Wednesday, August 22, 2012

DANCE DANCE DANCE by Peter Nolan Smith

After sunset AK, Pam, Helen, Carol, Rockford, and I ate a vegetarian dinner with Farmer Bob. He was tending to the flower plantation surrounding the bungalow. We drank five bottles of cheap wine and smoked his homegrown pot. Farmer Bob believed in nature’s way. The seven of us danced to the music on the stereo. The lack of neighbors allowed us to test the strength of her uncle’s Frazier Model 7 speakers and the walls vibrated with seismic shudders, as we pranced around the lawn to The Jefferson Airplane and Spirit. Near midnight Farmer Bob gave us the slip and soon after Rockford announced that it was his bedtime. Carol put on her shawl for the long walk through the floral fields to the professor’s house on the bluff. Helen turned off the stereo and blew out the candles, darkening the living room in stages. Carol lingered on the porch. AK and Pam watched the two of us. “You don’t have to sleep alone.” The young girl’s melted musk traipsed across the short distance between our bodies. Her almond eyes were flecked with green and her hand was warm on my chest. “I know, but you’re so young.” I had been resisting my desire for the past weeks, but my resistance was weak after a bottle of wine and a couple of joints. “You were young once. Young as me and not so long ago.” Her breasts pressed against my chest and I sagged against the door. Rockford was a lingering shadow against the chest-high flowers. “That was yesterday and yesterday’s gone.” I quoted from a Chad and Jeremy song from the 60s. “I can make it come back.” She was persistent for a good cause. I almost gave into her, but instead kissed Carol on the cheek. “Maybe tomorrow.” “You’ll regret this night one day.” She pouted and ran into the night to join Rockford. They disappeared into the murk within a few seconds. “And probably more than once.” I said to myself and rolled out my sleeping bag on the porch’s couch. “You’re a stronger man than me.” AK smiled entering the guest bedroom with Pam. “And you too.” I had yet to catch them kissing or exchanging intimate caresses. She was recovering from a broken heart and he had a girlfriend back in Boston. Neither of them spoke about September. It was only a month away. “Or stupider.” I cleared the table and told Helen, “I’ll do the dishes.” “She really wanted you.” The artist lingered by the sink. Her eyes studied my face, as if I were someone new. “And I want her.” I set the plates in the sink and placed the glasses on the counter. Not all of them were empty. “You care to explain?” She was stumped by my refusal. “Carol’s young.” “Carol might be young, but she’s not as young as you think.” Helen was a firm feminist and preached a hardline on man dominating women, so I wasn’t expecting her to say, “She’s probably older than all of us combined after what she went through on the streets.” “That’s true, but remember how I told you about that gang in the Haight trying to rip me off. The leader had a young girl. Her name was Floral. After I knocked out her man, she asked for me to protect her. She couldn’t have been any more than fifteen. I said that she should return home. She told me that the street was safer than her home and pleaded for me to take her with me. I gave her $20 instead. Carol had been this girl once.” “And you’re feeling guilty about not saving that girl?” I nodded yes. ‘You’re not as bad as I thought.” Helen patted my hand. “I’ve been on good behavior here.” I had lifted the toilet seat and washed my hands after every visit to the bathroom. “Your trip here was action-packed with ‘adventure’.” AK had told her about my winning streak screeching to a stop in Reno, Pam was my ex-girlfriend’s roommate, and I had informed her about my escape from the lesbian murderers in Big Sur. “I try to avoid trouble.” “Maybe you don’t go looking for it, but you have a funny way of finding it.” “I wish it wasn’t true.” She wasn’t the first person to accuse me of being a magnet for trouble. “Maybe it won’t be one day. You have a good night’s sleep.” Helen entered her bedroom, after which I washed the dishes and finished off the wine in the glasses. I folded the dish towel and walked through the quiet living room. Standing on the porch I peered into the darkness. Even the owls had called it a night. I stripped off my clothing and crumbled onto my sleeping bag with Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW in my hand. Within seconds I was out cold. Sleep came easy in this bungalow. Hours later the ringing of the telephone burrowed through the subterranean layers of my slumber. Neither Helen nor AK answered it and the caller gave up after fifteen rings. I sat up on the couch and looked out on the early morning. A thick fog muted the low mumble of commuter traffic on I-5. This time of year sunrise was a mystery to the beach towns north of San Diego and I resumed my sleep, which didn’t last long, for fifteen minutes later the caller showed more resolve by letting the phone ring for a full minute. I got off the couch and walked into the living room, where I picked up the receiver. “Hello.” The plastic was cool to my ear and I shivered in my underwear. Summer took its time getting warm in Southern California. No one replied from the other end and the connection clicked dead. I didn’t have time to swear at the caller. “Who was it?” AK asked from the doorway of the guest bedroom. With the white sheet wrapped around his body, the long-haired pianist could have passed for a young Roman senator. “They hung up. Guess I got to the phone too late.” I rubbed my face and pushed the hair out of my face. It was barely 7am. “Probably a wrong number.” AK tucked his makeshift toga tighter to his waist. “How you feeling?” “Like my brain is a bag of wet pennies.” The total worth would have been about $22. My temples throbbed with sharp jabs of a lightweight contender for hangover of the month. I needed more sleep. “I don’t doubt it.” AK was more into weed than wine. “You and Bob were sucking down the wine.” “I had the thirst.” And then some. The telephone rang again. I picked it up on the first ring. “Who is this?” “Victor.” The man answered with his a lazy southern accent. “Who’s this?” “Helen’s guest.” I motioned for AK to field the call. “I’ll pass you to AK.” “Who is it?” AK was dodging his girlfriend back in Boston. “Your friend Victor.” AK and Helen had gone to college with Victor. Our hostess was smitten by their mutual friend. She hadn’t admitted this love, but a bedroom wall was covered by his photos. I handed AK the phone and retreated to the porch, pulling my sleeping bag around my body. It had to be warmer than AK’s toga. Five minutes later AK sat on the rattan chair next to me. “That’s fucked up.” He picked up a half-burnt joint from the ashtray, which he lit with a match. “What?” I had been crashing on the couch for more than a month. I kicked in my share for food, but lately had been worried that I might have overstayed my welcome. “Should I find someplace else to stay?” “Not at all. Helen likes the company.” “Then what?” I asked with relief. I wasn’t ready to go back to Boston. “Victor has a problem.” AK scratched the bottom of his chin. He was trying to grow a beard. It was taking its time getting past the scraggly stage. “A big problem.” “Victor isn’t coming?” Helen had been preparing for his visit with the devotion of temple virgin. Flowers adorned the house and the rooms were spotlessly clean. “He’s coming all right and he’ll be here in thirty minutes,” AK spoke with the hushed tones of a confessional priest. “Oh, Helen will be happy to hear that.” “Not really.” AK leaned back to check the main bedroom door. It was closed and he said in a hushed voice, “Victor had a fight with Cuchillo.” “Cuchillo?” The name belonged to a bandito in Clint Eastwood’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. “Victor’s lover.” AK whispered, as if the porch was wiretapped by the FBI. “He sells drugs in Hollywood and Victor wanted him to stop.”
