This week’s personal story/ book discussion post of Francesca Lia Block‘s Baby Be-Bop (this book is only 3.79USD on Kindle right now!) is by Ashley, creator of The Kindred Collective. I met Ashley through a Francesca Lia Block class/ creative writing workshop I took last year and I’m delighted to share her story.
The last book in the original Dangerous Angels series is Baby Be-Bob, a short little novel about Weetzie’s punk-rock, mohawked bff Dirk McDonald. I remember being fourteen and getting to the last book and thinking Dirk? The last books is about Dirk? Who cares about Dirk. Well, apparently, I do. A lot.
A few years ago I started listening to that NPR program This American Life. I still remember the very first show I heard. It was called The Book That Changed Your Life. And every since I heard that show, I’ve been trying to find my book, the one that changed my life. I’d like to say that it was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which sort of fit like a puzzle piece into my heart, but it didn’t really change me. So, which book?
It’s hard to spot things that make you different, because changes tend to take place slowly over time. I was always the sort of kid that did and said and believed what she was told without really questioning anything. Which book changed me? Which book made me realize that not everything the grown-up told me was right? Earlier this year, I determined that The Book that Changed My Life was Baby Be-Bop. Maybe it was the fact that I grew up in a Christian home in the midwest and I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve really, truly disappointed my mother was when she asked me if I thought gay people should be allowed to get married and I said yes. Or maybe it’s because I can’t stop thinking about the time I was twelve and at the mall and the salesclerk at Claire’s saw two boys kissing, so she called security. It could also be the fact that just a couple weeks ago I took my best friend to my brother’s house for dinner and my mom felt the need to call in advance and pretty much warn her that my friend is gay. But, most notably, it was the moment when my friend and I sat in his driveway for a long time before he said, “The reason I’ve been upset lately is because I’m gay” and when he asked me what I thought about it I said, “You know I don’t care one bit.” That’s when I really knew one little paragraph from one little book changed my life.
And why did he have to tell? Boys who loved girls didn’t have to sit their mothers down and say, “Mom, I love girls. I want to sleep with them.” It would be too embarrassing. Just because what he felt was different, did it have to be discussed?
So, enough about me already. Let’s talk about Dirk. In Baby Be-Bop Dirk is fifteen, living with Grandma Fifi in the magical pink cottage. Dirk gets his first taste of love, and rejection, when he falls for a boy called Pup. They have a playful, carefree friendship, surfing and stealing and being brave teenage boys. But Dirk doesn’t feel brave, because he has a secret. When Dirk finally reveals his feeling to Pup, all Pup says is “I love you, too, Dirk. But I can’t handle it.” After that, Dirk becomes the angry, tough, mohawked boy we all know and love. Fifi gives him her 1955 red and white pontiac convertible and he drives around with this genie lamp she gave him as a hood ornament. He slams in the mosh pits and picks a fight with a group of homophobic skin heads who beat him nearly to death. He drives home, takes the lamp in the house, and crashes into bed. Help me; tell me a story, Dirk thought, knowing that somewhere in the room the lamp was waiting. Tell me a story that will make me want to live, because right now I don’t want to live. Help me. Dirk shuts his eyes, and then, one by one, his ancestors come out of the lamp and tell him their stories.
There is Gazelle, his great-grandmother, who lived with her wicked aunt that never let her leave the house. Her aunt made her sew beautiful, elaborate dresses that she was never allowed to wear. Gazelle secretly loved to dance, but when her aunt caught her dancing, she told Gazelle that girls that dance and touch themselves grow up ugly and will never marry. Gazelle quit dancing until a mysterious man shows up at her door and gifts her one of her own dresses, a lamp, and a child.
Grandma Fifi grew up dancing with her two best friends Martin and Merlin by her side. She found love with and entomologist named Derwood who said she reminded him of the fairies he used to see in the countryside. When Derwood told her he had a heart condition and would only live a few more years, Fifi married him the very next day. After Derwood died, Fifi took their son Dirby to Hollywood, genie lamp in tow.
Dirby always felt lonely. He said he felt more a part of nature than a boy. At sixteen, he hitchhiked to Topanga Canyon and fell in love with a girl called Silver. Just Silver. Dirby and Just Silver were beatniks. They were so in love that it made wineglasses dance on tabletops and hats fly across the room, but “instead of grounding me, my love sent me spinning even deeper into the center of loneliness that was the stars and the night and the wind.” Sometime after their son was born, Dirby and Just Silver took their own lives. Dirby tells Dirk that he wants him to be different. He wants him to fight.
Just before he wakes up in the hospital, the last story Dirk sees is Duck’s. Soon Duck will meet his love. When Duck sees his love he will know that the rest of his story has begun. It will not be too late for either of them. The sweetness and openness they were born with will come back when they see each other in the swimming, surfing lights.
And near the end of the book, when Dirk sees the Genie-man sitting at the end of his bed, comes my favorite quote:
“Think about the word destroy. Do you know what it is? De-story. Destroy. Destory. You see. And restore. That’s re-story. Do you know that only two things have been proven to help survivors of the Holocaust? Massage is one. Telling their story is another. Being touched and touching. Telling your story is touching. It sets you free.”
Additional reading: Love In The Time of Global Warming Book Club – Ms. Block speaks about LGBT topics in her literature.
Another fantastic read: Empathy, Love and LGBT Characters in my Books “I write stories about real people based on those in my life and in my heart. “