Parting Glances: Book pages (Pt. 16)

Charles Alexander
By | 2018-01-16T11:57:13-05:00 January 18th, 2007|Opinions|

My friend Gary Widener believed that, contrary to the old saying, you CAN tell a book by its cover. He made books his gimmick for cruising.
The first time I saw Gary – at the opening of Tennessee William’s “Sweet Bird of Youth,” starring Rip Torn and Geraldine Page at Detroit’s downtown Shubert Theater – he was carrying a copy of the Tennessee’s collection of short stories, “One Arm.” (Gay cannibalism, to boot!)
It was no literary giveaway. There was no not mistaking Gary for “a friend of Dorothy.” (Take your pick: Dorothy Parker, of “men seldom make passes at gals who wear glasses,” or Dorothy, as in Judy Garland, of “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” MGM celluloid fame).
In the weeks it took to get to know him, mostly at our teenage hangout, the Hub Grill, Gary rarely, if ever, was without a book. I clocked him with “Finistere,” “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” “21 Variations on A Theme,” “The City and the Pillar,” and once, for whatever reason of farfetched camp, Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.”
Gary worked at J. L. Hudson’s mezzanine bookshop, where he carefully noted who bought what and under what pretense of social and/or clinical interest (as well as what degree of red-faced embarrassment). He loved to drop literary “hairpins”.
Gary, bussing to work, made sure the title of his “literary, lurid lure” – the 3L’s – as he put it, was blatantly displayed. Pretending to be lost in thought, he’d hold, let’s say, “Derricks” cushioned neatly on his slightly ample tummy and, at some point before demurely and languidly disembarking hope to make eye contact (he was good at winks) with someone reasonably not unattractive, or, if need be, near-MENSA in intelligence.
“You can’t go down on a mind, my dear,” advised Gary, when I asked him about his unique method of advertising his availability to fellow Detroit Street Railway commuters. “But with a library card and a quick dab of Chapstick, God knows who you just might lure into the ‘book’ stalls.”
“Does your system actually work?” I quizzed, during a lunch at Hudson’s 13th floor restaurant, as we tallied who entered and left the very active men’s washroom. “I’m willing to try anything, short of carrying The Wall Street Journal or “War and Peace.” (I hadn’t a clue about either.)
“Well, let’s put it this way, lover boy,” confided Gary. “I was standing on the pickup corner at midnight last Saturday and this butch number pulls up, rolls down his Coupe de Something Special window and says, hop in, Marion. I’m in need of an expert librarian. My, my; didn’t I turn his pages. But what really works is holding the come-on cover jacket blank side out. That get’s everybody’s ‘curiosity’ up.”
July of that summer, Gary (Margo) and I (Claudia) along with the beauty of our trio, Richard (Crystal) decided, after our recent happy outings to Toledo and Cleveland, to let New York City have the benefit of our unsullied youth and our (reasonably) unblemished faces. Gary and I, on a budget, opted for the train. Eager Richard said he’s fly and make three Sloan House YMCA reservations.
Today the New York Central Terminal’s a 14-story shell. Back in the mid- to late-’50s it was nonstop crowded with seasoned travelers. The Mercury Unlimited took 13 hours. We traveled lightly. T-shirts. Levi’s. Penny loafers. Toiletries. And, in Gary’s case, ten carefully selected 3Ls, including – snub to me, I’m sure – The Wall Street Journal. (All aboard! More to come.)

About the Author:

Charles Alexander