 “What kind?” “Not pot,” AK said with disapproval. “Oh.” Not pot meant cocaine. “Cuchillo said no and Victor left him. He’s coming here to hide out.” “A fugitive of love.” “You could say that, but Victor asked for me not to say anything.” “Does Helen knows that Victor is gay?” “Victor came out in freshman year. That didn’t stop her from loving him.” “Does she think that she can cure him?” Doctors and the Church had determined that homosexuality was a disease curable by shock treatment. The fag hags at the 1270 Bar were convinced that one night with a woman could turn a gay man straight. Both techniques’ success rate hover over zero. “She accepted him for what he is.” AK held up the joint. I refused it with a wave of my hand. I wasn’t getting stoned this early in the day. “Same as me.” “You’re gay?” “No, you really are dense after a drunk. I was talking about me accepting as a gay.” “Sorry.” I sat up on the couch and drank half a bottle of water. “You ever think you were gay?” “No, what about you?” AK’s answer was returned quicker than an Arthur Ashe’s forehand. “I had a stutter when I was a boy. The speak therapist in Maine said that it might develop into a lisp. He suggested that he cut my palate once of week to force my tongue to move faster. My father stormed out of the office and told my mother that there was nothing wrong with the way I spoke.” “I noticed a lisp, but never a stammer.” “I had speech therapy in Catholic grammar school.” “What’s that?” As a half-breed Jew AK was mystified by nuns and priests. “Saying the rosary so many times that your tongue was too tired to lisp.” 
I caught AK off-guard with that comment and he coughed out his last inhale of weed. After he recovered, I asked, “Why you ask me if about being gay?” “Because Pam said that Jackie told her that you went to gay clubs in Boston.” 
“She’s telling the truth.” “And you never did anything with anyone?” “Never farther than second base.” Telling the truth was hard in the beginning, but easier than having to make up lies at the end. “Going to bat is too far for me.” “I think I will have a little of that weed.” I took a hit, then said, “If we have a guest coming in twenty minutes, it’s time for my shower. I’ll make it quick.” I grabbed my clothes from last night off the floor. They didn’t smell dirty, but the towel hanging over the chair was damp. Nothing ever really dried in the evening mist wandering inland from the ocean. I went to the bathroom and turned on the shower. The water was hot and I soaped my body from head to toe. Five minutes later I exited into the living room. AK had brewed coffee. The acrid fragrance invited me to the table and the pianist served my coffee the way I liked it; milk and one sugar. “So Helen doesn’t know about Cuchillo?” “Only that he’s Victor’s friend.” “Friend?” “I guess it sounds better than lover.” “To someone in love with Victor.”
 “What about Victor?” Helen was standing at the kitchen doorway. Her pale skin was whiter under the red silk night gown. She brushed back her long brown hair. “Victor phoned about twenty minutes ago. He’’ll be here soon.” AK poured another cup of coffee and handed it to Helen. She liked hers black. “I thought he was coming this weekend.” She peeked out the window to the driveway. “He said there was a change of plans.” AK wasn’t saying anything about Cuchillo. “And you didn’t wake me?” Helen fussed with her hair. “He wanted it to be a surprise.” AK’s gift of improvising the truth was an unexpected benefit from his playing jazz piano. “Guess I’m not good at keeping surprises.” “Thank goodness you aren’t. I have to get ready.” Helen sipped at her coffee and retreated into the bathroom. “Quick thinking.” I glanced out the window. The fog was heavy this morning. The coffee cup warmed my hands. “You got that right.” AK turned his head. A large convertible was rumbling down the drive with the top down. A man was behind the wheel. There was no passenger. “That was a quick thirty minutes.” AK chucked the sheet into the guest room and then walked outside to greet his friend. I joined him on the lawn. The grass was wet with dew under my bare feet. While America was in the throes of a gas crisis and drivers were abandoning their Big Detroit cars in favor of smaller cars, the pale yellow Mercedes came to a halt in the driveway with European elegance. Victor got out of a yellow Mercedes Benz. The canvas top was black. The 250C was a car driven by the foes of James Bond or their boyfriends. The Mercedes stopped short of the bungalow. The driver shut off the engine and got out of the car. Victor was tall, lean, and moved with an innate grace of movement. “Nice ride.” AK hugged his friend. “In Hollywood people judge you by your wheels.” Victor’s athletic frame was devoid of muscle. He reached over to shake my hand. His nails were buffed by a manicure, but the brown-haired dancer had a strong grip. “Helen said you resembled a Neanderthal and she wasn’t kidding.” “I like to think of myself as the last of my kind.” Many people had commented on my brooding features and for the most part I considered the caveman comparison as a compliment. “Oh, I’ve seen a few more of your kind in my time.” Victor beamed a smile and his eyes had dropped to my crotch for a flicker on an instant. He checked my eyes to see if I had done the same. The instinctive act was like two dogs sniffing their asses. “I could have used you last night. AK says you’re a street fighter.” He must have heard about my confrontation with the thieves in the Haight. I had come out of the scrap without a scratch. “Anyone is in comparison to AK.” The long Islander hadn’t had a fight since grammar school on Long Island. I wished that I could say the same. “I’m a lover not a fighter.” AK grabbed two bags from the back seat. “Me too, so I dosed the brute with some ‘ludes last night. He crashed dead asleep and I hit the road. He’ll be fine. Cuchillo has family in LA.” The brevity of this statement indicated that this subject was off limits. “Where’s Helen?” “Here I am.” The young artist ran from the house. Her colorful silk dress trailed like smoke in her wake. Her face was besot by happiness and she leapt into the air. Victor caught Helen in his arms and spun on his tiptoes leaning back to support her orbit around him. This ballet grace was balanced by a surprising show of strength. Helen grasped his shoulders and Victor ended the impromptu ‘pas de deux’ with a gentle descent to his knees onto which he placed the breathless Helen. “Wow.” I had been to the ballet once in my life and recognized that Victor was blessed with the gift of movement. “Yes, very wow.” Helen clapped her hands with delight. AK and I joined her applause. “You’re too kind.” He released the painter with a gracious bow. “Did I miss something?” Pam stood at the doorway in a simple cotton dress. “Only the joy of re-union.” Victor beamed at the blonde nursing student. “You must be Pam. I’m here to join a commune.” “Commune?” Helen regarded her three guests and then Victor. “Yes, I guess we are a commune and now we have one more member. Are we in agreement?” “Yes.” AK, Pam, and I answered without reservation. “I love democracy.” Victor kissed Helen on the cheek and pointed to the fog overhead. “Is that overcast permanent?” “It will be sunshine and blue skies before noon.” “Glad to hear the weather will be fine. I could use a tan.” “Put his things in my room.” Helen led Victor into the house. AK room-serviced the bags into her bedroom. Once we were at the kitchen table, she leaned over to kiss him with a touching tenderness. “It’s good to see you.” “And you too.” He trumped with a lingering caress. He lifted his fingers from her face. The moment passed and Victor asked, “Who has reefer?” “I do.” AK rolled a new joint and the two of them smoked it. They discussed about college friends before Victor digressing to tales of auditioning for TV shows. “Can you imagine a boy from the sticks dancing on the Merv Griffin Show? My mother says those old cracker bullies are green with envy, because I dance with beautiful women for a living, although that might be pushing it a little. Those boys were rough with girls, fags, and cows.” He had been a soft-hearted Opie in a Mayberry filled with mean-spirited Barney Fifes. “So who did you meet so far?” Pam was enthralled by his encounters with famous stars. The names spun our heads. Hollywood was a world onto itself. “They love a new face.” He threw back his head to show his profile. I had to give it to Victor. He had style. “Especially if it’s young. By the way where’s your TV?” “There is none.” AK shrugged without an additional comment. “No TV?” Victor was visibly outraged by the sacrilege. We were brought up with TV as our God. 
