Category: The Nineteen-nineties

Daddies and Twinks and Bears–OH MY!

 

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While the LGBT population world-wide struggles for acceptance and equality, at the same time we insist on separating ourselves into categories which we came up with–all on our own. The society we fight to find our place in had absolutely nothing to do with it. No wonder it’s tough to be gay. Sometimes we contribute to it by stereotyping ourselves, insisting on choosing a specific compartment that classifies us according to some physical trait or insignificant preference. It wasn’t always like that, this dinosaur is here to tell you.

Back in the last century, in the early 1970s in Ohio when I first came out, you went to a gay bar and there were two kinds of homosexuals–dykes and fags. We were so happy to be able to be out, no one thought to be anything more than simply GAY. In those clubs we could hang out together and just be ourselves, which we dared not do anywhere outside the safety of the places we frequented. It wasn’t that these gay bars were particularly fabulous or fun–they were all we had–a place to be comfortable in your own skin a few hours each week.

Moving to New York City, my gay world expanded. Actually, it damn near exploded. Unlike northeastern Ohio, where you could count the number of gay establishments on one hand, here there were dozens of places in Manhattan alone. And NYC is where I began to notice the development of gay stratification.

At this point there were: jocks, leather men, daddies and elephants. The jocks were hardly the buff gym rats of today. In fact, in those days a six-pack meant only one thing–six bottles or cans of beer. These jocks were closer to preppies, in button-down shirts, loafers with or without socks, clean-shaven and well-groomed hair. Leather men were easy to spot in their chaps, vests or black leather jackets and huge, heavy belts and boots. They made facial hair fashionable again. Leather men were the first to embrace piercings–initially just ears–then they commenced to travel south–way south. In the beginning these guys intimidated me, until I smartened up and realized for many, it was simply costume, and had zero to do with how they performed under the sheets. Daddies were men forty-plus years who dressed more sophisticatedly than any of the others. Technically they could have been a twenty-something’s father. While I found most daddies tantalizing in my heyday, I hesitated to pursue their advances because the age difference made me a bit queasy. And the elephants, oh those poor elephants, were the older, grandfatherly men who most gay guys ran from, (except for the gold diggers who took full advantage of the poor old horny dudes).

There was an unnamed category that a majority of gay men fell into in this same era. I would have to call it the ‘denim crowd’. It was the strata I identified with in my single days. In fall and winter we wore flannel shirts or work shirts and jeans with a jean jacket. In summer we’d don the same jeans, wife-beater tank tops or go shirtless with a jean jacket. Some guys wore heavy boots if they leaned towards leather. Others chose sneakers or loafers if they were more jock-inspired.

I dated my first denim guy for only a month or so. He worked in the interior design industry like myself. By day his job required he wear a suit and tie. Regardless, he wore this tiny gold hoop earing which I found an odd juxtaposition, but so very hot. His name was Robb (with two B’s) and his last name (French Canadian), also began with a B. I affectionately referred to him as ‘Robb Bone-air’, frankly because that’s what he gave me whenever I caught a glimpse of that shocking earring and the dirty grin always pasted on his handsome face. Even when dressed in denim, there was something about his earring that hayseed me found so provocative in those olden days. Robb was also responsible for making me go commando…but I’m getting a bit off-track here.

Just before the end of the 70s I went off the dating market, settling down with a man who didn’t belong to any of the above-mentioned categories. He was Alejandro, and we were together for a dozen years. During my time out of the gay loop, a few new categories were formed. The biggest was the Bear Community. They surfaced somewhere in the early 1980s. Of course Bears have been around since forever, but this is when they became a huge thing, perhaps because there became so many kinds of them.

Bears, first and foremost, are guys with body hair. Bears are not into manscaping. This does not mean you have to wear a chest wig to be a Bear. There are some burly Bear dudes who are not terribly hairy. These men might compensate by cultivating hair where it does naturally grow, like on their heads. And if it doesn’t grow there, then maybe they’ll sport full, bristling beards. The Bear population has grown so large they’ve developed subclasses: younger bears are referred to as Cubs, older bears are often called Polar Bears, there are Musclebears, Panda Bears (Asians) and then, to totally confuse things, there are Bears who are hairy but thinner and extremely muscular, termed Otters (which in the animal kingdom aren’t even in the same family!).

