I was a taxi driver, just 18, working the overnights which put me on the street at 11pm. I got a call to pick someone up in an a neighborhood that was wealthy in its day, but now the small mansions were surrounded by the grit of the big city, within walking distance of the finest crack houses and brothels. That part didn’t bother me, I was the guy they called on to cruise the ghetto and housing projects in the wee hours, 22nd and Blaisdell was nothing to be nervous about, except they told me I had to pick the guy up in the alley.
It seemed way too fishy so
where normally I wouldn’t have made an issue of a fare I had to ask
“what the hell is this all about”. Turns out it was a halfway house for
the St. Paul archdiocese, a place where priests leaving the clergy were
housed and remolded into ordinary citizens. That didn’t really answer my
question, it still wasn’t an area where I should be cruising around in
the dark down refuse roads, but I figured if a soon to be ex priest
would brave the combat zone, so would I.
He was 15 minutes after
I’d arrived. I had radioed in and complained, it was a Friday night
after all and there were fares to be had. But they’d called and verified
so I stuck it out. Finally this really thin medium height nerdy looking
guy gets in my cab, breathless, as if he’d run all the way, which he
hadn’t. “Where ya off to” I asked. “Brass rail” he answered; “and don’t
worry about the wait, I’ll tip you.”
I swore under my breath. The
brass Rail was just downtown, probably a 3 dollar fare which meant I’d
make a buck for my half hour of screwing around. But what can you do. I
was gonna be a priest once, so I supposed I owed him some brotherly
forgiveness or something like that. I looked in the rear view as I
pulled out of the drive and into the alley. He was wearing the standard
Nehru collar blacks, the “collarino” only without the white square in
the center. I thought it odd. It didn’t seem to me that was
“regulation”, but I didn’t have time to try and conjure up a memory
microfiche of that page of the “manual”, the guy was leaning forward,
crossing his arms over the front seat back. He wanted to chat.
how are ya.” I was normally a pretty chatty driver, known to be capable
of completing a philosophical discussion between downtown and the
airport with almost anyone, including Dale Evans and Leo Buscaglia. So I
was pleased that at the least my crappy fare wouldn’t be a total bore.
good” I said. “I’ll be better when this shift’s over.” Never hurts to
remind the passenger I’m a workin stiff and could probably use a nice,
“Great” he said as he squeezed forward a little more,
almost enough to whisper directly into my ear. "Hey, you wanna know
Already I was thinking “well no, now that you
mention it” as his tone had changed and whatever was driving it I didn’t
like it. But hey, there’s that tip potential thing so I sort of had to
take a chance. “Yea sure” I said, “I’m always up for a laugh.”
would you say” he said in slo motion, like he was trying to draw the
words out because he thought I was Albanian and I might not understand
unless he talked real slow, “What would you say… if I told you… I was
late getting into your car because… I was busy givin a guy a blow job
and he just wouldn’t cum?”
I’m reasonably sure I stopped breathing. Luckily I once thought very quickly on my feet.
“Huh” I said, as if he had just explained to me that the moon’s circumference is 35000 miles. What the hell else would I say?
and where I grew up there was no such thing as “gay”. There were queers
and faggots and dykes, and they were different than the rest of us but
if you left them alone they’d leave you alone so outside of the real
assholes who wanted to prove their manhood by terrorizing someone “in
the family”, that’s just what we did. I hadn’t known anyone who
identified themselves as homosexual. Any male that seemed effeminate was
a fag, and any chick who seemed the part was a dyke and that was that.
The only people who were “out” at the time either worked at or
frequented a downtown bar called the “Gay 90’s” (go figure) which had a
stage and regular female impersonator shows.
But I did know two
things that slightly set me apart from my compatriots. One is, I was
called fag, more than once, and I didn’t like it. Not because of what it
implied as I had no question as to my gender and no curiosity to visit
“the other side”. It was used on me because treating women as worthy of
respect made me effeminate in my crowd. Not knocking a chick into next
week after her insulting me in public would mean I had left my testicles
at home in the sock drawer. I didn’t like it because of the contempt
with which it was said, the disgust it conveyed. And that was even while
it was half in jest. It made me think of “the second thing”.
spent a lot of time in restaurants at that age. I didn’t cook and was
too young to drink. (I didn’t like booze anyway so that part didn’t
bother me) So I (we) would take a cribbage board or a book to the Embers
on 26th and Hennipen and spend much of any non work day buying as
little as possible, drinking a lot of coffee and flirting with the
waitresses. (My first two wives were waitresses, so I must have been
good at it, or bad, depending on how you see it) That’s where I met Don.
retrospect I’m pretty sure Don was gay. He reminded me of Tony Randall,
physically as well as temperamentally. He ate dinner there every night
of his life and he’d always eaten alone until my wife to be introduced
us and I joined him. We became friends, at least, in house friends. He
was ten years older than I, but still interested in what I thought and
what my life entailed and my beliefs… he enjoyed my company and I his. I
said in retrospect I’m pretty sure; at the time I was positive. He was
single, always alone, quite effeminate, fastidiously dressed, had a self
created speech impediment; there was no doubt in my mind. And I didn’t
care. It’s no hero thing, had I been trained that way I suppose I could
have hated him as some no doubt did, but I just saw him as a nice guy,
albeit a little weird.
