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This column appeared in October, 1993, in The Washington Blade.|
By Lawrence Biemiller
My thumbs are hooked in the pockets of Mark's jacket. He and I are riding north on his motorcycle on California Highway 1, which at this moment is amusing itself tremendously -- charging up steep hillsides, dancing left and right around rock outcroppings, edging along steep cliffs, leaping over ravines. Now and then Mark's helmet bounces from side to side in front of me -- for days, he says, he's been singing a Michelle Shocked song "about L.A. and motorcycles." The song's called "Come A Long Way."
This is San Francisco Mark, for those of you who are still keeping track, not Mark-my-ex or any of the other Marks. The ride up the coast -- Los Angeles to San Francisco -- was my idea; doing it on the motorcycle was Mark's. Even though I'd never been on a motorcycle, I said Yes as soon as he suggested it: Lately it's seemed that my life lacks adventure. So here I am, helmeted and blue-jeaned and wearing Mark's old black leather jacket with its bright-orange "Positively Queer" sticker. I'm sitting as comfortably on the back of the Yamaha as if I'd been born with my thighs around Mark's and my thumbs in his pockets. We've been riding all day and I haven't been tense at all, except once when the blast of wind from an oncoming truck startled me.
There is scenery everywhere -- rock and sand and surf and ocean until the brain can take no more of it, the way I overdosed on pecs biking from Santa Monica down to Redondo Beach. Instead of looking at the cliffs I'm thinking about being alone and whether I'm ever going to be content with it. This is odd, I guess, considering that I have my thumbs in Mark's pockets, but he's seeing someone in San Francisco; despite the amount of fun I'm having, Mark and I are just friends.
So I'm thinking about the conversation I had with my fabulous friend John in a queer-crowded West Hollywood restaurant a few nights ago. "And you?" John asked. "How many hearts have you broken this summer?"
"Darling, please," I said. "Don't rub salt in my wounds in public. But I'll tell you the most surprising thing about the summer. You know how I go up every year to the house at the lake in Maine? Well, this year it worked out that everyone else had to leave by the middle of the week, so I was there alone for four days.
"It was kind of strange at first, being there by myself. I mean, the house has six bedrooms, and usually we have eight or ten people around. I don't know anyone else up there, and the town isn't what you'd call friendly. It turned out I didn't mind not having anyone to talk to. I read, I wrote, I rode my bike. I loved it, John -- it was the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. Frankly, I didn't know I was that much fun to spend time with."
"Child, of course you are," said John.
"Well, now two people know it," I said. "I'll tell you, though, when there's nobody else around to be queer with, it's kind of hard to be queer. It's like there's a little bit of drag queen in each of us, no matter how straight-acting we think we are. And, honey, that drag queen wants an audience. That's the one thing I missed, having someone like you or Mark or Gregory around, someone to be a little bit fabulous with, you know?"
"We all need that," said John, ever reassuring.
"But maybe I don't need a boyfriend? I mean, if I can get along alone? Could I really grow up single and content?"
"That I don't know, child," John said. "Sometimes I think that if I don't find someone soon, if I don't have anyone to talk back to me, anyone to worry about holding on to -- well, I'll just go on being absolutely right about absolutely everything till the day I die. And that's not good. A person needs someone else to help shape him, to prevent him from becoming totally self-obsessed, to slap him when he needs it."
"And if you don't have that?" I asked, putting down my fork. "Answer carefully, dear -- this is important."
"If you don't have that, I think you become a strange, bitchy, hateful, tired, ugly, old queen."
"Great, " I said. "Just great."
Mark downshifts for a tight climbing curve where the road cuts behind a big spur of rock. I lean into the curve with him, with the motorcycle, staring down at the gravel on the shoulder. When I look up again a spectacular view has opened up ahead of us: There's a long gentle curve of tumbling surf and white beach and soaring cliff, a late-afternoon sky so blue it defies poetry. I give Mark a hug, wishing my visor didn't prevent me from resting my chin on his shoulder.
Two hours and two photo ops later -- the pictures will prove I did this, had a real adventure -- we roll into Monterey in the early evening. Highway 1 is lined with glare-alike chain motels, but downtown we find an elegant old place that's been converted into a bed-and-breakfast. Mark backs the motorcycle up to the curb and we go in, two queers in black leather jackets carrying big helmets. As we walk I hear the faint jingling of the miniature bells Mark wears among the beads and ornaments around his neck. A cute queer biker in leather and bells is a fine thing, let me tell you.
The desk clerk is about 22, and pretty cute himself, and the slight parting of his lips when he looks up at us suggests surprise. Mark and I hardly need the glance with which we agree that he's queer, too. I ask about a room. "Sure," he says, looking over a paper on the desk, "I can give you a room with a queen-sized bed for $65. That okay?" He glances from me to Mark and back with a smile in his eyes. I love it that the queen-sized bed is his first and only offer.
"You're our hero," I assure him. Hours later, after Mark and I have shared a good dinner and a bottle of wine, I finish brushing my teeth and find him already asleep. I lie still on my side of the bed thinking about what we looked like to the desk clerk -- hot queer lovers in leather jackets, sweaty from the road, laughing with each other, probably ready to do the wild thing wildly upstairs. I fall asleep envying the person I've spent the day looking like.
Copyright © 1993 by Lawrence Biemiller. Published October, 1993, in The Washington Blade.