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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Strange Songs, Inc.

Ann Landers at Work
Dear Ann Landers:
Here’s my problem,
I’m gay and I’m in love.
Her name is “Hilda” and
When I’m with her
Trumpets blare above!

She’s a lesbian; she says I’m not her type,
And I confess I wish she were a man.
She’s just Hilda—wonderful Hilda!
So what should I do,

Ann Landers was a newspaper advice columnist who retired in 2002, and this little song is one of the many I’ve written in my life, most of them comic in nature. As mentioned in a prior post (see “The Boot Camp Fiasco,” April 21, 2010), writing songs has occasionally gotten me into trouble (my very first song was a nasty little ditty about my sister, which was not popular with its immediate subject), but for the most part the songs have been well-received and I’m proud of them.

I’m a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado (see “A Fanatic’s Tale—This Isn’t Pretty,” April 11, 2010), and their works have heavily influenced me, particularly Gilbert’s clever lyrics for patter songs. But my touchstone consists of the wonderful comic songs of Tom Lehrer. If you don’t know them, I highly recommend downloading them from iTunes or buying them online. No one has ever written comic lyrics more beautifully, cleverly, intelligently rhymed than Lehrer. His masterpiece is called “Smut,” but it’s too long for repetition here. Instead I’ll give you one of his shorter pieces, “The Old Dope Peddler,” sung to a melody dripping in nostalgia:

Tom Lehrer at Work
When the shades of night are falling,
Comes a fellow ev'ryone knows,
It's the old dope peddler,
Spreading joy wherever he goes.

Ev'ry evening you will find him,
Around our neighborhood.
It's the old dope peddler
Doing well by doing good.

He gives the kids free samples,
Because he knows full well
That today's young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow's clientele.

Here's a cure for all your troubles,
Here's an end to all distress.
It's the old dope peddler
With his powdered ha-happiness.

Gregory Stobbs at Work
In the 1970s two of my law students were talented musicians and when they became interested in my songs, we embarked upon the project of making a record. These two remarkable people changed my life. Gregory Stobbs, now a lawyer in Michigan, has spent his life trying to keep his love of music from devouring him. After taking piano lessons for many years he suddenly realized he could play anything at all he liked on the piano just by thinking of the melody, at which point he more or less abandoned reading sheet music. This talent proved very useful for our album. All I had to do was write out the melody line and Greg would take it from there, producing some terrific arrangements of the songs. Tim Ihle, now a member of the California bar, is also a major musical genius. He’s the best pianist I’ve ever seen at sight-reading music. The first time he looks at the music and plays it he might stumble here and there, but the second time his performance will be flawless, and on the third he might add some ornamentation. Both are fine singers, not only having beautiful voices, but real ability to sell a song, and, in my songs, they also demonstrate their exquisite comic timing. Compare that with my croaking: I can hit the notes all right, and I’m loud, but there is nothing pretty about those notes, and no one wants an album of me singing, say, love songs.

Tim and Greg at Play
Tim, Greg and I formed a trio we called “Strange Songs, Inc.” and we were the primary singers on the twelve numbers that made up the album, itself named “Strange Songs.” The whole process was great fun (frequently, of course, marijuana was involved if we weren’t actually recording one of the songs—we’d been appalled by the result if we recorded them while high). Some days we’d work hard, and others we’d just clown: singing songs in one key while the piano played another, or singing alternate measures in the same song, etc. The Strange Songs themselves had screwy titles like “I Don’t Like Your Dog,” or “The White House Bathroom March.” Time has changed the meaning of one the numbers. It’s called “Rap Session” because in the 70s “rap” meant having a conversation, which is what occurs in the song. I ought to change the title, I guess, given the modern meaning of “rap,” but for some reason I’m loathe to do that (I’m very pleased by the nuttiness of the song itself). Tim’s finest moment is “The Specialty of the House,” in which he’s a pitchman with a velvet voice selling a service that grows more alarming as his description proceeds. In “Take Off Your Clothes,” Greg sings happily what every straight man’s really thinking when trying to make conversation with a woman he wants to take to bed right now.

Linda Howard

Two of the songs involve others. In “The Carolers” Greg is backed up by The Strange Songs Choir as they recreate a Christmas Carol adventure that ends badly. The other is a solo for Linda Howard, then a law professor at Ohio State, and a renowned amateur soul singer. She asked me, perhaps in jest, to write a soul song for her. I replied it would have to be a “strange” soul song, and bravely she agreed. The result is “Baking Cookies,” a favorite of many who own the original LP (issued in 1977).

I’ll close with the lyrics to one of the shorter songs, but if anyone reading this wants the full experience, the entire album can be downloaded (after hearing the individual songs gratis) by going to

                                               "A Very Strange Love Song"

                                        I’ll untie you when you say you love me,
                                        When you say you love me, you’ll go free.
                                        Don’t be stubborn—
                                        You’ve been here one week now
                                        And if you’ll just speak now

                                        Not just freedom—
                                        There’s food—a toilet
                                        Hon, I love you,
                                        Please don’t spoil it.

                                        I’ll untie you when you say you love me,
                                        When you say you love me, you’ll go free!

The Album Cover (created by David Merry)
Related Posts:
"The Boot Camp Fiasco," April 21, 2010
"The Evil Big Birthday Song," November 5, 2010
"'The Carolers': A Comic Christmas Song," December 7, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mary Beth and the Gay Teddy Bear

My only sibling is Mary Beth Colpitts, two years younger than I am. Because we were Air Force brats, we were quite close when growing up, moving from place to place, having to make new friends every couple of years. And when I say moving, I mean moving: I went to kindergarten in the Mojave desert in California at Edwards Air Force Base, first and second grade in St. Louis, third and fourth in Omaha, fifth in Jasper, Indiana, six, seventh, and part of eighth in Japan, last part of eighth and first three years of high school in Nashville, and senior year in Yorktown, Virginia. Then, when I joined the Navy to see the world, Mary Beth and I saw little of each other, except for one year of college where we overlapped at the University of Maryland.

If I wanted something from my father, I’d have to plan my campaign very carefully. It would have to be logical, tuned to Dad’s own predilections, and presented with dash and brio—akin to filing a brief in a complicated trial. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. But Robert Whaley, Air Force Colonel, Dallas Prosecutor Extraordinaire, was putty in the hands of Mary Beth Whaley when she switched into “Daddy’s Little Girl” mode. It was truly frightening to watch this intelligent man succumb time and again to her predictable routine. When Mary Beth wanted something, she’d flash her brightest smile at him, and scamper around behind where he was sitting, grab his jowls and pull them up, while happily telling him to “Smile, Daddy!” (see photo). Then, having warmed him up, she’d walk out of the room with his wallet. I was both disgusted and envious.

As adults Mary Beth and I saw little of each of other. She married Richard Colpitts, a lawyer and now federal judge, and they lived for many years in the panhandle of Florida, far from me in the Midwest. But then they moved first to New Orleans (see “The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010), and now Las Vegas, and since I sometimes visit those cities (particularly Vegas), Beth (as I call her—she calls me simply “D”) and I have become closer. As mentioned in a prior post (“Goodbye to St. Paddy’s Day,” March 2, 2010), she became interested in genealogy and traced the Whaley family back through the Civil War to Nathaniel Whaley, born in Maryland in 1760, and we had fun talking about family history.

