Friday, November 17, 2017

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill: Chapter 11

In Chapter Ten, Wyatt is interviewed for a satellite radio program, getting to share what he's discovered about Lincoln and how he thinks it could change the world. He's pretty sure it's safe. After all, his parents don't listen to Q Satellite Radio: News for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Questioning and Queer Community.

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Okay community, here's Chapter Eleven!

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Chapter 11
Friday January 16

“The raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry happened more than a year before Lincoln was elected President!” Mr. Guzman was in the middle of telling them about this White abolitionist, John Brown, and how he had tried to start an armed slave revolt when the class phone rang and Wyatt was summoned to the Principal’s office. Everyone went “Ooooh!” like he was in trouble.
He had a sinking feeling that he was.
Leering at him, Jonathon had dragged a finger across his own neck, all international sign language for you’re-so-dead.
So now Wyatt was fidgeting in the chair where the school secretary had told him to wait, with no idea what he’d done. Principal Jackson’s door opened, and Coach Rails paused on his way out. Scratching at his half-grown-in Lincoln beard, he called back over his shoulder. “Andrew! Your next victim is here.”
“Send Mr. Yarrow in.”
Wyatt kept his eyes on his feet to avoid looking at Coach Rails or Principal Jackson, and sat in the chair opposite the Principal’s desk – somewhere he’d never been before. The words crashed into him like a stormy sea. “Wildly irresponsible,” “Reputations are fragile things,” “The risk of retraction is that it would allow the conversation to continue!”
Was this about the radio interview? Principal Jackson didn’t seem like the kind of guy who listened to Q Satellite Radio.
“God forbid the press gets a hold of this,” Principal Jackson was saying.
So he didn’t know about it. Wyatt let out a long breath, trying to calm down. It didn’t work.
“Son! Look at me.”
Wyatt clamped his teeth together to keep from showing anything on his face and looked up.
“This, unfortunately, will become a distraction for your fellow students. And I am sorely tempted to suspend you until we are past that distraction.” Principal Jackson used a wooden fork to rake the sand in his desktop Zen garden, carefully lifting each stone to make his raked lines perfect and then setting it back down. “And if you are suspended, beyond failing History, if you miss too many days in all your subjects, we will be required to hold you back and have you repeat ninth grade.”
Oh, man. Dad and Mom would freak!
Principal Jackson went on and on and on about how what Wyatt had done was a reflection not just on Lincolnville High School but on their whole town. Wyatt’s eyes wandered to a framed picture of Principal Jackson shaking hands with Mayor Rails at the library consolidation ceremony, American stars and stripes and Oregon’s blue and gold state flag behind them. Principal Jackson and the Mayor were tight.
The next photo over was of the Principal’s family trout-fishing with Jonathon’s. It was an old picture, back when Wyatt, Jonathon, and Mackenzie had been in third grade. The three of them had actually been friends. Or, at least, friendly. Becca, Jonathon’s sister who was one grade under them, was there next to her brother, her at-the-time candy-cane striped prosthetic leg unmistakable. Jonathon had his arm around her and a big smile on his face. And a Star Wars T-shirt! Wyatt studied it to make sure. Yeah, Luke holding a lightsaber. Jonathon had been so into Star Wars back then.
Death Star Big… What the heck?
Why would Jonathon help get the word out about Lincoln being gay, when he was such an ass about it in real life, and on his blog? That didn’t make any sense.
His leg was jittery, but under his hand, Wyatt could feel the outline of the skeleton key in his pocket. Those letters were his proof. He wanted to tell Principal Jackson that Mr. Guzman had given him another chance. That he was working on another blog post that would really prove Abe loved Joshua. But would that get Mr. Guzman in trouble, too?
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Principal Jackson said, and then waited for… what? A teary apology?
Wyatt tried to keep his voice reasonable. “But – I just did the assignment!”
“Entirely too many people have found out about this.”
Wyatt hadn’t thought to check his visitor stats on the reception computer last night, when he’d added his blog as an external link on the Lincoln Wikipedia entry. It had sort of been homework… Was that link already working? Had listeners from the radio show checked it out? “How many people?”
Principal Jackson’s hand jerked, ruining his neat rows. “Too many.” He exhaled like some asthmatic dinosaur, and this time pulled out all five rocks, lining them up one by one on the side of the Zen garden’s wood frame.
If it’s enough to bother him, that’s pretty cool.
Carefully dragging the rake the other way through the grains of sand, Principal Jackson said, “We need you to delete your blog and stop all this nonsense about Lincoln being… well, you know what you’re saying.”
It’s not nonsense.
Wait… We?
Principal Jackson. The Mayor. Mr. Clifton. None of them cared if it was true or not. They just didn’t want people thinking Lincoln was queer. Somehow, it was like that would make them look bad. They wanted to squash it.
“Son, am I getting through to you?” Principal Jackson raised his voice like he was shouting across the cafeteria, not four feet away on the other side of his desk, holding a doll-sized yard tool. “It’s your choice: the path forward can be pleasant, or difficult.” He set down the fourth stone and started raking a circle around it. “It’s a lot like firing a gun. The bullet goes forward but the gun kicks back. Every action has its reaction.” Final stone in his hand, he frowned at the arrangement like it was a chess game and he was losing.
Wyatt took his chance to escape. “I hear you. Can I leave now?”
“Fine.” Principal Jackson waved him away. “But this gets resolved A.S.A.P. or you will start to experience serious consequences. Consequences that will start with three weeks of detention if this isn’t gone from the internet by the end of the day!”
He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

