There was a time – oh, so long, long. long ago – when I would stand on Hub Grill corner in downtown Detroit and within five flattering and exciting minutes be offered a lift by some accommodating driver cruising by.
I was hot stuff at 19. Or, so I fancied myself. I took a risk hitchhiking, not because hitchhiking was dangerous. It wasn’t in 1955 (until I encountered a would-be sadist, but that’s another story). Unfortunately I’m nearsighted and couldn’t see what a driver really looked like until seated next to him.
My fast exit line, “Oh, my God, I’ve left my wallet with my draft board ID at the restaurant. Take me back. I’ll just be a minute.” Of course, I had no intention of returning, choosy (and myopic) trick-tease that I was.
One June evening I saw a tall, elegant guy stroll by, wearing trim Levi’s, a white T-shirt like actor James Dean. I liked the precision of his narrow-hipped walk. His erect carriage. Much like that of a Flamenco dancer. (Oh lay!)
“Who’s that?” I asked proud, Black-and-bold Miss Bruce, (actually a well-built factory worker) who knew everybody circling the streets like hawks of prey. “That’s T.D., ‘Tall Dick,’ He’s your kinda man, honey.”
Miss Bruce made intros. “T.D., this big bit o’chicken feed likes you,” he said, leaving me, new kid on the same-sex block, to carry on small talk. T.D. listened comfortably, smiled neatly, captivated me with his lanky presence. “Got time for coffee, Al?”
When I was 19 if I slept with a guy twice I was “in love,” and T.D. soon became my first summer-of-coming-out romance. He was 25, lived in an upper flat with gay couple, butch Hank, baby-soft Rick. He worked as an orderly at nearby Highland Park General Hospital.
Our first night together T.D. played “Music For Lovers Only,” an LP with Jackie Gleason’s easy listening orchestra, and I took on an emotional and sentimental glow that kept me lighthearted for days. It didn’t last.
One sultry July, T.D., Hank, Rick, and I went sailing on the Detroit River. I sat in the back of the boat, nestled safely in T.D.’s arms. I was content as we drifted serenely past Belle Isle and the Seven Sisters smokestacks. Screw what the world might think: I was happy to be gay, and so damn energetically alive.
As fall approached T.D. and I saw less of each other. He spent more time with Eleanor, a straight friend his age. They were Ayn Rand Objectivism clones. T.D. advised me not to get ‘swoony’. “You’re young. Someone will come along really worth your time.” Our fledgling affair vanished for good Halloween Night.
As I watched the peacock-plumed, colorful drags parade at Farmer and Bates, pose, bow and cavort, T.D. unexpectedly stopped and kissed me sweetly on the cheek. I didn’t recognize him at first. He was dressed all in fluttery feathers, a tapered silk-and-sky-blue sequined gown.
Lovely to look at. Simply stunning. I felt totally betrayed, wiping off his lipstick. A real queen! He wasn’t the man of my dreams after all.