Tales From Mephitis. Chapter 7: Kronos and the Sin of Pride
‘Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.
What do you mean by “Accept disgrace willingly”?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss or gain.
This is called “accepting disgrace willingly”.
What do you mean by “Accept misfortune as the human condition”?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?’
Tao Te Ching
The ride in Friday was already hot as the red ball of the sun cleared the eastern hills. He leaned the bike in his now-customary spot and headed in to the water-cooler. He glanced at the time-clock called "Kronos" on his way in. He now had a “clock number”: 3974. He wrote it on the bottom of his knapsack for a backup. He hated memorizing identifying numbers; numbers were a degrading way to identify a human being.
Frank went up to Kronos, laid his finger down, waited for the beep, entered his number and then hit “Enter”. Another beep and a status read-out confirmed he’d “punched in”.
“I have now left Eternity and entered Time.” He dropped his knapsack off in the office. “The Materialists and Positivists have always denied there is anything but time and space: There is nothing beyond our senses. If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. That is like saying if I can’t turn it with a screwdriver it can’t be used.
What about ‘Love’? That can’t be measured, is it not real then?”
He went past the office.
“’Jesus f**king H. Christ! I told her. I don’t know why I gotta put up with this shit...”
“Hey, f**k it, John. They’re all like that. None of em are any f**kin good except fa makin coffee.” Tom’s reedy voice commiserated. “That’s why ya smart if ya just keep ta the ‘5-Fs’: ‘Find em, feel em, finger em, f**k em, forget em.’”
“F**kin right. They’re like stamps: Lick em, stick em, send em on their way.”
“But what is ‘Time’? Like Augustine, when I’m not asked what it is, I know. When I have to define it, I don’t.
But Augustine had an agenda, he was being disingenuous. His ‘Confessions’ were written to convert others, not as a diary or anything philosophical: Like Pascal’s ‘Pensees’.
Augustine admitted Time appeared cyclical; the alternation of day and night, the seasons, the progression of the Zodiac. But he had to have Time be linear in order to have his God come back and end everything once and for all. There was The Beginning: ‘And God made Heaven and earth’, and The End. A start and a stop.
But all that cannot be proven; it’s a matter of belief. All we experience is the cycle made up of an endless succession of events.
And after Einstein we no longer even have Universal Time; there is no Central Reference Point.
Ironic that his famous ‘Twins Paradox’, where one twin on earth ages more than the other one in a spacecraft approaching the speed of light, only is a paradox if you still hold to absolute Time, which his theory obliterates.”
“What’s the problem?” Frank asked when he came out by the trays. Rod was theatrically-upset-looking.
“Little Tom found one of the cats dead!. .. Ooooooh!...I threw up when I saw it... Can you take care of it?”
“Where is it?”
“Hi, Rod! How are you today, boy?” It was one of his regulars, Dave. About seventy five, he looked like a sweet old farmer, with rosy cheeks, clear blue eyes and a handsome Irish face set off by pure white fine hair. He used to be a rodeo circuit rider with his trained horses. He always came on Friday, bringing Rod a big cup of ‘Cumbie’s’ coffee.
“Oh, hi...How’s your day going?”
“Good, good, Rod. Thanks for asking.”
“That’s nice...Mine’s not going too good.”
“I threw up...One of the homeless cats killed hisself with a tin can.”
“Well, that’ll keep ‘ol’ Dave tied up for awhile.” Frank went outside and looked over the retaining wall down the twenty feet to the asphalt paving, and sighed.
A black and white cat lay there, with its head covered with a tin can. It must have been starving and tried to lick out the dregs and got stuck. He looked up at the sky, momentarily enraged. He walked on down to get the cat and bury it.
“So how different is the Hawking’s Universe from the bible? According to his Big Bang, the word Time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. Same as the biblical model, just with ‘God’ neatly excised out.
You can tell Hawking is a Cambridge man; they’re notorious for flights of untestable fancies, assumptions, and ‘what ifs’. He came up with his ‘proof’ of The Big Bang by reversing, changing the sign, for Christ’s sake, of Time in Penrose’s equation.