* *

            Wyatt logged onto the reception computer the second he got home. There was a statistical counter Mr. Guzman had set up, so they could know how many people were reading their blogs, and from where. So they could see that it was truly a global enterprise. He found the link and clicked it.
            It took him a moment to figure it out. It was a graph chart, with green vertical lines. Actually, just one vertical line on the far right, which he guessed was the scale, to show how high you could go. The rest were super-short green rectangles. At the bottom were some names.
The first was C. Anderson – 4 visits. That was one from Mr. Guzman, and maybe Charlie’s parents and an unlucky uncle. Wyatt scanned across, pausing at a bigger rectangle. M. Miller – 68 visits. Ouch. Usually people liked to check out Mackenzie’s work so they knew what to do to get an ‘A.’ This time, it was like they’d been giddy to see her first ‘C.’ Another rectangle, bigger than the others. J. Rails – 92 visits. How many of them had read the post where he’d called Wyatt a queer homo? Mr. Guzman had made him take it down, but it had been online for almost a whole day.
            Had he done better than Jonathon? It was possible, wasn’t it, if Principal Jackson was so bent out of shape about it…
            He found his name, last as usual. W. Yarrow. Wyatt squinted, then toggled the screen bigger. It wasn’t a scale. The tall green vertical line was his blog hits. 1,742.
One thousand seven hundred and forty-two? Oh my gosh, people are reading it. Not just people in school. People!
            “Whoo!” The shout echoed through their downstairs, past the soldier mannequin, past wax-Lincoln, all the way to his soldier in the photo. It felt amazing. Like he was being heard.
            Wyatt shut the browser in case anyone walked in and headed over to his soldier, who was smiling out at him. No weapon in his hands at all. How do you fight without a weapon? Maybe… with words. Like Lincoln’s speeches, or, a blog.
And maybe all those years ago, Wyatt’s soldier had been gay, too. Like me. Like Lincoln. And now people are finding out.
            But… Wyatt didn’t want to get three weeks of detention. Or get suspended. Or have to re-do ninth grade! If he dropped the whole thing and deleted his post before midnight, Principal Jackson, Mayor Rails and Mr. Clifton would be happy. As long as none of them tuned into yesterday’s Q Satellite Radio news, which seemed unlikely.
And, even if his parents heard it, nothing in it said anything about him being straight – or not. Roz had been good to her word. He might still get away with his dad and mom never finding out how he really felt about girls… and guys, at least until he was out of high school. He and Mackenzie could stay together as a couple, keeping Jonathon and his sharks at bay. He could get Mackenzie’s help doing a new book report. Maybe even share her book about Abe and Mary, and they’d lean over it and kiss… A mental record-scratch stopped the fantasy. He wasn’t that guy. He wasn’t that straight guy.
            He’d been working all week on his new proof post. And if he didn’t put it up by midnight, Mr. Guzman was going to make him start all over. And deleting that first post would be like admitting he’d made up the whole thing about Lincoln being gay, when it was the truth!
            But… If he kept going with this, if he blogged more about Abe loving Joshua, Jonathon would keep calling him gay.
Then he could keep denying it. After all, he’d never even kissed a guy, and he’d kissed Mackenzie – twice! So that kind of made him straight, in action, at least.
The words came to his mind unbidden,
In judgment but not in feeling…
            He needed to talk to someone. His mom would just say don’t make any waves. And how could he explain to her or his dad why it was so important to tell the world about this without explaining everything? And Mackenzie’s ultimatum had been pretty clear... His soldier just kept smiling – he was cute and all, but what Wyatt needed was an impartial friend to talk to.
            And he didn’t have one.
            The mail slot rattled and Wyatt heard stuff drop in the basket. His dad hated their personal mail sitting out for everyone to see, so he headed over to get it and put it on the desk in his parents’ bedroom. Before he even got to the basket the doorbell rang, making him jump.
            Their mail person was bobbing to the rapping Wyatt could hear through her headphones as he opened the door. “Registered Express Mail!” She shouted. “Needs a signature.” She held out a pen.
            Once he signed the green slip of paper, the mail person tore it off and gave him the cardboard envelope. It was addressed to him. He had a bad feeling about it, and didn’t open it until he got to his room.

