Sunday, January 14, 2007

Go Fly a Kite

I met Jon in a long defunct second tier bar when I was 23. Darts. That was the name of the place, though most often we called it Farts. It was in of all places Back Bay, which has always been one of the tonier neighborhoods and a most unlikely location for a gay bar. It was also a dump. They were trying for some kind of look but, whatever look that was, they never really succeeded. It had a rather depressing and kludged together look about it, I don’t even remember the music being all that good. We usually went there out of boredom in the hopes that it would relieve the sameness that would occasionally pall our usual haunts. All in all it was not a memorable place. From what little I can remember, it was dark and uninterestingly laid out. One of the few things I remember is that the dance floor was surrounded by a seating arrangement that was like bleachers covered in industrial carpet, the better to accommodate the throngs that never came. I think that the only reason I remember this much is that, that was where I first saw Jon.

He was sitting on the bleachers, and I noticed he was cruising me. It was not eyes across the room. He was attractive but I think I must have been going through one of my “type” phases. Jon was not on the list. But I wanted to dance so when he climbed down and asked me if I would like to dance I said yes. The other thing I remember was that Jon was wearing a cap. One of those hats that I have heard referred to variously as a newsboy, skully and snap brim. I think this has stuck in my mind because as the evening progressed, one thing led to another and I wound up going home with him. He didn’t take his hat off until we arrived at his place and that was when I found out that he was bald. I think I must have been the first time I had ever been with a bald man, since I recall it so vividly and I have to say it has affected my view of bald men ever since. We got down to business and I have to assume that we had a good time, because when I think about my relationship with Jon, I always remember how good the sex was. If that first encounter doesn’t stand out, I think it is because it was one part of a greater piece, a mere factor in the sum of a relationship.

Dump and go was not as popular a sport then as it is now, so the next morning I woke up at Jon’s place. He coffee’d me we exchanged numbers and I went on my merry little way. I doubt I gave it much more thought. I do remember that I was surprised and a bit hesitant when a few days later Jon called up and asked me out again. I am not sure why I agreed to see him again, since as I said, I was in one of my type phases, but I said yes. After that Jon began to court me. There is no other way to put it, and it may sound quaint but it is what he did. He began to send me cards of his own manufacture, he cooked me dinner and once presented me with one of the bound copies of his thesis. (Which by the way is quite brilliant, but sadly I lost when my apartment flooded) It was a strange courtship, but I am a strange man myself and Jon was a charming fellow. Intelligent and witty and eccentric, he could be by rapid turns very serious and very silly. I think that what finally won me over was that for the first time, I was dating someone and I was having fun.

After a couple of months late spring had arrived and Jon asked me to go out to the cape for the weekend. I do remember asking my roommate what he thought, and he told me I’d be crazy not to. So it was that I found myself speeding down Route 6 with Jon at the helm of one of a long line of shitboxes that he owned over the years. I remember that it was a particularly ugly and rusty Camero. As we drove along he told me stories about the cape, how his father’s family was originally from Provincetown, Portuguese merchants who had lived on the tip of the cape for 3 generations before his father had gone off to college and become an engineer. He told me we would be staying at Mildew Manor, the family manse and chose that moment to tell me his parents would also be there. I somehow managed to repress the urge to fling the car door open and take my chances of rolling off the embankment on 6. I began to express some serious concern and also to question the sanity of the little man that I was traveling with. My own family and their attitude towards me and my life was if not disowning me outright, at least keeping me at a respectable distance. The prospect of spending the weekend around parental disapproval was not something that I considered to be conducive to enjoyment. Jon laughed at me and told me not to be silly.

Thus it was that I met Jon’s parents. I think I could not have been taken more aback by their indifference to my presence than I would have been if they’d erected a stake in the backyard to burn me at. Indifference is perhaps the wrong word. Unphased. They were actually very pleasant, trying to put a very uneasy 23 year old at his ease. Jon’s mother was reading a murder mystery and ascertaining that I also liked them made several recommendations, I was told where there were crossword puzzles if I wanted to amuse myself and in general they could not have been nicer. Jon and his father talked about the traffic situation on six and discussed the best exit plan for driving back to town. It was all too normal, and strange in what to me was an abnormal situation. Eventually, Jon started hunting around the place and finally asked, “Where’s the kite?” This elicited the response of “What kite?” and this wound up in what I was to learn were the normal perigrinaic explorations of seemingly innocent topics by Jon’s family. Eventually, it was deduced that no one knew of the whereabouts of the kite, so Jon announced that there was nothing to do but go out and purchase a new kite.