Here’s where things get strange. When Jerry, my partner of twelve years (see “Recidivist: A Criminal Who Does It Again,” September 10, 2010), and I broke up in 1997, he set off across the country, his car packed with his things, unsure of where he would end up. That turned out to be Las Vegas (which he and I had often visited in our years together). He had met Mary Beth and Rich once before (see the post first mentioned above), and, on a whim, when Beth and Rich moved to town, called the Colpitts up and invited them to his Xmas party. They came, and—here’s the strange part—my sister (never known as a liberal) and my very gay ex-partner have become good friends! If you put that in a novel, no one would believe it.

Now, whenever I get to Vegas (most recently last month, when I took my nephew Aaron there as a way of celebrating his 21st birthday), Beth and I get together, frequently at her house, and Jerry (and assorted gay friends of his, including members of his Vegas gay family) is always one of the guests. The first time this happened was 2005. Rich was out of town, but Mary Beth invited me for supper, and also Jerry and his gay roommate (not partner) Rick. She prepared a terrific meal, and much alcohol was consumed. Beth was quite curious about how gays really exist in this world, and since none of the three of us are shy quiet people, she got an earful. At one point she asked if we hadn’t all three been to bed with women, and we said yes. I gave her my bowling analogy (see “Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010), which made her laugh, and when she asked Jerry about that, he replied, “I think I like bowling better.”

Beth also showed us her teddy bear collection, and it was something to see. She has an overwhelming number of teddy bears (my guess is 70, but I’ll probably get an email from her after she reads this telling me the number is no more than, say, 34). Since her birthday was coming up shortly thereafter, I decided to get her a gay teddy bear, and I did. As the above photo demonstrates, it was a gay teddy bear with an attitude. She was delighted, and showed it to all her friends.

As Jerry, Rick, and I were leaving her house that night, all in a great mood from the drinks and good company, I hugged her on her front stoop and thanked her for a wonderful evening. She hugged me back—brother and sister reunited at last. Then she turned to Jerry and threw her arms around him, saying happily, “I love you, Jerry Bunge!” “Wait a minute!” I protested loudly. “I’M THE BROTHER!” She laughed. “Oh, I love you too!” she said, only slightly embarrassed. Last month as we left the exact same scene was re-enacted, but this time she did it deliberately just to rattle my cage.

When I sent her the gay teddy bear in 2005, I told her I wanted a picture of her and Jerry with the bear. Let’s close this post with that. Beth and Jerry are both wearing beads, because the photo was taken at the Colpitts' annual Mardi Gras party.


Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
“Recidivist: A Criminal Who Does It Again,” September 10, 2010
“The Day Jerry Left,” October 30, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Monday, September 20, 2010

How To Change Gay People Into Straight People

You can’t. During my gay rights activist days and right up until the current moment, I’ve had a standing offer about this. I will contribute $5000 to the charity of choice of an individual or organization that can produce five men who were once gay and are now straight. There are various conditions: (1) the men must have had significant gay experiences in their lives, (2) become straight through whatever process, and (3) for at least five years thereafter remained completely straight. Finally, they must not have ever been leaders or volunteer workers for ex-gay organizations (just, therefore, normal members) and pass rigorous tests to determine their current sexual orientation (see me for details—I am serious about this). Since ex-gay organizations have been around for over thirty years, you’d think they’d have thousands of former participants who’d easily meet my criteria, but so far no one has taken me up on this. Note that I’m not proposing a bet. If the person/organization can’t find five men who pass the tests, they lose nothing other than a creditability that is often widely touted, but is in tatters whenever considered objectively.  (I would require that if five converted straight men are not produced, the expenses of testing be paid for by the entity accepting my challenge.)

This from Wikipedia about the leading ex-gay organization in the United States:

"In 1979, two of Exodus International's co-founders (Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper) quit the group and held a life commitment ceremony together. On June 27, 2007 Bussee, along with fellow former Exodus leaders Jeremy Marks and Darlene Bogle, each came out as gay or lesbian and issued a public apology for their roles in Exodus. In April 2010, Bussee stated he'd never seen Exodus actually change any participant into a heterosexual."

The hypocrisy of all this has outraged me for a long time, and in my work-in-progress novel, “Corbin Milk” (see an excerpt in my post of September 3, 2010, “The Thunderbolt”), I decided to have one of the major characters, George Yancy describe his involvement in this issue. His story, though fictional, is all too typical. Here’s the excerpt:

Saying he had to get to church (which produced a funny look on Corbin’s face), George scooted out of there, with the promise that they’d have supper together that evening. He’d then breezed home through the empty Sunday morning streets, showered, changed clothes, and made it to the Unitarian Church just as services were starting. This morning’s focus, interestingly enough, was on the subject of bravery, which seemed relevant to a man dating a spy. Recently the church had been exploring attributes that were the antithesis of the traditional seven deadly sins, and bravery’s turn had come round.

As he considered the topic, which he’d never before thought much about, George found himself wondering if he himself was brave. Hmm. Brave about what? He was still mortified that when Corbin was attacked in Rakoom, George had backed away from the trouble instead of leaping to help. Of course, he wasn’t trained to react appropriately to such things, and the incident was over so quickly that he hadn’t had a chance to do more than gawk as Corbin deftly handled the situation.

So, was George brave? Or a sniveling coward, the 1930’s stereotype of a gay man? In the awful incident where his father had fired a shotgun at him, all he’d really done was run.

And then a memory overpowered him, and he listened no more to the homily.

George’s family were members of the Church of the Living Soul, a devout Christian but otherwise non-denominational sect in their small Ohio town. Detractors called it a “cult,” but the Yancys dismissed that as a misunderstanding of the church’s true mission. From the time he was born until age fourteen, when his parents died, he’d regularly attended services there, and its sometimes terrifying message had been received and even embraced by the pious youngster.

The church took as its central theme the famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” delivered in 1741 by the Reverend Jonathan Edwards to his congregation in Enfield, Connecticut. This diatribe was the leading example of the fire and brimstone school of theology prevalent during the Great Awakening. It was so terrifying that when first given, Edwards had to stop more than once to calm his followers down. The lesson of the sermon is that God’s awful wrath will condemn sinners to a hell worse than they can imagine, and that God is always on the verge of casting such miscreants into that inferno, which the minister described with the same details that have given nightmares to the thousands who’ve heard or read the text. Certainly George had experienced its sobering message many times. His own minister, Dr. Alexander Johnson, read it from the pulpit two or three times a year, using his deep and dramatic voice to add special terror to the dreadful depictions.

From this lesson, however came hope. If men could avoid sin and live a life of perfect goodness, thus earning the approval of God, they’d be saved from the flames and rewarded by a heavenly life after death. George understood that the only task therefore was to avoid sin. How hard could that be for a small child?

But when puberty arrived, so did homosexuality, and George was suddenly in major danger of sliding off the tips of God’s fingers into the fiery abyss. The boy’s every thought seemed to be a sin: the beauty of the male body, the sound and smell of men, the wonderful, if sticky, dreams he had at night, waking to shame and revulsion.

