Strachey Takes on Gay Media and Pot – a Book Review

– Mike Learned, RPCV Malawi

Dick Lipez is an RPCV Ethiopia, former PC staff, longtime journalist, a contributor to our website, and on top of most things in pop and current culture. He has just published his thirteenth mystery in his Don Strachey series, The Last Thing I Saw. He started the series 31 years ago. His protagonist Strachey is an Albany, NY private eye in a longtime relationship with Timothy Callahan, who had been in the Peace Corps in India prior to their relationship. Peace Corps experience, values, insights crop up in almost all the books. Timmy always has good advice to offer and incisive questions to ask. He’s that voice way back in Strachey’s head whispering in his ear.

Lipez, writing as Richard Stevenson, actually Dick’s first and second names, has had his finger on the critical issues facing his gay brothers and sisters throughout those 31 years. His protagonist Strachey has dealt with it all: AIDS, outing, curing homosexuality hustles, political corruption, gay marriage, gay assimilation, the lures of Southeast Asia, and all sorts of homophobia. Private eye Strachey has taken all of it on.

This time around, things become increasingly complex. Strachey has been tasked to find a missing Eddie Wenske, a popular investigative reporter and memoir author. Wenske has been working on an expose of a predatory gay media corporation. Strachey moves around Boston and New York, and finally ends up in Northern California. The two big issues in this latest book in the series is the consolidation of power in the gay media, and as a sidelight, the question of marijuana growth and distribution in a political and social environment that increasingly calls for the legalization of personal use. And in this case, the seemingly unrelated meet head on.

What’s always been great about Lipez’s (Stevenson’s) Strachey series has been his insight into recent and current political and cultural issues. And over those 31years since his first, Death Trick, those of us who been around and reasonably alert have, like Strachey, seen our progress and the negative reactions to that progress. What our author explores in his most recent chapter in Strachey’s life is a key issue. As our LGBT sisters and brothers have gained rights, political and cultural power, so have those economic forces, who want to tap our wallets, moved in for the kill. A key question: “When does targeted marketing morph into economic exploitation?” Is this surprising when issues of economic consolidation, monopoly, and economic exploitation are increasing issue throughout our society?

When compared to many of the blockbuster authors of the mystery, thriller genre, private eye Strachey sees fewer deaths, and much less overt violence. Satire, often tongue in check, is an important tool of our author. And another great thing, gay guys are not always the good guys; straight people are not always the enemy. Straight women and lesbians often come out well.

Great color, great insight, highlighting current LGBT concerns, and very good writing, is what you get with a Strachey book. And it moves fast. I you haven’t followed Strachey, now’s the time. Lipez’s (Stevenson’s) current publisher, MLR Press, has reissued the entire series in paperback. You can order the most recent or any of the others on Amazon. It’s available September 22, 2012.

You can buy the The Last Thing I Saw on Amazon. Visit the Donald Strachey Mysteries homepage.

Confession of a Peace Corps Spokesperson

– Hale Sargent, RPCV, Armenia

After five years working at Peace Corps, here’s my juiciest insight: it’s full of good people. Sorry, but that’s all I got. From top, down, inside the agency and out, boosters and even the critics, when your motivation is the Peace Corps mission, you’re probably a decent sort.

For five years, I worked a busy corner. As public affairs specialist in the Peace Corps Northern California recruitment office, I sat at the intersection where Peace Corps met the American public.

As all RPCVs know, most Americans have a fond awareness of the Peace Corps, but not a ton of knowledge or, frankly, interest. The Peace Corps occupies the same space in most brains as 4-H and Smokey the Bear. So I and the small team of recruiters I supported, with the tremendous help of RPCVs, worked to raise local awareness of our agency and to find the next generation of volunteers.

Have you ever wanted to be a Peace Corps recruiter? Here’s a recruiter’s life: In a given day she shows up early in a college town. She knocks on doors all morning, trying to meet with forestry professors, overworked career counselors and student diversity groups. Mid-day she runs over to set up a career fair table where she’ll talk nonstop for three hours. That evening she’ll organize a community panel discussion with local RPCVs. In the spaces between she’s interviewing and processing applicants, giving classroom presentations, and organizing her upcoming trip to another town. It’s routinely a 13-hour day several days a week.

The average career lifespan of a recruiter is 18 months, but in our Northern California office they regularly stayed the full five year limit, exhausted, but passionate. Our recruiter with the most seniority got to make the Hawaii circuit, a trip that was so tiring (five campuses in five days) it literally sent one recruiter to the hospital.