“My uncle banned it years ago and I obey his wishes.” Helen smiled at Victor, as if he was a young boy punished for not paying attention in class. “Besides your hours exclude any prime-time TV.” “Who has the time to watch summer re-runs. I can live with no TV, if the rest of you can. Time for me to shower.” Victor spun out of the living room and glided the bathroom. “I’ve canceled my art class.” Helen went to the kitchen to cook a big breakfast. It was an official beach day and once the haze burned off, Victor drove us down to Moonlight Beach for another day beneath the cliffs. In the early afternoon Rockford and Carol enlarged our beach commune by two. We played frisbee, swam in the ocean, and sang songs with Rockford on guitar. The rising high tide forced us to retreat to the top of the bluff at sunset. “Is this how you spend your days?” Victor wrapped a sarong around his waist. The sun had kissed his skin gold. “It’s a good life.” Rockford had been living in Encinitas since the Spring. “Almost paradise.” Carol spread her arms to worship the end of the day. The rest of us joined her silent homage and Victor embraced Helen with tenderness. Today had belonged to paradise and we returned to the bungalow for a vegetarian dinner accompanied by numerous bottles of wine and reefer provided by our hippie neighbor. Victor assumed the role of DJ on the stereo and played on a series of recent R&B hits. “So what have you been doing for fun at night?” Victor asked with a joint in his hand. His body bopped to the music. “This is pretty much it,” AK exhaled a cloud of marijuana smoke. His hands mimicked the keyboard player on ROCK THE BOAT. He loved soul. “Reliving the 60s.” Victor sounded disappointed with our choice of decades. “Better than the 50s.” I liked hanging out of the bungalow and explained, “The bars in Encinitas are filled with crackers and they keep mistaking Pam for Patty Hearst.” Patty Hearst, a white heiress, had been kidnapped by the SLA. The revolutionary outlaws was led by Donald DeFreeze. The ex-convict converted Patty to their cause after her father balked at paying them the ransom. She joined them in a bank robbery, AK-47 in her hands. A firefight ensued with two civilians wounded in the exchange of bullets. The take was $10,000. The price of three Cadillacs. “You’re joking?” “No, twice a drunk idiot has called the police to say that the SLA are in the bar and ten minutes later the SWAT squad rolls with guns to arrest us.” “That could only happen once before the cops learned their lesson.” Victor studied Pam’s face. “Plus she doesn’t bear any resemblance to Tania.” “I agree.” Pam was blonde and beautiful, but our friend did bear a slight resemblance to the renegade heiress hunted by every police officer in the USA, especially after the LAPD killed most of the SLA in a Compton shoot-out. “We’ve called the Highway Patrol and local cops. They say not to worry, but once the crackers drink a few beers all they can see is Patty Hearst and start counting the reward.” “$50,000, right?” Patty Hearst was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. She was on the run with the surviving members of her gang. “Yes.” The cops pulled their guns on us every time, but they were more after glory than money unlike the drunks at the bar. “If only you were Patty, then I’d be rich.” Victor hugged Pam. “Just kidding.” “Thanks.” Pam didn’t find the joke funny. The SLA had ordered Patty Hearst’s father to feed the hungry. He had shortchanged the demand with rotten food. “There are other bars here. One down in San Diego called the Brass Rail is for people that are a little different,” Victor shrugged, as if we understood what he meant by ‘different’. “You mean ‘gay’?” I knew exactly what he was saying. “Yes, but gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, straights, whatever. Remember this is the 70s. The height of the sexual revolution. It’s time to explore our selves and if not that then to dance and have fun.” Victor reached over to AK. “And there are plenty of straight women in the clubs who love to dance with good-looking men.” “Plenty of men for you too.” AK might have gay friends, but he was 100% straight. “I’d like to see you dance with a man.” Pam sat closer to AK. They had been sleeping together for the last month. As far as I knew they had yet to consummate their relationship. “It might turn you on.” Victor changed the record to THE HUSTLE. “I like to dance.” Rockford rose to his feet with Carol. The two of them showed their moves. He spun her into his arms. Rockford was a surprisingly good dancers, but her moves came from another school than high school hops. The strippers at the Two O’Clock Lounge in Boston’s Combat Zone would have been jealous of her mindless fluidity. “I’m open-minded too.” “And I think they have two-for-one tonight.” This comment was directed at me. “Two for one?” I almost stuttered, because I was trying to digest Carol having worked on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. “Drinks.” Victor read deeper into my mind. “Is this still a democracy? Because I vote ‘yes’.” My high was getting tired of cheap wine and I wanted to see Carol dance more. “Who else is ‘yes’?” The vote was unanimous, although AK was the last hand to hit the air. The girls went to the bedroom to get dressed and make up their faces. “Now it’s your turn.” “Our turn for what?” “To time travel out of those Woodstock revival rags into the now.” Victor rummaged through his bags to outfit us in ribbed tee-shirts, bell-bottoms, and platform shoes. I waved away his offer and said, “I have my own.” “You carried platform shoes across country?” AK was surprised by this addition to my wardrobe. “Now I understand why your bag is so big.” Rockford was the one-bag existence messiah. Carol was his devotee and she disapproved of my excess. “You never know when something might come in handy.” I went to the porch and pulled my tan platforms from the bottom of my bag along with sky blue flairs and an azure tee-shirt from Italy. I changed into them and regarded my transparent reflection in the window. I was no longer a hippie beach bum and entered the living room to stand with AK and Rockford for Victor’s inspection. “How very Slade.” Victor referred to the English glam band. The four of us could have passed for a stranded glitter band from England. “Anyone ask tonight and we’re the Flash Band out of New York.” “You mean lie?” AK tended to not stray from the truth, which was easier to remember. “Just having a little fun.” Victor shrugged, as if he changed identities faster than his clothing. “Who are we?” “The Flash Band from New York on our way to LA.” Rockford was buying into the fantasy. “That’s the spirit.” Victor broke out a vial of white powder and gave us each two lines of pinkish cocaine. “Think of it as our sacrament.” “I have no trouble with that.” The powder snapped back my head on an elastic band. Cuchillo’s blow was the real thing and my heart raced to an imaginary finish line on a