But some of his dreams were not wonderful. In these nightmares, Edwards’ God came to life, grabbed George up in His fist while yelling “PERVERT!”, crumpled him up like a piece of paper, and dropped the screaming boy into a sulfurous chasm inhabited by laughing demons.

The tension caused by this interplay of good and evil panicked young George, and he ended up breaking down one day in gym class, writhing on the floor and crying uncontrollably. The school nurse called his parents, and he was briefly hospitalized. Nothing was found to be medically wrong with him, but George, lips sealed, understood what had happened too well.

He needed guidance, but where to find it? He knew the word “homosexual,” as well as some of its synonyms (“gay,” “faggot,” “sissy,” “queen,” and so many more), so he went to the library and, taking great care not be observed, pulled down books that scared him even worse. The medical profession was split between those who pronounced such people mentally ill and said they should seek treatment, and those expounding the opposite message: homosexuality was a normal variant form of sexuality, and whatever problems it caused were societal in nature. This latter view shocked George, who knew instinctively that it was sin to condone such horrendous behavior, so he concentrated on the works in the first category.

Thus George Yancy decided he was mentally ill. That infirmity had led him to be sinful. Wait! Would God punish the mentally ill? Maybe the reason God hadn’t already cast him into hell was that George was being given the chance to seek treatment, cure the illness, shun further temptations to sin, and by this path end up in heaven. This explanation sounded closest to the truth, so he embraced it. The trick, of course, was to find effective treatment without having to tell anyone he was doing so.

Homosexuality was such a heinous deviation, so embarrassing, so unforgivable, so foreign to members of the Yancy family, that George knew better than to let anyone in on his problem. He briefly considered telling his older sister Barbara, but rejected that idea because she wasn’t sufficiently holy herself. She and their parents were constantly arguing about Barbara’s growing refusal to attend church, and her outrageous statements about God probably not existing, things which clearly disqualified her as an ally in George’s quest to get right with the Lord.

To make things worse, George had fallen in love with Bobby Arlens, his best friend and next door neighbor.

The two of them were together most of the time, and that was usually okay. They were both studious members of the ninth grade class at the local public school, on the debating squad, marchers in the school band, lovers of classical music, and budding aesthetics interested in all things of beauty. Bobby was a knobby kid, about George’s size, neither ugly nor comely. No matter—George thought him the finest person he knew. Bobby was funny, smart, filled with personality, and as much enthralled with George as George was with him.

Came a night when Bobby was sleeping over at George’s house (the Yancys liked the boy, and welcomed him into their home), and things took a new turn. It was late and they were supposed to be asleep, but they were still having so much fun imitating Mr. Highland (their general science teacher), who was given to embarrassing spoonerisms, that they couldn’t quiet down. George’s mother finally stood outside their bedroom door and yelled at them, threatening to come in there if they didn’t go to sleep right now. The boys tried, but each in his separate twin bed would smirk, then giggle, then shush each other, and the laughter threatened to reach a volume that would have Mom—scary when angry—in the room. That mustn’t happen, and both knew it, so Bobby did something unexpected. He climbed into bed with George and they began to whisper their witticisms in each other’s ear.

Then George, to his delight and horror, felt Bobby’s erection brushing up against his knee, and realized he had one too. Bobby evidently thought it was no big deal, and just giggled all the more as he reached down and grabbed George’s penis, saying, “Hey! What’s this big thing?”

George pushed him out of bed so fast that Bobby actually bounced off the floor. That caused him to cry out, and within seconds the light went on at the door. They both were very contrite, and Mom’s diatribe ended with them in separate beds, saying nothing.

George was shocked to his toenails. The fact that Bobby, whom he adored, would do such a thing ripped him in two. He beat back the thrill of the bold act, embraced the shame, and the next morning told Bobby they were no longer friends. The latter seemed to understand this, if not necessarily accept it. He declined Mrs. Yancy’s breakfast invitation and went home. They rarely spoke after that.

The next year the murder/suicide occurred, and George moved with his sister to a suburb outside the District of Columbia, never to contact Bobby again.

During his first year in college George worked up his courage to seek out an “ex-gay” meeting at a local church. This group promised those who attended that through the power of prayer they could rid themselves of homosexuality and become happy, functioning heterosexuals, secure in the love God had planned for them. At the very first meeting (in attendance: a kindly pastor and four other young people, three men and one woman), he was informed that just by coming to the meeting he would now be counted as an ex-gay, and was on his way to shaking off the sin that brought him through the door. It occurred to George that such careless nomenclature could lead to misleading statistics about the number of ex-gays, but he let that pass.

For the next eleven months Bobby faithfully attended meetings, went to a summer camp for ex-gays, prayed constantly, and sought counseling from the church’s experts. Then, still gay, he prayed some more, while attending a new church where the evilness of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was a constant topic. In the end, he became disillusioned. As far as he could tell no one in the program had become a heterosexual, despite ridiculous self-declarations of conversion, pitiful dating between gay men and lesbians (which never worked), and ersatz cures being announced repeatedly from the podium. The ex-gays themselves divided into two camps: those who kept pretending in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and those who dropped out and went back to reality. When George complained of this to the group’s leader, the same kindly pastor he’d encountered at the first meeting, the man told him that a cure wasn’t really likely, and no one who had seriously studied the matter thought so. The best that could be hoped for was learning to please God by maintaining abstinence, while avoiding temptation (gay bars, for instance).

Disgusted by the deception inherent in the whole program, George turned instead to science. He became a patient of a so-called “reparative therapist,” a highly-recommended psychologist. This twelve month detour had the same result—George was still gay—but in the meantime the therapy ended up costing him $10,000 of the money he’d inherited from his parents. When he complained to the psychologist about his lack of progress, he was told that homosexuality was tricky and he needed another year’s worth of treatment, at which point he stormed from the man’s office.

Now twenty years old, and angrier than God Himself was likely to be, George gave up and decided he was going to be a homosexual forever, so he’d better make the most of it. That led to an incredible period in his life in which he blossomed like a flower, and flew around for awhile from bee to bee to bee. Remembering what he now called his “no standards” phase made him grimace in later years, hugely embarrassed he could have been so promiscuous.

He also stopped attending the fire and brimstone church he’d transferred to when he moved to Maryland, and became a Unitarian instead.

Now, sitting in the Unitarian church and rethinking all this, George came to the conclusion he was brave after all. He was strangely pleased by the knowledge.

Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,” September 3, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
"Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?" November 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,” February 14, 2014
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014
“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014
“A Homophobic Organization Throws in the Towel: Goodbye to Exodus International,” June 21, 2013;

"Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?" July 22, 2014;
“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015;
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Charleyne and the Giant Cookie

One morning in March of 1972, Charleyne woke up and informed me, “I’m pregnant.” That was a surprise, though we wanted to have a baby. “How do I you know?” I asked, unclear on the rules. “I just know,” she replied brightly. Within a few days a lab test confirmed her procreative status, and we started planning for a life of new parenthood. Both of us went at it with enthusiasm, and Lamaze classes were attended, baby showers held (see photo above), endless streams of items purchased, and advice received from every direction we faced.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to live with a pregnant woman, but it can get strange. We took a cruise from L.A. to Alaska that September, and things were fine up until then. In the photo we’re at a stopover in San Francisco, and a department store window had oddly posed their mannequins, so we took turns imitating them. Alas, the cruise was in bad weather (“If only you could see it,” the tour guide would say, “this is a beautiful view of Glacier Bay”), and there’s a reason that the City of Ketchikan has a cartoon of a bird shivering under an umbrella as its municipal symbol.
But when we returned, Charleyne, who was in her last year of law school at the Indiana Law School Indianapolis (where I was teaching), suddenly was too warm wherever she went. This included in her own home, where ice sickles formed on most ceilings (both Fred, our parakeet, and I complained about the indoor climate to no avail). Charleyne’s mother once came over for a visit in November and kept her coat on while in the house. When Char went to classes, she’s zip into the classroom a half hour early and turn the thermostat down as low as it would go. Thus when class was underway, she’d sit there happy in her summer maternity clothes, while everyone else shivered and could see their breath when responding to questions. There were investigations into this phenomenon but no one proved anything.

Particularly in the last month Charleyne couldn’t get comfortable in bed, and tossed and turned, complaining, keeping us both up (“If proto-Momma ain’t happy,” etc.). When she did sleep, she had very odd dreams. In one, as she told me the next day, she gave birth to a giant cookie, and passed it around to her parents and me. “Oh,” I said hesitantly, and then, not sure I wanted to know the answer, asked “What happened to the cookie?” She beamed. “We ate it!” A number of her dreams were terrifying ones in which birth complications led to an emergency C-section and Charleyne’s death! I don’t believe dreams are prophetic, but they certainly do reflect the dreamer’s own fears, and I promised her that I would do all I could to make sure doctors didn’t put her in unnecessary danger.

The baby’s due date was two weeks before Christmas of 1972, but that holiday came and went, with both of us getting grumpier about this pregnancy which seemed to have gone on for most of our lives. On Wednesday, December 27, we went to the movies to see the “The Poseidon Adventure,” and toward the end of the picture Charleyne’s water broke (and, given that movie is about disaster on the high seas, that couldn’t have been more appropriate). She didn’t mention her new condition until the movie ended (okay, in 2010 she says she did, but, trust me, if I’d have known her water broke, I’d have destroyed whole rows of seats getting us out of there). We rushed home and called her doctor. Contractions promptly started, so we raced to the hospital, but then they mysteriously stopped, and she was sent home. Our nerves were shot. By Thursday night nothing more had occurred, but the doctor said Charleyne should come early Friday morning and he would artificially induce labor. It was time for our baby to be born.

Neither of us slept that night. Next day when we arrived at the hospital, Charleyne began a labor that lasted more than seven hours. Contractions first increased, then decreased, then increased again; it was very hard on her, Lamaze be damned. All I could think to do was hold her hand and coach her, aware I was of little help. I did resist Dad’s method of taking his wife’s mind off labor pain when I was being born. At a particularly difficult moment, Dad leaned close to Mom’s ear and endearingly murmured: “Sissy.” I don’t believe he was ever forgiven for that.

Nothing the doctors did produced a baby, and eventually they took me aside and proclaimed that the umbilical cord appeared to be wrapped around the baby’s neck; they would have to immediately perform a caesarian. Oh, no! I thought—Charleyne’s nightmare scenario has come true! I made everyone evacuate the room, and then took her hand and explained what the doctors had just said. “Honey, I know you don’t want a C-section,” I said as tenderly as I could, “but the doctors think it’s the best thing for both you and the baby.” She almost snarled at me: “You idiot! Why are you holding this up—get this baby out of me and NOW!!!” All righty then—that message came through clear. Char was promptly wheeled into surgery and I was consigned to a waiting room, where I first tried to read (ha, ha), then just paced around in a stereotypical expectant-father mode. When a nurse came in after 45 minutes or so, she told me with a broad smile that I was the father of a baby boy, who was doing fine. “What about my wife?” I asked, more concerned about Charleyne and her dream. “I don’t know” was the reply, and with that she left me alone to pace anew.

Eventually I was told that I could see Charleyne, and I was taken to a waiting room just outside the surgery, where she was lying on a gurney. As I approached, nurses walked by wiping a baby with a cloth, which, in my anxiety over Charleyne, I barely noticed. Instead, I took her hand and asked how she was doing. “I can’t feel my legs,” she replied, very worried about this. “Just the drugs, I assume,” I ventured, but she asked me to stay with her until she could feel them, and I of course agreed. “Did you see the baby?” she wanted to know. “Only in passing,” I muttered, concentrating on her, holding her hand, patting it softly. Shortly thereafter she was moved to a hospital room, and, happily, felt sensation returning to her legs. “Go see the baby,” she commanded, “and make sure he’s all right.” Relaxing for the first time in days, I nodded, kissed her, and went to view our child and check number of toes, etc.

At the huge maternity window, with lots of babies in bassinettes on the other side, I held up the sign saying “WHALEY.” One of the nurses promptly fetched a baby, and brought him close to the window.

I’m here to tell you it was a life altering moment, that was—wow!—totally unexpected! Up until then I’d been focused on Charleyne and the process of having a baby. Now, suddenly, amazingly, THERE WAS A REAL LIFE BABY TO DEAL WITH, AND IT WAS MINE!!! A wall of bricks collapsed on top of me, and—already exhausted from lack of sleep and the stress—my knees almost buckled. 

Clayton Robert Whaley
December 29, 1972

The one thing I was sure of was that neither Charleyne nor I had any idea how to take care of an infant. We weren’t licensed or trained or anything. It would be highly irresponsible of the government to put that tiny child in our care! How dare they! Surely they wouldn’t let that happen. Surely.

I felt panic sweep down to my toes, all ten of them. I suddenly remembered the giant cookie’s birth, and wished that the solution was that easy. Gulping, staring stupidly at the baby, who was asleep, looking worn out himself, I nodded my thanks to the nurse. Then I turned and walked woodenly back to Charleyne to tell her my astounding news.

She’d be amazed to learn we’d become parents.
Related Posts:
“I Married a Hippy,” April 14, 2010
"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010
"Bowling With Charleyne," February 13, 2011
"The Cheesecake Incident in Williamsburg," January 6, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, September 10, 2010

Recidivist: A Criminal Who Does It Again

In a prior post (“I Married a Hippy,” April 14, 2010), I explained how Charleyne and I met and came to be wed immediately after she finished taking my course in Contracts (required in the first year of law school) in 1971. Watching me teach day after day, she’d fallen in love with me and decided on marriage. That’s a tremendous compliment, but not exactly the response I mean to trigger in students. Following our marriage and my coming-out (see post mentioned above), I had long-term relationships with two men: David and Jerry. This post is about Jerry.

Jerry was relationship-phobic, being a free spirit who rarely went out with the same man twice, but who nonetheless had a great deal of fun. His parents thought him heterosexual (of course), and, since Jerry is a masculine take-charge kind of guy, there was nothing stereotypically gay about him, which meant he had a very good time remaining happily, if noisily, in the closet.

