A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him. For more about this and my other books, go here.
At the Vatican conclave of bishops called by the Pope to examine clerical abuse of minors, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano accused the Pope of protecting abusive gay clerics and called for his resignation. His Eminence deems it appropriate that the meeting's opening date coincided with the feast of St. Peter Damian, an 11th-century monk who fought against sins of sodomy in the church. But some church historians questioned the saint's relevance as a model, since he had also denounced as immoral a Byzantine princess who had introduced the practice of eating with a fork.
NEW YORK vs. THE SUBURBS
Big cities and suburbs often seem at odds. Not surprising, since suburbs are people by refugees from big cities, and by others who are repelled by the idea of ever living or working in a city city. Suburbanites think of themselves as neat, clean, honest, and law-abiding, as opposed to those deluded hordes of residents subject to the noise, dirt, congestion, and corruption of their metropolis. I grew up in Evanston, Illinois, the first suburb north of Chicago, and this was certainly true of Evanstonians, sophisticated though they were in many ways. Howard Street, the boundary, was lined on the Chicago side with liquor stores, whose owners and their political allies, having gobbled up Rogers Park, the neighborhood just north of Howard Street and once an independent suburb, looked with lust on innocent Evanston. Certainly it was a tempting target, being headquarters of the WCTU and the driest of very dry communities. But the Evanston dads who commuted to jobs in Chicago, as mine did, were very much a part of Chicago too, and many an Evanstonian snuck across Howard Street, or drove west to get beyond the bounds of Evanston, to stock up, ever so discreetly, on their supply of liquor. So suburbs are linked indissolubly to their big city, unlike, say, New York upstaters who can assert convincingly that they depend in no way on the Big Apple, and would be quite happy if it managed to somehow disappear. (Except, of course, that state tax revenues from New Yorkers help pay for various statewide amenities that upstaters too enjoy.)
That said, let’s have a look at how my deceased partner Bob, a Jersey City boy turned inveterate New Yorker, viewed the suburbs during what he called his Proustian adventure of February 23, 1991, and recorded the next day in his diary. For on that occasion he and his aging mother were taken by relatives to Wayne, New Jersey, to visit his widowed Tante Martha, age 88, his mother’s older sister, now living in a nursing home in that community. The home, a sprawling one-level complex, smelled and looked like a hospital, and Martha was allowed a pitifully small space with a narrow bed, small table with artificial plants, a calendar on the wall, a closet, and a shared bathroom. Martha looked much as she had when Bob last saw her eight years earlier, except for her swollen legs, the result of frostbite from over a year earlier, when she fell in her garden and lay helpless on the ground for hours, before anyone discovered her. Always dominant, she talked endlessly, reminding Bob of a Samuel Beckett play or a scene from his novel Malone Meurt. At times she looked at Bob’s mother and told her of her sister Hedwig in Jersey City, unaware that Hedwig was right there in front of her. Yet her voice was clear and she seemed marvelously healthy, her nutmeg-colored skin making Bob’s mother seem pale by comparison.
By noon Bob and his mother found themselves in the plush living room of his cousin Fred and his wife Donna, and the real suburban adventure began. There was not one book in sight. – for Bob, a telling detail. Instead, on the coffee table there were photos, and on the piano stool, sheet music. Fred looked older, having gray hair, and lines on his face that spoke of years of hard work. Years and years and years dominated the conversation and how everyone had changed. But when Donna told Bob that he hadn’t changed, he was aware of the makeup on his face, but pleased, being determined to be himself (albeit gay, though only his mother knew it) and project a younger Laggy. They then sat around the dining room table and had coffee and cakes, and two hours later, after Donna took some photos, they disbanded.
We were in a suburban fantasy land with a lush blue sky overhead, extraordinarily vital air, and also an awful sense of the kind of remoteness I experienced in Stafford, Virginia, almost a year ago. WAYNE and STAFFORD, where in each place you look out a window and see clarity of light, but, baby, no New York Times paper machine and no Chinese restaurant a block away. Except for the automobile, there is no quite feasible way of buying a container of milk. One can walk, but it requires stamina and time.
So ended Bob’s visit to the fantasy land of suburbia, where he rarely ventured and and could not imagine living.
What then was Bob’s life like in the city? Let’s just have a look at the month of March 1991, as recorded in his diary, usually written at the Hunan Spring restaurant at the corner of West 11th and Bleecker, one block from our building. I’ll give only the highlights. The first March entry is on the 3rd.