lost horizon. “It’s the drug of choice for the disco crowd.” We received a white pill stamped 714. “And this is choice # 2.” “No quaaludes for me. I have to drive.” AK handed back the pill. “And don’t mention this to Helen and Pam.” “Not a chance.” Victor lifted a finger to his mouth, even though his darting eyes were a dead giveaway to anyone versed in drug detection. The girls emerged from the bedroom in fancy dresses and high heels. Helen was splendid in a long rust-colored peasant shirt belted to double as a skirt, a bottle-green pajama pant suit opened to her navel, and Pam was a vision of disco splendor in a dusty pink two-piece wrap dress of Qiana. Sparkle make-up covered their eyelids and Pam had hidden her lustrous blonde hair beneath a sheer pink scarf. There was no mistaking her for Patty Hearst or us for the SLA. “I have to get a photo.” Helen picked up her Leica and snapped individual and collective shots in various poses choreographed by Victor. After a few minutes he tapped his watch. “It’s almost 9. Bars in California close at 1. If we’re going, we have to go now.” I was dying for another line, but Victor was more into hitting the bar. He had men on his mind. “I’m ready.” We hadn’t gotten dressed up to admire ourselves in the mirror and the seven of us piled out of the bungalow into Victor’s Mercedes. “You’re driving there.” He threw me the keys. “Why him?” AK was a better driver. “Because he looks like a car thief and you drive like an old lady in Palm Beach. The night gets old fast in California, so we have no time to lose.”
 Victor, Helen, and I sat in the front of the convertible. Pam, Helen, AK, and Rockford crammed into the back. I drove slowly down the dirt road, as Victor explained to the girls about our being the Flash Band and slipped the Rolling Stones into the 8-track. The first song was STOP BREAKING DOWN from Exile on Main Street. “Stones.” “Don’t say anything about the Beatles.” Rockford defended his band and explained to Victor. “He has a hang-up about the Beatles. Something about losing a girl in grammar school, because she was in love with Paul.” “I’ve never forgiven him, but I love John.” IMAGINE was one of my favorite songs along with WORKING CLASS HERO. “Long time to carry a grudge.” Victor was more forgiving. “Her name was Jenny.” At the end of the driveway I checked both directions and pulled out of the empty two-laner. Two minutes later I was driving down I5. Traffic was running at ten miles an hour over 55. The freeway was teeming with young people in cars. I maintained our speed with the flow of the other cars. Victor urged me to step on the gas. “65 is plenty fast.” The Mercedes was overloaded by two people and CHiPS loved stopping multiple violators. Victor directed me to the Brass Rail in Hillcrest. “Have you been here before?” AK asked his friend. “No, but I have good gaydar.” Victor lifted his hands like they were antennae searching other homosexuals. “Take a right here.” “My uncle once went to the Brass Rail,” Helen said over the Stones. “He and a friend stopped there for a drink in the afternoon. They thought it strange there were only men in the place and these men were writing notes to each other like high school boys and girls.” “I guess their gaydar was shut off,” AK quipped from the rear. “Or they were in the closet.” Victor pointed to a two-story building on Sixth and B next to a movie theater featuring porno movies. “This is the place. Park anywhere.” Anywhere was a difficult request. B Street was filled with cars. “Better I let you out and I’ll find a spot around the corner.” I pulled over to a bus stop. “Don’t be long.” Victor helped everyone from the car. AK had never worn platforms before and almost tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. The girls were experts in their heels. Victor led the way across the street with AK and Rockford escorting the three women. I waved to let the bouncer know that I was coming back to join my friends. 

I found a spot on 6th. Raising the roof of the Mercedes was beyond my skills. San Diego had a reputation for a safe city, its police were the pride of California, and I left the car with the top down. Walking in the platform shoes felt funny after wearing boots or sandals for the past month. Taller by three inches I checked my reflection in a store window. I wasn’t a hippie anymore. I was a dancing fool and picked up my step to the thud of the bass through the wall of the Brass Rail. It belonged to EXPRESS by BT Express, which was a big hit at the 1270 in Boston. The doorman checked my ID and I paid $2 to get in the bar. “We only charge on the weekends.” “What if we come all the time?” I had a feeling that Victor would be staying home much. “Then it’s half price.” “Half is better than full.” I entered the bar and my eyes adjusted a new world of loud music, bright lights bouncing off a mirrored ball, and men dancing with men. Victor was creating a sensation with his moves. Helen tried to keep up with him, but his every move expressed a rainbow of emotions under the phalanx of lights and he deserved the undivided attention of each man in the Brass Rail. My other friends were scattered about the club. AK and Pam rocked by the DJ booth. Rockford and Carol were hustling in the corner. Dressed in her disco gear the young runaway showed that Carol was no novice to nightclubs. San Diego was a big military city and a good percentage of men with the crewcuts were probably off-duty marines or sailors. The rest of the clientele was a mix of dykes, disco queens, attractive men, and stylish fag hags, mostly white unlike the 1270, which had broken the color barrier back in the 60s. The DJ segued into DOCTOR’S ORDER by Carol Douglas and amyl nitrate riffed in the air. It was dance time and I joined Carol and Rockford. She took my hand and led me through the complicated ritual of the Hustle. Twenty minutes later I excused myself, asking what they wanted to drink. They both wanted beer and I went to the bar to order three Coronas. Boston bars didn’t served Mexican beer. The first sip tasted like I could drink a dozen. “Are you new here?” The bearded bartender shouted over the music. “We came with our friend.” I nodded toward Victor. “Is he a professional?” He sported a leather vest without a shirt to display a hairy chest. He smelled of vaseline and poppers, his eyes suggested sex, and his voice confessed that he was open to anything. “You mean for money?” I was thinking rent boy. They haunted the Greyhound bus stations from coast to coast. “No one’s a hustler here. We’re all too busy giving it away.” The burly leather boy shook his head with a grimace on his lips. “I was asking, if he was a professional dancer.” “I think he’s been on the Merv Griffin Show and in a couple of movies.” HIs agent had been calling from Hollywood. Victor was in demand. “We have good dancers here, but he’s the best I’ve ever seen. When he’s done dancing, send him over here. I’d like to buy him a drink and your other friend too.”

