Why do we read memoirs? Usually, it's to find out how others cope with the events of life that we all must experience. Sometimes, it's to make contact with exotic lifestyles that we'd ordinarily not know about. Mark Okun's book, with the assistance of Hillary Brower, gives us both these pleasures.
Most teenagers are sure that they are different. But Mark Okun was right. Not only did he resemble no-one in his family, but his feelings were different as well. Consider the title he chose for the book: A Short Jew in the Body of a Tall W.A.S.P..
Of course, Mark knew he was adopted by a Jewish family, so it made sense that he could be tall and blonde, although his parents were short, stocky and dark-haired. But they were also hard-working and law-abiding, and Mark always felt that there was adventure waiting for him around the corner, if he only dared to go there. He didn't want to go to school and study hard, as his parents urged; he'd rather hang around the Syracuse University area, participating in the 1970's drug culture when he could afford drugs, and drinking when he couldn't.
He also demonstrates feelings for other boys, and for older men as well, and while some of them reciprocate, he knows that he's breaking the normal rules of his society. His good looks attract girls, and he dates some of them, but his heart just isn't in it.
Being gay is like being left-handed. You can hit a child with a ruler to force him to write with his right hand but he'll still be left handed.--Mark Okun
As Mark tells his own story, including an episode of running away to California at the age of 13 and being sent home in disgrace, he relates how he eventually stumbles into hairdressing more or less by accident, but finds that he has the ability to be a success, especially after moving to New York City.
It is the era of Studio 54 and Mark hits the dance clubs, finding excitement, drugs, and plentiful sex there for the taking. He finds more celebrity friends, sex and excitement on fabled Fire Island. Yet even at the height of his hedonism, he never loses track of his roots, and cherishes his now-widowed mother on her visits to the Big Apple, taking her to Broadway shows and proudly introducing her to the celebrities he has met.
But history is not on Mark's side. Soon, news of a terrible disease shadows the life that he has built. Frightened, he cleans up his act, giving up drugs, alcohol and casual sex. He does ultimately, test positive for the HIV virus, but proves to be one of the few lucky ones whose blood counts remain stable, avoiding the full rigors of the disease. He also meets the right man for him, and happily enters into a monogamous relationship.
It's not a fairy tale ending; he doesn't have too much in common with most of his new family, with whom he remains on good, but not close, terms. Ironically enough, eventually meeting his birth mother makes him value his adoptive mother, now sadly deceased, even more.
Share in Mark's outrageous stories of life in the Big City during the anything-goes era of the 60s and 70s as he struggles to find where he fits in. The account is sometimes amusing, sometimes heartbreaking and above-all honest in its approach.
Title - A Short Jew in the Body of a Tall W.A.S.P. (A Gay Melodrama in Thirteen Acts)
Author: Mark Okun and Hillary Brower
Publisher:Dog Ear Publishing, LLC (Mar. 8, 2013/Mar. 28, 2013)
$14.12/paperback; $9.99/Kindle at amazon.com/pp.204; 1121 KB