Jerry entered law school in 1983 at Ohio State, and was in my Contracts class. In those days Professor Rhonda Rivera, one of the most effective gay activists in the 1980s and 90s, who was also on the law faculty, annually competed with me to see how many students we could get to come out and join the gay legal students group (a social club mostly in those days, but now in 2010 it’s a force to be reckoned with at the OSU Law School, where it’s amusingly named “The OutLaws). By putting up signs and word of mouth, Rhonda and I plus others encouraged students to attend a gay event (held off campus) for law students and local gay lawyers. Jerry and I met socially when he showed up, a bold move on his part. I forget whether that year Rhonda or I won the most gay male/lesbian student contest, but there were a healthy number of students present, say 20 in a student body of 700. If that sounds low, remember it was 1983, a much more chancy time for being openly gay, particularly if entering the legal world.

I noticed Jerry was attractive: muscular, bright red hair, great smile, but since my Charleyne/student days I’d adopted an ironclad rule against relationships with students, and it never crossed my mind to have non-platonic thoughts about students. I’m not kidding—control freak that I am, I’m very good with rules, especially self-imposed ones.

Sitting in class, Jerry fell in love with me (see why I quit teaching?). This considerably annoyed him, and he didn’t act upon it in any way. We’d sometimes run into each other at school or gay bars and then talk, but there was no hint of sex/romance that I was aware of. I do remember one weekend right before the final exams in May of 1984. That Sunday afternoon I drove Clayton, my son, then age 11, back to Charleyne in Indianapolis, since he had school the next day. In this period I went out to the gay bars rather frequently, so when I returned home that evening, I switched my mental state from “father” to “gay adventurer,” worked out, changed into tight black shirt, black jeans, and leather boots, and went downtown to The Tradewinds. Back in those days (and, now by custom) most gay bars didn’t get going until midnight so as to better escape the notice of heterosexuals. Arriving at the bar around that time, I procured a drink, saw a friend I knew, and went over to talk to him. It was exam time at the law school, so I had no classes the next day, though in the afternoon I’d have to proctor my Contracts exam (a three hour essay, constituting 75% of the resulting year-long grade). While chatting with my friend, I casually noticed Jerry walking by on his way to one of the bar’s other rooms. Instantly I switched mode again, dropping “gay adventurer” in favor of “outraged law professor.” “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” I asked, perhaps too loudly (though in a gay bar that may be impossible). “You have an exam tomorrow!” Jerry looked sheepish. “Well,” he replied with a grin, “I’ve always found it best to relax and clear my mind the night before an important exam.” Thinking that the stupidest thing I’d heard all year, I gave him my frank opinion of this practice. He pretended to agree, and went off (perhaps he did go home to bed, as suggested, but the smart money, placed by those who know Jerry, would be otherwise). Perhaps he was right (grrr); he did make an “A” in the course (which was graded anonymously).

When my good friend Tim came to Columbus for a visit during the holidays of that year (Jerry’s second in law school), I decided to throw a New Year’s Eve Party in his honor, inviting the old gang from the days when Tim lived here before moving to San Francisco. A few days before the party, Tim and I were in The Tradewinds, and ran into Jerry. I introduced him to Tim, and then, more or less as an afterthought, invited Jerry to the party. Jerry said it sounded like fun, and, by golly, he came. At the party itself there was a lot drinking (marijuana too), and late in the evening I was standing the dining room observing six or so people at the dining room table playing the drinking game called “Quarters” (in which you bounce a quarter into a shot glass, and, on that happening command someone else at the table to down the shot of whiskey). Jerry, in the adjoining living room to my right, made up his mind: this was the moment for his move. He walked in front of me, turned to look at the Quarters game, and then “accidentally” backed into me. As it happened, I was positioned against the light switch, which was promptly pushed “Off” by my backward motion, causing immediate protest from the gamesters. Confused by Jerry’s move (duh!), I turned and switched the light back on, pacifying the players who resumed their game with gusto. Where was Jerry? Oh, he was by the front door, pulling on his coat. “I must go now,” he told me when I came over. As I went to shake hands he grabbed me instead, and I was kissed. I don’t mean a little kiss. I mean KISSED. Then Jerry vanished out the door, leaving me standing there totally bamboozled.

“Jerry! Jerry is attracted to me!” As I mulled that fact over I suddenly realized I was very attracted to him. Oh, no! Another student! No!!!

But love will find a way, as they say (and, readers, remember this was in a different era when dating students was not the hanging offense it subsequently became). How to proceed? I knew it would have to be done carefully. So, after some thought, I scheduled a playreading (see “Elena Kagen and Me,” May 23, 2010, for a description of this social activity), and invited Jerry and five others. When they arrived and before Jerry got there, I informed my friends a romance might be in the offing, so when the play was over they should—as Lady MacBeth put it when her husband saw a ghost at their banquet—“stand not on the order of your going, but go at once.”

Good friends that they are, as we folded the playbooks they departed with amazing speed, and Jerry and I were left alone. I offered him a drink, and, to make sure I wasn’t misreading the situation, let him make the first move. Never shy (and I mean never), Jerry promptly did that, and by January 22, 1985 (thereafter celebrated as our anniversary), we lived together. The two of us were as married as allowed in those days, until we were forced apart by circumstances in late April of 1997, twelve years later. Before that unfortunate event happened we had a wonderful time, and it’s a major tragedy we aren’t still a couple. We were quite a team together, and, while we’re still close, he’s in Las Vegas and I’m in Columbus, Ohio, and I miss him. More stories about Jerry and I will undoubtedly surface in this blog in future posts, and there are some doozies (see, for example, one already told: “Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009).

One last footnote to this story: that first January here I was living with a law student, something I was not anxious to broadcast. I felt I had to tell someone. The obvious choices were by best friends (key components of my current chosen family) Art and Lorri (see photo). He was on the law school faculty with me, and I was forever either over at their house enjoying the incredible meals they put on the table (both are terminal foodies), or they at mine for Buckeye football games or playreadings or assorted other madness.

So I called them up, invited myself over to their house, made them raise their right hands and promise to tell no one, and sighed and said, “I’ve formed a relationship with a law student.”

“Oh,” Art and Lorri both murmured, bemused as they pondered the issues that presented. Art then spoke first.

“Weren’t you once married to a law student?” he asked, accusation in his voice. I nodded glumly.

He considered for a moment. “So. You’re a recidivist!”

What could I say? I was guilty.
Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
“The Aging Gay Activist,” March 24, 2010 (where there’s another photo of Jerry)
“I Married a Hippie,” April 14, 2010
“Milking Cows,” June 8, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“The Day Jerry Left,” October 30, 2010
"Popourri #1," November 15, 2011 (Jerry Sleeps In)
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Death of Robert Whaley

For as long as I can remember both of my parents were heavy smokers. Dad had a couple of minor heart attacks when in his 50s, and his doctors warned him it was important that he quit tobacco. When I was visiting my parents in Texas for the holidays in December of 1979, I had quite a talk with Dad and Mom about smoking. Mom, ever the rebel, said she enjoyed smoking and if that meant she had no future, so be it. Dad, on the other hand, told me I was right, and that he was going to quit very soon. “I have a future,” he assured me.

