Now away we go
9 P.M. on a November Saturday. Joni, Tony, and I are out on
the town. Tony is from the next town over and he needs to get out.
His parents are extremely religious. It doesn’t even matter which religion
-- they’re all the same at a certain point, and few of them want
a gay boy cruising around with his friends on a Saturday night. So
every week Tony feeds us bible stories, then on Saturday we show up
at his doorstep well versed in parables and earnestness, dazzling his
parents with our blinding purity. They slip him a twenty and tell him
to enjoy our study group. We go spend the money on romantic
comedies, dimestore toys, and diner jukeboxes. Our happiness is the
closest we’ll ever come to a generous God, so we figure Tony’s parents
would understand, if only they weren’t set on misunderstanding
so many things.
Tony has to be home by midnight, so we are on a Cinderella mission.
With this in mind, we keep our eye on the ball.
There isn’t really a gay scene or a straight scene in our town.
They got all mixed up a while back, which I think is for the best. Back
when I was in second grade, the older gay kids who didn’t flee to the
city for entertainment would have to make their own fun. Now it’s
all good. Most of the straight guys try to sneak into the Queer Beer
bar. Boys who love boys flirt with girls who love girls. And whether
your heart is strictly ballroom or bluegrass punk, the dance floors are
open to whatever you have to offer.
This is my town. I’ve lived here all my life.
Tonight, our Gaystafarian bud Zeke is gigging at the local chain
bookstore. Joni has a driver’s license from the state where her grandmother
lives, so she drives us around in the family sedan. We roll
down the windows and crank the radio -- we like the idea of our
music spilling out over the whole neighborhood, becoming part of
the air. Tony has a desperate look tonight, so we let him control the
dial. He switches to a Mope Folk station, and we ask him what’s
“I can’t say,” he tells us, and we know what he means. That nameless
We try to cheer him up by treating him to a blue Slurp-Slurp at
the local 24-7. We each take sips, to see whose tongue can get the
bluest. Once Tony’s sticking his tongue out with the rest of us, we
know he’s going to be okay.
Zeke’s already jamming by the time we get to the highway bookstore.
He’s put his stage in the European History section, and every
now and then he’ll throw names like Hadrian and Copernicus into
his mojo rap. The place is crowded. A little girl in the children’s section
puts the Velveteen Rabbit on her shoulders for a better view.
Her moms are standing behind her, holding hands and nodding to
Zeke’s tune. The Gaystafarian crowd has planted itself in the
Gardening section, while the three straight members of the guys’
lacrosse team are ogling a bookstore clerk from Literature. She
doesn’t seem to mind. Her glasses are the color of licorice.
I move through the crowd with ease, sharing nods and smiling
hellos. I love this scene, this floating reality. I am a solo flier looking
out over the land of Boyfriends and Girlfriends. I am three notes in
the middle of a song.
Joni grabs me and Tony, pulling us into Self-Help. There are a
few monkish types already there, some of them trying to ignore the
music and learn the Thirteen Ways to Be an Effective Person. I know
Joni’s brought us here because sometimes you just have to dance like
a madman in the Self-Help section of your local bookstore. So we
dance. Tony hesitates -- he isn’t much of a dancer. But as I’ve told
him a million times, when it comes to true dancing, it doesn’t matter
what you look like -- it’s all about the joy you feel.
Zeke’s jive is infectious. People are crooning and swooning into
one another. You can see the books on the shelves in kaleidoscope
form -- spinning rows of colors, the passing blur of words.
I sway. I sing. I elevate. My friends are by my side, and Zeke is
working the Huguenots into his melody. I spin around and knock a
few books off the shelves. When the song is through, I bend to pick
I grasp on the ground and come face to face with a cool pair of
“This yours?” a voice above the sneakers asks.
I look up. And there he is.
His hair points in ten different directions. His eyes are a little
close together, but man, are they green. There’s a little birthmark on
his neck, the shape of a comma.
I think he’s wonderful.
He’s holding a book out to me. Migraines Are Only in Your
I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my heartbeat. I am
aware that my shirt is half untucked. I take the book from him and
say thanks. I put it back on the shelf. There’s no way that Self-Help
can help me now.
“Do you know Zeke?” I ask, nodding to the stand.
“No,” the boy answers. “I just came for a book.”
He shakes my hand. I am touching his hand.
I can feel Joni and Tony keeping their curious distance.
“Do you know Zeke?” Noah asks. “His tunes are magnificent.”
I roll the word in my head -- magnificent. It’s like a gift to hear.
“Yeah, we go to school together,” I say casually.
“The high school?”
“That’s the one.” I’m looking down. He has perfect hands.