I’ve always found Bears adorable. Although we shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations about any one group of people, I’m sticking my neck out here to say almost every Bear I’ve ever met has been a really cool guy. They’re fun-loving and playful. They don’t intimidate and for the most part are very open and accepting of non-bear types. They couldn’t be less pretentious, and typically dress totally for comfort–fashion be damned. I’ve always secretly wished to be a bear, but I’m (1) not entirely hirsute, (2) too old and never was nearly in-shape enough to dare to call myself an Otter, and (3) unfortunately, a little too overly concerned with what I wear. Perhaps they will someday bestow an Honorary Ursine membership upon me.

If the 80s introduced the Bear, the 90s was the dawn of the Twink. These guys existed even in my youth; only the name is new and their growth in numbers appears to have increased. They could be considered the other extreme of the Bear. Twinks are slender, young, boyish, typically clean-shaven, manied and pedied and always dressed to go clubbing. They have their fingers on the pulse of what is most current in fashion and anything that is of no earthly use in the real world. It would be difficult, I imagine, to be thirty-something AND still be a Twink. I never got what they were about in my day, so I am even more in the dark concerning the Twinks of today. They’re the kind of people my Grandmother would pray for daily, were she still alive and able to recognize their existence in her world.

Dating sites and apps like Grindr will no doubt create some new categories of gay men perhaps even I will get wind of, as David pushes me in my wheelchair up Commercial Street in Provincetown, should I live long enough. Who can say what will be considered cool and appealing to the next gay generation? The only wisdom I can impart at this point in my life is simply this:

Whether you are a Twink, a Cub, or an Otter, please don’t get so wrapped up in the look or the trends of the day, that you miss the now–the moment you should be living. Forget about your outfit for Tea Dance–nobody cares if your shorts are just a little too baggy, or your sneakers are last season’s. Dance your ass off, even by yourself if no one else asks you to dance. Order dessert if you want. Only you see the extra half pound the next morning. Looking back on my gay life, it is as if only three summers ago I came out at twenty-one. A year later, I was forty and single again. And just last week, AARP sent me my first invitation for membership while still in my late fifties. Life happens so goddamn fast you become a dinosaur, before you’ve even had the chance to begin to sample life.

 

Epilogue

I have always longed to visit Provincetown for Bear Week, as it is one of the most popular weeks of the summer, when the town is overtaken by a Bear invasion. My job schedule has never afforded me the pleasure, but this year I will be able to at least make a day trip on Friday. I can’t wait to report on my day there in a follow-up post.

A Cavalcade of Birthday Memories

Scan10009I’ve had many, many birthdays since my earliest recollected fifth, and even many that I don’t remember at all. Like thirty. I know I was living in New York City, yet there is not a glimmer of recall at how I spent it and thirty is such a nice round number you would think there should have been some memory. And yet I see vividly my seventh, because I had my first “kid” birthday party with boys and girls from both school and the neighborhood. There was my mother, hosting over a dozen rowdy rugrats in our rec room, while being nine months morbidly pregnant, carrying my soon-to-be-baby brother.

The theme was circus, so of course it was clown everything: plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, party favors and matching cake. The only thing NOT clown was the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game which I hated playing, because already at age seven I understood the meaning of passe. Mom’s ankles were swollen like the balloons hanging from the ceiling and she was feeling miserable, (she was only months away from being forty years old), but she was smiling and cordial to all those rambunctious little bastards who were my guests.

About half-way through the fete, after traveling up and down the basement steps schlepping for the umpteenth time, I caught a glimpse of the angst and discomfort show through her own painted smile. She resembled the clown faces that surrounded us everywhere we looked, pretending to be happy for my birthday while these rotten kids were making a mess of everything and creating still more work than her poor, expectant body could ever handle. On top of all this, my father was on the verge of his first ‘nervous breakdown’, a concept we were all learning to comprehend and work into the daily routine of our simple lives. I can never look back at seven and not first flash to that seminal period of our family history when crazy took over the reins.