In mid-July of 1980, Dallas, Texas, where my parents lived and where Dad was an Assistant District Attorney for the City and County of Dallas, had a record-breaking ten or more days of 100° temperatures. On Saturday, July 12, Dad was out in the yard hitting golf balls at the weekend home he and my mother maintained at nearby Tyler, Texas (it was next to a golf course, of course). Adding to heat stress was that he was in the middle of prosecuting a complex death penalty case. My parents returned to their apartment in downtown Dallas that evening, and in the middle of the night Dad had a massive heart attack, with his heart stopping twice. The elevator was too small for a gurney, so the EMT people strapped him to a computer chair on wheels and wheeled him out of the building and into an ambulance.  He had just celebrated his 61st birthday on June 20th.

The next day, Sunday, July 13, my sister Mary Beth (coming from Florida) and I (from Columbus) arrived in Dallas and went immediately to Baylor Medical Center where Dad was being treated. It was another 100° day, and the contrast between that heat, the icy air conditioning in Dad’s hospital room where Mom was holding his hand, and the almost white color of his skin, made my head swim. I started towards the bed, and then sat down suddenly on the floor, worried I myself was about to have a heart attack. Both parents transferred their concern to me, but I quickly scrambled to my feet and asked Dad how he was doing. Mary Beth arrived almost at once, and we hugged (it had been eight years since we had last physically seen each other!). Dad said he was feeling much better, and Mom pretended she thought he would be fine.

Not long thereafter Dad cardiologist appeared and made small talk with all of us. As he was leaving he nodded to me to follow him, so I excused myself and did so. In the hallway, outside their hearing, the doctor said to me, “Mr. Whaley, I have very bad news for you. You father’s heart attack is not survivable, and he is certain to die soon.” That news almost put me on the floor again, but I asked him if he was sure . . . was there was no possibility of long term survival? “Not with the severity of the attack he’s experienced,” the doctor replied. “If he were to survive, he’d be a vegetable. I didn’t tell your mother or sister this; I was waiting for you. You can inform them or not as you think best.” At this he patted my shoulder firmly, repeated that he was sorry, and left me standing there. Stunned, but covering, I went back into Dad’s hospital room.

I decided not to relay to Mom or Mary Beth the doctor’s news about hopelessness of the situation. It’s hard to explain why not, but, frankly, Mom wouldn’t have believed me, and even if she did, she would have denied that she did, counting on hope and prayer to prove me wrong. In this Mary Beth was her ally (as opposed to her atheist brother, who simply didn’t understand what miracles could be worked). I decided to let it all happen as it would happen, and in the meantime put the best possible on the face on it.

What I hadn’t counted on was Bob Whaley being Bob Whaley. As anyone who has been reading stories about him on this blog knows, he’d didn’t play by the same rules as other people, and he wasn’t about to start doing so on his deathbed. “Tell me the truth, Doug,” he said, a brave smile on his face, when he and I were alone in his room (the doctor had decreed that only one family member could visit at a time, so we were taking turns). “Am I dying?”

What to say? This man, who I adored so, deserved the truth and he was counting on me to tell it.

So I did.

Even with all I’ve been through (see the many blog entries on this point), I can’t imagine what it’s like to be told that you are going to die with no other possible outcome. Dad took it “like a man” (a favorite phrase of his), and thanked me. I hugged him, tears in my eyes but not crying, and he nodded his thanks. Dad did say, with a wry smile, “I’d always heard Whaleys lived to be 75, and then died suddenly—I guess that was wrong in my case.” I got out of there, unsure if I’d done the right thing. My mother was his next visitor, and when she returned to the waiting room she was very upset. “Oh, kids,” she said to Mary Beth and me, “he wasn’t like himself at all! He was depressed and I had trouble getting him to talk to me.” Mom’s hands were visibly shaking, and Mary Beth grabbed them and pulled her close, murmuring it would all be all right. I didn’t know what to say. Mom fled to the hospital’s chapel, and after about an hour she returned. I was alone in the waiting room (I suppose Mary Beth must have been in with Dad), and Mom was all aglow with hope. “It was amazing!” she told me. “I knelt down in the chapel room, which was sort of gloomy, and began to say a rosary, and all of a sudden the room filled with light.” She looked at me very seriously. “I knew, Doug, that God had answered my prayers, and that your father was going to be fine!” Then she remembered who she was talking to, and her expression turned sour. “Of course, you don’t believe me!” I scrambled to say something like “I’m glad that your prayers have been heard,” but she knew I was just mouthing words, and she scowled and picked up a magazine rather than face her apostate son. I felt crumby, at a complete loss how to help her.

Before I next went in to see Dad, I rehearsed my lines carefully, knowing him and how to reach him. “When Mom last was in here,” I began in the ‘listen-up’ voice I’d learned from him, “you scared her good, and she was beside herself with fear that you were giving up.” “Oh,” Dad said, feeling the guilt I meant to lay on him. “Now take some advice from your son,” I counseled him (by this time I’d been a law professor for over ten years and we talked as equals). “Robert Whaley has lived his life well, and now its time for him to die well. That woman is counting on you—as she has always counted on you—for protection from whatever comes along. Especially when you’re dying, your main job is still to make this as easy on her as possible. Do you agree?” He nodded firmly, filled with remorse for not thinking these same thoughts, and, on some level, pleased to have an important task to do. “Dump everything bad on me,” I offered. “We can talk it all out—I’ll be your sounding board.” And that’s what we did.

When Mom emerged from her next visit with Dad, she was all smiles. “He was in such a much better mood!” she announced happily. “Laughing and telling me we’ll be all right, and that he felt like he was going to beat this thing.”

I was proud of him, and told him so when we spoke later that day. Dad smiled. He’d obviously been thinking about the challenge of dying well, and he plunged into the task with enthusiasm. Over the next three days Dad and I, both dramatic people, played deathbed scene after deathbed scene, eventually running out of material. He reviewed his life with me, and I told him how I admired all he had done, and most particularly his starting over at age 49, going back to law school, and from there to a very successful career as a prosecutor. When I said this, he remarked, “You know, Doug, in ten years I put a number of people in jail who should be in jail.” On Monday morning when I entered the hospital, Dad’s doctor told me that his heart had stopped during the night, but they’d brought him back with electroshock treatment. When my turn came to go talk with Dad he complained that his chest hurt, and asked if I knew why. I told him about the electroshock, and his eyes widened. “Like on TV?” he asked, and we both laughed at his question. Gallows humor.

Facing his own death, Robert Whaley was incredibly brave, as, indeed, were my mother and sister. I had to leave that Wednesday because school was starting, and Mary Beth took charge of keeping Mom in as good a shape as possible, while controlling her own emotions around both her mother and the legion of Dad’s friends who came to call. Dad’s condition deteriorated, and the doctors told both Mary Beth and my mother that things looked bad, but then he improved enough that a final coronary bypass surgery was attempted on Friday, August 1, from which he never regained consciousness. He died that evening. Studies show that the greatest shock in life is death of longtime spouse, and my mother struggled hard with the concept of living without the man she had loved since they were teenagers. Again, Mary Beth contained her own sorrow to do things like stop people from crying in front of Mom (“Do that outside—she can’t handle seeing it now!”).