As I write this, the number one movie in America is Act of Valor, a feature-length film starring real Navy SEALs. Commissioned by the Navy. Released in theaters. The Peace Corps recruitment budget, by contrast, allotted us a box of public service announcements and some promotional pens. But we’re the Peace Corps. We do a lot with a little. And we like hitting the road. My job had me talking about the Peace Corps everywhere from Honolulu TV stations to Las Vegas convention halls to the floor of the California State Senate. Some audiences (Santa Cruz) thought we were imperialists. Some (Fresno) thought we were freaks. But working to bring stories from around the world into local communities was a hoot.

Our office also sat at the intersection where the volunteer requests from our host countries (French-speaking certified teachers who grew up on farms) met the reality of our Peace Corps applicants (vegan sociology majors). We had great applicants, of course: interesting, dedicated, and willing to stick through a long and unpredictable process. We worked with naturalized citizens, pageant queens, teen geniuses who had finished college early, dot-com retirees, carpenters and everyone in between. You would be proud to know the quality and diversity of those representing our country as Peace Corps Volunteers.

One of my fondest applicant memories is of Alice, a Bay Area woman. Alice had been born in Ghana, and as a young girl she had a Peace Corps volunteer for a science teacher. The Peace Corps stayed in her memory, even as she settled in the US and raised a family. Alice attended our recruitment events for four years as she approached retirement. My position lasted just long enough to see Alice retire, apply, get accepted, return to Africa, and finally become a PCV herself.

Lastly, my job sat at one of the many intersections where Peace Corps met RPCVs. RPCVs are a strange lot. I’m one of them, so I can say it. Driven by their fond memories and passion for the Peace Corps, RPCVs run 10Ks in host country dress. They drive three hours with a day’s notice to cover a rural community college career fair. They adopt highways. They volunteer weeks’ worth of time to run RPCV associations and organize community festivals. I saw RPCVs do all these things. And yes there are others who, driven by a 20-year grudge against their country director, hover by your career fair table, poisoning the air. I met them, too. But we’re all family.

Nearly every RPCV association meeting I attended included an existential crisis: “Why are we a group?” I witnessed RPCV groups wax and wane, usually due to the presence of some highly motivated members. Whatever its size, I always considered the LGBT RPCV Association to be a model group. From a recruiter’s point of view, the group is a real asset. Think of all the considerations to serving as a queer PCV that would never arise naturally in the general application process. It’s invaluable for prospective volunteers to have the LGBT RPCV Association to turn to for specific questions and concerns. How wonderful would it be to have an equivalent service for Asian American applicants? Or retirees? Muslims? Those kinds of support and advocacy groups don’t exist, and I think the LGBT group should be very proud of the special service it provides.

As for the intersection of Peace Corps and global LGBT equality, I don’t know if or where that lies. Obviously as an issue of equality, it’s important for Peace Corps to begin accepting applications from same-sex married couples. I must note that, behind the scenes, it’s pretty difficult to place ANY couple into a Peace Corps assignment. It broke recruiters’ hearts to see wonderfully skilled couples sit in the queue two or more years because no country lined up with their combined skills and language abilities. As a practical matter, recruiters may prefer that we stop placing any couple, rather than cast a wider net. I think placing same-sex couples is on Peace Corps’ wish list, but there are many items on that wish list. Most reforms that rise to the top of any government agency’s to-do list will be those accompanied by budgetary, Congressional or White House pressure.

A reporter for an LGBT newspaper asked me, “Why doesn’t Peace Corps have queer volunteers work with queer NGOs?” I’ve learned through the LGBT RPCV Association that, in fact, fate has dealt that hand to a few PCVs. But to me, the power and mystique of the Peace Corps is the organic way in which you can combine any PCV with any community and let the ripple effects go where they may. Women’s empowerment, youth empowerment, and LGBT empowerment can sprout wherever people make a friend who makes them see the world in a different light. And in return, I’ve met gay and allied RPCVs who have stereotype-busting opinions of countries like Jamaica and Uganda based on the friendships they formed there.

By law, you can only work for Peace Corps for five consecutive years, and so I inevitably reached my time to pass the baton to another. I’d carried it during two presidential administrations, growth spurts, budget crunches, the 50th anniversary and more. I loved every minute.