At sixteen a friend from high school named Gemma attempted to throw a surprise party for me. She was supposedly cooking a birthday dinner at her parents’ house at 8:00 p.m. which was tres chic for West Buttfok, Ohio where by 5:30 most everybody had already finished doing the dishes even on Saturdays. We were super-close pals and had been hanging out together for a year or so. I’d gotten ready way ahead of schedule so I decided to walk over a little early. Maybe I could help her out with the cooking. I showed up at her door a bit before 7:00. I still remember her little sister’s face at the door, totally shocked which seemed odd as she adored me and enjoyed when I  visited because I fussed over her.  Gemma came up from behind her with shower wet hair, clutching her bathrobe to her chin. She looked really pissed and before I could say a thing she announced something to the effect of “So surprise, asshole”, (she definitely used that particular term of endearment), “you just blew your own surprise party by being the first one here!”.

Twenty-five was one of those birthdays that I judged as a traumatic mile marker. I was aggravating myself for several weeks before, announcing to anyone who would listen that I would soon be celebrating my Silver Birthday. It sounded like such a pivotal number. You could be in your early twenties and still be considered just a crazy college kid. That had long been my excuse to family elders my first few years in NYC trying to land an acting job. They viewed it as having no career and absolutely no direction in life. (Forget about the fact that I was unmarried with no sign of a girlfriend.) Twenty-five I was somehow interpreting as a serious signal that my frivolous years were behind me. I took the day off from work. I spent my entire birthday alone going out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and in between meals traveled from one cinema to another, taking in three different movies. I was home in bed and asleep by nine o’clock that night, over-fed, filmed-out and now seemingly devoid of my youth.

My fortieth birthday was spent in NYC even though I was living in an eight-room Victorian on the common of a sleepy New England town with my partner Alejandro. We went into The City for the weekend to celebrate. My good friend Giuseppe took me to lunch at Le Cirque and spent a fortune on a simply amazing afternoon of food, wine and conversation. To this day I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed a more magnificent luncheon! Then it was off to the theatre to watch a college friend play Mother Superior in NUNSENSE. She was incredibly funny in the role and just seeing her ultra-Protestant self in her nun’s habit was a scream to this forty-year-old lapsed Catholic/lapsed thespian.

Turning fifty looked to be an inexorable milestone. The year was 1999. My mother had died that June, so it was official – I was now an orphan. Everywhere we turned we were being bombarded with Y2K hysteria. I refused to stuff my mattress with my meager life savings and my retirement package likewise was going to stay put, doomsday advocates be damned. Certain unnamed relatives of mine in Michigan were stockpiling dried beans and rice in the cellar to no doubt observe their End of Days final meal. What sort of last hurrah style celebration would be appropriate for my golden birthday with all these factors considered? I settled upon a trip for David and me to see our dear friends Mickey and Minnie in Orlando. My younger brother and his family flew down to meet us, as we had vowed after Mom’s funeral that we would get together before the end of the millenium to do something together that was actually fun. It was a childishly wonderful fifty we all celebrated that year.

Once you have tallied these many years, birthdays seem to take on another meaning all together. You truly miss those friends and family who aren’t around any more to mail a card, make that phone call to sing an off-key version of the birthday song, or send an email. Now your refrigerator’s face is peppered with those ubiquitous little doctor’s appointment cards reminding you (sometimes seemingly into the next millenium) that you are mortal, slowly falling apart piece by piece. Yet even though I begin each new morning with an aspirin and three different pills for my blood pressure, I am still that foolish twenty-five-year old. When I pull on a pair of jeans I wonder why the tag reads W34 when I am certain my waist is the same 29 inches it has always been. Passing the medicine cabinet mirror as I stagger into the shower each a.m. without my glasses on, why do I catch a glimpse of my grandmother? The woman has been gone since 1990. I have always adored her, so why should she haunt me?

I think for my seventieth, if I am still around and still possessing all my marbles, I shall throw for myself a surprise party with a clown theme. I am betting I can pull it off without a hitch. And by then, so much time might have elapsed that Pin the Tail might have come round full circle again.

The Corn Stand Caper

That schmaltzy poem about ‘friend for a season/friend for a reason’ has made its way into nearly everyone’s email inbox, but the truth is you are extremely fortunate if you have made even one friend for life. The high school clique that had formed in my sophomore year, due to a formidable yet ephemeral young drama teacher, hung together even after we graduated and left West Buttfok. Deb Mae remained home our first three years of college. Billy, my closest compatriot attended a small state school in southern Ohio. Selma and Eddy went to Kent State with me, although with twenty thousand students it was easy to lose hometown acquaintances, so we tended to lead separate lives at university.