“Which one?” I was thinking AK. “The blonde.” His was strangely secretive, yet directed his glance at Pam. “Will do.” I went over AK and Pam at the DJ booth. They were resting for a minute. HIs face was shiny with sweat. Hers glowed with perspiration. “Pam, the bartender’s offering you a drink.” “Why?” She peered across the dance floor through a gauntlet of stares. “You don’t think that they think I’m Patty Hearst, do you?” “No, someone would have said something or the police would shown up already.” I scanned the bar. The kidnapped heiress had gone to ground after the SLA shooting in LA. She had to be on the top of the FBI’s most wanted list. I didn’t see any police. “It’s nice being a nobody again.” Pam held AK’s hand. She had fully recovered from her broken heart. “And I’m a nobody too.” AK put his arm around Pam. Her arrival in Encinitas had made his summer. “Not to me.” The nursing student pulled AK to the bar. Several men danced closer to me. I avoided any eye contact. Dancing with men at the 1270 without any friends present was more comfortable than dancing with strangers in front of AK and Pam. We had mutual friends back in Boston and some segments of my life were better left in the closet. After GET DANCING by Disco Tex and His Sex-o-Lettes we gathered at the bar. I introduced Victor to the bartender, who served us a round of drinks. “Who’s driving home?” I switched from beer to Vodka-Tonic. A little less than two hours remained until closing. I intended on being drunk by Pumpkin Hour. “I’m feeling a little woozy.” Rockford said to disqualify himself. “Me too.” Victor threw his arm around my shoulder. “Thanks for introducing me to the bartender. He’s a hunk.” “He might be into rough sex.” Leather boys were normally into S&M. “That’s fine with me. I like everything and he asked if you’ll join us.” Victor whispered in my ear. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.” I preferred women to men. “I’m not drinking anymore.” AK volunteered for the duty, but his eyes were glazed from the cocaine and ‘ludes. Helen grabbed the keys. Her limit was two glasses of wine. The clock ticked faster with the approach of closing time. The DJ spun NEVER SAY GOODBYE BY Gloria Gaynor and LADY MARMALADE by LaBelle before closing out the night with WHEN WILL I SEE YOU AGAIN by the Three Degrees. After lifting the stylus from the turntable he wished everyone good night. The manager flicked on the harsh lights, forcing the crowd from the Brass Rail. Several huddles of men gathered on the sidewalk, each one selecting their take-out date with a lightning-swift decisions based on maximizing the sating of their lust. I led our group around the corner to the Mercedes, which was intact. “You didn’t put up the top?” AK checked the interior of the car. “I didn’t know how.” “Nothing seems to be missing.” In Boston the seats would have been slashed by vandals or the car stolen by joyriders. “I’m a lucky man.” I handed the keys to AK, who passed them to Helen. AK and Pam squished into the back. Victor lingered on the corner with the bartender. As I opened the passenger door, he ran up to the Benz. “I’ve decided to spent the night with Butch.” Victor rolled his eyes with anticipation of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Butch might not be his real name, but he’ll give me a ride back to the house. See you around noon.” He leaned over to kiss Helen on the cheek and skipped to the corner like a boy invited to a birthday party with endless chocolate cake. “There goes a happy man.” “Get in the car.” Helen started the Mercedes and drove away without a peek in the rearview mirrors. Her love for Victor was a little more than platonic. The couples in the rear fell asleep on the ride back to Encinitas. Helen dialed in a jazz station featuring Dexter Gordon. Passing the La Holla exit she turned to me and said, “I love Victor for being Victor.” “I can see that, but gay men like him don’t mess around with women.” She had to be told the truth. “He said long ago that he’s never slept with a woman, but also that if he did he would sleep with me. Believe me, I’m not waiting for that day, but there’s nothing wrong with loving someone for just themselves and not sex.” “It’s the purest form of love.” I loved women who would never have sex with me again. I couldn’t get them out of my mind, but Helen was speaking of another kind love than mine. “Yes, and it’s not one way between us. We love each other more than just friends. So don’t feel sorry for me. I know what I’m doing.” She was a woman and not a man. “I won’t.” I felt too sorry for myself to feel sorry for anyone else. We dropped Carol and Rockford on their quiet street on the bluffs and I heard the waves crashing on the beach. “You’re home.” I shook Rockford’s shoulder. “Cool.” Rockford kicked off the platform shoes and handed them to me. “That was a fun evening.” “You want to come in?” Carol directed the question to me. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” If I had been alone, I would have gone with her. “On the beach.” “See you then.” Carol ran into the bungalow with the heels in her hand. “Tomorrow.” Rockford shook his head. “You’re missing out on a good thing.” “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I had a good idea about my loss. Back at the bungalow the four of us retreated to our sleeping areas without much talk. I was a little wired from the cocaine and laid down on the couch. I read Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL, trying to memorize the opening. A light breeze carried the fragrance of flowers from the low mist and I fell asleep with the book over my face. The next morning I woke up on the porch, telling myself ‘never again’. I had drank too much, but thankfully the sun was blocked by a morning fog thick as the mist in a Russian sauna. I grabbed the bottle of water from the night table and downed most of it, then lay on my sleeping bag holding my head. It was only 7am and I wondered why I had woken up this early. The phone rang in the living room. Whoever was on the other end wasn’t hanging up until someone answered the phone and I shambled into the living room to pick up the receiver, expecting Victor, except a man asked, “Is Victor there?” This could only be Cuchillo. “There’s no Victor here.” It was the truth for the moment. “Victor went down to San Diego to visit a friend. I found this number on my phone bills. I don’t know what he told you, but he took my car. A Mercedes. I haven’t reported it stolen. Not yet. My name is Cuchillo.” I didn’t answer him, partially since I had racially stereotyped Cuchillo as a bandito parody of Cheech and Chong and this man spoke pure Californian without any hint of the barrio. “Are you still there?” I waited several seconds. “Yes.” “Just tell Victor to call me. We have to talk. He has my number.” “Okay.” I hung up the phone and returned to the porch. For the first time in weeks an unease snaked up my spine. AK needed to hear about the car. Telling Helen would be up to him. Sleep was out of the question and I picked up HOWL. Allen Ginsburg didn’t use commas. The best minds of our generation were awake on the East Coast. No one in this house was looking for a fix. Victor had a bag of blow. The poet feared the FBI on the West Coast. New York was dangerous, but a homoerotic rush for Ginsberg. I had felt safe here until this morning’s phone call and waited for my friends to rise from bed. It took them longer than usual. I didn’t get a chance to speak with AK in private, until Pam and Helen left for their art class. “What’s with the long face?” AK was sipping his coffee with pleasure. He had finally crossed the bridge with Pam. “Victor’s boyfriend called this morning.” I put Robert Johnson’s SWEET HOME CHICAGO on the stereo. Helen’s uncle had an extensive collection