Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

‘The moral sense in mortals is the duty
We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.’

Lolita cost me 99p around 10 years ago.  I always consider it to be one of my favourite books, if not my ultimate favourite, due to the prose.  I find it curious that despite the shocking and taboo subject matter it is a very popular book and numerous people claim it as a favourite.  Due to suffering from rubbish memory syndrome I have decided to read it for the fourth time to discover why.

As I grow older and reread books I tend to feel I misinterpretated them the first time around during my budding youth.   Such as I always though On The Road was about finding happiness in solitary worldly discoveries, and enjoying what the world has to offer, but later figured he was in search of love.  I always thought Lolita was about all consuming love, but this time around I figured it’s just about lust from a cruel, selfish, manipulative man.

‘You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine’

I realise it is not as much as a love story as I first though, Humbert sees Lolita as a possesion, rather than them having a relationship.  Comparing her to other nymphets and reassuring himself he’s got the best one.

‘How smugly I would marvel that she was mine, mine, mine’

In summary the plot of this book could be percieved as evil and dangerous but within the first chapter, Humbert Humbert has somehow managed to convince me to understand and sympathise with him.

‘When I was a child and she was a child, my little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her equal, a faunlet in my own right, on the same enchanted island of time; but today, in September 1952, after twenty-nine years have elapsed, I think I can distinguish in her the initial fateful elf in my life.  We loved each other with a premature love marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.  I was a strong lad and survived; but the poison was in the wound, and the wound remained ever open, and soon I found myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of twenty-fize to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve.’

The story of his wife leaving him disturbes me.  She told him there was someone else and she was leaving him, he confesses he wanted to beat her up but years of repressing his true feelings helped him control himself.
(it’s always the quiet ones) They got into a taxi for a bit of privacy instead of arguing in the street and it turns out she was leaving him for the taxi driver, who took them home, took all her possesions, took his wife and left him with nothing but boredom, hate and some unflushed piss and a fag end marinading in the toilet.  Though Humbert finally felt his revenge when he heard they’d moved to California to be paid good money to be part of an experiment where they were fed a diet of bananas and dates and had to crawl around on all fours all the time.  She got fat and died in childbirth.  Disturbing.

Chapter upon chapter of the book suddenly flows excitedly into one another and I can’t stop reading or pinpoint any standout phrases used to describe his feelings when Humbert describes his bewitching with Lolita.

‘I am trying to analyse the spine-thrill of delught it gives me’

‘For there is no other bliss on earth comparable to that of fondling a nymphet.  It is hors concours, that bliss, it belongs to another class, another plain of sensitivity.’

Things soon progress from

‘the hidden tumour of unspeakable passion’

An evil man, having always subjected his adult girlfriends to mental abuse, he plots to kill her mother so he can have Lolita all to himself, but by chance she dies anyway.  Maybe it was fate… perhaps it was meant to be this way… Humbert basically kidnaps Lolita and takes her on a road trip across America, letting her be entertained by tourist attractions and icecreams to keep her sweet and bribe her for when he abuses her.   Tailing on the end of an epic list detailing jaunts of sightseeing all over the country is

‘R. L. Stevenson’s footprint on an extinct volcano.  Skull-carved sandstoned festoons.  A man having a lavish epileptic fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park.’

As there is black humour throughout the book, perhaps fooling me into thinking I get this man, because I get his jokes and dark humour.

‘he produced a vial of violet-blue capsuls banded with dark purple at one end, which, he said, had just been placed on the market and were intended not for neurotics whom a draught of water could calm if properly administered, but only for great sleepless artists who had to die for a few hours in order to live for centuries.’

‘as I lay on my narrow studio bed after a session of adoration and despair’

‘I sat on a marble bench of sorts donated by Cecilia Dalrymple Ramble.  As I waited there, in prostatic discomfort, drunk, sleep-starved, with my gun in my fist in my raincoat pocket’

The book is filled with French phrases and Humbert keeps emphasising what a learned, worldly, intellectual man he is, and many things go over my head, and I wonder if this is on purpose to make sure I think he is far more clever than I, so anything I don’t agree with, perhaps I just don’t understand…

‘any good Freudian, with a German name and some interest in religious prostitution, should recognize at a glance the implication of ‘Dr Kitzler, Eryx, Miss.’