Deb Mae had been Debbie until The Group went to see Bonnie and Clyde our senior year of high school. The two of us were so taken by the film, we went back the following day and sat through two consecutive showings (remember when you could spend the day in the movies for the price of one admission?). We adopted these truly lame southern accents, so in order to make her a more believable belle, I christened her Deb Mae and it stuck. The two of us had solidified a friendship the first year of high school, long before Mr. Allen came and worked his magic. She was new to the school, having gone through eight years of Catholic indoctrination. We often walked home together, living just a few blocks apart. Debbie’s mom died when she was eight, leaving her father with three children – another daughter, five and a baby boy, three. The day her mother passed away, her father returned from the hospital, took her aside and announced “your mother is dead, so you’ll have to be the mommy now”. She assumed the role seamlessly, cooking, cleaning, raising her siblings and keeping everything in line, including a sometimes unruly Dad. She did a remarkable job, seldom complaining about her lot.

I would stop in regularly on our way home. She’d make a pot of coffee for me (she only drank Tab) and we would smoke cigarettes and kibbutz as Debbie cooked supper. We realized a few months into our friendship that we had been in the same kindergarten class. It was easy to remember the only kindergartener in the entire school with pierced ears. She was of Hungarian descent on both sides, and a blonde beauty to rival any of the Gabor sisters. Wonderfully female, curvy and attractively big-busted Deb Mae possessed the sweetest, softest voice and a loving heart.

Eddy and Selma I had known since sixth grade chorus. Eddy had always had this ‘thing’ for Selma and they related to one another like a feisty, sparing couple who’d been married for at least thirty years. She was tall and lanky with long, straight hair and bangs – the perfect hippie. He played piano and loved the Motown sound long before we even knew there was a name for that kind of music. Eddy needed to hear a tune on the radio only two or three times before he started banging it out on the keys of the nearest piano. He was our accompanist whenever we wanted to sing, possessing a biting sense of humor that made us roar. A Polish American, he bore the brunt of all those horrible pollack jokes which were the mania of the time.

Billy was my nemesis turned counterpart. Sitting in the desk directly in front of me in homeroom from seventh grade on, I hated him because he was so heinously obnoxious. He was loud and silly and so horribly fey it made me uncomfortable to be in his presence. I was acutely aware of my own feminine propensities, doing everything I could to keep them at bay. Here was this flaming fairy mocking himself in a desperate attempt to gain attention anyway he could. I either ignored him or ridiculed him until Mr. Allen cast us in productions and our characters were forced to play off one another. In time we grew to become brothers. I’ve had no closer friend in this world than my best buddy Billy.

The first two summers everyone came home from college. Returning to the womb to work and save for the following year, no sooner would we be back when those group dynamics would kick in and we were tenth-graders again. Eddy would be bossing everyone around trying to get us to do whatever he selfishly wanted. Billy, ever the idea man with a relentless drive to see it through, choreographed our lives as a group, scheduling each minute and chaufering us in his family’s pale turquoise Rambler station wagon. Deb Mae was our heart and our den mother. Selma was the misfit in this group of misfits. She was there because Mr. Allen had put her there and neither Selma nor any of us ever challenged his decision. She was one of those sad souls who meanders through life with a dark cloud hovering overhead. Me, I was the mediator, the peacemaker who smoothed the ruffled feathers which regularly came from five people foolishly attempting to live life as a single entity.

We’d started our own West Buttfok Summer Theatre after graduating from high school, so at night those first two summers we rehearsed for a show like we always had. Even though we all loved theatre, it was more of an excuse to not be apart. As if this extreme togetherness wasn’t already more than unhealthy, and our summer jobs were not enough, Billy devised a scheme to make some easy money on weekends. We would open a corn stand – yes, a CORN stand.

Billy’s Lebanese grandfather had done this for years. He lived on the last rural route in West Buttfok where a handful of old family farms still existed, although none were in operation. Some of the families kept large vegetable gardens, selling tomatoes, peppers and the like on the roadside when there was an abundance they couldn’t consume themselves. Being business savvy, his grandfather had hooked up with a farmer about thirty miles away who grew sweet corn and he bought it weekly to sell with his homegrown vegetables. He told customers he grew it all out back in his fields.

Billy figured we could do even better, being college students working to pay our way. Selma’s folks lived on that same road but at the opposite end from Grandpa. Our only problem was her back yard was small, which was evident from the road. The story we would tell was we grew the corn, but “on our farm in Aurora”, (exactly where the corn did come from – so we wouldn’t really be lying). Selma’s parents thought our scheme was brilliant and loved helping our enterprise.