of jazz, blues, and classical. The rock and folk belonged to his niece. “He said he needed to speak with Victor and that the Mercedes is his.” “How’d he sound?” AK rested the coffee cup on the table. “Not angry. Only like he wanted to speak with Victor. He says that the Mercedes is his and he wants it back. So far there are no police involved.” The bungalow had no mail box on the main road and Helen picked up her uncle’s mail at the post office. “I don’t think that he can find us here, but he can find out which town we are in from the phone number.” “I’ll speak to Victor. It’s his problem, until it becomes our problem.” “And Helen?” She deserved a head’s up. “I’ll speak to Victor first, then her.” Helen was his friend. This was his call. The sun seared through the fog at noon and we walked through the flower fields to the beach. The swell was double-overhead with a treacherous shorebreak. Rockford had erected a shelter from driftwood over which he draped a washed-up tarp. AK and he played music to the slap of the surf on the sand. Carol stripped off her top and lay by me. “You’re not writing today.” “My mind is taking off the day.” “Good.” Carol snuggled next to me and I surrendered to her caress. The offshore breeze luffed across the sand bearing the fragrance of a cut lawn. Carol massaged my neck. She had learned the pressure points from an expert and manipulated the knots of muscles with a cautious gentleness. I shut my eyes and several minutes later caught up with my sleep missing from my morning. Some time later I woke to Carol singing CATCH THE WIND. She was keeping the beat with an almost inaudible clap of the hands and dancing in a sitting position. In 1965 I had bought the Donovan’s 45 at a record shop in Mattapan Square. I didn’t remember half the lyrics and listened to her half-spoken rendition. Carol shortened the closing chorus and I sat up on the blanket. We were alone. The wave height had dropped to five feet. AK and Rockford were bodysurfing in the lift of a hollow swell. Their arms scratched the surface with hurried strokes and they were propelled forward to vanish from sight, as the wave collapsed twenty feet from shore. I swept my arm around Carol. She turned to me. We kissed for several seconds. Her lips tasted of salt and a wisp of her hair floated across my neck. Helen was right. Carol was older than her years. We separated and she opened her eyes. Someone was standing behind us. It was Victor. “What a night.” AK’s friend acted oblivious of his obvious interruption of our intimacy. “I feel like Rome after the Huns sacked it for Attila.” “Good time?” Carol smiled with amusement at my annoyance. “Butch has left me a rag doll.” Last evening’s outfit emanated an odor of too much sex and Victor stripped off his clothing to reveal that his body had not suffered from the night’s excesses. “Who’s ready for a swim?” “I am.” Carol offered her hand. Victor threw back his head and vectored his sculptured frame to elegantly assist Carol to her feet. He was a master at transferring his innate grace to others. The two of them raced to the water. Carol was accustomed to the ways of the ocean and plunged under a crushing wave, which body-slammed Victor to the sand. The dancer floundered in the sucking undertow before another wave knocked him to his knees. He was no swimmer and I ran to drag Victor from the sea. He sat on the sand and coughed out a good amount of water. “Are you all right?” I helped him to his feet. “I am now. The force of that wave caught me by surprise. For a few seconds I thought I was going to drown and I wasn’t even in six inches of water.” “People drown in less.” We walked back to the blanket and he toweled himself dry without shame of his nakedness. As usual we had this section of the beach to ourselves. “I never was a good swimmer. Hell, I didn’t see the ocean until I was twenty. I went to Cape Hatteras with Helen and I almost drowned there. I’m better off in swimming pool in Beverly Hills. There the only danger is human.” “I don’t even see Carol.” Victor shielded his eyes with his hand. “She’s to the left of the surfers with AK and Rockford. Don’t worry, we’re all good swimmers.” I had been watching her in the surf. If she had been drowning too, Victor would have been lost at sea. I knew her longer. “Sorry about before.” Victor sat in the shade of our shelter, positioning a towel over his crotch. “And I’m not talking about almost drowning. I’m sorry about interrupting your moment with Carol.” “It was nothing.” I could have killed him. “Nothing?” He flicked sand on my leg like a bully on the beach. It was in jest. “Helen told me Carol likes you and you like her, but you have some stupid hang-up about her age.” “She’s seventeen.” And I wasn’t sure if she was that old. “And you’re twenty-two. Ten years from now you’ll be thirty-two and she’ll be twenty-seven. You probably won’t even look at her then, because she’ll be too old, so stop sweating the age thing. It’s so 1950s. I had a fight about my boyfriend about sex. He’s a little older and wants to be monogamous. I’m young and I want it all. I decided we needed a break, so here I am.” “On a sex vacation.” “Same as you for what I hear.” “I wish everyone kept their mouths shut.” “Yourself included.” “Me too.” There was little chance of that. “My lips are sealed, but only on one condition.” “Which is?” “If you make love with Carol, then you can tell me how it was.” He arched his eyebrows. His mind was filled with wicked thoughts. “I don’t think so.” “A few lines and a few beers and you’ll ‘fess all like you were on truth serum. You know I’ve never been with a woman.” “Helen mentioned that last night.” “She hopes that one day I might change my mind, but I’ve warned her time and time again that I’m gay and I knew I was gay from the time I was six.” “You played with your sister’s Barbie dolls?” The blank bodies were valued show and tell for most boys in the 60s. “Not Barbie or Ken. I like men in the movies; cowboys, soldiers, gladiators. I guess I had a uniform thing, but not the Boy Scouts.” “Plenty of uniforms in San Diego.” I thought about mentioning Cuchillo’s call, but that was AK’s obligation. “Don’t make me crazy.” Victor fell back on the blanket. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to get some sleep. I have a busy night tonight.” I read HOWL again, trying to memorize the lines, but could only remember ‘I saw the best minds of my generation’. I slipped the book into my bag and shut my eyes. I got some more sleep too. Before dinner that evening Victor taught us to dance as an ensemble. “The Flash Band from New York.” Thirty minutes and we were in synch. “No one at the Brass Rail will have seen something like us.” He was right. We wowed the crowd. Between breaks I kept asking AK if he had spoken to Victor about Cuchillo. “I’ll get to it. You should take care of Carol.” “I will.” We danced for an hour and then made out in the corner till the lights signaled closing. A minute later Victor vanished with the Prince Charming of his choice like Cinderella’s stepbrother looking for a good time. Helen drove back to Encinitas singing to the Maria Muldar on the radio. That night Carol slept on the porch with me. She woke me with a kiss in the morning. “I have to go.” “I can drive you.” I reached for my jeans. “No, I like walking. I’ll see you at the beach.” Her smile was a promise. AK, Helen, and Pam said nothing about Carol at breakfast, so I volunteered, “She’s a nice girl.” “Nice?” The two women laughed in unison. “Nice is for your cousins. You two have a nice night.” “Nice enough.” I flashbacked to her kiss. Helen and Pam drove off to their morning art classes. AK and I cleaned the house and I asked him, “Did you speak with Victor about this friend?” “Yes, he said that he would call him today.” “So we have nothing