Initiation

 

‘Aboard a shipwrecked train, give my umbrella to a rain dog, because I am a rain dog too.”   Tom Waits

 

            It only took me a few minutes to realize that I wasn’t bidding for the house, I was bidding against the asshole who was bidding against me for the house. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the price, or risked the icy stare of my partner Bill, if it wasn’t for the unpleasant verbal exchange I’d had with my competitor at the open house a few days prior to the police auction. We’d already gone past the asking price, and if we kept this up, we’d be paying market value for the house; which defeats the whole raison’d etre of buying property at police auctions.

            I first saw the guy I was bidding against a week before the auction at an open house where the police showed off the homes they had confiscated in drug operations. I was admiring a Victorian that needed a lot of work. It had fallen under police jurisdiction in a high profile sting operation and would sell for a dirt cheap price. I was just about to call Bill on my cell phone and tell him about my find when a man took up a position next to me and looked me over in an unpleasant way.

            “Are you an ass wrangler?” he said.

            He was a black man, around my age, mid thirties, with a goatee, a suit jacket over his Dockers and button down shirt, wearing Chuck Taylors on his feet and an old style pork pie hat on his head.

            “Excuse me?” I asked.

            “I just asked if you were a colon cowboy, a brown dirt farmer, an open range runner, a claim jumper, a back door bandito.”

            “I take it you don’t like homosexuals.”

            “No, but I like cowboys.”

            I moved away from him to finish making my call. He watched me and walked up to me after I was done talking to Bill.

            “Are you planning on bidding for the house?”

            “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes I am.”

            “It belongs to my family.”

            “Not according to the South Plainfield Police Department.”

            “It’s been in my family for generations. My father made the mistake of putting the wrong brother’s name on the will. He took out a second mortgage on it and the cops took it away when my brother was busted for dealing out of the place.”

            “I’m sorry, but I have every intention of buying that house. It would be a good investment for my partner and me.”

            “Just my luck,” the man said. “I’ve got to bid against two guys with disposable incomes.”

            “It’s worse than that my friend. You’re bidding against two guys who buy houses, renovate them, and sell them at a profit for a living.”

            The man took a step towards me, and I thought he was going to take a swing at me for a second. That would have probably been a big mistake. I have a black belt in karate. It sounds impressive, but I haven’t really hit anyone since I was a child, so maybe I wouldn’t have done any real damage.

            He checked himself and said, “I guess I’ll be seeing you at the auction.”

            “I’ll be the one wearing pink with a rainbow colored lapel.”

            He kind of smiled at that last remark before he turned and walked up the street.

 

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            There’s a whole genre of movies where a tough guy, generally Clint Eastwood, comes into a corrupt town and using only the force of his will and the toughness of his hands, cleans up the place.

            It plays out good in the movies, but in real life, it happens live this: a homosexual couple finds a bargain house in a run down neighborhood. Generally the house is falling apart, but large and stylish. The couple buys the house, and using their taste, hard work and talent, renovate it. Soon their homosexual friends move in to find similar bargains and they sweat and toil. Then some artist or theatre people move in. Eventually normal straight people catch on, but by that time the property value has gone up, in direct proportion to the lowering of the crime rate.

What was once a scary crime ridden place has become a neighborhood where children can play in the street. It eventually comes full circle to where the original trailblazers, the homosexuals, aren’t welcome in the neighborhood anymore. That’s usually fine with us, because by that time we’ve moved on to the next run down neighborhood oozing with potential.

            It happened recently in Asbury Park New Jersey. Bill and I had gotten in at the middle of the boom. We’d both quit our jobs in design at Manhattan firms, and went at it full time after we’d bought and sold our third house together. It had been an exciting, and profitable couple of years, but we knew it was time to move on when some neighborhood kids spray painted Queermobile on the side of the beat up pick up truck we used to haul construction material.

            We asked around and a friend told us to drive through South Plainfield, an hour’s drive north in Middlesex County.

 

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            After we’d been bidding for nearly an hour, I caught a look on the guy’s face and I knew I had the house. I could tell Bill was mad at me for letting my emotions get in the way of our profit, but he didn’t push the issue.

            The black man walked up to me after the auction and said, “are you sure there’s no way you can back out and let me have the house? There’s at least two other houses for sale at this auction at a fraction of the price.”

            “I’m sorry, but I think I’ve fallen in love with this house.”

            “Is it because I called you a butt buccaneer, a sodomy scalliwag, a tuckus pirate?”

            “Actually you hadn’t called me any of those things; but it might have had something to do with it. I guess you hate homosexuals even more.”

            “Not any more or any less. I’m starting to like pirates though.”

            Bill came up to me after the man had left and said, “I overheard everything. The house is worth every penny just to stick it to that homophobe.”

                                   

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            And Bill was right. The house was worth every penny, but not for the original reason we though. We’d both fallen in love with the place, the angled gables, the charming round window in the quaint belfry, the wrap around porch. We decided to invest in another house, while we remained living in this one. We usually did almost all of the work ourselves but we hired sub contractors to take care of the work on our investment properties so we could devote our full time to our new house.

            I would catch the black man; whose name I found out was Alvin, occasionally standing in the sidewalk in front of our house, looking at it, seemingly noting the progress of our labor. I didn’t feel threatened or menaced by him. He was always respectful and he did live in the neighborhood.