Hale Sargent recently became a member of LGBT RPCVs Steering Committee (our board). He can be contacted at nhsargent@yahoo.com

A New Strachey That Resonates with Our Times

– A Short Book Review, Mike Learned, RPCV, Malawi

Richard Stevenson Novel

by Richard Stevenson

Longtime LGBT RPCV member (Ethiopia) and contributor to our website, Dick Lipez (writing under his pen name Richard Stevenson) is out with his twelfth Donald Strachey mystery. He began the series 29 years ago. One of the things I’ve always liked about the Strachey mysteries/novels is how Lipez weaves in current cultural upheavals in our LGBT and political world. His latest Red, White, Black and Blue is right on about the current political turmoil staring us in the face. I asked Lipez when he had actually written this latest. Most of it was written late last year (2010) and finished off early this year while he was visiting Thailand with his husband, the sculptor Joe Wheaton.

Much of the story revolves around a somewhat reinvention of New York state politics leading up to the 2010 election. Not only does it include the dark and kinky past of one of the candidates up for the primary election for governor, but the opportunism and manipulation of both the candidate and the Tea Partiers who give him their support. It is as though Lipez was able to predict the vitriolic polarization of the political scene we are now experiencing. Was he looking into a crystal ball and seeing the future?

As one might guess from the title, the dark and kinky events deal with physical abuse, brutalization and exploitation of a vulnerable young man. These revelations spur our protagonist, Donald Strachey, on. He hires a hacker to dig out online information, and impersonates others to dig out the truth.

As always, Don’s longtime partner Timothy Callahan keeps him focused. Tim had been a Peace Corps Volunteer earlier on, so there’s usually a mention of Peace Corps in the books which helps explain Tim’s equanimity and calm. Lipez has been quoted saying about the series that he wants to, “show gay men leading reasonably well-adjusted lives.” Well, reasonably well-adjusted for a long time private eye and his calming partner.

It used to be that the Strachey mysteries were readily available at your local LGBT bookstores. Now that these venues are almost all gone, this new book is available (including a Kindle edition) from Amazon. It looks like all the earlier books in the series are also available. They’re all great reads.

New Website is Modern and Mobile

The new LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteers website has a modern look and travels well on tablet and mobile phone devices. The new site is built on the wordpress.complatform and therefore is much easier to update and maintain. All editing takes place through a web interface instead of using computer-based software, thus making it easier to post, edit and manage our web content.We have migrated over 120 articles from our old website and provided robust tagging of our content by topics, including more than 40 countries-of-service listings. We look forward to a robust publishing future and encourage our readers to submit articles for consideration.The new website allows for RSS subscriptions using the POSTS link in the upper right corner of every page and email subscriptions using the SUBSCRIBE list in the right hand navigation bar. The new site will also save us money as we no longer have to pay hosting fees.

Thanks for visiting us and check in often for new content. If you would like to volunteer to help run the new site please contact Kevin Souza at webmaster@lgbrpcv.org.

Strachey is Back at It: Cockeyed – a short review

– Mike Learned, RPCV, Malawi

RPCV Ethiopia, Dick Lipez has just published his eleventh title in his Donald Strachey mystery series. Protagonist Strachey is an Albany, New York private eye. His longtime partner Timothy Callahan had served in the Peace Corps in India. A Peace Corps sort of ethos shows up in almost all the books in the series, usually with pithy remarks from Timmy. Over the years Lipez, who writes as Richard Stevenson (actually his first and middle names), has tackled gay issues of the times: HIV/AIDS, homophobic politics and policing, shock radio, outing, reparative therapy for gays, gay marriage, too much money and fun in Thailand. You name it, Strachey has dealt with it.

Cockeyed stars Strachey’s client Hunny Van Horn, the winner of a huge lottery payout. Hunny (Huntington) Van Horn, a man of a certain age, has been “out” forever and has a skeleton or two in the closet. Sorry, no closet in this man’s life. All of a sudden men from his past are lined up with hands out and threats of exposure. Strachey is hired to be point man. Things get crazier and crazier, but like in most Strachey novels, limited amounts of mayhem and violence. Lipez is a master of the quick and very witty line. In Cockeyed an interesting current gay related theme is the gap between the more assimilated segment of the gay community and the outrageous screaming queen contingent reflected in Hunny and many of his pals. Then there’s all that money. Poor Hunny, his oversight of his new found fortune is as lose as his oversight over every other aspect of his life.

Four of the earlier Strachey books have become made-for-TV films (here!TV) staring Chad Allen: Third Man Out, Shock to the System, On the Other Hand, Death, and Ice Blues. Lipez has recently ended his relationship with here!TV and is out looking for someone to tackle Cockeyed. To me, the delightful and sometimes scary behavior of its many zany characters suggests John Waters.

Cockeyed is now available in a printed or e-version from MLR Press (http://mlrpress.com) or on Amazon.

 

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