Because mathematically you are allowed to do that, does that make it real?
That’s not ‘real world’.
‘Negative energy’, ‘imaginary time’; both invented to make equations work. From there they become reified into something real supposedly.
We rightly mock the Scholastic philosophers nowadays for arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Yet how different in substance is arguing about how many ‘dimensions’ one can fold into a string, or how many ‘flavors’ a subatomic particle comes in?
The Scholastics were bound in their thinking by the church’s walls: Science is every bit as bound and blinded by its own dogmas.
No; we cannot trust either religion OR science. Occam’s razor slashes through both as keenly.
I have to find some other guide, but NOT science or religion.
Frank saw Bill Emory later that morning. Hadn’t seen him since he left the mill. He had built just up the road from where Frank had back in the late ‘70’s. While Bill worked shiftwork in the mill, he had entered a Carpentry Apprenticeship program, and eventually became a journeyman union carpenter there.
“Hi, Frank!” he said with genuine pleasure. Bill was a salt-of-the-earth, yeoman type fellow, from farming stock, and it showed. He was sturdy, hardworking, and dependable; but unimaginative, incurious, untroubled, and limited. “Good to see you. Been working here long?”
They shook hands. He always had the good, solid handshake of an honest working man.
“No. Just started about a month ago.”
“Still doing the pottery?”
“No. The recession... before this one... killed that off. Been farming. You? Still at the mill?”
“No. I got laid off in ’96 when they shut it down. I’m working now at Spawling’s Fencing, installing fence. It was all the work I could get. But I can’t complain. At least I’m working. That’s more than a lot can say...There’s work out there, but it doesn’t pay well, and its sweaty work.
I don’t know, these young fellas, Frank, they just don’t know what it means to work. They want it all given to them.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Ain’t that the truth. It’s a whole new world now. You know, Frank, I’ll be the first one to say a lot of the guys used the unions to slack off. But everybody forgets how many in management were dead wood. The unions were the only way to force them companies to treat us as people and pay us a decent wage. Unions weren’t perfect, but they were the only thing that helped keep management in line and let us earn a decent living.”
“They’re shutting down another mill, one that’s employing Americans, and throwing them out of work, every time you pick up the paper: For twenty years now. When’s it gonna end?”
“All I know is I’m glad I’m not raising a family now.”
“Good. She’s good. A real treasure.”
“You tell her I say hi, okay? I liked her. She was one of the good ones, ya know?”
“I will, Bill. Thanks. I think so too.”
They talked about gardening and deer-hunting for a little while, then they shook hands again and he left. He stood still and silently watched him drive off for a moment.
“He’s gonna tell everyone he runs into he’s seen me too... and where.” He let out a long breath, unaware he had been holding it, and turned to deal with the vehicle that had just pulled up behind him.
As he did, he noticed Rod deeply involved in a ‘conversation’ with a little serious-looking Jewish fellow that went right on doing his recycling as Rod followed him, arms hanging slackly.
Rod called him “The Judge”. There was a certain effeminacy underlying his movements. It wasn’t just the delicacy and hesitancy of a man unused to working with his body. Frank caught snatches of his responses to Rod’s monologue as he went to and fro helping customers.
“Fine... No...Kittens?...How many?...Five?...No, that’s not right. You shouldn’t have to feed them out of your own pocket. I’ll give you some money to buy them food...Dead?... We can’t allow that to happen, of course not...Sure....Just have them call me...Sure...That must have been terrible to see...Sure”
The price he paid for a clean get-a-way was clear in Rod’s next triumphant accosting of a patron; a stout Boomer woman with cat stickers on her car, and a pink “I Love Cats” sweatshirt.
“...an the Judge said he’d pay for them ta be spaded and neutereded...”
“I already have five cats. I’d love to, but my husband would kill me if I came home with any more.”
“That’s why you should take home a kitten. What’s one more? I have seven.”
