A Warm September Night.
It was a stupid thing to do, but … if I was going to spend the next five years or so in prison, which seemed likely, I needed one last visit to a gay bar before I got locked up.
I’d been so careful to hide my preference from men – from myself, from my friends, from my family, and most of all from my draft board and now from the judge. Hell, I wasn’t even sure I was queer. It was all new to me. Or rather, yes, I was sure, I guess. Of course I knew.
Or maybe I didn’t.
It was a foolish risk. Someone might surely recognize me from the news, from all the damned print and TV coverage. Word might get out. The bar could be raided. If a reporter got ahold of this, everything I’d been working for would be ruined. I’d just be a faggot, which all by itself would be more than enough to lock me up without the rest of it. It was one thing to refuse induction. It was something altogether worse to be queer.
I had heard somehow, the way people hear these things, that there was a gay bar in Oklahoma City. It would have been easier to believe that there had been a real Dorothy who really was taken by a real tornado from Kansas to Oz where monkeys flew and scarecrows talked. A gay bar would never (could never) be allowed in Oklahoma. Not by the people who mattered. The very thought of such a thing was ridiculous.
Nevertheless, it was there. Smack dab in the middle of bustling May Avenue. I’d driven by it more than once. A low, squat ugly building with no sign giving any inkling what it was there for. A blight, really. On fashionable May Avenue.
I looked good, I thought. Which means I would probably get lucky. Or not. Probably not. Maybe. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get lucky. Maybe I wasn’t sure what getting lucky meant. But still, I might get lucky.
Traffic slogged along the flower-bedecked four-lane boulevard. On Friday night, May Avenue was for couples on dates. (Boys and girls, of course. What other kind of couples could there be?) May Avenue was for cruising up and down, grabbing a malted in the Big Boy down the street, or retreating to some quiet dark corner of Will Rogers Park, or continuing down the road all the way to 63rd and the new 70mm Cinerama Cinema where Yellow Submarine played to an audience that didn’t get it.
I parked where I could, a couple of blocks away, which allowed me to get a good view of the handful of people headed to the same ugly building as I. I slowed my pace and gave them plenty of room. I still had time to change my mind.
A fist, or something hard.
A fist I think. On the back of my head. Hard enough to make me stumble and almost but not quite fall. Before I could come to terms with what was happening, I was hit again. In the back. Twice. And then again. Something punched my stomach. an anvil perhaps.
I was on the ground. They kicked my sides, my head, my legs. They stood on me. They jumped up and down. There were one, two, three, four … five, maybe?. I’m not sure. Through the fog of my pain and my fast-swelling eyes I still took notice of their tattered blue jeans and scuffed cowboy boots, their plaid shirts and ragged t-shirts and soiled straw cowboy hats. Their wide leather belts with big bronze buckles. Their singular Oklahoma twang.
They were as young as me, only twenty. Maybe older, but if so, not by much. No, I think they were younger.
As fast as it began, it stopped. They leaped and skipped and giggled back to the rusting red pickup truck at the curb, their arms around each other’s shoulders like lovers, grabbing at each other’s asses like straight men who grab each other’s asses. They hopped up to the truck bed, hooting and hollering, clapping each other on their slim, muscular backs. They grabbed more asses; hugged more shoulders; and fell - out of breath – laughing, into the truck.
They left me on the cracked cement walk.
Bloody, broken alone.
Hurt. Defeated. Ashamed.
Stupid, embarrassed, confused.
I melted into the sidewalk and tried to disappear.
We got us a queer, they yelled. The truck vanished.
We got us a queer!