Saturday, August 09, 2003

all about the gay

as occasionally happens, when one is lucky, my train ride -- which extended an extra hour, as often happens when one is NOT lucky, or every tuesday and thursday -- was brightened by the presence of a stranger. i did not handpick my gentleman companion. friday afternoon amtrak rushes wrest the power from your hands and put it in fate's. but fate's hands deposited me gently beside an elderly distinguished african-american man, a man who revealed himself to be, once we began to talk, once of the gayest adults i have ever met in my life.

he dressed as though awaited the second coming of the 70s. he wore three chunky silver rings on one hand and two on the other. one after another he mentioned his "friends." he said, "the other night, when i was watching sex and the city..." he quoted dorothy parker. or, misquoted, actually -- i got to correct him. mostly i listened, starry-eyed. he invoked lana turner. in fact when i confessed i hadn't seen imitation of life he nearly leapt from the moving car and with me in his well-maintained hands marched to the nearest blockbuster in aberdeen, maryland. he told me about living in miami. he told me about working in television. and last but not least, he picked up on a subtle reference i'd dropped into the conversation and said, "that's right: i pulled a scarlett o'hara."

my family greeted me at the train station and we all went out to dinner. we parked, as usual, in a church lot next door to a family friend of ours. he pays for the parking lot lights; we get to use one space.
after dinner upon returning to the car we heard a distinctive voice. "mr xxxxxx?" i said, turning around, and my brothers turned too. there, standing next to us, was our old science teacher & our unanimous favorite. born a catholic in the wild, he converted to judaism later in life and got a position at our school for spoiled jewish kids. he used to urge us to embrace our faith with, well, a convert's zeal. if my friends and i, the good kids, talked when we were supposed to be praying, he would approach us and beg, "if gold rusts, what will iron do?"

and here he was, in dupont circle, on shabbes, in a church parking lot, standing very close to a man who looked like he belonged to the church. (he didn't seem amused when we explained our deal with the lights.) mr xxxxxx exclaimed, we exclaimed, we said hi and made introductions. but the awkwardness was palpable. we knew he was gay, of course, but i never would have imagined that even in his other life he would not wear a kippah.

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