE-DOLLAR BILL’ in ten-inch-high letters.
Von Lawson kept going. “In fact, his blog – paid for with our taxpayer money – says that our sixteenth president was doing the nasty nightly with his best friend, Joshua Fry Speed. His best friend! Have you ever heard something so disgusting?” Hisses and boos. Someone yelled, “Pervert!” One woman crossed herself as a guttural growl travelled through the audience.
            People started shouting and Wyatt struggled to make himself heard. “It’s not your tax money anymore… The school deleted the blog!”
Von Lawson turned on him. “Ahh, but you, with your deviant homosexual agenda, put it up on another site, didn’t you? Queer as a five dollar bill dot com. These images are live from the internet.” Von Lawson signaled over the audience and the image behind them changed to Wyatt’s new blog. It scrolled down both of the posts about Lincoln being gay; the video and the letter. Von Lawson continued, “He even included his so-called ‘proof,’ stealing images from the book about Lincoln’s best friend and posting them illegally!” The website showed those pages, too.
Words flashed at the bottom of the monitor that showed Von Lawson what was being broadcast. Wyatt couldn’t help but read it:
Lincoln. Under. Attack!
“You know, it’s such a crazy idea, that we here at the Von Lawson Report did a national survey.” On the screen, graphics appeared by Von Lawson’s head as he spoke. “And it turns out that two percent of people think Lincoln might have been ‘sweet’ on another guy – as absurd and toxic a lie as that is. But, that survey has a plus or minus error of three percent! Which means that something less than zero percent of people actually believe our President Lincoln, founder of our Republican Party, was a limp-wristed fairy.”
Sitting there, Wyatt knew he had to say something, but Von Lawson wasn’t about to stop… “Even with more than a hundred-and-one percent of people knowing it’s nothing short of historical terrorism, Wyatt and his attack on Lincoln are getting quite a bit of attention. As Lincoln isn’t here to defend himself, it falls to me. To all of us. To stand up…” Here Von Lawson got up and walked around his desk to be right in front of the audience, “and say, repeat it after me, Hell no!
            “Hell, no!” The studio audience roared to its feet.
            Von Lawson relished every shouted syllable. “Lincoln was great!
            “Lincoln was great!” It flashed through Wyatt’s mind that the only thing that kept them from being a mob was that they didn’t have lit torches and pitchforks.
            Von Lawson slashed the air like his arm was a sword and he would have first blood. “Lincoln was STRAIGHT!
            “Lincoln was STRAIGHT!” It was pandemonium, and Wyatt wished he could just disappear.
With a satisfied expression, Von Lawson shook his head from side to side. After a long time, he motioned them to settle down. He got a solemn look on his face. “It’s in moments like this, when we need to ask ourselves… what would Phineas do?”
A roar exploded out of the crowd.
What? What did that even mean?
“What would God ask of us, in the face of this plot to make an idol of their perversion, to flush our country down into the sewers of chaos and madness, to destroy the very foundation of this Christian nation?”
A photo of Wyatt’s family’s B&B appeared on the screen behind them.
Oh no.
Von Lawson gave a sly smile. “Would He want you to visit the place that’s saying that Lincoln had this lethal addiction, spending four years doing terrible things against God’s moral order with his best friend? Well, if you think He would, then you go visit Wyatt’s family’s Bed and Breakfast, amusingly enough called the ‘Lincoln Slept Here Bed and Breakfast.’ Though after hearing what they’re saying went on in that bed, I know I’ve lost my appetite.
 “But here’s an idea for you heathens out there: Why don’t you make a day of it?”
The screen behind Wyatt and Von Lawson started showing photos of the different businesses in Lincolnville, with Photoshopped drag queens and Gay Pride Rainbow flags and shirtless guys holding hands in front of them. Von Lawson said, “How about, after getting your queer history at their Lincoln-Was-A-Sexual-Deviant B and B, you get your homosexual Civil War photo taken at Woo’s Historic Photo Shop? Do some queer shopping on Johnson Street and the Gay ol’ stores on Union Square.”
            The studio audience howled, eating up the pictures and every word. “Hungry yet? Get your homo food at the Lincolnville Pantry, and your how-to-be-queer books at the Lincolnville Public Library. And evidently, you can get your nothing’s-too-sacred-to-be-gay-for-us education at Lincolnville’s very own public High School. You want to know what’s wrong with our country today, Real America? The radicalized and destructive homosexual agenda coming out of Lincolnville, Oregon!”
            The audience cheered.
Wyatt felt pummeled. He was trapped there in the chair by Von Lawson’s desk, cameras on him, and nowhere to hide. He could feel himself sweating through his shirt, and hoped it didn’t show.
Wyatt noticed someone with a clipboard give Von Lawson a thumbs-up, and then the host changed gears. “But the news out of Lincolnville isn’t all bad. Another young man – a Real American! – has courageously stepped forward to respond to these allegations about our beloved 16th President…”
            There was a drumroll, and Von Lawson flung his hand to the side of the stage as a cymbal crashed.
Wyatt whipped his head up in time to see a spotlight hit Jonathon, standing there in jeans and a blazer over a yellow T-shirt. The audience fell silent.
Jonathon’s voice rang out across the stage: “If you think Lincoln was gay, then I’m a proud member of the John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society!” He took off his jacket so the cameras and everyone could see his T-shirt, with black letters that said that very thing:
Then Jonathon turned around, so they could all read the back:
The crowd went wild as Wyatt tried to not freak out.
Wyatt watched a red-light-topped camera push in on Von Lawson as the host laughed, “I want one of those!”