Dad’s funeral was held in southern Indiana, where he and my mother were from, on Monday, August 4th. In a prior post I’ve told how my mother, holding herself together bravely (see photo of her with her two grandchildren, Cindy and Clayton), once alone with his closed casket (a Whaley tradition—“Who wants to be remembered as a dead body?” Dad had always said), put her head down on it and (not meaning to be funny) muttered, “Bobby, I could just kill you for dying.” Robert Whaley was laid to rest that day in a graveyard filled with Whaleys.

LeNore Whaley would be buried beside him five years later, but that’s a story for another post.
Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Thunderbolt

I’m currently writing yet another draft of a new novel, “Corbin Milk” (for a description of the first one see “Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010), and I thought I’d post a segment of it and see what you think—email me at with any comments or suggestions. The novel concerns the adventures of a gay CIA agent, a good-looking and very smart bodybuilder named Corbin Milk, for whom the CIA finds the most interesting uses. I got the idea for writing this novel while reading an article in The Advocate, the news magazine of the gay community. The article concerned an anonymous Army captain who was riding slowly through the streets of Bagdad on a tank during the liberation of that city when he locked eyes with a handsome Iraqi man standing on the street. Though it could have gotten them both in major trouble with their respective communities, the two men had a great times thereafter on a number of occasions. Surely, I thought, the CIA would see possibilities in the fact that gay sex is very far off the radar in a heterosexual world. In that world men and women are constantly aware of sexual tensions between two straight people, no matter what the setting—even in church, for example. But that world is more or less blind to similar gay encounters.

The excerpt below explains how Corbin Milk first fell in love with a man named George Yancy, another major character in the novel. This meeting is loosely based on the beginning of the actual romance between my good friends Wayne and Ted, who have now been together for over 25 years. As far as I know, neither of them is a CIA agent.


It all started in the summer of the previous year when Corbin was invited by friends to go with them to a Fourth of July picnic and party at the Virginia residence of George Yancy and his partner Denny Weeks. This lovely home was situated outside of D.C., and boasted a four acre yard fronting on the river. Almost two hundred people, most of them gay men, were having a very good time eating, drinking, and getting ready for the evening fireworks, both physical and pyrotechnic, when Corbin and his friends arrived. They were given beers and invited to share in the camaraderie.

An hour or so later Corbin became separated from his friends as he journeyed through the large home in search of a bathroom. This task accomplished, he stood looking around. The entire house was resplendent in the sort of magnificent taste that gay men (but not, to his dismay, Corbin himself) stereotypically possessed, and the kitchen, which was next to the bathroom Corbin had found, caused him to pause in amazement when he peered in. It was gigantic and filled with the sort of appliances and gadgets that TV chefs routinely employed when creating their trademark masterpieces. A catering staff of men and women, all dressed in white aprons, were working with great precision: making food, cleaning up, carrying things to other parts of the grounds, but getting through it all with a good humored attitude that showed they’d done this often before and took pride in their work. One of their number, a blond twenty year old kid stopped what he was doing when he spotted Corbin, and then grinned at him broadly.

“Where’s your beer, handsome?” he asked. When Corbin shrugged to indicate he didn’t have one, the kid pulled a bottle from the refrigerator and handed it to him, saying, “Here’s part of the private stash—meant for the beer snobs who turn up their noses at the swill in the outside coolers.” He sniffed dismissively in the direction of the offending coolers.

“Beer snobs?” asked Corbin, taking the beer and examining its elegant label. “I don’t qualify for that.” It was a brand he’d never heard of, apparently foreign. It had a pleasant mellow taste when he took an experimental sip.

The kid winked at him. “Guys as good looking as you qualify for everything. Want a date for later?”

Corbin laughed, raised the beer in a “thank you” salute, and passed back into the party proper without responding directly to the invitation. The kid was cute, but not the mesomorph sort of behemoth that made Corbin’s head swivel. Of course, there were some mesomorphs at the party, but, like most of the guests, they all seemed too loud and liquored up to be appealing. Perhaps when sober . . .

He was engrossed in that thought when a man passing by noticed his beer and said, “Ah, a connoisseur! Been looking through the fridge?” He was an appealing thin man in his 30s, about Corbin’s height, with a broad smile and dark features.

Corbin laughed. “I passed by the kitchen and one of the staff handed it to me by way of a come-on.”

“Well, enjoy,” the man said, giving Corbin a careful look-over. “I’m Denny Weeks.” He extended his hand.

“Oh,” Corbin replied, as they shook, “you’re one of our hosts! I’m Corbin Milk, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Milk, eh? Any relation to Harvey?”

Harvey Milk, a former San Francisco Supervisor, was a martyr in the early gay rights movement, shot down at City Hall by a homophobe in 1978.

“No,” Corbin replied. “I wish. I came today with Alex Wright and Stew Anderson and their gang.”

Denny smiled. “Don’t know either of them, but that’s true of most of the guys here. The party sort of spiraled out of control this year. George goes a little nuts when he gets to sending out invitations.”

“George is your partner?”

“Yes,” Denny replied, and, turning, added, “and here he comes. I’ll introduce you.”

It was a life-altering moment, the sort of sudden recognition of overwhelming attraction that Italians call the “thunderbolt,” that Emile de Becque sings of in “Some Enchanted Evening,” and that a famous pair of young star-crossed lovers experienced at a dance in Verona. George Yancy was a little man, also in his thirties (and thus older than Corbin), with a nearly invisible mustache and coal black, neatly groomed hair. The most startling thing about him was his eyes, which couldn’t seem to settle on a color, being black or brown or grey or green depending on the angle of the light. It made him look quite mysterious. Since he was on an errand, his manner was hurried, but Denny grabbed his arm to stop him as he passed. George was not Corbin’s traditional type at all, but that suddenly meant nothing. Corbin felt a pull, a tie to George so strong it almost hurt. He felt dizzy looking at him.

“Not now, Denny,” George told his partner. “The chocolate fountain has clogged up.”

“George, George,” Denny protested. “Stop and smell the company. This interesting man is named Corbin Milk.”

George glanced up, prepared to shake a hand, make excuses, and then dash off to deal with the malfunctioning fountain, but now he too froze, hand extended, sharply inhaling a gasp of air. Corbin knew without question that this man was experiencing the same devastating blow that had just felled Corbin. Passion? Love? Love at first sight? Wasn’t that just a silly expression? Could there possibly be this strong and quick a recognition of the rightness of two strangers?

Concerned, Denny put his face closed to George’s. “Are you okay, George?” he asked.

George said nothing, but continued to stare at Corbin as if mesmerized. And Corbin too was overwhelmed, feeling a weakness never experienced before. Good heavens—might he actually faint? Corbin Milk faint! He shook himself vigorously in an attempt to regain control.

“George?” Denny pressed again. “You’re worrying me!”

Now George came back to life. He looked blankly at Denny, risked a glance back at Corbin, and then blushed a red so dark that he looked like a plague victim.