“So you take one home.”
“There’s no room cause I live in a trailer.”
“You should see them; so cute and little. They’re gonna die if they don’t find a home. How can they live in the winter? A cat just died with its head stuck in a tin can. I been feeding them, but I can’t afford to feed them all.”
“Ooooh....I’ll talk with my husband...Where are they?”
“They stay down by the Sewage compost building. Stan leaves the door open for them so they can come inside of his office. He feeds them if I bring in the food, and he gives them water. I don’t think he does it right. He don’t care about them.”
“You feed them?”
“Well, why don’t I bring in a bag of catfood every week or so for them.”
“Okay, that would be nice...You can leave it with me here. I feed them when I come in, and at lunchtime, and before I go home.”
When Frank passed the office later and saw Anton alone, he gave him the list of plants Melissa made up.
“You’re kidding. She just wants to give me these?”
“She always does this. Whenever she has to thin out her plants, she either puts them out by the road with a ‘Free’ sign for anyone to take, or she gives them to people who are just getting going. She says that’s ‘tradition’ among gardeners. That’s how she got started herself.
If you want them, or any of them, let me know, and we can make arrangements for you to pick them up. I can’t bring them on the bike. There’s too much.”
“Sure! Cool!” He perused the list “Bearded Iris, Foxglove...You can never have too much Foxglove...Hostas...” He was obviously excited. “Let me look over the list. I may need your help to tell me what some of these are.”
After lunch, he let Frank know what he was interested in. He called Mel and coordinated the arrangements between her and Anton to pick them up. It turned out that it worked best for them both to do it this afternoon, after work.
About an hour before quitting time, Anton reluctantly approached him and said as he was coming over to Frank’s house anyway, would he like a ride home?
It was clear he didn’t like having to do that, but saw no real way around it; which made Frank feel like a real mooch. But he accepted and thanked him; though he writhed angrily inside. This was just the sort of situation he didn’t need.
They went out to Anton’s car, and he began clearing room in the back for Frank to put his bike in. But it wasn’t going to work unless he removed the front tire.
“Is there a crescent wrench around here?” he asked. “How about in the ‘toolshed’ there?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it. There’s not much here. Maybe in the welding truck’s toolboxes.” Anton replied non-committedly.
“Never mind. I got a tool roll on the bike. I just got to pull it back out of your car to get at it.” He hauled it out, unfastened the roll from behind the seat and removed an eight-inch crescent wrench, shaking his head silently. It was unfathomable to him that an operation this size didn’t have even rudimentary hand tools available.
The drivers, Hoppin’ John, Farina, and Little Tom, had arrived back for the day. When they were passing him on the way back into the office, Farina hung back and stopped to kid him about the bike. Frank sensed there was something on his mind and this small talk was prelude until they were alone.
“ Hey, y’know? I was talking to the old lady, and she wanted me to tell you that Gotham has a food pantry, ya know.”
“Yeah, I know. We’ve dropped food off there before.” He stopped working and looked at the ground, searching for the words. “I just can’t do it...I just can’t bring myself to go to a pantry.”
Farina nodded in silent understanding.
“Nice car.” Frank complimented Anton as they drove out the gate. “What year is it?”
“It’s okay. Uses too much gas.And at $4.50 a gallon I can’t afford to waste gas.”
“What’s that?” He indicated a small screen at the top left of the windshield.
“Satellite T.V. So I can watch the Giants on the road.”
They were silent for a few minutes.
“I never go home this way. It’s a nice ride.” Anton commented.
“Oh? I’d of thought this was how you would go. This goes right into Beulah.”
“I take 53. From Evetown it’s all downhill. I can put it in neutral and coast most of the way... Saves on gas. This way uses more.” He added pointedly, then stiffened. He indicated the road ahead with his chin.
“Goddamn it. Another dead turtle. That really pisses me off that people deliberately target them like that. Whenever I see one I always stop and help them cross the road.” He paused for a moment. “So...What do you think of the place?”
