Listening to ‘70s Dance Party Playlist on Amazon Prime for get me in the mood to write about Rolling the R’s. I have a hardback copy with an Autographed Copy sticker marring the cover. Ah ah freak out. I bought it at the now defunct Lambda Rising Bookstore in DC. A mini-easel holding a gauzy glamour shot of a young Asian man topped a stack of red books. I hadn’t yet connected with a community of Asian gay men, so this was a novelty. One of his names sounded Filipino. I read the jacket flaps and flipped through a few pages. I saw that he autographed it on 2-21-96. Not really what I normally read but I bought it anyway.
Get down boogie oogie oogie. Life had not prepared me for Rolling. It actually took me many years to fully appreciate it because the dialect, structure, and characters were so unfamiliar to me. I read the pidgin and understood the words. But I couldn’t get the rhythm, so I felt like I was missing out on the meaning. It was not until two years later, when I visited Oahu for the first time, that it clicked. I reread a few passages when I got back home and it made new sense.
Another few years later, I got to meet Zack through a mutual friend, Wilma. They performed a few passages from the book together. Another click: this collection of prose and poetry vignettes meant to be performed. What had seemed strange reading silently to myself made more sense when spoken aloud, with rhythm and drama. A few years after that, Wilma directed a dramatic reading of Rolling (with Zack in the audience). Several performers read lines directly from the text, in dialect, with peelings. Zack added a new autograph to my book that night, “Again we meet/now roll in pidgin.”
The last hurdle I had was in relating to the characters. Rolling’s community of Filipinos (and others) was not at all like the large Filipino community I grew up with in Norfolk, VA. We were well-behaved, assimilated, standard Englishspeaking, college-bound Navy brats. I remember a pair of Filipino brothers who were supposedly in a gang, but that was it. Nothing like Da Manong Gang. We didn’t have divorced, cheating, drug-addled parents (though looking back, I think there probably were, but they were hidden from us kids). I know now that Filipino American communities are diverse, but Rolling was the first time I read it in a book.
But it wasn’t all hurdles. The disco references, I got right away. I wore out Donna Summer’s Bad Girls on 8-track. I bought Song Hits magazines from the grocery store. I had hair like Farrah Fawcett and I had a crush on Scott Baio. Whatever oceans of difference separated us, American pop culture seeped into us in the same ways. Toot toot. Yeah. Beep beep.