Though he keeps abusing Lolita (yet failing to go into much detail about it, just casually mentioning it in passing, obviously not even giving a thought about how she feels mentally), he likes to let us know just how guilty he is feeling, and he knows he’s doing wrong, yet he continues to let himself be controlled by his lust.

‘Despite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger and the horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected paradise – a paradise whose skies were the colour of hell-flames – but still a paradise.’

‘Instead of basking in the beams of smiling Chance I was obsessed by all sorts of purely ethical doubts and fears.’

In his eyes everybody around them is just part of the scenery the world revolves around Lolita.

‘Always the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public fountain.’

It later becomes aparant, as she grows older, how it as all purely a physical attraction.  And he starts looking at other young girls too, as he is very aware there is an expiration on this girls ‘nymphet’ youth.

‘there are few physiques I loathe more than the heavy low-slung pelvis, thick calves and deplorable complexion of the average co-ed (in whom I see, maybe, the coffin of coarse female flesh within which my nymphets are buried alive)’

‘During the last weeks I had kept noticing that my fat Valeria was not her usual self; had acquired a queer restlessness; even showed something like irritation at times, which was quite out of keeping with the stock character she was supposed to impersonate.’

Lolita had just been a catalyst for his fantasy.  It was all a physical attraction and he later realises he never knew her mind.

‘I detest symbols and allegories’ – Nabokov

At the end of the book there is a few pages written by Nabokov where he explains that the book has no message.  It was just a story he wanted to write, that he though the reader suspected would by a pornographic book at first, then after a few chapters it would turn into a detective novel, by basically using a lot of descrptive words.

‘Lolita has no moral in tow.  For me a work of fiction exists only in so far as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstacy) is the norm.’

I guess I got fooled into thinking it was a beautiful story about love, but realised it’s about lust, obsession, control, and selfishness.

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‘There Was A Whisper’ Rianne Haspels by Mick de Lint

from ‘Fashion Gone Rogue’

ImageImageImageImageImage

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Elliott Erwitt

“It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.” – Eliott Erwitt

Elliot Erwitt was born in France to Russian parents and emigrated to America when he was ten where he later studied photography and filmmaking and became a photographers assistant for the United States Army before becoming a Freelance Photographer.
He had a taste for shooting ironic, absurd, bizarre, comic situations in documentary style photography.  He was a master of the ‘decisive moment’.

 

Selected images from ElliottErwitt.com

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Hollywood – Charles Bukowski

It took me a while to get round to reading Hollywood by Bukowski.  I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, I enjoyed ‘Last Night Of The Earth’ poems much less than the other poetry books – more soft, unexciting, lacking rawness or humour.  All the poems seemed to be about betting on horses or agreeing with fans that his writing has lost it’s spark since he settled into a quiet life as a husband focusing on cats and gardening.  I thought perhaps maybe this was due to the success, less anger and resentment to be fuelled by, and seeing as Hollywood is written about Barfly being made, the screenplay he wrote, starring Micky Rouke (perhaps, oddly, I actually had no idea this film existed or anything about it until I started reading this book) – I assumed I’d be in for a bit more disappointment.  WRONG!  The first couple of pages already had me laughing with creative, imaginative, witty and dry observations I felt I could identify with.  It definatly isn’t all gardenening and cats.

Such were the rewards of the rewards of the Chosen in the land of the free

“we have just landed upon the outpost of death.  My soul is puking”

We were at the door.  I knocked.
It opened to this tall slim delicate type, you smelled artistry all over him.  You could see he had been born to Create, to Create grand things, totally unhindered, never bothered by such petty things as toothache, self-doubt, lousy luck.  He was one of those who looked like a genius.  I looked like a dishwasher so these types always pissed me just a bit.

