I got an email from a writer acquaintance Judah Leblang. It seems that his department at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. (that he worked at for years) transferred to Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., where I teach. He also told me that he has developed a one man play based on his memoir (My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond) titled One Man’s Journey Through the Middle Ages. His memoir chronicles his youth in Cleveland, Ohio during the 60’s and 70’s, his attachment to that down-at-the-heels city, and his life as a Jewish, gay single man. The show explores Leblang’s fear, and loathing in Provincetown, Mass. (A gay mecca) one summer, his rather sudden hearing loss, and the universal themes of aging and loss.
Here is an excerpt from Leblang’s memoir about his grandmother, Cleveland, and the world beyond the broad lawns and narrow minds of the suburbs:
“I knew my parents didn’t like to go into the city. My mother saw Cleveland as a cauldron of riots, crime and burned out neighborhoods, a place to avoid. Still, on a sunny day in May 1968, I was an eleven-year-old boy who knew that Cleveland was full of wonders like planes and trains and buildings that pierced the sky, miracles my grandmother and I would share like her warm pastry. And so my grandmother and I stood quietly as my mother drove off, back to the safety of the eastern suburbs.
Waiting for the bus, Nanny’s maple tree rustling above us, I thought of other times, other adventures with my grandmother, when I was five, seven, eight. On special weekends, she would baby-sit for my brothers and I, bringing her pastry and her Jewish rye bread, her cough drops and powdery scent into our suburban home. At five, before the accident, I’d sing and dance for her entertainment, repeating rhymes I’d learned in nursery school-”Mary had a little lamb,” “Humpty Dumpty,” and later, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” which I’d warbled at a school assembly in Kindergarten in my thin childish voice. Later, I’d tell my grandmother she was beautiful, promise to marry her when I grew up. According to my mother, I was a little khnifenik, Yiddish for a “flatterer.”
I used to read Leblang’s column in the Somerville Journal where he held court from 1999 to 2001. Leblang lives in Medford now, but he was a denizen of Teele Square in Somerville. Presently Leblang is a columnist for Bay Windows, a gay newspaper in Boston. His slice-of-life stories have been heard on NPR and many other radio stations. Leblang counts Somerville writers Dan Gerwitz (Formerly of the Boston Herald) and Randy Ross (Founder of Media Chowder, a networking group for writers) as friends, and the trio used to perform in the area with a piece about being middle aged.
I asked Leblang why he feels he has a story that is worth being told. He said, “Memoir writers have been accused of being navel gazers. Hey, I am not Bill Clinton, or Nelson Mandela. But I feel I have a story that people can relate to. We all have to make choices; we all grow old; well all have to deal with losses.” And Leblang tells his story with a winning combination of humor and pathos. Of being a single gay man of a certain age, Leblang said, “I am part of a subculture of middle-aged gay men that belong to a culture that puts youth and looks at a premium. It is challenging to meet someone near my own age for a possible relationship.”
Leblang will be leading a memoir writing workshop this fall at Somerville Public Library in Davis Square, and will be performing his play in the area. Check his website http://judahleblang.com for more information.