It was probably a couple years I’d broken
bread with Don. During that same time I’d used all the words in
conversation, talking about nebulous creatures who had no faces, those
“fags” we could roll those “fags” or taunt those “dykes” as if we had
people picked out and knew where they lived. It was teenage biker
braggadocio, pissing on trees, marking our territory. But the longer I
knew Don the less I enjoyed the banter, and those times I was called a
“fag”, made me think of people doing the same to him. I thought of the
fear, the shame, the anxiety, the scar. It almost made me physically
Still, I wasn’t so comfortable with the idea that graphic
depictions of homosexual sex didn’t throw me, and my taxi passenger du jour was unrelenting. On he went. There was this
guy, he was another ex priest to be ya know, and there was the mailman,
what an amazing coincidence he said, the mailman at his last residence
was queer too, and all I could do was grunt to show that I was listening
lest he grab my hair and shake my head, or maybe bare his incisors and
try to sink them into my neck.
I was confused. I’d always though the Brass Rail was a hetro strip club, and what the hell would this guy be goin to a…
was a pretty good hack. I was there in a flash, my ears burning all the
way. I couldn’t wait to pull away from the curb, leaving him in the
dust, washing the visual out of my brain with that of a hooker and pimp
combination. But no such luck.
“Geez, I’m afraid I don’t have any money on me. Sorry. I can get it inside though. C’mon in and meet my fiancé.”
course I went. I could have just driven off and taken the loss, but I
was already working for a dollar an hour, I didn’t want to make it zero.
Now I was becoming annoyed. It was bad enough I had to listen to boy
porn all the way there, but now I’d have to wade through the clientele
at a local gay bar to shake hands or whatever they did with a female
impersonator or cross dresser or whatever the hell it’d be just to get
my 3 buck fare and then most assuredly be stiffed on the tip, no pun
intended. I was seeing more red than people so I stayed at the bar and
waved him on, keeping an eye on his whereabouts so as not to lose him to
an open window and a dash down the street.
There was a big round
table full of priest aficionados. One of them was wearing a white
fluffy dress with a veil. I could only guess. Fiance. I returned the
wave and smiled at their laughter, knowing that I was the joke, and
patiently waited for his return. Meanwhile I noted the man next to me
peering at my leg, then my ass, my waist, my…
“I’m just a cab
driver, not a patron” I said, hoping he’d get the point without my
having to spell it out. “Too bad” he said, both relieving me and bugging
the hell out of me at the same time. I felt like I had to pee, not that
my bladder was aching, but that I wanted to run into a small dark room
and surround myself on three sides with structural impediments.
Father Faithful came back and handed me a fiver. “Keep the change” he
said as if he were a Carnegie. “Thanks” I said, as if two bucks in any
way compensated me for my troubles. “Pleasure to meet you” he said,
“sure you won’t join us?”
All that fag queer stuff blew through
my brain at a thousand miles per hour. Every stereotype, every nasty
catcall, every cruelty, and then it all vanished. This guy didn’t make
me angry because he was a homo, he pissed me off because he was rude,
presumptuous and a crappy tipper. “No thanks man, I have to make enough
to pay for dinner before the night’s over.” I had this tiny flash that
my clever retort might catch him unawares and he’d be so moved that he’d
give me another couple bucks just because I was worthy. But he’d turned
and wandered back to his clown car before “pay for dinner” had crossed
my lips. And so it goes.
I didn’t dwell on the experience. I did
tell the story a few times. Let’s face it, some dude telling a stranger
he’d given some other dude a blow job was fairly unusual in my circles,
and good for a laugh. God knows, as that was the type of adventure I had
nearly every night driving a taxi, I needed all the laughs I could get.
I might have forgotten about it altogether except for the
incident that happened a few weeks later. I was pulling an afternoon
shift and I had to move this guy from Nordeast to the “Men’s Club”
downtown, a weight lifting steam bath sort of joint even I knew was
homosexual territory. He was chatty, we talked about current events. But
then he began to compliment me; first for my obviously superior brain
power, and then for my he man physique. At first, and I mean for the
first two sentences, I was flattered. But quickly it became annoying,
then obnoxious and then outrageous. He asked me if I’d like to join him,
that it was a great club, that he could introduce me around. He said
I’d do well there, that I could be a body builder what with my shoulders
I said no thanks at first, no after that, repeatedly. He
wasn’t buying it. Apparently he thought I was being coy or something. He
pressed on and finally I reached our destination, pulled in, topping
the curb because I was in such a hurry I’d quit paying attention, and
reached back to flip the door handle open. He got out and stepped to my
window. which because of the one way street we were on was curbside.
Then, he grabbed me, insisting that I really wanted to take a steam
bath, that I’d really like it.
The event didn’t last long, I was
able to extricate myself firmly and without harming more than a few of
his fingers, but I have to admit I wanted to waste him. I waved his fare
and sent him on his way.
Later that night I had dinner with Don.
(Don and Ron… isn’t that cute?) I told him both stories, being as
careful as I could to not imply I thought there was any sort of
connection between him and them, yet hoping that he might have something
to say that would make the experiences make sense on some plane,
because… he knew something I didn’t. I was right. He did.
assholes” he said. “Man, you must have bad luck, I’ve never met anyone
like that in all my days.” We laughed. He was right. I have bad luck,
and he was right about them being assholes, and assholes are everywhere,
in every color and flavor imaginable. I thanked him for the reminder,
silently. I’m sure he heard me.