The first weekend we had one hundred dozen ears delivered. At the crack of dawn Saturday morning the farmer’s truck dropped off these oversized burlap bags filled with more corn than any of us could ever have imagined. Concerned we surely had been cheated, Eddy charmed the girls into helping him count each bag full. There was a substantial overage. We paid 35 cents per dozen for which Grandfather-up-the-road charged a dollar. Being new, we opted for 75 cents a dozen. We sold out early that first day, more than doubling our money, disappointed there was nothing left to sell on Sunday. The next week we increased the order to two hundred dozen. Greedy Eddy longed for more, so he talked Billy into visiting a wholesale produce market in Cleveland at five a.m. and buying tomatoes and cucumbers. Again, there wasn’t a veggie left by Sunday afternoon.

Billy and I realized that with blonde, buxom Deb Mae and long-haired, hippie chick Selma kept front and center, cars were stopping, looking and buying. Eddy worried that the girls might give incorrect change, cutting into the profits, while Billy and I feared that his obnoxious personality might frighten customers away. In the end, we all hovered around the corn stand the better part of the weekend. Between our theatre background, group dynamic and the delicious Silver Queen corn, we were moving lots of produce and having a great time together doing it. We planned on running through the last weekend in August. We’d built up quite a following our first month and regular customers were bringing us new ones.

Early in August Billy got a phone call from the Corn Man. They had over picked their fields and would not be able to supply us for the coming weekend. Billy and Eddy were devastated. The girls and I said no big deal, we’ll just sell the vegetables from the market. Billy worried that no one would stop without the corn piled high on the side of the road and promised he’d figure something out. Friday night, when typically we all took in a movie, he announced the solution. He contacted a neighboring farmer near our supplier who could give us as much corn as we needed, but….we would have to pick it ourselves. “How hard could picking corn be?” I can still hear the pollack saying.

The plan was for the three guys to drive separate cars in a caravan before dawn, pick enough corn to fill the first car and return to Selma’s so the girls could open. We would  drive the other cars back when they were sufficiently corn-laden. Deb Mae and Selma would go to the wholesale market to buy the produce. The most remarkable news was the corn would cost only 15 cents a dozen since we were doing the real work. We could all hear the cash register which was lodged somewhere in Eddy’s chest going”ka-ching”.

My bedroom was pitch black when Billy and Eddy frightened me awake with their cackling taunts to “git up boy, we gottsa’ pick us some corn!”. As we reached the farm, the sun was finally visible and the owner gave his five-minute lesson in corn picking. The three of us had dressed for perhaps a backyard barbecue, but certainly not to manuever our way through the tall August growth. There was barely enough room to work your way down the endlessly long rows. We were shooing off pesky bugs who were busy biting as the early sun was toasting us. The long green leaves on the stalks had razor-sharp edges which microscopically sliced our arms and legs and there was no avoiding them as we reached into the plants to pull off each ear. We were giddy and sweaty and scratched and achy but we were picking with a frenzy, filling up burlap bagfuls of corn, desperate to take advantage of the 15 cent price point. Eddy drove the first car back, eager to check on the girls to see how they fared at the market. He was uneasy leaving this task to anyone other than himself.

We spent another several hours picking, but by noon the overhead August sun was unbearable and we still had to fill the cars with so many bags full of corn we barely had room to drive. Unloading the corn back at Selma’s, we guesstimated we’d picked way over two hundred dozen – much more than we paid for or had ever sold in one weekend. The girls bought two crates of beautiful Chiquita brand cantaloupes at an incredible price along with the customary tomatoes and cukes.

As I came out front to sit with the girls, I saw an obviously heated and animated lady hanging out of her car window, gesticulating with a cantaloupe under Deb Mae’s nose. Our Deb was so gentle she would never defend herself so as I ran to her rescue the woman leaned out further. “Is there a problem, Ma’am?” I asked approaching.  She slowly began “I was just asking your college friend here how you grew these beautiful cantaloupes with a built-in Chiquita label? Special seeds, maybe?”. This was a huge oops. Well-intentioned Deb Mae had been telling people the cantaloupes were grown on “our farm in Aurora”, without checking for the colorful label stuck to  each melon. Thankfully there were no other customers around as I attempted to make Deb Mae look innocent, however this lady felt she’d been duped. We gave her all her money back, plus a half-dozen ears of corn with our apologies. Luckily my corn-picking battered body served as proof to her that we did grow the corn and she apologized to us profusely once Billy and Eddy joined in Deb’s defense, similarly bruised and bleeding. “You kids are really hardworking. Your parents should be so proud of you!” and off she drove.

