Editor's Note: Guest blogger Rick Cook is the co-owner of Mass Ave Video, Indianapolis's only video store catering to the LGBT community. The store has been a community resource for years and is facing closure soon.
As I sit here in tears pondering what it will be like to not see my friends, families and loyal past and present customers everyday from behind the counter of Mass. Ave. Video and the joy that I have been blessed with by introducing them to some of the most unusual films that they may never have heard, let alone considering viewing, I am disconnected. This act in itself has been one of the most rewarding experiences that I've had in our 10+ years in business. I've tried to, and at least hope to think that I've accomplished part of our goal to make Mass. Ave. Video one of the best independent video stores in our city's history.
Mass. Ave. Video was purchased by Keith and myself in late 1999 from an incredible lesbian couple whose frustration about not being able to find women's films led to their formation of the original store. Keith and I made it our unspoken promise to them that we would first and foremost carry on the legacy that we inherited from them and this has blossomed into a store that carries features films and documentaries that represent and validates their experiences and existence. The "other" is a concept introduced to film criticism by, I believe, Robin Wood, to describe as outsider, one who is looked upon by the majority and so-called "mainstream" society as a freak, an oddity, or one who is seen as worthy of derision.
Having grown up gay in Northeastern Indiana, I fully understand what it is like to be shunned and ridiculed at a time and in a place when it was not o.k. to be out & proud. It was not until I made the difficult decision to leave rural Indiana at the age of 17 and move to New York to attend acting school, that I was able to begin the process of becoming comfortable in my own skin. As with most gay men of my generation, we hoped that a larger city would be easier to come out and it largely was. I experienced some incredible events, such as having Sydney Greenstreet's granddaughter [Maltese Falcon] as my acting instructor, meeting John Steinbeck's widow Elain and befriending her granddaughter, Andy, at a nightclub that I worked at called Xenon in the Times Square area.
I brought these experiences back with me when I returned to Bloomington and then Indianapolis in 1994. Keith and I purchased Mass. Ave. Video with aforemention goals and were suddenly introduced to some of the most incredible people of every gender, sexual orientation, and economic disparity. A genuine community of like-minded individuals who I've grown to cherish. Have we lost that sense of community? I'd like to think that we haven't, but being a Neo-Luddite in regard to the concept of a virtual community, I prefer to enjoy face-to-face communication and voice-to-voice over text talk. We understand that changes in our industry in regard to technology and are prepared to adapt to these changes, while maintaining those close personal relationships that we've developed over the last decade.
Mass. Ave. Video has been and always will be [if only in my memories] all about our customers. I have no ego that needs to be stroked by being a "business owner." Small business ownership often means that your credit rating sucks, that you're indebted to a landbaroness/landbaron and that you owe your vendors money. The economic hardship that has unnecessarily affected all of us, starting with the price of gas, increased taxation, and finally the cluster**** known as the Cultural Trail and the city's failure to oversee the lack of progress on this project has driven a metaphorical nail in our coffin.
Lastly, I would like to address the LGBT community of Indianapolis. While we have an incredible, albeit rather small base of friends and supporters, I would like to reach out to those individuals and organizations who blindly believe the lies and smear campaigns propogated through that heinous gossip column in our local gay publication. Unfortunately, some people believe what they read without critically thinking and questioning the authenticity, motivations and moral veracity behind such libel.
More specifically, I am referring to the attacks on my former life partner, Keith Washington by said publication, by certain members of Indy Pride, IYG and even Black Pride. If you'll remember, Keith was the one who did all the leg work for Black Pride year 1 to get HRC to finacially support the organization, even though he wasn't even a member of the organization at that time. In the meantime we have continued to take the higher ground by supporting important groups such as HRC, IYG, Black Pride, Indy Pride, Brothers United and the Damien Center.
The days of old gay white man network/clique needs to end now. If you haven't embraced multiculturalism at this late date, then you're a damn fool! And I'm not talking about fetishising Black and Latino males as sex objects either.
How pathetic is it that local gay pride organizations have only recently been forced to include people of color on their boards, while kicking and screaming about the lack of necessity of another pride, when in fact, Black prides have been an important and necessary addition to Black LGBT culture through the validation of said culture. Do your research. Read about Stonewall, watch the documentaries and read on of the many books carried at Outward Bound and you'll find that these very "others' that I spoke about earlier, the so-called "freaks", misfits, and most importantly, the Black and Latino drag queens and lesbians on the fringe of society were indeed the ones responsible for the birth of our modern gay rights movement.
Say what you will about Keith Washington, but if it were not for his ability to rob Peter to pay Paul, we would have not been in business for this long. He took out a second mortgage, borrowed money from friends and family to keep this resource available and alive for you. Neither one us have taken a paycheck in 10 years, instead choosing to put everything back into product for the store at the risk of losing his home and what little else he and I have left. I implore you to do the right thing, by putting your petty differences aside and to help save the store by coming in and renting, buying, organizing a benefit at our bars, spreading the word, or considereing becoming a silent partner in our cause.
We only have 8 days left before we will no longer be in existence, with no option or funds to relocate. I have bared my soul to you and I am asking that the entire coummunity seriously consider in assisting us in order that we may continue to serve you.