Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press



by Mike McGinty

     "Oh, noooo!" I wailed, pointing at the dribbling river of grossness streaming down from below the steer's raised tail. "I just combed there and now look!"
     Without a word, the hired hand, Ray, took the circular metal brush from me and swiped the offending brown mess away with one quick motion. I tried in vain to wipe the look of disgust off my face, but my curled lip would not be denied and my nose crinkled like a leg that involuntarily kicks when the rubber hammer hits the knee. As my revulsion surfaced, so did this simple thought: Maybe becoming an honorary part of the Bradford family wasn't such a good idea after all.
     It was 1975, one year after my dad's job had landed our Boston-bred clan in the black hole of East Tennessee. In the ensuing months, I had never participated in the agricultural or animal husbandry activities so prevalent among the denizens of the area. The surrounding towns of Greenville, Elizabethton, and Jonesboro offered little else though, and I tried to make the best of it, even as I silently renamed them Boringville, Footballton, and HeyY'allboro. I was having a very hard time fitting in. My dad worked a desk job, cooked gourmet meals for us, and filled the house with classical music every weekend. I couldn't relate to the banjo-pickin', the rolling tobacco fields and the slow-moving tractors all around me. Tyler Bradford—friendly, approachable, and cute—was a bridge. He represented my best chance of fitting into this weird Appalachian culture, where everyone's father but mine worked at the hulking Eastman Kodak plant, the neighbors always wanted to take me squirrel hunting, and you were nothing if you didn't know how to "fake left and go long."

Mike as a school boy

     I willed the sneer off my face, turned to my best friend and whispered, "Now there's cow crap all over the brush. We can't use it anymore."
     "It doesn't matter, Mike," Tyler said. "Don't worry about it."
     Don't worry about it? But there was so much to worry about at a 4-H steer show in Bovineburg. You had to watch where you walked at all times so you didn't step in cow piles. You had to breathe through your mouth when you went near the stalls. You had to pretend that Ray, the toothless, red-faced man with the dirty sausage fingers who spit tobacco juice and talked like the scary guys in Deliverance didn't creep you out. You had to remain vigilant against gigantic flies buzzing in your face, trying to land on you after they had just landed on the cow piles you were trying not to step in, thus leaving microscopic footprints of fresh cow crap—and unimaginable germs—on your clean clothes or, worse yet, on your exposed neck and forearms.