We chastised the girls for not peeling the labels off the cantaloupes and we waited in fear that someone else might show up and cause a similar scene. No one else did complain, but at some point that afternoon, we agreed this weekend should be the swan song for our corn stand. We’d made an incredible amount of money, deciding it best to quit while we were far ahead.

Epilogue 

Billy left for acting school in London midway through his junior year of college. Deb Mae moved to Houston with an aunt and uncle who were ex military to find a husband. Her mission was accomplished quickly but she was divorced after only three or four years. I never even met the guy. There she remained and ended up with a Texas drawl which sounded remarkably like her bad Bonnie Parker imitation. I moved to NYC and Eddie landed a public relations job in San Francisco after we left Kent State. Selma began teaching and moved to Florida a few years later, eventually marrying and having a son. We’d managed to get out of West Buttfok as we had always dreamed, just all to separate parts of the world. The years began to pass quickly. Around Christmastime we would make our way back to the scene of the crime, but never all of us at the same time. We didn’t see Billy for years while he was in Europe, but he corresponded regularly. Before the end of the 70s he came back to the states and moved to L.A. It looked as though time and distance were wreaking havoc on The Group.

It probably shouldn’t have seemed anything but obvious that inevitably all three of us guys came out around the same time and later settled into long-term relationships. I never met Eddy’s partner, but Billy and I shared several wonderful visits both on the West and East Coasts with significant others in tow and alone. The piece de resistance was 1988 and our West Buttfok twenty year class reunion which I’d vowed since graduation day I would never attend. The group came together, deciding we would meet in spite of the high school we all loved to hate. It was a three-day weekend I treasure to this day. We celebrated our five years of breathing as one – laughing, crying, holding on to our youth for dear life. Each of us left our spouses in their respective homes so as not to bore them and to give us the freedom to be our silly tenth grade selves. We were all thirty-eight, grown up and responsible, each of us stunning in our own way, yet malleable enough to sneak back in time to our golden callow days. It was seventy-two hours of unabashed bliss in which we relived our life moment by moment, memory to memory.

It was there, on the last evening before boarding planes in all directions back to real lives that Billy told me his partner of nearly ten years was HIV positive. Billy wasn’t being tested yet, because he was healthy and needed to begin his role as caregiver. His companion was gone in a little over a year. Deb Mae was visiting Eddy in San Francisco and the two went to the memorial service. Eddy announced shortly after that, he too was positive. It was something I had almost grown accustomed to hearing about in our community in those days, but when it came so dangerously close the hurt was all the deeper. A few years later Eddy was hospitalized for the last time with pneumonia. I called and spoke with his sister who stood vigil over him and she held the phone as I told him to keep fighting, knowing from the feeble, broken voice he had long-lost the battle. He was buried in a small cemetery in West Buttfok. All these things came so swiftly together I cannot say exactly when Billy told us he also had fallen prey to the insidious plague. THIS was more than I could bear.

Luckily he was able to get the cocktail and though he battled a laundry list of incredibly gruesome diseases, he lived and worked and traveled and we corresponded and spoke regularly for several wonderful years. He spent a few days in Boston while in a period of exceptionally good health and we had a fabulous visit, even though it was obvious there was a third party coming between us that we neither wished to name or face. My best bud Billy died in 1998, six days short of his forty-eighth birthday. He requested that I speak at his memorial service in L.A. but I knew he was always the stronger of the two of us and that I could never weather the pain of such an ordeal. I wrote a piece entitled A BEST FRIEND and his sister delivered it for me at his celebration. His passing was one of those slap-across-the-face realities that causes you to sit up and marvel at the gift we so take for granted.

