"Eastern Standard Time" columns
By Lawrence Biemiller|
Our route was to wind across five squares of the grid on the back of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer -- from 5 to 11 to 18 to 19 to 28. "Grid numbers refer to detailed maps inside," the legend advised.
I was worried about Square 11 because I always get lost in Auburn when I'm trying to find Route 4. As it turned out, however, we were only two miles into the trip when the Eagle scout pulled his car up next to mine and j.-with-a-small-"j" held a sign up in the window: "IS THIS THE RIGHT ROAD?"
It wasn't, of course.
"I don't know why a state that has only 38 people per square mile needs two I-95s," I said in a parking lot at the top of the next exit ramp.
"What about 136?" the Eagle scout asked staring at his map. "It goes right into Auburn." It was clever of j.-with-a-small-"j" to fall in love with a former scout.
The three of us made it to the lake in time to hear my stepsister accuse her brother of making some of the hamburgers too small and others too big. My stepbrother complained that his father's propane grill was the most ridiculous appliance anyone had ever brought to the house. My stepfather said he wasn't going to invite any of us back next year unless we promised to serve dinner earlier than 9 o'clock. I was glad to be there. They are my family, after all.
I didn't go to the lake last year. We had a disagreement about whether anyone had a right to know the HIV status of friends I wanted to bring. This summer, there were no preconditions, which, I guess, was a minor victory in the struggle to educate America.
My chief worry, in fact, was that the Eagle scout and j-with-a-small-"j" would be bored. Square 28, with a population of only a few thousand people, has no New Wave dance clubs to amuse j. and no malls for the Polo-shirted Eagle scout to explore. The town's corrugated-metal theater shows last summer's worst movies. The lake house has no television, although the Eagle scout discovered an old toy horse whose limbs are connected by strings to its spring-loaded, thumbsized base. He practiced with it in the kitchen while Aunt Judi and I were making dinner one evening.
"See? He can kneel. Or he can graze. Hungry horsie. Or he can lie down. Sleepy horsie."
"Imagine that," I said. "I hope his bed is more comfortable than that thing up in my room."
"Look-he can disco," the Eagle scout continued. "John Travolta horsie."
"Can he wash some lettuce for the salad?" Aunt Judi interrupted. "Enough for, what, 11 people?"
Actually, j.-with-a-small-"j" and the Eagle scout seemed to enjoy the lake routine of reading, sunbathing, swimming, and eating. One afternoon the Eagle scout paddled j. romantically along the shoreline in one of the canoes. From rocking chairs on the porch, we could distinguish j.'s bleached-blond hair and bright-purple jams at some distance.
It occurred to me that j. was probably the first man ever to wear bright purple jams on Bonney Point. And he and the Eagle scout were, as far as I knew, the first openly Gay men ever to embrace and frolic on the dock. In town on a grocery expedition, the three of us did raise local eyebrows-but less for my earring and ponytail, I think, than for j.'s "I TOT I TAW A PUDDY TAT" t-shirt, with its giant yellow Tweety Bird.
On Bonney Point, everyone seemed to get along. One night my stepbrother, in the heat of competition, described an easy Trivial Pursuit question as a "wimpy faggot, bunny question." I stopped swatting mosquitoes and looked up from my book, and j. looked in from the dining room, where the Eagle scout was making kings out of all his checkers. My stepbrother got so embarrassed that I thought he would slide right under the card table. He apologized right away.
Otherwise, the trip was uneventful. j.-with-a-small-"j" said it best the last morning: "We came, we saw, we shopped a little."
But back home, I find the city feverish with heat, humidity, and the impulse to censor. Calls for a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning vie with demands that the perpetrators of the Mapplethorpe exhibit be punished. More surprising are suggestions that Lesbians and Gay men censor themselves. Reviews describe a book that says Gay people will only gain acceptance in society when their behavior conforms to society's norms. As I understand it, conforming means -- among a great many other things -- no earrings, no ponytails, no Tweety Bird t-shirts, and no frolics on the dock in view of others.
I complain over gin-and-tonics at the apartment of a friend who follows politics more closely than I do.
"What do they think? That Senator Helms and his wife are going to change their minds about us if we all promise to wear button-down shirts and penny loafers, and have monogamous relationships with partners our own age?
"I mean, look what happened to the domestic partners law in San Francisco. Helms and Dannemeyer may complain about S&M photos and call boys, but the last thing either of them is going to do is accept homosexuals into society as normal, no matter how we behave. I don't see any point in playing to them."
"What ever happened to tolerance?" my friend asks. "'Isn't that what this country's supposed to be about? Instead we get 'offends any religion or nonreligion.' I tell you, these politicians crumble at the first hint of any threat. There's no leadership. And now, with this flag thing, we're going to end up with their graffiti all over the Constitution."
I'm not much good at politics or protests. but I'm not much good at conforming, either -- I've never conformed for my family, and they seem to respect me for it.
"How much worse do you think it can get?" I ask my friend.
He takes a moment to light another cigarette.
"Oh," he says, "worse than this. Much worse."