babar

I file George Saunders under the tag “straight identified writers who I love.”

An essayist, novelist and master of the satirical short story,    Saunders injects genuine humanity and pathos into his fantastical, sardonic tales of consumerism and capitalism run a muck.    Saunders  makes devastating points about the insanity of a market dominated culture, but not at the expense of creating fully realized and humane characters.

He reminds me of sci-fi novelist Phillip K Dick, but  infused with a healthy dose of compassion and a well placed sense of humor.

One of  my favorite of Saunder’s stories is titled “My Flamboyant Grandson.”

This story takes place in a not so distant, media saturated future where all citizens are mandated to endure the advertising that corporations have tailored just for them.

Skipping past commercials is not only frowned upon, it’s illegal.   So what happens if you are racing to get your nelly grandson to a Broadway musical interpretation of the children’s classic Barbar (I’m surprised no one  has thought of turning Barbar into a musical yet.  Get on it Dreamworks!) before curtain call, and simply don’t have time to wade through the authorized advertisements/billboards that slow your every step?  That is the crux of this odd and funny story.

For me the best parts of the tale are not the boilerplate critiques on omnipresent media ads gone crazy, but the ruminations of the sweet and thoughtful grandfather who is dealing with a clearly sissified grandson:

I had brought my grandson to New York to see a show. Because what is he always doing up here in Oneonta? Singing and dancing, sometimes to my old show-tune records, but more often than not to his favorite CD, “Babar Sings,” sometimes even making up his own steps, which I do not mind, or rather I try not to mind it. Although I admit that once, coming into his room and finding him wearing a pink boa while singing, in the voice of the Old Lady, “I Have Never Met a Man Like That Elephant,” I had to walk out and give it some deep thought and prayer, as was also the case when he lumbered into the parlor during a recent church couples dinner, singing “Big and Slow, Yet So Very Regal,” wearing a tablecloth spray-painted gray, so as to more closely resemble Babar.

Being a man who knows something about grandfatherly disapproval, having had a grandfather who constantly taunted me for having enlarged calves–to the extent that even today, when bathing, I find myself thinking unkind thoughts about Grandfather–what I prayed on both occasions was: Dear Lord, he is what he is, let me love him no matter what. If he is a gay child, God bless him; if he is a non-gay child who simply very much enjoys wearing his grandmother’s wig while singing “Edelweiss” to the dog, so be it, and in either case let me communicate my love and acceptance in everything I do.

Because where is a child to go for unconditional love, if not to his grandfather? He has had it tough, in my view, with his mother in Nevada and a father unknown, raised by his grandmother and me in an otherwise childless neighborhood, playing alone in a tiny yard that ends in a graveyard wall. The boys in his school are hard on him, as are the girls, as are the teachers, and recently we found his book bag in the Susquehanna, and recently also found, taped to the back of his jacket, a derogatory note, and the writing on it was not all that childish-looking, and there were rumors that his bus driver had written it.

To read the rest of the story  please click here.

Bonus:  To read Saunder’s humorous piece in The New Yorker on gay marriage click here.

Buy Saunder’s books!  Support the arts and a straight guy who does not mind sodomy!

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