So it was Deb Mae and me. Selma had drifted from us soon after the reunion, cutting off all communication. Deb learned she was divorced and battling an auto immune disease which made it difficult to teach and raise a son on her own. Deb Mae and I made it a point to chat together monthly. She held a top position for a huge corporate travel company – imagine – the girl Eddy doubted could make proper change for 75 cents worth of corn. She never remarried but had a long-term relationship with a guy who could not commit for over a dozen years. She and I now met in West Buttfok every other year during Christmas. And as wonderful as it was to be together, as much as we laughed, reminiscing about The Group, our bad jokes, pranks and fights, I sensed we both were thinking the same thing: who would it be? Who would bury whom? She had written on the back of her senior picture “If you die before me, I’ll kill you”. She often said it to me in jest, until the deaths began and it ceased to be funny.

One of those years we didn’t get together for Christmas, we also hadn’t touched base until a few months afterwards. When I finally called, she was short with me, asking why I was calling. I was totally taken off-guard. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” I asked my friend of a million years. She assumed someone from her family had called to tell me the news she couldn’t bring herself to share with me. The virus she thought she’d been battling all winter was actually stage four lung cancer. It looked bad. No, it was grim. She had an appointment with a new oncologist who was doing a drug study. She would try anything, she told me sobbing. I began literally shaking in fear of her words, making those horrible grimaces you can when invisible on the other end of the phone, finally breaking down to cry along with her. THIS JUST WAS NOT FAIR, GOD DAMN IT.

In six months the tumors had shrunk remarkably and she was feeling good. She could laugh again and make plans. We met in West Buttfok and spent a weekend visiting and she got to meet David. We had begun planning our committment ceremony for the next spring, and she was excited to finally get to see Provincetown and to celebrate with us. Other than a wig, she seemed to be her old self. Everyone was hopeful.

Then there were these spots on a brain scan and a whole new treatment regime began. It nose-dived from there, but she still talked about what she was going to wear and what we would do in Cape Cod after the ceremony. In a few short months she ended up in the hospital. Once again I found myself making another deathbed call, talking with yet another sister. The cancer had spread rapidly throughout the brain. She was losing motor functions and the ability to speak, but she could still hear. Her sister held the receiver for her. What could I say to the girl I met in kindergarten, the woman I adored like a favorite sister? All I managed to get out was “I love you, Deb”, over and over. Palpable emotions and this awful moment in time had caused me to lose the ability to speak myself. She babbled some unintelligible sounds into the receiver. Her sister assured me her face had registered she knew it was me and that she understood. She died the following afternoon, April 2, 2003, a month before our committment ceremony.

So it was me. At fifty-three I was the last one. What were the statistical chances of my surviving them all I wondered? Who cares. What a sense of loneliness I was feeling! I longed to know if there was some purpose in being the last one. Was I saved because there was something left undone for me to do, or was this all some grand cosmic joke? Though I had decades ago shed the mantle of The Group to take on my own persona, there was still a comfort in remembering the safety we had shared in our cocoon. It shielded us as outcasts in a place where none of us felt we’d ever belonged. And when I needed some protection to not be so alone, I found I’d been left instead the lone custodian of memories for people and stories and laughter that had now fallen silent.

About My David

My spouse David will be forty-six the end of this month, the age I was when we first met. He was only thirty, which was quite an issue for me at the time. It never seemed to matter to him, because at forty-six, I was still younger than his ex that he’d broken up with several months before. In my own history, I was most often attracted to older guys, if not chronologically older, at least more mature than myself, which was easy to be. I suffered from a major Peter Pan complex well beyond my thirties, so that nearly anyone would seem far more mature than silly me. I spent the first half of my forties relatively unattached. I need to qualify that by explaining that I “dated” a man for six years, all the while he lived in his place and I in mine (but that’s another story, and this one is about my David).

We met at a party in Boston for single gay men in May of 1996. I arrived and was immediately uncomfortable, as I didn’t know anyone very well, not even Jim, the host. It was a cute little apartment but rather dark and there was a collection of half a dozen or so guys. Most of them were around my age, give or take a few years in either direction. No one jumped out at me as very charming or interesting and in the looks department, well it was not any better. The apartment door was tucked into an alcove of sorts and I remember this man David appearing in the doorway. He looked tall, about six-foot two I’d guessed, his head and shoulders shadowed so I could not make out any features. I heard his voice though, clearly and it was rich and warm and liquid-like. It wasn’t particularly deep or resonant, but so pleasing that it made me curious to see who the person responsible for it was. Before he got a chance to actually enter the living room, our host sent him to the Package Store on a beer run.