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Office of the Head Librarian
Lincolnville Public Library
100 South Lincoln Boulevard
Union Square
Lincolnville, OR 20252

January 15

Wyatt Yarrow
542 Hayes Street
Linconville, OR 20252

Re: Your Violation of our Lending Agreement:
Financial Obligations & Legal Repercussions

Dear Mr. Yarrow,
            We regret this letter is necessary, but your refusal to return “Joshua Fry Speed,” a rare reference book in our library’s collection that was erroneously circulated on January 7th and checked out to your account, has left us no choice.
            You are in violation of our lending agreement, and pursuant to the laws of the State of Oregon (Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 375.975, regarding the willful or malicious detention of library property), if the title is not returned by 9am on Monday January 19, your standing as an unemancipated minor and your willful and malicious misconduct will constitute grand theft from our library facility and will result in both civil and criminal actions against you.
            Civil action may also be taken against your parents in this matter, pursuant to ORS 163.577. Specifically, you and your parents will be held jointly and severally liable for damages of the maximum $360.00 plus the replacement cost of the book: well over $12,000.00 given its rarity. Only 250 copies were ever printed, with only 225 of those sold. The last available copy came up at auction in 1954.
            An additional levy of 10% of the civil penalty will be assessed for every 24-hour period you delay beyond this Monday January 19 in returning the library’s rightful property. (Accruing at $1,236.00 a day.)
            This is not to speak of the criminal action that may still be filed against you for this theft. You should note that the value of this rare book escalates this infraction beyond ‘petty theft’ to a full ‘grand theft’ crime, which, as a potential felony charge, would go on your permanent record.
            The de-accessioning of “Joshua Fry Speed” is of our library’s greatest priority, and we urge you to return the book immediately to avoid this future unpleasantness. Of course, if you return the book forthwith, all will be forgiven.
Mr. Ira Clifton, M.L.S.
Head Librarian