to worry about?” The yellow Mercedes in the driveway was basically a stolen car. “Nothing at all.” AK rolled a joint and sat at the piano to practice the piano progression for Horace Silver’s SONG FOR MY FATHER. I wrote in my journal about last night. Carol’s smell remained on my skin. I tried to resurrect the breathlessness of her passion. Every word paled in comparison to the reality and I put down my pen. I was never going to be a writer. As soon as the coastal mist cleared, AK and I walked down through the flower fields to Encinitas. Traffic was light on the PCH and we climbed to the bluff overlooking Moonlight Beach. Several surfers were at the break. No one was on the beach. “What do you think?” AK started down the cliff path. “Another day in paradise.” We swam for a good hour before Rockford and Carol descended the cliffs to join us at the driftwood shelter, which had survived the evening tide. We played music, wrote poetry, and discussed the menage-a-quatre of the ocean, sky, beach, and wind. Altamont had not killed off these days of Summer of Love for us. Helen and Pam showed up a later with fruit and water. We were one big happy family. Helen departed from the beach at 3 to be at the bungalow. “Victor’s coming back to practice. I’ll play piano for him.” “You?” AK was a little upset that he wasn’t asked to accompany Victor. “He likes to practice to classical, not jazz.” AK helped her up the bluff and returned several minutes later. “Are you upset?” I asked him. “No, Helen and Victor have a special relationship. Better for me to stand aside.” That evening we left the beach before sunset. Carol and Rockford stopped at the professor’s house to pick up clothes for the evening and the five of us walked along the small path in the thickening dusk. We heard the music before we saw the bungalow. We stopped at the edge of the lawn and looked inside the bungalow, lit windows. The living room had been cleared of furniture. Helen sat at the piano. Victor was stripped to his shorts and poised on his toes. Her fingers delicately tapped the ivories to play Francoise Hardy’s LE TEMP D’AMOUR. His body spun a spell, as Victor was tossed across the room by an invisible Apache partner, mesmerizing the three of us in stunned admiration. I had known that he was good, but not this good. Helen stuck the coda and we applauded his effort. Victor turned with a smile and walked onto the porch. “How long have you peeking toms been there?” His white skin was glistening with a cloak of sweat. “Less than a minute.” Rockford walked across the grass and hugged the dancer. “But each second was an eternity and I have to say that you did is something that can’t be learned. It’s in your heart and soul.” “Thanks.” Victor was appreciative of praise and led the hippie into the bungalow. “My mother took me to the ballet once. I think it was Swan Lake. You died better than the ballerina.” Carol entered the living room blessed by wide-eyed awe. “Helen, give this man and woman a glass of our best wine.” Victor positioned Rockford to the stereo. “This evening you’re the pre-dinner DJ. Spin your best.” “I can only try,” the Iowan replied with a dry grin, as Victor disappeared into the bathroom for a shower. The rest of us arranged the furniture to their common position and prepared food for dinner. A glass of wine was close at hand. Rockford put on Lennon’s IMAGINE. “Talk about ‘imagine’, the Court decided against Nixon. He had to provide the tapes,” Helen said, chopping lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions for a salad. The bungalow teemed with health and youth. “Congress will vote for impeachment.” AK placed a pot of water on the burner. Pasta was our staple. Salt, butter, pepper, olive oil, and garlic accompanied spaghetti. None of us was a chef, but we were well-fed. “Nixon will resign.” Rockford was trying to choose between BLUE and John Coltrane. “Ford will be president.” Some parts of the future was clear to me. I also knew that the Red Sox weren’t going anywhere this year. The injury to catcher Carlton Fisk had killed our season. “We’ll abandon Viet-Nam.” Pam was a little more right than the rest of us. “Saigon will fall.” Helicopters would flee the skies. Ships would sail east. People left behind would have to fend for themselves. It was an old story “It was always a deck of cards. I was in Viet-Nam in 1964. I enlisted after college, thinking it was better than being drafted. I did my time and never fired my rifle. I was lucky.” Moonlight Beach was as close as any of the rest of us had gotten to Viet-Nam and after a few seconds I said, “I tried to enlist at seventeen. My mother had refused to sign the papers.” “Then you were lucky too, because in the late-60s Nam was shit, but it wasn’t so bad back when I was there and one day it won’t be so bad again. Same as here.” Rockford pulled out BLUE and cued up ALL I WANT. It was a favorite for the girls and they sang along with Joni Mitchell. AK, Rockford, and I joined them on the chorus detaching our lives from the Watergate, Viet-Nam, Nixon, and the price of gas, for this bungalow existed on another plane than the rest of America and we were wise enough to not question which one. AK lit up a joint. I took a puff and passed it to Carol, who was wearing a maroon scarf around her breasts and an orange sarong about her waist. Her runaway eyes rolled into the back of her head, as she inhaled, as if this hit was the last air on earth. Getting high was in her blood and she gazed at me with a young girl’s desire for an older man who wasn’t that much older than herself. Dinner wouldn’t be ready for another fifteen minutes and I went to the bathroom to shower off the salt of the sea, half-expecting Carol’s knock on the door, but instead a deep rumbling shook the bungalow from the bowels on the earth. The shuddering lasted a short time and I thought that it was strange that a train was running so close to us. After the shaking subsided I exited from the steamy bathroom to an empty house. Everyone was standing on the lawn. “So that wasn’t a train.” It was my first earthquake. “No, a small tremor, but always best to get out of the house in case it gets worse.” Rockford looked into the trees. An owl hooted from its hiding place and my friends entered the bungalow. “I’ll remember that next time.” It felt a little strange having been abandoned by my friends, however scientists had long been predicting an epic tremor for Southern California and no one could take a chance of getting caught by the Big One, so it was everyone for himself or herself. Dinner conversation was dominated not by earthquakes, but Victor’s recounting of his recent sexual encounters, which he toned down for the girls, although Rockford, AK and I deciphered these exploits’ degree of XXXness through the prism of his lurid facial expressions. After dinner Victor pulled out the bag of cocaine, while the three women prepared for yet another night at the Brass Rail. His stash wasn’t getting any smaller and Victor propositioned Rockford and me, “If you dealt a little blow at the bar, I could front you a couple of grams. It’s a good way of making money.” “I tried dealing before. A little grass and LSD during college. I broke even between people not paying me and rip-offs. So count me out.” “I got arrested for dealing three years ago,” Rockford announced in a quiet voice. “What happened?” AK liked smoking pot. The rest of it was too heavy for him. “It was a case of mistaken identity.” “How so?” “I thought these two hippie dealers were cool, but they were narcs. Like I said. It was a case of mistaken identity and I did a few months in prison.” A few sounded more like six than three. “After that I’ve steered clear of dealing, but thanks for thinking of me.” “No worries.” Victor stashed the bag in his jeans, hearing