Saturday, January 11, 2014

Where are Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo? By Mykola Dementiuk

This is really excellent: Mykola Dementiuk, our two-time Lambda Literary Award winner and author of the recently released The 42nd Street Jerking-Off Club, just penned a fantastic new essay for the Lambda site: "Where are Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo?"

Here's a tease - for the rest just click here.


I still recall prowling the stacks of the Epiphany branch of the New York Public Library on East 23rd Street, as I usually did, and seeing a book cover which for some curious reason attracted my attention. It was the corny drawing of a lanky cowboy wearing a cowboy hat and holding a transistor radio to his one ear, while his other hand clutched a beaten suitcase; the picture showed he was on the road and drifting to God knows where? It was 1965 and I was just a kid, cutting school on a rainy day and hiding in the library stacks, but I sure wanted to be that traveling cowboy, the Midnight Cowboy from the book by James Leo Herlihy. Little did I know how much I was to be influenced by that book and how much the later movie version would pore over and sweep through me, washing the various bad years away.

But back in those early years before I even became a writer I already had my role in life chosen and was slowly easing into it. I drifted through the crazy night streets of New York City always hearing echoes of the theme song, “Everybody’s talking at me/I don’t hear a word they’re saying/Only the echoes of my mind…” And more and more I began to live out and survive not in the elegant cool Midnight Cowboy/Joe Buck role but the sleazy, slimy Ratso Rizzo part, his low-life partner, which was to become my eventual destiny. Living in broken tenements, condemned apartments which awaited the wrecking ball and surviving in downtrodden cheap restaurants, just scraping along on anything I could get. The promise I got from so many library books and held onto; the reading memory from years ago still was with me. There was always a cheap paperback I could rob or somehow pilfer, roosting in my back pocket and whether I wanted to be a Ratso Rizzo or not, more importantly was that I wanted to be a writer and that book, Midnight Cowboy, with its corny illustration of a cowboy on the road was imprinted on my soul, along with other books that I sometimes spent a dime or a quarter on at a used downtown bookstore.

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