“I’ve got one for you!” Jonathon strode across the stage and, from the side of the leather chair next to Wyatt, lifted a small shopping bag. He presented it to Von Lawson, who pulled out a T-shirt of his own. To whistles and huge applause, Von Lawson took off his blazer and pulled the T-shirt on over his shirt and tie.
Time seemed to slow as Von Lawson got back behind his desk and Jonathon sat in the chair to Wyatt’s right. Wyatt could see the two paths ahead:
If he admitted he was gay, no one would ever believe him about Lincoln. The whole thing would disappear again into history.
Or, he could stay on the path he was on. Stay ‘straight,’ and like Martin said, let the story of Abe and Joshua make a difference. In lots of people’s lives… just not his own.
Steeling himself, he spoke as soon as the noise dropped down enough to be heard. “Believing Lincoln was gay doesn’t make you a fairy!”
Jonathon stared accusingly at him. “But you are!”
Wyatt stood his ground. “I’m not. But Lincoln might have been. Not… not a fairy, but, in love with another guy!”
            Jonathon’s come-back was whip-quick. “Where’s the real proof? All you have is stupid letters. They had kids! Lincoln and Mary had this pretty beautiful traditional family – and there’s power in that!”
Wyatt tried to sound confident, “Why can’t intelligent people – intelligent straight people – disagree?”
Von Lawson cut them both off, standing to model his new t-shirt for the cameras, “Well, Wyatt. If you think Lincoln was gay, then I believe that makes me a proud member of the John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society!”
Hoots and applause.
Von Lawson turned to Jonathon as he sat back down, “I suppose that makes me your first official member?”
“There’s no formal society, yet…” Jonathon said with a shrug. “It’s really more to show just how stupid it is to think that Abraham Lincoln was anything other than a red-blooded, woman-loving, real American!” He looked at Wyatt, then over at Von Lawson. “But, sure. You can be member number one!”
“Then I guess that makes you: President of the society.” Von Lawson said to Jonathon.
Jonathon laughed in surprise. “I guess it does.”
The studio audience loved that and applauded again.
Von Lawson eyed the camera. “See? I told you he was a good kid. Now, as for this awesome – you teenagers still say awesome, don’t you?”
Jonathon nodded.
“As for this awesome shirt,” Von Lawson addressed the people in the first rows. “.. a way to speak back to this shameful attack on all that’s right and honorable about our history, and the answer to What would Phineas wear?, I bet you all want one, too!”
Enthusiastic nods.
Von Lawson stood up and walked around his desk, signaling Jonathon to join him. They stood in front of Wyatt, blocking him, as Von Lawson put an arm around Jonathon’s shoulder. Wyatt considered running off stage, but didn’t want to call any more attention to himself.
His voice all conspiratorial, Von Lawson said to Jonathon, “You have something to tell them, don’t you?”
Jonathon grinned. “There’s a free T-shirt under all their chairs!”
The crowd exploded, like they’d all just won the lottery. Everyone reached down to pull out a shirt and then started putting them on – over dresses, over sweaters, over dress shirts. In a minute the audience was a sea of yellow T-shirts, all shouting their membership in The John Wilkes Booth Appreciation Society.
Von Lawson crowed. “There you have it! Remember Phineas, hold great and straight Lincoln in your heart,” He pounded his own chest, “and we’ll be right back with this…” He clapped Jonathon’s shoulder, “How did you put it? Red-blooded, woman-loving, Real American Teenager!”
The show’s going-to-commercial theme music blasted and the studio audience leapt to their feet, screaming their cheers.
The red on-air lights above the three cameras and the set doors went off and an ear-splitting buzzer sounded. The noise dropped to a dull roar. Wyatt was pushed offstage as makeup people and Von Lawson’s staff hurried on set. Someone yanked Wyatt’s body microphone cord off so hard, it left a red line across his neck. People were jeering, yelling at him.
The producer who had welcomed them and given them free drinks in the green room before rushing them to the set waved as Wyatt’s mom hurried his dad and him past the makeup room. “That will be great ratings! And hey,” she shouted after them down the corridor, “any publicity’s good publicity, right?”
As they passed a different green room then the one they’d been in, Wyatt heard a voice he knew, “When’s the best time to give Von Lawson my demo? I want to make sure he hears it, and it doesn’t just sit there.” Wyatt glanced in and saw it was Coach Rails, talking to another producer. A large-screen monitor was on the wall behind them, showing the set. Von Lawson was getting his face touched up by a makeup person, while someone handed Jonathon a soda.
Against his will, Wyatt’s feet slowed. Mayor Rails was on her cell phone, “He knows how to work a crowd, all right. But this could be an disaster for local businesses…”
Becca was there, too, on the room’s couch, folding a stack of yellow T-shirts and putting them into individual plastic bags, which already filled two large cardboard boxes. She glanced up and caught Wyatt’s eye. She gave him this small smile, like it was all some big game, and not his whole life on the line.
Of course, she’d seen it. His complete humiliation, and Jonathon’s star moment.
And then, Wyatt remembered: Millions of people had seen it.
He ran to catch up with his dad and mom, and they didn’t even stop to put on their jackets as they burst out the door to the parking lot. It was pouring rain.
The door shut behind them and the three of them just stood there, silent in the downpour. Stunned.
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Want to know why I'm serializing my entire YA novel for free right here on this blog? Click here.

Ready for Chapter Eighteen? It will be posted on January 5, 2018.

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Ishta Mercurio said...

Wow, you really captured Von Lawson well, Lee! I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to live inside the mind of such a hateful man while you wrote this chapter. Bravo!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks, Ishta. The world's not been stingy with providing lots of examples of adults behaving horribly... So glad you're reading along! Best, Lee