“please, let’s leave, my mind is sliding away”

I felt something like a cold wind at the back of my neck.  Then I realized it was only a rush of fear.

I saw a deep pain in his eyes that I had never seen before.  For a man who wanted to be happy he looked like a man who had lost two pawns in the early rounds of a chess match without gaining an advantage.

He went crazy when watching the film being edited and saw a scene where Micky Rourke buys a woman a drink, she finishes, he then pushses his half empty bottle away and say’s that’s it, he’s broke.  Bukowski says any big drinker would never do that, he’d finish every last drop.  This is a major issue for him, already feeling the embarassment of alcoholics laughing in his face at this absurd, painfully unrealistic action and he demands a different take must be used for authenticity.  But towards the end of the book, he and Linda are at a party for the film, with a free bar, not liking the type of people at the party he demands they leave and just go home, regardless of the free booze.  Quite a turnaround there, showing how he’s changed.
Also he demanded there be a premier for the film and he had a white stretch limo with ‘a chauffeur, a stock of the best wine, color tv, car phone, cigars…’ ‘for laughs.  For bullshit’ but isn’t that why anybody would want it?  He is a changed man.  Or just showing a side we never thought he had.  Isn’t his whole ‘thing’ that he doesn’t care for ‘the American Dream’/a dull life of common expectations and materialism as a substitue for creativity and moving experiences.

A glossary of the characters pseudonyms and real names (and a couple of titles), which is frankly, hilarious:
Francois Racine (Steve Baes)
Wenner Zergog (Werner Herzog)
Lido Mamin (Idi Amin)
Tab Jones (Tom Jones)
Mack Derouac (Jack Kerouac)
Jon-Luc Modard (Jean-Luc Godard)
Francis Ford Lopalla (Francis Ford Coppola)
Karl Vossner (Carl Weissner)
Mack Austin (Dennis Hopper)
Tom Pell (Sean Penn)
Ramona (Madonna)
The Dance of Jim Beam (Barfly)
Jack Bledsoe (Mickey Rourke)
Lenny Fidelo (Frank Stallone)
Francine Bowers (Faye Dunaway)
Firepower Productions (Cannon Films)
Harry Friedman (Yoram Globus/Menahem Golan)
Nate Fischman (Yoram Globus/Menahem Golan)
Lippy Leo Durocher (Lefty Gomez)
Tim Ruddy (Tom Luddy)
Victor Norman (Norman Mailer)
Jim Serry (Timothy Leary)
Shipping Clerk (Post Office)
Hector Blackford (Taylor Hackford)
Hyans (Robby Müller)
Rick Talbot (Roger Ebert)
Kirby Hudson (Gene Siskel)
Sesteenov (Errol Morris)
Manz Loeb (David Lynch)
The Rat Man (The Elephant Man)
Pencilhead (Eraserhead)
Rosalind Bonelli (Isabella Rossellini)
Corbell Veeker (Helmut Newton)
Kay Bronstein (Eva Gardos)
Notes of a Neanderthal Man (Notes of a Dirty Old Man)

Also on the back of the book is a quote ‘Full of entertaining vignettes of celebrities’ The Times That has GOT to be a joke, right?  Or else who on earth chose / approved that!  I like to think it’s been chosen for a laugh to lure unsuspecting readers into the book.

Chapter 13 was possibly my favourite.

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The Losers’ Club – Richard Perez

“I had other plans.  Huge ambitions: being a complete masochist.  I wanted a life full of perpetual failure and disappointment – so I chose the ‘art life!’”