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            Wyatt’s voice was still shaking as he finished reading the letter over his cell phone to the guy at Legal Advocates of Oregon. After Wyatt had read it to himself the first time, he remembered that hot guy singing about the Revolutionary War General being gay – and how the next video to come up after that had been some civil rights organization… He’d found them online, and the second he saw the Gay Pride Rainbow flag on their website, he’d called. When the guy answered, ‘hello, Legal Advocates of Oregon,’ Wyatt had barreled into it.
            When Wyatt was done the guy whistled, long and low. “Wow, they’re really trying to scare you, aren’t they?”
            “It’s working.” Wyatt admitted.
            The guy asked, “What’s in the book?”
            Wyatt paused. What if this lawyer was going to get all mad at him, too? Lincoln was a lawyer, maybe there was some all-lawyers-stick-together pack mentality and they wouldn’t want to help Wyatt after all. Maybe they’d think he was messing with a national hero… But it was already after five on a Friday – he was lucky he hadn’t gotten voicemail. And who else was he going to ask for help from before midnight? Maybe he could get some general advice, without having to go into it. He’d been quiet too long, and knew he had to say something. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything–”
            The guy cut him off with a scoff, like he was just some dumb kid. “It has everything to do with it!” Then his voice got kind again. “Come on, Wyatt. You can tell me. What are they so afraid of?”
            It felt like jumping off a cliff, but Wyatt told him. Everything. The guy just listened. Wyatt even told him how to find his blog online, and waited while he read it. Then Wyatt could hear him watching the video. The guy started chuckling. Wyatt wasn’t sure if it was at him.
            “No way! Wyatt, that’s awesome!”
            Wyatt’s shoulders dropped in relief. The guy, even if he was a lawyer, was cool with it. But, “I don’t feel awesome. That letter–”
            He cut Wyatt off again. “Lincoln, queer! I love it!”
            “About the letter?”
            “Ahemm.” The guy cleared his throat, and got back into lawyer-mode. “It’s not about the book. Snap some cell-phone shots and give them the book back. All you really need is the proof, right?”
            Wyatt hadn’t thought of that – it was a pretty genius idea. “Yeah, I guess… What about being suspended? I have another post I want to do, one that really proves Abe was in love with Joshua. I was going to put it up this afternoon, ‘cause my teacher gave me this deadline, but the Principal said if I don’t take the blog down by tonight he might even suspend me…”
            “Well, if you’re asking for legal advice, I… Uh…”
            “Martin?” Wyatt heard a woman’s voice, like someone was shouting at the guy from another room. “Did I just hear you say legal advice?”
            Wyatt could hear her voice getting louder. “Did you get my cell to work, or are calls still forwarding to yours? Who are you talking to?”
            “Wait. You’re Martin?” Wyatt asked. “The guy who sang on that video?”
The hot guy?
            “Dude! You’re a lawyer? You’re like my age.” If Martin was just playing him for a fool then maybe he wasn’t so hot after all.
            “No! I’m not… I was just trying to…”
            There was noise, some rustling, and Wyatt heard the woman say “Shh!” And then she was on the phone with him. “Hello?”
            Wyatt wasn’t sure what to say. “Hi…”
            “I’m terribly sorry about that. My son is not qualified to be giving legal advice until he goes to law school and PASSES THE BAR EXAM!” That sounded more for Martin’s benefit than Wyatt’s.
Wyatt heard Martin’s “I wasn’t–” but it stopped short as the woman spoke.
“I’m Rhonda Sykes – and no, not the comedienne, she’s ‘Wanda.’ I’m the attorney of record and field representative for Legal Advocates of Oregon. How can I help?”
            “He got a threatening letter!” Martin’s voice – he must have still been right there. “He outed Lincoln as queer for an online book report, and now the library’s threatening to sue him for thousands of dollars so they can get the book back and hush it up! And his Principal wants to suspend him!”
            Wyatt could hear Rhonda put her hand over the phone, but he could still make out, “I told you to hush.”
            “He’s right.” Wyatt told her, thinking that at least the hot guy was a good listener. “That’s pretty much what’s going on. Can they do it?”
            “How about you email me the letter, and we’ll see. Are you a minor? They can’t be sending a minor a threatening letter.”
Wyatt almost laughed with relief. This time, he didn’t want to be any older. He’d need to tell her about the Q Satellite Radio show, too. “Yeah.”
“And, if it’s an issue of free speech, it sounds like your Principal’s just blowing hot air. Don’t worry. You’re not in this alone.”
Sometimes, it was good to be a kid.
            Wyatt snapped a photo of the letter with his cell and emailed it to Rhonda. They spent the next hour before Wyatt had to go down for dinner going over it. From ‘You are in violation’ to “permanent record,’ it turned out Martin was right – they were just trying to scare Wyatt. He legally had thirty days after their written notice to return the book before they could do anything to him – something Mr. Clifton hadn’t mentioned about ORS 357.975.
            Sneaky jerk.
            But Rhonda, and even Martin, were pretty cool.