“There’s been no more ‘f**k-f**k’ games, and that’s a step in the right direction.”
Anton was silent.
“You know someone was playing games last Friday.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well...It’s done now. Whoever it was got the message: I don’t play games.”
“Anyway; it’s a job, a job that pays, and I need the money. That’s all I think of it. I’m just doing whatever is in front of me that needs doing at this point in my life.”
“’Life’.” Anton snorted. “Life sucks.”
“You too, huh? How’d Browning put it? I feel like I’ve been ‘bound dizzily to the wheel of life’ to slake the thirst of God.”
Anton had no comment.
“Careful. Slow down. You come up on the driveway with no warning...There it is. Right here.”
Anton pulled in and up to the barn where Mel had all the plants wrapped in wet paper and in plastic bags in a wheelbarrow.
“Wow! All of this!?” His eyes bugged out.
“Told you. That’s why you needed the car. You want it?”
“She said after she finishes digging up and thinning out her Irises, you can have them too. Probably late July or early August.
“Did Browning say it like that?” he thought as he walked toward the house. Later, after a shower and dinner, he pulled down the anthology.
“There it is. ‘Rabi Ben Ezra’
‘But I need, now as then, Thee, God, who moldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst, did I
- to the Wheel of Life with shapes and colors rife, bound dizzily-
mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst.”
Okay…No, he didn’t. But I know someone did. Who?”
It took him a bit to recall and look up, but he found it. William James had misquoted Browning in a letter to a friend.
“I knew I remembered it from somewhere.”
The next morning, while Anton was downstairs running the garbage baler, Frank was poking the garbage and Amen was using the skidsteer to push a pile of bulky items into the hopper.
Amen couldn’t see how the ram was chewing things up, so he kept an eye on Rod, standing on the other side of the hopper. Using gestures like a traffic cop, he directed him as to when to push in, and when to stop immediately. With the other hand he waggled directions down to Anton, who never glanced up at him once.
Rod imperiously motioned Amen forward. The blade slowly pushed a heap over the edge. There was a thunderous crash that dwarfed the scream of the baler.
“Uh oh.” Rod groaned. “What da frig! I told him ta stop! “
Frank looked down into the pit. A huge, old-style console television had become lodged diagonally just above the mouth of the ram’s throat. He could see the ram working back and forth fruitlessly, like jaws trying to reach a morsel just out of reach.
“Poke it.” Rod ordered Frank.
“Whattya mean, ‘poke it’?” he asked incredulously. “It’s wedged.”
“We gotta get it in there.”
“It ain’t gonna go. You can poke till doomsday…Where’s a hook? All we have to do is snag one of the legs with a hook on a rope, give it a yank, and it’ll fall in straight.”
“We ain’t got one.”
“We had one before, but Tonto and me lost it down the baler, and now Anton won’t let us have another.”
“ Lemme try.” Rod took the pole and began banging away at the console.
Amen shut off the skidsteer and watched impassively. Frank looked downstairs through the gap in the fence. By the pounding, Anton obviously was aware of what was happening. He had taken off his gloves and was fiddling with his smart phone.
Rod kept pounding away. Frank watched him, puzzled. There was no discernible strategy to his efforts. He just kept thumping away at the same useless spot. Meanwhile, the torrent of garbage bags being thrown in never slackened.
“This is nuts.” Frank motioned to the patrons.
“Wait! Stop! Don’t throw anything else in until we tell you!”
They looked dully at him, but complied, leaning over the wall to watch.
He remembered seeing a length of rope in the hall. He took off to get it; Rod’s mindless rhythmic pounding following him.
When he got back with it, he had already formed a short loop at one end. He dropped it down over the console and after a few moments of fishing he had snagged a leg.
He walked the rope around to the other side of the hopper so he could pull and have the television rise the right way. He looped the rope around his left hand and pulled powerfully. The appliance obediently rose and aligned itself. He let the rope slide through his fingers.
With a satisfying thump, the console slammed into the bottom of the ram’s mouth.