La vida es una miseria (Life is a misery)

This book is about me!  Or rather, it could be.  It’s strikingly similar to my life, it must be a common rut to be in, seeing as there’s a popular book about it, though I have never met anyone similar myself before.  And neither has our man from The Losers Club.
Even his idea of meeting someone similar to himself by looking for Bukowski in a poetry section in a bookshop, this exact idea has crossed my mind before.  When he got there no one was about until a young lady approached and asked if he worked there, he replied no, but I may be able to help anyway? And she just guffawfed and dismissed him.  He assumed she was looking for some current best seller by some trendy poet everyone was currently reading and told her they were by the till.  And off she trotted.
He found a girl he connects with, with similar interest and a job she enjoys – which is something he admires, but he can’t have her.  She’s a lesbian.  I know who I want and I can’t have him either, because he is a lesbian! So many similarities!…  The character is just a year older than me too, though that’s where the similarities end, I still felt myself getting drawn in.  Feeling ashamed and embarassed and on edge just reading the bloody book, as if the events in it were actually happening to me.

The first page of the book is these two quotes:

People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life.  I don’t think that’s what we are really seeking… I think what we are seeking is an experience of being alive. – Joseph Campbell

We are here to laugh at the odds… – Charles Bukowski

The story is about a struggeling writer, whos time is eaten up in a crappy job / ‘life-wasting occupation’ as a shipping clerk, who’s resorted to finding romance and friendships through personal ads.  The character is of similar age to me, so it’s quite happiness enducing to read this blurb on the back

“A story of youth, very well told”

youth!  Ahh the pleasure of still being youthful.  So basically, if you read the back cover

“The Losers’ Club is a vibrant and hopeful anthem for all us ‘losers’ who choose not to wallow (for too long!) in our despair and who find the will to keep searching.” – Heather Lowcock

There are a couple of poems credited to Martin in the book, one is:

Tears

Sister…
What
might
soothe
those
saddened
cheeks?

Tears,
maybe
tears.

What
might
burn
away
those
parasitic
fears?

Tears,
sister,
maybe
tears.

What
might
fill
those
hollow
days,

those
vacant
weeks?

Tears,
sister,
maybe
tears.

And

what
might
wash
away
those
wasted
years?

Tears,
sister,
maybe
tears.

The
touch
of
tears
might
soothe
those
saddened
cheeks.
And
tears
might
burn
away
those
parasitic
fears.

Tears
might
fill
those
hollow
days,
those
vacant
weeks.

And
tears
might
wash
away
those
wasted
years.

But

what

might
dull
the
sharpened
pain?

which is followed with

By 2am Martin was so headstuffed and drunk he could barely manage to tear up his latest attempts at poetry.

Ha.  Identifiable.

Through personal ads Martin found Nikki, who is perfect for him, except she’s a lesbian.  Nikki has written a novel with the theme of how rarely-even people in love ever seem to connect.

It was again another opportunity for him to asses his feelings, to marvel at the weird progress of their relationship.  Whereas the first time he had met Nikki-especially upon first seeing her- he had felt more than a bit anxious, a tad insecure (thinking to himself, I’m way in over my head: she’s way to… way too…), he now had to admit he felt (for some unkown reason), an odd closeness: a peculiar ease in being next to her, almost as if he were waking to recall that they’d already known each other for years.  Somehow, almost at once it seemed, they’d struck a kind of resonace.  Call it chemistry, call it luck, it was the first time he’d been around someone so attractive and complex and not felt an overwhelming desire to hide.  Martin went with it, not even having to pretend, to “cover up”.  In fact, the truth was, it was no effort at all; that was the strange thing.  Already he felt he could be himself around her; and more importantly now, around her, he liked who he was.

They have a lot of interests and ideas in common and chat about:

“We can all get sanctamonius and say that most other people spend their lives pretending.  Living out deceptions.  But who’s to say we’re not all faking it, lying to ourselves, in one way or another?”

and how they dont ‘get’ artists with kids, assuming they just selfishly use them as material for their art like Nico recording her son’s heartbeat after an overdose so she could use it as a gimmick on a record (Martin’s Mother also having been a poet).  One of the women Martin dates that contacts him from a personal ad is a poet with a kid who lives with her aunt and uncle and for their first date arranges to meet him at her parents graves and immediatly kisses him.  Another is Lola, a painter who is a student living at her with her mother.  After an awkward date at a cafe where she reveals she thought her mum was trying to murder her after her dad left them, so she stopped eating and ended up in hospital, Martin quietly asked the waiter for the bill but ended up back at hers where he asked her to show him some of his paintings

