Brother from Another Planet

Gay bookstore A Brother's Touch thrived when queer culture existed behind closed doors. What it couldn't survive was life in the mainstream

The trend toward literary frivolity is clearly connected with the kind of complacency Roach complains about in some gay men. Hertz, as he stresses, is from the old school. "It's a mixture, sometimes it seems better to a degree," Hertz says of the current social climate. "But then you look at the stuff that's going on now with the Republicans in charge, and all these people yelling things in the Senate. I could tell you, not a day goes by where I don't get cars stopped at that light who feel what they need is to scream, 'Look at that, it's a fag place, my God!' It happened two days ago, these guys started pointing. I go right back out there and point, 'Look at that, straight people, my God, what next? What they have to prove, I don't know. I feel like I'm in another country sometimes."

John Townsend thinks it's dangerous to overstate the gains gays and lesbians have made in the last decade or to assume that tolerance is permanent. "I think separatism is actually a bad idea, but I think it's wise to nurture a central core of queer-centered businesses, just so it can be a touchstone in case times get extremely reactionary. In case for some reason--say under corporate or theocratic pressures from the Republican Party--a lot of the bookstores decide to stop carrying [gay books]. That's kind of a paranoid scenario. But you never know."

By this day in late May, A Brother's Touch has been pretty well cleared out. A few customers pick over the remnants of Hertz's inventory: a few rainbow flags and gay-pride trinkets, some posters, a stack of porno mags, a corkscrew statuette with the screw coming out of the pelvis (a "cockscrew"). Prices at this point are negotiable. A couple carrying an armful of items approaches Hertz with a "bunch proposal."

Charlie Kraft

"I haven't heard that in a while," quips Hertz lewdly, to little response. They end up getting the stuff for a steal, with a complimentary cockscrew.

I ask Hertz what his plans are. "What do I plan to do? Collect social security. Between social security and a part-time job, I can probably make just as much money as working six or seven days a week."

Plus he wants to write a book: Memoirs of a Gay Bookseller. Sounds good. Trouble is, who's going to carry it?

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