“Thanks, Buddy!” Rod was red and panting, faint after his exertions.
“We’re gonna get a hook.” Frank simply stated as he wound up the rope.
He knew Anton was going to be tied up downstairs for a few minutes yet, so he slipped five dollars with a note; “For gas. Thanks”, into his car. Anton was pinched like everyone else.
When he went back out, the customers were coming in hot and heavy. There were three lanes for them, but they would back up in one lane almost to the entrance gate rather than use the others.
Finally, in exasperation, he walked out in view of them, and began waving them forward, indicating the other two empty lanes. Some people immediately took him up on it and the back-up began to ease. Others still pretended blindness and deafness, completely ignoring him.
Finally, one old man, in response to Frank’s urging him to swing over to another lane, angrily indicated a sign mounted near him. Frank couldn’t read it from where he was; its back was to him. Puzzled, he walked over to where he could see it.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!”
“STAY IN LINE.” The sign ordered.
“Wanna hear a joke I saw on the computer?” Rod grinned smuttily.
“No. Not really.” Frank replied, sighing.
“You’ll like it. It’s really funny. I was talking ta this woman on Bongo…”
“Wait a minute. What’s ‘Bongo’?”
“It’s a website I go to to play checkers an talk.”
“I dunno. When Della goes ta bed I stay up and play checkers. Anyway; this woman tells me she asked her boyfriend if he would rather eat parsley or pussy. He said ‘Nobody eats parsley’!”
“That’s the joke?”
“Yeah. Then she told me she was walkin past her step-son’s room and saw him j*rking off so she went in there and s**ked him off.”
“Alright, that’s enough.”
“Then she said her and him…”
“I said that’s enough. You do know, don’t you, that you have no idea whether you’re really speaking with a man or a woman.”
“Yes, I do. She said her name was Debbie.”
“You know what else?”
“I told you: No more. Got it?”
“Okay.” He went looking for someone else to tell it to and Frank went to lunch.
“I told her I said: I ain’t got a f**kin girlfriend! If you’d spread yer f**kin legs more than once a f**kin month, you wouldn’t haveta worry about me havin a f**kin girlfriend! I ain’t got a f**kin girlfriend! I wish the f**k I did, so’s I’d get a piece a ass once in a f**kin while!’” Hoppin’ John’s voice was growling petulantly as the drivers came in for lunch.
That was Frank’s cue to leave. It was almost noon and Rod would be joining them soon, and then the ‘Talk’ would begin. He heard them settle into chairs. Soon they’d be coming in one at a time to use the microwave. Their routines were unalterable.
“How the f**k come I gotta do the ‘White Truck’ and you and an Tom get all the f**kin pulls!?”
“What the f**k ya complaining about, Hoppin’ John?” came Tom’s nasal drone. “The White Truck’s a milk run an you know it! You just don’t like it cause ya gotta get out every once in a while and pick up some bags of cans an shit!” ”
“I’m a f**kin truck driver! I ain’t no delivery boy!”
“Dougie says yer a ‘Water Boy’. When Ray called Genoa this morning, Dougie told him ‘You tell that fat-ass John to make sure he brings us water this time! He forgot it Wednesday!’ He’s no f**kin good as a driver, only thing he’s good for is a Water-Boy!’” Farina’s high-pitched twang pitched in.
“F**k him! How the f**k come you never get the White Truck?!”
“That’s cause I’m up here....and yer down here!” Frank visualized Farina holding his hands out, one high and one low, to indicate their respective levels of standing.
“Don’t listen to him, Hoppin’ John! He’s just s*cking Ray’s c**k, that’s all!” Rod’s dulcet tones now chimed in.
“That does it. Time to go.” Frank thought to himself. “Christ. I can’t even read on lunch here.”
“Ahhhh bullshit! It’s cause you’re a f**k up, like Rod!”
“Oooooh! Ya stabbin me, Hoppin’!”
“Hey, I got more miles goin backwards, than you got goin forwards, Hoppin’ John!”