His eyes widened in regarding the work: two canvasses-both portraying, in startling hyper-realistic detail, nightmarish scenes of intense psychopathic violence.
In the first entitled “Pig Party”, several NYPD officers were shown gruesomely dismembered, the amputated limbs of one cop brutally wedged up his own obscenely stretched rectum.  In the other, untitled, a white-haired girl in pigtails sat dreamily on a curb, sit of a horrific traffic accident, munching human entrails like raw link sausages.  In her lap, like a grinning moon, a severed head.  Carved on the forehead was a tiny cross and, just above it, the word, “Lolita”.
Both canvases were slathered in blood red from top to bottom.

All in all an enjoyable book, it was nice to be entertained and distracted characters with interests and opinions, and similar troubles.  But a bit depressing after realizing that this character which was created to depecit this rut is better off than me; has his own place to himself, lives in a city with a vast array of characters, creativity, interesting clubs and pubs, cafes and hangouts and has friends willing to hang out whenever he fancies and the frequent time and company of the person he adores.  This left a bad taste in my mouth.

My favourite quotes from the book:

One association led to another until at last, surfacing through a host of dim recollections, one memory took color and came into view.  Growing at one brighter and clearer…

Her dark eyes begging

Were it not for that rusted window guard, she might’ve fallen too.  Dropped down and down in slow motion, five full stories, arms flailing, legs kicking wildly-her head smacking the sidewalk and splitting open like a ripe watermelon-brains and bitterness splattering for yards!

and the best quote:

It was like some hallucinatory, adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasy with women cast as angels of mercy and understanding.

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Tulsa – Larry Clark

“I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1943.  When I was sixteen I started shooting amphetamine.  I shot with my friends everyday for three years and then left town but I’ve gone back through the years.  Once the needle goes in it never comes out.”

And so this is a book about drugs; specifically speed-freaks, who daily (even almost hourly) inject billion-volt charges of chemicles that blast their bodies into towering, God-rush highs (and which leaves the mind and body ultimately as hollow and used-up as a rusting roadside beer can)

Because this is my 30th post, WordPress treated me to this quote I have instantly fallen in love with:
The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. — Gustave Flaubert

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Mary Ellen Mark – American Odyssey

Amanda and her Cousin, Amy Valese, North Carolina, 1990


An image that embodies a favourite theme of hers: children acting like adults.

‘Sometimes pictures happen as you’re leaving a shoot,’ Mark says. She had been photographing a family for a story on violent children and was about to leave when the girl pulled out a cigarette and began to smoke it. ‘The mother was there, and didn’t mind.’ – Mark