While he was gone, I asked a few of the guys if they knew this man and one or two described him only as “a younger guy”. I didn’t know exactly what age that might be, but I hoped it wasn’t what I would consider too young. David returned a while later and now I found myself curious to the point of distraction. It seemed like he was taking so long to get his jacket off and join the rest of us. When I finally saw him , I think I must have grinned from ear to ear. He had a look that made me melt inside. It was those big, sad, dark brown eyes that really got me. I don’t remember if I introduced myself, or if he did. More than likely it was me, because he is very quiet and shy, especially around strangers or in unfamiliar places.

A few others arrived and soon we began sharing our backgrounds – the stories about ex boyfriends or lovers who may have done us wrong, or whatever the reasons were that we were single and here at the party. David had been with his first and only partner for as many years as he’d been out. He had just entered his thirties and was starting over again. It seemed to me that he was at a place where he would want a chance to sow some wild oats and discover the world and himself in the process. I’d done that many moons ago during my salad days in New York, before committing to a twelve-year monogamous relationship with Alejandro, then, spending the last six years somewhat alone in a state of quasi-betrothal with my “dating boyfriend”. Now I was looking for some serious nesting time in my life. David appeared ready for just the opposite, plus there were those sixteen years… The two of us spent quite a long time together despite our great divide, however. He was a really sweet guy who seemed honest and genuine with a big heart and something about being with him was beginning to tug at me. Suddenly I felt a need to get into my car and drive the hour or so back to my little house where my Cocker Spaniel was waiting for me. I was certainly old enough to know this scenario could not have a happy ending. I left the party very early on.

I thought about the evening and David all the way home. I recall feeling foolish, that at my age I could entertain the notion that I possibly had anything in common with someone that young and even if I did, that a relationship could ever work. Leave it to me to be putting the cart before the horse – RELATIONSHIP? What was I thinking and who was I kidding? I was becoming one of those deluded old queens, like the pathetic guy in the white suit in DEATH IN VENICE, on the beach with the cheap black hair dye streaming down his aging face, watching the boy romping in the surf. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I had shelved the whole insane idea. I would forget those warm brown eyes and that melodious voice. Wake up and smell the coffee, Mister; you are WAY beyond boyish romance.

I awoke the next morning and went on with my life as usual. I cannot say I didn’t think about him at all, but I really was able to nix the thought of seeing him again. No, I dialogued with myself, if I ever met another prospective mate, he would have to be my age or more likely someone my senior. I remember chatting with a colleague of mine at school a few nights later, that I had met this “younger guy” at a party over the weekend and her first comment was “did you get his number?”. She wasn’t at all bothered by the age difference and thought I was foolish to even consider it. We actually had exchanged emails, but neither of us had written them down and at that point, I wasn’t even sure what his was anymore. And why bother, I thought, nothing will come of it anyway. He was just being polite at the party and I was being ridiculous.

The following weekend I got an email from him. I’ve saved it somewhere, all these years later, but of course I cannot find it now when I want it. It was worded something to the effect of: “I hope I have the right guy. We met at a party last weekend. I really would like to get together. If this is not you, please excuse the email”. I nearly shat myself right then and there. Now what was I supposed to do? I thought probably the best thing would be to delete it and save myself the heartache and embarrassment and  just pretend that he did have the wrong guy. But there was this engaging quality to his interest in me. That weekend I phoned a few friends and all of them felt I should give it a go and at least see him again. It was the age thing that made me so skeptical and of course there is that reluctance to make yourself vulnerable and getting hurt in the process. My solitary life was far from empty and I was enjoying living in my own house, having enough money to be comfortable and truly content. Why fuck it up with some young guy who is only looking for a fling, or worse, a Daddy. No, I was not interested in that scene in the least.

Yet I answered his email a few days later and gave him my phone number, suggesting we might get together for a drink. He lived only half an hour or so away. Why was I doing this to myself? I knew my ego couldn’t bear the bruising, yet I had sensed from just the sound of that shadowed voice in the alcove, that la forza del destino, some force of destiny, had once again tempted me to trust the fates. How lucky was I, to have taken the chance and followed this young man’s pursuit. We met for drinks at a little pub where we ended up having dinner as well that night. It felt so odd, starting all over again at that point in my life, both of us recounting our histories that brought us to this point in time. But that was exactly what it was. Life had just begun for the two of us.