the bedroom door open for Helen, Pam, and Carol. They were ready for a night at the disco and we left within minutes. The Brass Rail had become increasingly more packed every night. We were on a first name basis with the regular clientele. People bought us drinks. The drag queens chased after Rockford to convert him to their cause. The devout hippie loved dancing with trannies and they loved him. “They make me feel like a man.” Rockford glowed in their presence. “And they make me feel like a little girl.” Victor cooed, for the queens towered over everyone in their vertiginous platform shoes. That evening AK and Pam danced together without any room for the Holy Ghost. No one ever interfered with them, almost as if they were royalty, while Victor lifted the level of everyone’s dancing. At the moment he was taking a break with a ruggedly handsome man with a remarkable resemblance to a Marlboro Man. Helen was speaking with the new man, as if they were going to be best friends. There wasn’t a jealous bone in her body, since her relationship with her old college friend was strictly platonic. “They look like a nice couple.” Carol commented, as we caught our breath between dances. “Victor makes anyone look good.” He had really hit on me after that first night. "No, this man is someone special. Look at the way the two of them hold each other.” Carol admired the two of them. “It looks like typical groping to me.” I gave the romance a life expectancy of ten hours. “You men are so blind.” Carol stormed off to join Helen, Victor, and the handsome man. I still didn’t see what she saw, but five was three more than a company for the two men and I maneuvered my way to the bar. Butch came right over with a cold beer and said, “Your friend certainly gets the pick of the litter.” Butch had been Victor’s first night conquest. Since then Helen’s beau had tallied at least one kill a night and I asked, “I doesn’t bother you that he goes were someone else.” “Not at all. Well, maybe a little bit, but we gays were repressed for so long that now we’re free to be who we are with whomever we want and that’s more important than love at this point. The straights might think we’re a little crazy and maybe we are, but for us sex is an exploration of the soul as much as the body. It’s the new frontier. Care for another drink?” “Sure, thanks.” Drinking off the kindness of strangers was a bonus of knowing Victor. “I want to thank you for treating us so good.” “It’s a pleasure and honor to help you and your friends.” His whisper teemed with pride. “Help what?” My confusion had nothing to do with drinks. “You people.” These two words were said with a conspiratorial hush. “Us people?” I had a bad feeling about this insinuation. “Yes.” Butch’s eyes swung across the room to Pam. “None of us can believe that you’d hiding in a gay disco.” “Hiding?” I was getting a bad feeling about his meaning. “Yes, you and Tania.” “Oh.” It became all too clear with the mention of that name. Somehow the staff and clientele of the Brass Rail had decided that Pam was Patty Hearst and we were members of the SLA or Weather Underground. “You’ve got this all wrong. We’re just plain people.” “Your secret is safe with us.” Butch raised a clenched fist. “Power to the people.” I covered my face, as he left to serve two men are the end of the bar. They wore black suits, white shirts, and dark ties. Butch served them sodas. They were checking Pam from head to toe and I suspected that they were undercover from an organization with more authority that the San Diego police department. There was only one of those in the USA and it answered to the supreme lady boy J. Edgar Hoover I went over to Victor and Helen. Carol wore a smug expression and stood close to the blonde stranger. His eyes were jewels and his face shouted he-man. Carol said, “I told you this man was different.” “You’re certainly handsome.” I couldn’t help staring at him. He was that good- looking. “Thanks.” He had heard the compliment thousands of times and stuck out his hand. It was large and meaty. His middle finger tickled my palm. I didn’t respond in kind and the handsome stud frowned before introducing himself, “The name’s Cuchillo.” “Cuchillo?” This man was the antithesis of my mental stereotype. “Yes, I spoke to you on the phone.” He put his arm around Victor. “We’ve come to an agreement.” “I can fuck people if he fucks them with me.” “Congratulations, but we have a situation. One of mistaken identity. Everyone in the bar thinks Pam’s Patty Hearst and we’re the SLA. That’s why everyone’s been coming here. Not to see your dancing, but to be part of the scene with the SLA.” “You’re joking.” Victor was disappointed by the truth. “Everyone’s a starfucker one way or the other.” Patty Hearst was bigger than us. “I thought you were joking about Pam resembling her.” Victor laughed, as if I were fucking with his head. “No, it was never a joke and neither are the couple of undercover cops watching her.” “You’re just being paranoid.” “No, I’m not.” I nodded toward the end of the bar. Victor’s eyes widened with alarm. He had a bag of blow in his pocket. “How are we going to handle this?” Victor was carrying drugs. Class A possession was prison time. He looked ready to run. “By not panicking.” Carol lifted her palms. “I’ll handle this.” “How?” My vote was for running. “By telling the truth. It does set you free.” Carol smiled with benign confidence. The young runaway’s only crime was leaving home. She took my hand and led me over to the two plain-clothed detectives. They backed up with hands reaching under their jackets. Their back-up were by the exits. They looked nervous. One of them spoke into a walkie-talkie. The person at the other end couldn’t have heard him over THE BUMP. Carol lifted her shirt and wheeled around the two officers, then leaned over to speak with them. ”I know what you’re thinking, but you’ve wrong. That girl over there is not Patty Hearst and we’re not the SLA. I know you’re dying to be a hero, because my father was a cop. Out in Bakersfield.” She was snitching herself out. “He’d want the same thing and I can’t blame you for wanting the same thing.” Neither of them said a word. Carol knew how to work men. “You know why you’re in here.” She leaned into the both of them. “Because you’re low man on the totem pole, but don’t worry no one’s getting shot tonight, unless you shoot them and you don’t want to do that, do you?” “She’s not Patty Hearst?” The younger sounded relieved by this news. He was wearing a wedding ring. “Not even close. She’s a nursing student from Buffalo. We all have ID. None of us have guns. Can you tell the other officers to stand down?” “I’ll see that I can do.” Two hours later the FBI and their SDPD back-up teams drove away from the Brass Rail. The boys on the sidewalk seemed to be disappointed by our turning out to be normal people. Butch, Cuchillo, and Victor ignored the comments and we walked back to the Mercedes. AK and Pam were the last to get in the car. She hadn’t said much through the entire interrogation session. She was tired of the forced impersonation. AK walked her to the car. It wasn’t easy being Pam these days. The Mercedes was packed to capacity. Cuchillo was at the wheel. Helen and Victor were in the front street. Carol, AK, Rockford, and his drag queen date were in the back. Butch came over and asked if Carol and me needed a ride. She looked across the street. A hotel offered cheap rooms. I said no. “Sleep?” I asked Carol. The police andFBI were departing from the scene of the non-crime. We were free to go wherever we wanted in this world. “After.” She took my hand and kissed Butch good-night. It was only four hours until the dawn and I had a feeling that Carol and I would take our time getting there.

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