Swamped as we are with a flood of images, films and products from the United States, it would seem that the American legend has been affecting us for a long time.
Each of us carries within them, however laughably or shamefully, their very own American dream.
An omen of the insidious fascination that America exercises upon us can be found in the Declaration of Independence: “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The New World against the Old. Happiness as a right. One that everyone here seems to demand. Mary Ellen Mark has been crisscrossing the United States for more than 30 years, and everywhere we sense the same quest, be it latent or manifest, for legitimate happiness–at any price it would seem. Often, in her images, while the quest is palpable, actually acceding to the “American way of life” is something else entirely. The photographer transcribes little Tiny’s comments, “I want to be rich, very rich… to live on a ranch with lots of horses, my favorite animal… I’ll have at least three yachts… diamonds and jewelry, and lots of stuff like that”. Eighteen years later: five children by as many fathers, welfare… and she hasn’t stopped hoping. She still has the right to search, to repeat the offense, to make another attempt.
While Mary Ellen Mark’s photographs don’t probe the imposture of the American dream, they do expose it by unveiling the other side of the picture.
The American dream borders on the pathetic here. Poverty and distress mingle with the glitter. Like this little black girl, a carnival mermaid, whose illusions seem to be hopelessly confined to a flea-bitten bathroom, between a broomstick and a roll of toilet paper.
The abandoned, the prostitutes, the alienated, the gigolos, the bodybuilders are strewn throughout photographs that paint a fascinating composite portrait of a limping, disenchanted America. An obese woman in a ball-gown with a miniature dog licking her nose. Family photos proudly displayed in slum apartments. A provocative, overly made-up little girl in a bikini, smoking, while her feet dangle in a pool…
This American odyssey is more of a human adventure than an expedition.
When Mary Ellen Mark’s gaze rests upon someone, it obviously carries the respect that she manifests towards those who cross her path. Her images make no concessions, yet it is most certainly in their very crudeness that their delicacy lies. Pitiless (for all that, she never succumbs to gratuitous cynicism), this photographer is not without compassion. The time that she dedicated to little Tiny, to the prostitutes in Bombay, as to most of her subjects, betrays the profound humanity that animates her. Mary Ellen Mark is, without a doubt, a woman of images. As she herself says, it is because she is a woman that she can achieve this consent, this abandonment of self, this abdication of modesty, that would, incontestably, be refused to a man’s gaze. It is, too, through her capacity to blend in, integrate into and be accepted by the different milieus that she shoots. Neither moralist, nor partial, she knows how to create an effect without being overly sentimental.
Shooting photographs is always related to confrontation, to hostage-taking, to violence inflicted upon the other, for the one-and-one relationship is betrayed by the presence of the camera. This photographer feeds insatiably off the real, and yet, at no time does she behave like a predator. She says that she begins shooting as soon as she approaches her subjects. No stolen images. Those who agree to place themselves before her lens know that they are compromising themselves. No abuse, no illusions, no tricks.
For Mary Ellen Mark, the Indian whore is as important as the rich American. Humanity bursts out of and spills over from each of her images. Disturbing, off-putting, poignant, moving or ridiculous. That is the path she takes to make differences meet, to bridge gaps. Without ever falling into the trap of clichés or the picturesque. In a way, she demonstrates an immediate comprehension of the other, whatever their culture, lifestyle, religion, or condition… She knows how to capture and portray the expression of relentless determination to live in her subjects, whom she always apprehends in their social environment (circus, brothel, care facility…). And in her photographs, she knows how to reveal the instants of grace and discover the cruel paradoxes, to stigmatize laughable or pathetic social behavior, to show how everyone, through their attitude, tends to exist through the images they reflect. And, inexorably, what grabs and moves us is the other. The other is, for each of us, like another ephemeral self. And if Mary Ellen Mark’s images sometimes provoke unease, fascination, compassion or mockery, if they engender turmoil, it is because they are a mirror the photographer holds up to each of us. For in the end, Mary Ellen Mark’s photographic odyssey leads us to perceive a shred of the human condition. – Caroline Bénichou

Santa Claus at lunch, New York City, 1963

Pro-Vietnam War parade, New York City, 1968

Easter Parade, New York City, 1969

Mary Frances in the tub, Ward 81, Salem, Oregon, 1976

Older couple in a bar, New York City, 1977

“Rat” and Mike with a gun, Seattle, Washington, 1983

Aryan Nations, Hayden Lake, Idaho, 1986

Father and daughter, Aryan Nations, Hayden Lake, Idaho 1986

Dance Class, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1986

Jennifer, Tiffany, and Carrie, Portsmouth, Ohio, 1989

Leprosy Patient with her Nurse, National Hansen's Research Center, Carville, LA, 1990

Jeff Gilam and Stacy Spivey, McKee, Kentucky, 1990

Retired rodeo performers, Leakey, Texas, 1991

Vera Antinoro, Rhoda Camporato, and Murray Goldman, Luigi’s Italian American Club, Miami, Florida, 1993

Sherry Collins Eckert with Madame Butterfly, Afton, Missouri, 1995

National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, Big and Beautiful New Year's Eve party, Long Island, New York, 1996

Etta James and Strappy, Riverside, California, 1997

Gay Pride Parade, New York City, 1997

Gay Pride Parade, New York City, 1997

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