March 3. Had his friend Hugh Manning over for dinner and a slide show of his recent visit to the Grand Canyon. Gave Hugh a Navajo silver/turquoise/coral piece of jewelry that he bought at the Canyon; Hugh loved it. Did the slide show to Wagnerian music and cognac. / Remembers being recently accosted in a friendly way by a Chinese man he didn’t recognize – probably well-tipped waiter from a restaurant. / When Hugh was here, he and Cliff and I made an impromptu phone call to Mary Stanley in Bath, Maine, having once rented rooms in her summer home on Monhegan Island. Wonders if Mary, now close to 90, had ever experienced passion, love, or kindness.
March 5. Contemplating retirement from Jersey City Public Library, learned that his health insurance will continue after retirement. Hopes then to visit Nantucket at least once a year. / Picked up his tax return at H&R Block; will get a substantial refund, can buy a new desk chair and living room drapes, and pay off part of his charge account debt.
March 7. Must work another 2 or 3 years to get Social Security and Medicare coverage. / Got good report from Dr. Fox; blood pressure okay. / Saw two Diaghilev ballets by the Joffrey at the State Theater. / From the restaurant can see the apartment above the White Horse Tavern where Hortense Seliger, his mistress (briefly) of many years ago, once lived. Hears conversation of two gay men at a nearby table: “I don’t give my love easily, but he just hates me.”
March 11. Angry confrontation with his friend and coworker Natasha in Reference Department at the library. / Great evening with Cliff last Saturday; tender, breathtaking sex Sunday morning. / Saw mother in Jersey City, sitting in silence, waiting… Took her to dinner at the Lincoln Inn. Saw old friend and fellow librarian Joan there with her lover, Tony.
March 13. Cold-warm weather as spring approaches. / Saw Joffrey production of Romeo and Juliet; memorable. / Edith, my virgin lesbian, with whom I attend concerts; an insomniac, frustrated. / Thinks of two women friends who won’t fully accept him as gay: “Bye, sucking shit-assed bitches!”
March 18. Saw more Joffrey. / Showed Grand Canyon slides to Natasha and her husband Lee Saturday night, did dishes till 2 a.m. / Loquacious straight male duo nearby babble about cinema production, scripts, directors. New York is the film capital of, hmm, the world. Their derogatory attitude toward women.
March 21. Political nonsense boiling again at library. Director may be demoted and a new director brought in. Wore yellow sweater to work to commemorate renewal of spring. “I was a yellow rose, a finch, a pale antique coin.”
March 21. At restaurant, remembers Hortense again; no time now to write her now. “My final Manhattan has suffused me deliciously.”
March 24. Fire in our friend Ed Kennebeck’s building on West 4th Street, but quickly controlled. Arson? Gay bashing? Owners of ground-floor boutique are gay. Detectives on the case. Ed came over briefly, his clothes smelling of smoke. / Italian dinner with Cliff at the Napoli on Spring Street. / “In a week, a shitty Christian Easter.” Will take Mom to dinner.
March 28. Spoke for 10 minutes to the Library board, defending the integrity of the Reference Department; needs a full staff of six professionals; applauded by coworkers.
March 29, Good Friday. Took mother to beauty parlor, then to lunch at Lincoln Inn. The Inn a geriatric club, the old gals wearing much jewelry and lipstick, and adoring their cocktails. Coming back, remembers Hortense, with whom he once saw Parsifal on Good Friday.
April 1. Arthritis in finger; pain. / Cliff and I dined with Mom yesterday, Easter, at the Inn; we all had turkey. Gave the hostess an expensive Dior dusting powder; she was delighted. Cliff shows sincere interest in his mother. She glowed.
So much for March 1991. Two thoughts:
· Slide shows of the Grand Canyon, Joffrey ballets, a frustrated virgin lesbian friend, Italian and Chinese dinners, babble about cinema production, a suspected gay bashing… No, Robert would not have been happy in Wayne, New Jersey, or any other suburb. He needed New York, its cultural riches, its dangers, its diversity.
· To have helped another human being fulfill him/herself sensually is no small thing. Desire is holy.
Coming soon: The Magic of Trash: Finders Keepers, Ptolemy and Voodoo.
© 2019 Clifford Browder
Coming soon: The Magic of Trash: Finders Keepers, Ptolemy and Voodoo.
© 2019 Clifford Browder