            Bill or I would run into him at the food store or the Home Depot. He would politely ask us about the house, call us glutus gladiator’s, pole jumpers, joystick operators, dick divers, or some other name that somehow managed to colorfully link our alternative lifestyle to one profession or another.

 

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            I’d known I was gay probably since before I learned my ABC’s but, like may young homosexuals, I was initiated into my sexuality by an older man.

            It was the summer that my voice started to change. I must have been twelve or thirteen and my parents had taken us on a cross country drive. Both my parents were teachers so we usually had the whole summer to explore the country as a family.

            I’d had some pain in my teeth and my parents made an appointment with a dentist in a small town in Kansas. I was immediately drawn to this man, the slope of his shoulders under the tight green surgical smock, his closely cropped blond hair. I must have been flirting with him, on an almost subconscious level because I think I was too young and inexperienced to have seduced him on my own.

I don’t know how he got rid of his assistant, but we were alone when he administered some type of anesthesia. I remember the feeling as my whole body relaxed, and the excitement as his hand made it’s way under the cloth that he used to cover my body.

 

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            We had finished most of the hard work on the house: a new roof, siding, drywall and paint, and I was on the first day of starting the work on our garden when Alvin walked up, admiring our progress.

            “I’ve got to admit it; you rump wranglers have sure done a nice job on my house.”

            I put the shovel down and waked over to him and we both looked at the house.

            “Listen, I’m sorry about the way we started off, but since we’re going to be neighbors and all, I’d like to make it up to you,” he said, turning his attention from the house to the spot where I was digging.

            “What do you have in mind?” I asked.

            “I’m pretty handy with some tools; you’ve seen my work at my place down the street. Why don’t you let me build your garden?”

            I had seen his garden at his house down the street. He had done a wonderful job with it, building it on several levels to let the air in. He’d even built a mediation pool and stocked it with gold and blue carp. The offer was extremely tempting, and I though it over for a minute before I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t want to deny myself the pleasure of building the garden for myself.

            “I’m flattered by the offer Alvin, and I really would like us to be friends, but there’s some things a man has to do himself.”

            I could see the change come over him, from a furtive friendliness to a subdued rage. “I’m sick of you fags coming into this neighborhood, looking into things that are none of your business.” I thought he was going to hit me, but he just turned around and kicked our garbage can over as he stormed off down the street.

 

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            I went back to that town in Kansas once, when I was in college. I looked the dentist up, and was surprised to learn that he was leading a normal life, with a wife and a couple of kids. I followed him home from work one day, and sat down next to him in the bar he had stopped at before arriving home.

            The bar was a typical small time tavern, not the fashionable gay bar I would have thought my initiator would frequent. I bought him a round, and he seemed to take offense at my awkward attempts to renew our relationship. I don’t think he recognized me. He made an excuse and quickly left after his second beer. I wondered briefly if I had imagined the whole incident from the end of my childhood.

            Years later I think I might have figured it out. He was trying to live a normal life out here in the Bible Belt, all the while knowing, somewhere deep down, that he was gay. Then I was dumped in his dental chair. A person who instinctively knew what I was. I felt that I was perhaps his only experience of unrestrained joy in the knowledge of who he was, and I felt glad that I was a part of his real life; the one he had only lived briefly, on that hot summer day in the middle of Kansas.

 

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            It was two days later, almost dark on a Saturday afternoon turning into evening when I found the first bone. I thought that they had once ridden inside of an animal when I turned the first one over with my shovel, denying the obvious fact that they were too big for most animals native to New Jersey.

I had just uncovered the skull when I heard a voice behind me. I turned and saw that Alvin had somehow let himself silently into the yard, and had taken a seat in one of our lawn chairs. He had placed a half empty bottle of Jameson and a small pistol on the picnic table next to him.

“That piece of shit was a friend of my fathers,” Alvin said, taking a long swig out of his bottle.

I was very worried because of my isolated position. We had just finished putting a six foot fence around our property. Bill had gone away for the weekend to visit some of his friends on Fire Island, so I was all by myself and it was getting darker every minute.

Alvin got up and walked over to where I had been digging. He bought the gun and the whisky with him. He kicked the skull and it bounced off one of the posts supporting the new wall.

“Surprised how much weigh a fucker can lose over twenty years,” Alvin went back to the chair and sat back down in it, grabbing the bottle by it’s neck and taking another swig.

“You killed this man?” I asked.

“I killed an animal in my back yard. I was within my rights.” Alvin put the pistol back down on the table, but continued to cradle the bottle in his hands.

“What happened?” I said, walking slowly toward him, my attention never leaving the gun at his side.

“The thing is; my father didn’t believe us. I can understand him not believing my brother, he was a liar even at that age. But he had to know that I was telling the truth. The thing that really hurts, the thing that caused me to lure that piece of shit over here and put a bullet in his perverted head, is that my father continued to be friends with him; even after we told him. He’d have him over every Friday for cards.”

I reached over Alvin and picked the gun up off the table. I took a quick look at it as I walked back to get the other shovel from the shed. The gun was an old revolver. One bullet was missing from the cylinder. I guess the gun was only fired once, some twenty years ago.

I handed the spare shovel to Alvin when I got back to the hole. I threw the gun in, kicked the skull in on top of it. Alvin took a shovel full of dirt and joined me after I had shoveled in a layer of dirt on the bones.

“Bill wanted the garden on the other side of the house. Sometime you have to give in when you’re in a relationship,” I said.

 

                 The End