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            Wyatt’s parents thought he was getting a ‘good night sleep’ – after all, tomorrow was his first ‘big date’ with Mackenzie, taking her to their high school’s Purple and Gold Pep Rally. But instead of sleeping, Wyatt sat at the window seat in his room, holding the old-fashioned key to the bookcase downstairs. The midnight deadline was approaching, and he was trying to figure out what to do.
            Rhonda had said it was his choice, and if Wyatt wanted to he could let it go – return the book, delete the blog, let life go back to normal. At that suggestion, Martin had shouted to him in the background, “No! Blog more about Lincoln being gay!” Rhonda had stopped him, saying it was Wyatt’s life, and Wyatt’s call. But it felt pretty great that someone wanted him to keep talking about it… He bet Roz would want him to keep talking about it, too.
And if Wyatt did decide to blog more about Abe loving Joshua, Rhonda had promised to back him up and make sure he wasn’t suspended for simply speaking his mind and exercising his First Amendment right of free speech.
            Wyatt pushed the registered Express Mail envelope and the official-looking letter from the library further from him on the cushion. It was crazy how he could be so freaked out by it one minute, and then a couple of hours later the same thing didn’t bother him so much. It was just an adult being a bully on paper, trying to get his way. Well, the letter’s ‘we’ probably meant Mayor Rails was behind it, too.
            What were they even going to do with the book once they got it back? Just put in on the reference shelf to make sure it didn’t leave the building again? Would they even let people see it?
            Why give the book back ‘till he had to? Thirty days gave him until Sunday February 15 – and their final blog post was due February 12. So he was good. He’d return it after the 12th, in plenty of time before it was really due, and they couldn't do a thing to him.
            Or, he could just take those photos like Martin said and return the book. Maybe he’d post the whole thing on his blog. After all, Martin had pointed out it was long out of Copyright. And Rhonda had said Wyatt didn’t even need to ‘dignify their threats with a response.’
            He decided to put the letter away. Why have it out for his dad or mom to stumble on and get all freaked out themselves? They sure didn’t have an extra $12,360.00 lying around. Wyatt grabbed the letter to put it back in the Express Mail cardboard sleeve when his eye caught on the first line of the last paragraph:
                        The de-accessioning of “Joshua Fry Speed” is of our library’s greatest
            He’d forgotten to ask Rhonda about that, but it was already 10:43 p.m. Too late to call her again tonight. But she must have seen it, he’d sent her the whole thing. It couldn't be that important. Still, he wished he knew what ‘de-accessioning’ meant.
            He crept downstairs to the reception computer to look it up.
‘Deaccessioning: The process of disposing, selling or trading objects from a museum collection.’
            The hair prickled on the back of Wyatt’s head. They didn’t want the book back to keep it safe. They were going to get rid of it. They wanted to destroy the evidence that Lincoln was gay! And if they did, maybe no one would be able to prove the truth, ever again.
            Wyatt couldn’t let that happen.
Abe loving Joshua was important. It could change everything. And if all Wyatt had was words and a blog, then that’s how he’d fight.
            A hint of a smile played on Wyatt’s lips as he thought of Principal Jackson’s gun-firing advice. If their trying-to-scare-him letter was the bullet, then they deserved one hell of a kickback.
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In this chapter, Mr. Clifton sends Wyatt the letter stating that the Joshua Fry Speed: Lincoln’s Most Intimate Friend book is very rare. While the estimated value is my invention, it is true that the book is quite rare. As it says on the page facing pg. 70,
“Two hundred fifty copies of this book have been printed by the Standard Printing Company, Inc., Louisville, Kentucky. …Bound and completed during the month of August, 1943. Only two hundred twenty-five copies for sale.”
The copy I found and read numerous times throughout the writing of this book was from the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection in Los Angeles, California.
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