Now sadly gone, there used to be on Commercial Street a venerable institution, “The Kite Store”. That was all they sold, and the variety was staggering. As we started our way there Jon talked about coming to the cape as a child, the things he’d done the people he knew and with a turn of phrase that always makes me think of Jon, at one point said “surely you must know”. I told him that no in fact I did not know, and this was my first trip to Provincetown. This revelation left Jon properly horrified and our trip to the Kite Store became an impromptu tour of P’town. I was shown the sights, and Jon waxed large on tales of youthful misconduct, for he was 9 years older than I. He pointed out historic sites and the locations of drug or alcohol related mishaps involving either him, his sister or both. We eventually made it to the store and with all the gravity of some 19th century explorer kitting himself for an expedition to darkest Africa we picked out a kite. By the time we had made our purchase and Jon felt I had been sufficiently acquainted with the town it was decided that it was too late to go to the beach and it would have to be deferred till the next day. We made our way back to Mildew Manor and I watched on as the preparation of dinner became the new debating point. Tasks assigned, decisions discussed, once again with the gravity of a military campaign and also with a bantering humor and affection that was foreign territory to me.

After dinner Jon’s mother and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle she had begun while Jon and I were out and Jon and his father discussed repairs that needed to be made to he house to keep it standing for one more year. Eventually, it was time for bed and I remember whispering nervously to Jon where would I be sleeping. “With me silly, where did you think?” I vaguely recall feeling nervous about this arrangement, but I vividly recall the strange thrill of “doing it” under the same roof as Jon’s parents.

The next morning breakfast was more of a catch as catch can affair. Everyone was on a different waking schedule and I was no early riser in those days, so it was late morning before Jon and I headed out to Herring Cove. This was 1978 and P’town hadn’t been developed to death, so when we came around the corner of Bradford Street past the Dairy Queen the dunes began. We continued down the road for a while and then Jon suggested we cut across the dunes. It was amazing. I remember the stillness, for in those days P’town was still really a summer place and the off season was really off. As we drew closer to the beach, tide pools began to appear and Jon and I would stop and look at the tiny crabs and shellfish waiting for the tide to come back in, living in their tiny worlds that expanded and contracted with the motion of the sea. As the sun rose higher and hotter, Jon took his t-shirt off and put it on his head to keep the sun off. I laughed at him and said something about it making him look like a Sister of Charity. Jon began to scan the ground and finally found a long stick which he fed through the arms and when it was holding the shirt out at a perpendicular angle said, “There, now I look like the Flying Nun!” I had my camera, and against Jon’s protests took pictures. Black and white, more memorabilia lost in the transitions of my life.

Eventually, we made it to the beach and for the first time I saw the ocean from Cape Cod. That infinite undulating grey line, just the 2 of us there on the beach. The wind was with us that day and after a couple of false starts Jon handed me the string and told me to run and then the kite was aloft. There we were, trading control of the kite and laughing. Running down the beach because it was there and empty and we were young. It was then that I realized for the first time since I had begun to date this strange little man, how handsome he was. His strange mix of genes written on his body. The smooth Scandinavian torso and the hairy Portuguese lower body, a bald headed satyr dancing on the beach and I fell in love at that moment. It was a love that sustained, it survived our breakup, and went on in a long and sometime rocky friendship, but always brought us back together in our times of need. It was a love that lasted for the rest of Jon’s life.

It is a cold and grey January day today, and it has been 15 years since Jon died, but as I am thinking about him this morning I only see a bald headed satyr in a worn out speedo, the late spring sun reflecting off his rimless glasses on the beach, a kite overhead in an impossibly blue sky and I am young and foolish again and I fall under this demi-gods sway and we laugh and I am happy and I am in love.