I don’t really believe in gaydar, but the flight attendant might as well have a pink triangle stamped on the seat
of his pants. Which I’m trying not to look at as he saunters up the aisle of the plane, snapping the overhead
compartments shut with a flourish.
I put down my newspaper; another headline about SARS, the latest mystery disease that has people afraid of
being in close quarters. The flight attendant - Jesse, according to his winged nametag - catches me looking at him.
“Can I get you something?” he says. I’m several thousand feet above the earth, eight months after 9/11, and his smile
is the first thing that’s felt dangerous.
“Um, sure.” I have the row to myself, and nobody’s paying attention, but somehow I feel conspicuous.
“Coffee, tea, or -”
“Never mind,” I say quickly. “Not right now.”
“Okay. Later.” Jesse strolls away with a definite swish in his walk. Does this one just flirt with everybody, or is
he coming on to me? I’m a 39-year-old guy with close-cropped blondish hair and a regulation gray business suit. The
most unusual thing about me is the bag of foreign language texts and interactive CD’s under the seat in front of me.
I get out my Japanese textbook, but I keep mixing up the ru verbs with the u verbs. When Jesse comes around
with coffee and prepackaged food, I try to think of something clever to say. Nothing comes to mind. “What’s on the
menu?” I ask.
“Filet minion, roasted truffles, and cherries jubilee,” he says, handing me a tray with something that might be
chicken. He’s got dark glittering eyes, and curly black hair long enough to kiss his collar.
“I’m sure I ordered Peking duck.” That gets me a smile.
After the meal, I try to think of an excuse to get him back here. It’s too early in the day to be drinking, despite
the loud demands of the man behind me, calling out in a Texas drawl for another bourbon. I hit the call button. A
female flight attendant looks back from the galley, but Jesse hurries past her to take the man’s drink order, then comes
to my row. “Did you need something?” He says it in a completely un-flirtatious way - maybe I was reading too much
into his smile earlier. I still haven’t come up with a good excuse. “Could I get a pillow?”
“Of course.” He pulls one from an overhead compartment.
“Tough times for you guys,” I observe. “First 9/11, now SARS.” Mentally I slap myself. Mention 9/11 on a
plane - not exactly a sexy way to start a conversation.
“Still love the job,” he says, helping me adjust the pillow. “I see the world on someone else’s dime, and anybody
gives us any trouble, the captain promised to drop us 10,000 feet and knock their heads on the ceiling. Better make
sure you’re strapped in.” The Texan starts loudly complaining that he’d like his drink sometime today, and Jesse moves
I finish a chapter in my textbook and start another. Jesse’s back and forth to the front of the plane, and serves
a couple more drinks to the Texan, who’s getting progressively louder. Each time, Jesse looks my way or brushes
against me. I try to come up with something to say, and nothing’s coming to mind. He starts back toward the galley,
and I put a hand on his arm.
“Can I get a Coke?”
“You’re kind of high-maintenance, aren’t you?” Jesse’s teasing tone keeps it from being a complaint.
“You have no idea.” My hand’s still touching his arm. I let it fall away.
When he comes back with the soda, he asks, “So what brings you to the Twin Cities?” Now he’s the one trying
to make conversation. Maybe I read him right in the first place.
“Family business. My baby sister’s in the middle of a breakup, and I’m helping her move back to Chicago.”
“Well, aren’t you a good brother. If I showed up every time one of my relatives got divorced, I’d never get to
The Texan is at it again. Jesse steps back to his row. “I’m sorry, sir, but I think you’ve had enough.”
“Whadya mean, enough?” he slurs.
“I’m sorry sir, but I don’t think you realize how much you’ve had. Besides, we’ll be landing soon.”
“Who do you think you are, you fucking faggot?”
“I am not a fucking faggot.” Jesse’s voice is low, but I catch the rest. “I am a drink-serving faggot. Or in your
case, a drink-cutting-off faggot. If I was a fucking faggot, I’d be with someone much better looking than you.”
“You just get me some Jack Daniels, faggot!”
I unbuckle my seat belt and turn around. “Mister, if he calls ahead to report an unruly passenger, we’re going to
be stuck on the tarmac for hours while they get federal marshals up here to arrest you. And I really don’t have time
for that.” I’m using my authoritative voice, the one that got my sister to behave when she was little. “So unless you
want to get locked up someplace where there’s nothing to drink at all, why don’t you just relax until we land, take a
cab to the nearest bar and go get drunk off your ass.”
The Texan glares, but he shuts his mouth. Jesse says, “This close to Canada, I was hoping for the Mounties.
Love those red uniforms.” He’s interrupted by the Captain’s voice over the intercom, announcing our descent into
I put my seat belt back on, and watch the flight attendants make the rounds collecting plastic cups and food
trays. When he passes me, Jesse gives me the raised eyebrow again, and a napkin flutters from the cart into my lap.
“You dropped this,” I say, then see the phone number.
Jesse’s already a couple of rows back, busying himself with other passengers. I slip the napkin between the
pages of my appointment book. My free hand curves to hide my wedding ring.
Six months before my sixteenth birthday, my father bought me a 1957 shiny black Mercury Montclair convertible, a ragtop. It escaped me at
the time, because unlike him I never had the hots for vehicles, but it must have been nifty, real neat, or as my best friend’s boyfriend
Scooter said when he saw it, “Bitchin’!”
Dad often gave me things he wanted for himself-like an accordion for Christmas when I was ten, a poodle puppy for Valentine’s Day, and
a movie camera for high school graduation. Whether Daddy used me as an excuse to buy a hip car or not, the Merc came in so handy and
made my life easier, better, and more grounded. It had a sharp black and yellow interior, automatic transmission, radio, heater, and electric
top retraction, but it didn’t matter to me if it was cool or fancy, only that it started up and took me wherever I wanted to go. I could depend
on my car and myself. My Merc was always where I left it, waiting for me.
Dad installed a wolf-whistle as a surprise and, as was the custom for cool cars in the fifties, painted a name, “Mme. Cherie,” in fancy
pinstriped script on the rear fender, which caused me no end of embarrassment. Madame?
One of my high school boyfriends had a souped up ’49 Ford named a discreet “Fabulous Fooler.” Outside, it was stock, but under the
hood there was enough power to catch unsuspecting drag racers off guard with the Fooler’s fast get up and go. Speed was vital to
“Bubblehead” Barry, but reliability was what was important to me.
Having my own transportation meant I could stay in the same high school until graduation. My parents moved house frequently, and
throughout my childhood and adolescence I changed schools every few months, which flipped me out. Until my Merc I depended on my mom
to drive me to school and my dance lessons. But with wheels, it didn’t matter that we shifted from one rented house to another all over the
San Fernando Valley. At last, I was able to keep my ties to school, friends and dancing.
For the first time in my life, I felt liberated. Alone in my car, I could go anywhere I wanted, with whomever I wanted, at any time I
wanted, so long as I had a dollar to buy three gallons of gas. I was in control of my own destiny. Now that I was behind the wheel, a car to
me meant the Land of the Free and my Mercury was a ticket to fly there.
When ultimately, at seventeen, I drove over the hill to Westwood to attend UCLA, the air was cool and fresh from the Santa Monica sea
breezes, the Village was old and quaint, and the University had history, tradition and knowledge along with the biggest library I had ever
seen. I was so glad to leave the Valley behind and to begin the life I felt was rightfully mine. It was 1960 and my world-the whole world-was
about to change forever. I couldn’t wait.