“I need to sit down,” he told his partner. “Could you look into the fountain for me, or get one of the staff to tend to it?” He turned, spied a sofa behind him, and dropped onto it with Denny still holding onto his arm.

“You look awful. Hank Lowell is a doctor. I’ll be right back.” He looked at Corbin. “Stay with him, please.”

Corbin nodded. Oh, yes. He was going to do that. Stay with him. Denny pushed his way through the crowd, and Corbin slowly sat down next to George. They looked at each other.

“What just happened?” George asked in a low voice, as if worried about being overheard.

Corbin, used to being in charge and on top of situations, could only stare back in bewilderment. He wasn’t sure he could talk.

Sitting up straighter, George tried to shake his reaction off. “You must think me a weak sister, behaving like this. I’m so sorry.” But when he looked into Corbin’s light grey eyes he saw a truth there that scared him anew. For the longest period, neither said anything, neither sure what to say. Could this be any more awkward?

Finally, George smiled. “You do talk, don’t you?” he asked.

Corbin gave a short laugh. “Too much, I’m told.”

“Tell me your name again,” George asked, and when Corbin did so, George said it out loud, memorizing. Then he added, “I don’t know how to phrase this, but we need to figure out what’s going on here. Do you know?”

Corbin shook his head. “Not a clue,” he replied. “But you’re right. We can’t just walk away whistling.”

George shuddered slightly. “Damn it to hell,” he muttered. “Wrong time, wrong place . . . .” He trailed off.

“Wrong man?” Corbin finished for him.

They paused and looked at each other. Corbin felt his heart kick into gallop.

“Not that,” George replied. “The opposite problem.”

Corbin suddenly stood, and George, after a brief hesitation, did the same.

“I think I need to go home,” Corbin said, looking around as if he weren’t sure what continent he was on.

“Give me your phone number before you go,” George said, sounding as if this were very important to him.

Corbin shook his head. “You . . . you” was all he could manage. He meant to say that George was, in effect, a married man, but he was still reeling from the thunderbolt and the words stumbled over each other.

“What?” George said, now worried about Corbin’s confusion. Didn’t he recognize how urgent it was to settle this right now?

“Goodbye,” Corbin said, and darted through the crowd in the living room before George could react. He plunged along the patio and searched through the guests until he found Enrico Thomas, the driver of the van he’d arrived in. He took Enrico’s arm and leaned in close to the man. “Something’s come up, and I’ve got to go now. Don’t worry about me. I’ll see you later.” And, brushing off Enrico’s questions, he walked quickly to the parking lot, and then through it. He almost ran down the driveway, and, reaching the highway, stopped to consider his next move. How to get home? After a moment he pulled out his cell phone and started the process of summoning a taxi.

Both men lay awake that night, eyes wide open, sleep impossible. Both were happy and sad at once. Each knew what had happened, but had no idea how to handle it.

George, after searching the party for Corbin, and becoming distressed when he couldn’t find him, spent the next half hour asking guests if they knew Corbin Milk. Finally he came upon the group that answered yes, and through them discovered the big man’s phone number. But then, having acquired it, paused to think. “Damn, damn, damn!” he muttered. “Here’s a twist on the usual fairy tale—tiny prince searches for a Cinderella with a size 14 shoe!”

George loved Denny. Of course he did. They’d been together for nearly three years, and even if things were rocky now and again (okay, a lot), they were committed to each other and this relationship. He mustn’t do anything to jeopardize that. Plus, Corbin Milk, undoubtedly a gorgeous man, was not the kind of romantic figure that attracted George in the first place. He was a lunk—already known to be inarticulate, probably unaware and uncaring about the things that were dear to George: the arts, food, culture, philosophy, good books, deep conversations, a relationship with God. What in hell had come over him to feel such attraction to a man like that? It was madness.

Corbin was in even worse shape. He’d experienced love before, but not requited love, and certainly nothing of this frightening intensity. Every fiber in his being yearned for George Yancy, and every ounce of common sense told him it was a big mistake to pursue that urge. Even if the man felt exactly as he did, George was already taken, and Corbin had no desire to be an on-the-side menu item. Plus, there was no time for romance. His job with the CIA was taking him all over the world, keeping him away from his apartment in D.C. for months at a time. And George Yancy, though a strangely attractive man, was not the sort of physical presence that had captivated Corbin in the past. The man wouldn’t care about the lure of adventure, the mystique of intrigue and outwitting one’s opponents, physical challenges and danger, sports, rigorous exercise, and fancy automobiles. It was madness.

All the same, came a Saturday morning two weeks later when the phone rang and Corbin picked it up, somehow knowing (how could that be?) it was George. When he heard his voice, Corbin’s heart jumped into his throat and threatened to choke off his ability to speak.

“Corbin, it’s George.”

“I know. Hello, George.”

“I’ve been doing some reading. This sort of thing actually happens. It has to do with pheromones and other chemical reactions. Or maybe God or psychic connections or previous lives, or something.”

“God? Previous lives?” Corbin didn’t like the sound of that. He was an atheist and had no truck with the supernatural.

“OK. I don’t know how it happens,” George confessed. “But it’s real! It’s been documented. Tell me you didn’t feel it when we first saw each other.”

A silence.

“I thought so,” George said. “Let’s just talk for a few minutes and see if we can get our bearings here. Tell me about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do for a living? How old are you?”

So they exchanged this sort of information. Corbin told him as much truth as he could: that he was 28, a native Californian, a graduate of UCLA with a degree in international relations, he spoke fluent Russian, and (the lie) that he worked for an import/export business in D.C. In turn, George explained that he was 34, from Ohio originally, a computer specialist with Glassworld, a collector of fine crystal, and someone who loved all the arts.

“And Denny Weeks? Do you love him too?” Corbin asked.

That question produced another silence while George thought about his answer. “We’ve been together almost three years. He’s great.”

“Do you love him?” The repeated question was almost accusatory.

“Yes. No. Well, it’s complicated. On one level it’s perfect, and on another we often fight like pit bulls and end up not talking for days. I don’t know how to answer you.”

Corbin ran a hand through the bristles of his crew cut, and then gave a soft sigh.

“I do know what to say,” he told George. “We have to cut this off before it explodes all over both of us, or . . . the three of us. Denny appears to be a nice man. I can’t get involved with whatever is going on between you two.”

Another pause, and then George sighed and said, “You’re right. You’re right. But it tears me in two to think we’ll not see each other again. This attraction is like a physical force that drives all common sense from my mind and compels me to go to you, to call you, to touch you. Oh, Lord, I shouldn’t have said that! Thinking about touching you, I just broke out in a sweat! What’s happening to me? I’m not like this at all. A giggling schoolgirl!”

“Goodbye, George. Don’t call again.”

“Okay, okay,” George agreed hurriedly, determined to hang up, embarrassed by the things he’d said, sorry he’d called.

“But,” Corbin added, and then thought how to phrase his next words.

“What? You said ‘but’.”

“If you and Denny ever do break up, then let me know. I’m not urging that, you understand, but if it happens . . . .”

“Yes, yes. I do understand.”

And with that the call ended, and they didn’t speak again until they were standing in the lobby of the Rakoom Hilton sixteen months later.

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