“I wish I could find the time to study Greek and Latin.” He thought.
They didn’t even notice him as he walked past the doorway.
It was hot and smelly that afternoon. Most of the people crabbed at the cost per bag, so they aimed to get their money’s worth by cramming the largest bag they could find as full as they could. The same was true of the garbage barrels. Sometimes it took two or more of them to get it into the vehicle. Then they’d send their wife with it. She obviously couldn’t lift it out of the vehicle, so the employees had to. There’s been more than one worker who hurt themselves lifting things like that.
But the worst is when the bags are leaking and they don’t warn the employee. Then the worker’s clothes and gloves became saturated with the reek of vomit, shit, or other forms of fermenting rot. Very few rinsed out their glass jars or tin cans before recycling them. They gave off the stink of decay, and like all the garbage bags and barrels, they were crawling with legions of maggots, writhing in irritation and panic.
Rod worked ‘his people’, trying to find homes for ‘his’ kittens. Anton, Amen and Frank, silently, steadily, dealt with the constant flow of patrons. Frank’s gloves were already slimy and stunk from garbage juices.
“Here, Buddy. This is for you!”
Frank paused before hoisting a barrel out of the back of a pick-up. With a toothless leer, Rod was walking toward him holding up a foot long red and white vibrator.
He barely caught the surge of anger before it boiled out. With a grunt, he lifted the barrel clear of the side of the truck and lowered it.
Rod was standing there smirking with the stained plastic dildo held up in front of him. Peripherally, Frank noted the surprise cross the customers’ faces that saw it. He faced Rod squarely, fixing his gaze on him.
“No. Not with me. You want to talk like that with the others, that’s your business. But you do not talk to me like that. Not ever. Understand?”
“I’m sorry.” Rod said like a chastised and crestfallen child.
He stayed away from Frank for an hour or so, then approached him.
“You want a ride home? I can give you a ride whenever I’m going that way. Sometimes Della tells me to get groceries before I come home, and I go that way. I can’t give you a ride every day, but sometimes. You want a ride today?”
“Hey, thanks, Rod, but no thanks.”
“Why not?..They tell you stories about me? That was only with Don, when I gave him a ride cause he lost his license, and he started it all the time.”
“He was the foreman here before Anton. He got DWI’d and lost his license. He needed me to drive him. That was the deal. I was hired back if I drove Don.”
“No. I didn’t hear any stories.”
“Oh. Well, why doncha wanna get a ride home?”
“Look: If it was really shitty weather or something, maybe that’d be another story, but like you just said, you can’t always give me a ride, right? Well, on those days I’d have to use the bike. And if I don’t stay in shape, that ride is a killer. You see? I need to take the bike regularly so it’s not so damn hard.”
“Okay.” He seemed mollified by his answer, even if it didn’t look like he understood.
Frank didn’t want to seem to be insulting to him, but privately he vehemently resisted becoming dependent on these people. His pride, which had been so battered, resisted what it saw as each new degradation. But resist or not, more assaults were coming for that proud ego.
“Well, it didn’t take as long as I thought it would.” Frank said to himself when he saw the giraffe-like figure of Heidi unfold out of her van.
He knew her from when he used to do the Farmers’ Markets. Her and her husband had a Bakery, selling their goods at the markets. He had suspected that she had had a bit of an infatuation with him in an innocent sort of way. He had often felt her staring at him. And she was nosey. If the word had got back, via Jeff the Bee-Keeper, that he had re-surfaced after quitting the markets so suddenly and mysteriously five years ago, she was one of his top three bets as to who’d come to see the show.
“How are you doing?” she asked solicitously.
“Oh, fine... Can I help you with that cardboard?”
“Oh, sure...Where does it go?”
“I’ll take it. Don’t come here often then?”
“No. Yes. Not often...I forget.”
“How’s the bakery? Bagels doing well?”
“And how’s Dan?”
“Oh, he’s good.”
“Say hi to him for me.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Either working or paying for my sins. Not sure which.”
