Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The Mother of Distraction
"Son ... don't just be a Reactionary," my Mother once quietly hoped of me. She caught me off-guard, as she so habitually did with that spooky maternal instinct of hers. I remember being quite taken aback at the time - so much so that I neglected to ask her to detail her apprehension and promptly returned to the baseless, grandiose, sweeping generalisation I was more than likely making at the expense of some poor hapless over-achiever.
It is 1980. The Games of the XXII Olympiad in Moscow. I am 16 ... and I am devoted to the gymnastics. Or to be more precise, the Gymnasts. The male Gymnasts - who are (to borrow a whorey old chestnut) poetry in motion. Beautiful men. Graceful, agile and strong. Focussed. Humble. Determined. Elegant. Our television is my pimp - and no price is too high. I am introduced to Infatuation. I try not to be obvious and (possibly a little too casually) tear myself away to the kitchen for a snack. Commentary connects us. And I am already saturated by their perfection. My Mother's sing-song voice interrupts my reverie:
"Your Gymnast is on!"
It is 1987. I am 23. I have moved out of home and have visited my Mother at our family home. She is walking me to my car.
"Have you got anyone special in your life at the moment, Son?"
A pause at the end of the driveway.
"Well, when you do, I hope you won't feel uncomfortable about bringing her home to meet us." ... (Beat) ... "Or him."
How the fuck does she know? Not even I know for sure yet!
It is 1992. I am 28. I own a gay newspaper - Brother Sister - and The Australian Opera are staging their brilliant new production of The Mikado in the State Theatre in the Victorian Arts Centre. It is being conducted by a newcomer - Simone Young. My Mother was in a production of The Mikado many years ago, before asthma claimed her ability to sustain her breath in song. I accepted the Australian Opera's invitation to the opening night performance ... and, of course, I took my Mother. We dressed up. I went to the box office to collect our tickets. Which weren't there. Anywhere. My Mother looked on nervously. Embarrassed.
I have embarrassed My Mother ... who is resolutely standing beside me, her now possibly hopelessly deluded son, in the foyer of The State Theatre and my tickets are not there. I don't exist. The foyer is emptying. The final bell is ringing - endlessly. The ushers are cheerfully anticipating their cigarette break. My profound and stomach-churning embarrassment is confused by this newfound murderous capability: if I had had a gun I would have reached for it.
"I'm sorry Mr Williams, but there are no tickets here for you."
Impotency. Failure. I am introduced to a hatred of fatuous poofs.
My Mother can't stand it anymore. Sensibly, as always, she suggests we leave. I see the sadness of resignation in her eyes and my heart breaks. I know, because I hear it. And feel it. We start to walk away, and as soon as we are a respectable distance from the box office, I touch my Mother's arm and ask her to wait a minute. I am introduced to Fury ... and She's demanding Her say. I walk back to the box office and face the tired gaggle of thieving little jobbers behind the counter before I slam my business card down on their shiny black counter.
"I am going to bury this fucking production!" falls from my mouth like an axe.
They scramble for the business card. I cover it with my hand - a slam so intense my hand stings.
"And in less than a week, every faggot in this town is going to despise this fucking tin-pot testimony to artlessness in precisely the same way that I do now - and for precisely the same reason. You see that woman over there you have humiliated this evening? That is my fucking Mother!"
I lift my hand to reveal my business card, turn and walk away. My Mother is desperately searching for that hole in the floor she wished had appeared ten minutes ago.
I stride up to her like a dismemembered knight. Forcing a wan and forlorn smile. How else do you acknowledge this level of defeat?
"Excuse me ... Mr Williams?"
I think about not stopping. I've already composed the opening paragraph of what will be a full page article - page 3 I think - carefully and studiously dissecting The Australian Opera's rampant homophobia. Where, I find myself wondering, would the company be if it weren't for faggots? Would it even exist? Of course not.
My Mother puts her hand on my arm, and together, we turn. Racing across the foyer is a very, very concerned man. And flapping about in his waving hands are what I immediately recognise as theatre tickets. He offers them to me with trembling hands.
"Mr Williams, please accept our apologies."
"Shove your tickets up your arse!" I spit. "I've practically spell-checked this fucking article!"
Almost in spite of herself, my Mother laughs. Here is the boy she imagined she came to the Opera with.
"You're fucked! This whole fucking company is fucked!
His eyes plead. The tickets are offered again. I turn to my Mother.
"Do you want to see it?"
"Has it started?" she asks - with the timing and instinct I've always admired. And tried to emulate.
The poor hapless messenger panics and practically pirouettes back to the box office. Heads shake and bad hair-dos fall further apart. He turns back to us from his safe space, furiously shaking his head ... and as he trips over himself, my Mother and I (less than a little reluctantly) accompany him to Door 1. He escorts us down the stairs. The Houselights are at half. It's H Row. Right in the middle. And knowing as much as I did at the time about ticketing protocol, they were the seats the Director and his vain little sycophantic oxygen thieving partner might have been sitting in.
"It's a female conductor!" my Mother marvels as the domes introduce us to Simone Young for the first time. And we are away.
At interval, the company's publicist spots us and invites us to the VIP Room for champagne. We accent the buzz about the production, which is very good, and more importantly, my Mother is having the time of her life. As she leaves us to go to the bathroom, the publicist seizes her opportunity to apologise, very discreetly, for the "problem" with my tickets. There is no sign of my Mother returning, so I, too, seize my opportunity to, equally as discreetly, respond by saying that the greatest disservice that has been done to my Mother and I this evening is that it has made this sparkling new production of The Mikado rather impossible to truly enjoy. Or review. So I won't be.
And I didn't.
And up until this day, other than my exclusive and wonderfully candid interview with Simone Young for homo, I have never written a word about the Australian Opera. They, in mind - and much like the tickets that were to be under my name - didn't and don't exist.
It is 1993. I am 29. Robert Chuter is seducing Melbourne with his promenade production of Julia Britton's An Indian Summer in the grounds of Rippon Lea. I still own a gay newspaper, but I am now also a Publicist. A well-connected fag about town. I have some clout ... and I also have a group booking: friends, clients, a couple of heavy-hitters ... and my boyfriend. Scattered around my blankets, it's champagne, fresh fruit, names, picnics and faces for days. I invite my Mother. She doesn't think my Father would like to come ... which is just as well, I say ... because he's not invited. He drops her off outside the gates. She has her folding chair, her blanket and her picnic in an all too-familiar tupperware container. I don't recall much about the performance ... but my Mother was entranced and enchanting! As one with her clever son. My friends adored her ... and all night, her eyes sparkled with delight.
It is a sight I will never forget ... and one I have rarely witnessed since. Our tragedy. My responsibility ... but not entirely my fault. It's one of the aspects of being brought up in a trenchantly Christian household I still resent so completely: the subjugation of women. "The Wife and Mother" as sole purpose, not context. Silenced to circumstance.
But that, as they say, is another story. Right now, I think I need to take my Mother to the opera. In Sydney. And pay for the flight, the accommodation and the fucking tickets! The Sheraton on The Park for a night or two I think. Don't you?
Image: Aleksandr Dityatin. Moscow, 24 July 1980. Games of the XXII Olympiad. Aleksandr Dityatin of the Soviet Union, gold medallist of the individual all-round competition, at the medal ceremony.