Habu’s Grab Bag 8, a collection of fifteen standalone short stories habu wrote in the spring and early summer of 2015, is the latest in a series of short story anthologies with eclectic gay male settings and plotlines presented in the order in which they were delivered to habu by his muse. The inspirations for habu stories are as random as are his story themes and settings, but those in the Grab Bag collections usually reflect where habu has traveled and what he observed or read or music he listened to during the writing period. Thus there are stories here inspired by a trip to Charleston for the Spoleto music and dance festival; to Savannah, always a favorite inspirational trip for habu; and to Richmond. A couple inspired by books habu was reading, a historical one dredging up the provenance of a painting in habu’s den, a few connected with the news headlines, and even one inspired by listening to the soundtrack of an old, favorite movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? As always, there’s one from habu’s intelligence work past and a hardboiled promiscuous NYPD detective mystery. One, “Galician Guitar,” is the opening chapter of a nostalgic book on the Galician region of Spain in writing process with habu’s coauthor, Sabb.
Variety and setting are always important in habu’s stories, and, as usual, the settings of these stories span the globe from the United States—mostly the East Coast in this collection—to Italy, Germany, Argentina, an isolated, foreboding desert in Southwest Asia, and Japan. Time periods also vary. Although most of these stories are in current time, one moves to Germany at the end of WWII and one is set in Germany and one in Richmond in the 1920s. And, as always, there are unusual stories that take fresh approaches to men unabashedly taking their pleasure with other men. Habu’s men rarely agonize over their gay lifestyle; they embrace it.
The overarching motivation for a habu story is that it try to be different in some way from ones he has written before, a tall order for a writer who has some 800 short stories published, but a goal we think has been achieved here. As with the previous Grab Bag series, we hope that readers will find stories to entertain, arouse, amuse, and evoke thought in this collection.
From “All That Argentine Jazz”
“Is this seat taken?”
Neal looked up in surprise and involuntarily smiled, initially mistakenly thinking that Professor Ambrose hadn’t left yet after all and had come to the Ferrari Spoleto Festival concert just to be with him. Spoleto was a two-week music, theater, and dance festival, started by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti in the late 1970s, and held in the facilities of Charleston College annually in May. Although Neal was hanging around after the end of the school year to build up his portfolio of musical compositions, he would not have been able to afford to attend any of the Spoleto programs on his own means. The man who was standing by the empty aisle seat next to where Neal was sitting was tall, handsome, elegantly dressed, and of the same late forties age and the same wavy gray hair as Ambrose was.
“No, by all means use the seat,” Neal answered, trying to take the edge off his smile. The man smiled warmly back, leaving Neal embarrassed that perhaps he had misunderstood Neal’s smile as some sort of come on. Or were Neal’s thoughts just too consumed by Clay’s request—well, more of a command—to find another lover immediately. Was Neal seeing possibilities where they didn’t really exist?
“I do need an aisle seat and the recital hall is filling up quickly. It’s surprising there’s still this aisle seat available.”
“I was sitting in it until a minute ago,” Neal answered. “But I could see that I could view the musician’s hands on the piano keyboard better from this seat, so I moved over.”
“See his hands better—ah, I guess that means that you study music yourself then,” the man said as he sank down into the aisle seat. “So, are you a music student?”
“Yes, here at Charleston College. I’m lucky to be able to come to this concert. I am studying the same music styles this Carlos Ferrari composes and plays. Are you a musician too?” The man looked refined and artistic, in the same vein that Clayton Ambrose was. Neal didn’t recognize the man as being with the college faculty, but he could be. Neal knew he shouldn’t be so presumptuous—or hopeful—but the man could have fallen right into the role of Clayton, and Neal would open to him. Clayton had hinted and Neal had realized that he needed another man like Clayton.
Neal’s openness to this—because of the similarities of the men and because of Clay’s request still ringing in his ears—did prove to cut through a lot of preliminaries that normally would have been there.
“No, I’m just a banker,” the man answered. “But I do appreciate music—especially the music of Argentina. I’ve done some study of that. And I speak the Argentinean form of Spanish. My name’s Peter Wentworth.”
He was looking expectantly at Neal, who felt heat coming off the man—not temperature heat; sexual heat. He was so much like Clayton Ambrose. Neal wondered if this similarity in looks and demeanor between this Wentworth man and the professor was misleading Neal into sensing that the man now sitting close beside him was interested in him on a prurient level. It may just be this similarity, he had to acknowledge, but it made Neal tense and trembly and he felt—and hoped the man didn’t see—himself going hard. Neal, the wound of losing Ambrose still so open, just went with the flow.
Later Neal was to wonder how many young men other than him had been seduced and made to ejaculate in his shorts by the hand of an older man while sitting in a crowded hall during a concert. But by the time he thought about, it didn’t mean much to him anymore. Ambrose had left him achingly open to the approach. Wentworth couldn’t have been blamed for recognizing that, Neal reasoned.