For an hour after she left, he burned internally with embarrassment. He cringed when he thought of how arrogant he was back then, how imposing a figure, how dynamic a personality he saw himself as.
Within a season of joining the markets he had become a dominant figure in the little pond of the local Farmers’ Markets.
He had felt then there was nothing he could not do. From nothing he and Melissa had sculpted out a clientele, drawn by the quality of their produce, forcing a livelihood to come into existence where there had been none: And for the second time.
“Now look at me. Penniless, no car, working in a dumps. In Hell the punishment fits the sin.”
Later, after he had run the garbage baler, he picked up the first bale with the skidsteer’s forks, and headed for the roll-off. It was almost full, only room for two more bales. Which meant he had to drive up the ramp with the bale lifted on high. As he went up the ramp the forks naturally tilted backwards, and the bale slid toward him.
The frame stopped it, but as he raised it up even more, the angle put the bale damn near over his head. It blocked the light, its shadow falling over him. Foul drippings spattered upon the tires and the frame of the machine. Putrid objects dangled from the underside as he awkwardly slid it into place, and then dragged the forks out from under it. One more to go.
About an hour before quitting time, Anton came up to him. Frank had seen him acting as if he had to say something he really didn’t want to, and was putting it off and off, until it was now or never. He asked very quietly, so as not to be overheard, and very, very reluctantly, if Frank wanted a ride home.
“Hey, thanks, but no thanks. I appreciate the offer though. Maybe some day if the weather’s really shitty or something...I got myself into this mess, and it’s nobody else’s responsibility but mine.”
“Thanks.” Anton exhaled in relief.
As he rode home, Frank reflected that there was something going on there at that station, like a subtext. Far too many of these men that Rod bantered with sexually or catered to attentively were effeminate. They ranged from the flamboyantly swishy to the ones that just had a ‘certain’ way of speaking or carrying themselves. There were just too many to be coincidence or an over-active imagination.
He wasn’t imagining this. He knew what he saw; and he considered himself a progressive, he wasn’t some right-wing homophobe. His own son was gay, and Frank was glad to have helped him find his footing growing up. There was some sort of undercurrent here the likes of which he’d encountered only once before.
Back when he was a sophomore in college in 1972, there was a bar on campus called the “Ratskeller” that he used to frequently visit during the course of his partying. One night he and his roommate decided to swing over and have a draft and see what girls were there.
As soon as they walked into the dark, beer-reeking establishment he sensed something was off. Scanning the room, his first thought was they were out of luck; no women. He ordered a Genesse, and the bartender, who knew him by sight already, pushed him the beer with a strange, wary look.
Puzzled, Frank turned around and leaned on the bar, surveying the crowd. His buddy said they ought to just finish the beer and leave, there was not going to be any luck here tonight. He agreed. Something bothered him though.
The crowd looked different somehow; better dressed, more primped. These guys had long hair too, but theirs all looked like a coif and most wore an earring. Their clothes were not unlike anybody else’s except somehow prissier, more womanish in their neatness.
Startled, he saw himself being frankly appraised the same way he appraised a woman’s body. He didn’t like it and bristled. His admirers found other things to look at. He turned back to the bartender.
“Hey. What the hell is going on here?”
“You don’t know?” He looked at Frank suspiciously.
“It’s the Gay Liberation Association’s mixer.”
“What the f**k is the Gay Liberation Association?”
“They’re all queers?”
“C’mon. Time to get out of here before someone sees us here.” his buddy urged him, pulling at his arm.
As Frank pumped harder to gain the top of that long, first hill, he smiled wryly to himself.
“What a change in attitude from then. I was just as homophobic as that church with its billboards. It was ignorance, that’s all.... And a reaction to what isn’t my own orientation…Christ, I hadn’t ever known a gay guy back then.…At least an open one.
Now I’ve got a gay son….Or had…Once I realized gays weren’t the same thing as pedophiles, but just people drawn to different people than I am; it was ‘Live and let live’ as far as I was concerned.”