“I go there, too.”
“You do?” I can’t believe I’ve never seen him before. If I’d seen
him before, it would have damn well registered.
“Two weeks now. Are you a senior?”
I look down at my Keds. “I’m a sophomore.”
Now I fear he’s humoring me. There’s nothing cool about being
a sophomore. Even a new kid would know that.
“Noah?” another voice interrupts, insistent and expectant. A girl
has appeared behind him. She is dressed in a lethal combination of
pastels. She’s young, but she looks like she could be a hostess on the
Pillow and Sofa Network.
“My sister,” he explains, much to my relief. She trudges off. It is
clear that he is supposed to follow.
We hover for a second. Our momentary outro of regret. Then he
says, “I’ll see you around.”
I want to say I hope so, but suddenly I’m afraid of being too forward.
I can flirt with the best of them -- but only when it doesn’t
This suddenly matters.
“See you,” I echo. He leaves as Zeke begins another set. When
he gets to the door, he turns to look at me and smiles. I feel myself
blush and bloom.
Now I can’t dance. It’s hard to groove when you’ve got things on
your mind. Sometimes you can use the dancing to fight them off.
But I don’t want to fight this off.
I want to keep it.
“So do you think he’s on the bride’s side or the groom’s side?” Joni
asks after the gig.
“I think people can sit wherever they want nowadays,” I reply.
Zeke is packing up his gear. We’re leaning against the front of his
VW bus, squinting so we can turn the streetlamps into stars.
“I think he likes you,” Joni says.
“Joni,” I protest, “you thought Wes Travers liked me -- and all he
wanted to do was copy my homework.”
“This is different. He was in Art and Architecture the whole time
Zeke was playing. Then you caught his eye and he ambled over. It
wasn’t Self-Help he was after.”
I look at my watch. “It’s almost pumpkin time. Where’s Tony?”
We find him a little ways over, lying in the middle of the street,
on an island that’s been adopted by the local Kiwanis Club.
His eyes are closed. He is listening to the music of the traffic
I climb over the divider and tell him study group’s almost over.
“I know,” he says to the sky. Then, as he’s getting up, he adds, “I
like it here.”
I want to ask him, Where is here? Is it this island, this town, this
world? More than anything in this strange life, I want Tony to be
happy. We found out a long time ago that we weren’t meant to fall
in love with each other. But a part of me still fell in hope with him.
I want a fair world. And in a fair world, Tony would shine.
I could tell him this, but he wouldn’t accept it. He would leave it
on the island instead of folding it up and keeping it with him, just to
know it was there.
We all need a place. I have mine -- this topsy-turvy collection of
friends, tunes, afterschool activities, and dreams. I want him to have
a place, too. When he says “I like it here,” I don’t want there to be a
sad undertone. I want to be able to say, So stay.
But I remain quiet, because now it’s a quiet night, and Tony is
already walking back to the parking lot.
“What’s a Kiwanis?” he yells over his shoulder.
I tell him it sounds like a bird. A bird from somewhere far, far
“Hey Gay Boy. Hey Tony. Hey folkie chick.”
I don’t even need to look up from the pavement. “Hello, Ted,” I
He’s walked up just as we’re about to drive out. I can hear Tony’s
parents miles away, finishing up their evening prayers. They will
expect us soon. Ted’s car is blocking us in. Not out of spite. Out of
pure obliviousness. He is a master of obliviousness.
“You’re in our way,” Joni points out from the driver’s seat. Her
irritation is quarter-hearted, at best.
“You look nice tonight,” he replies.
Ted and Joni have broken up twelve times in the past few years.
Which means they’ve gotten back together eleven times. I always
feel we’re teetering on the precipice of Reunion Number Twelve.
Ted is smart and good-looking, but he doesn’t use it to good
effect, like a rich person who never gives to charity. His world rarely
expands farther than the nearest mirror. Even in tenth grade, he likes
to think of himself as the king of our school. He hasn’t stopped to
notice it’s a democracy.
The problem with Ted is that he’s not a total loss. Sometimes,
from the murk of his self-notice, he will make a crystal-clear comment
that’s so insightful you wish you’d made it yourself. A little of
that can go a long way. Especially with Joni.
“Really,” she says now, her voice easier, “we’ve gotta go.”
“You’ve run out of chapter and verse for your study group? ‘O
Lord, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt, at least let
me wear a Walkman . . . .’ ”
“The Lord is my DJ,” Tony says solemnly. “I shall not want.”
“One day, Tony -- I swear we’ll free you.” Ted bangs the hood of
the car to emphasize the point, and Tony gives him a salute. Ted
moves his car, and we’re off again.
Joni’s clock says it’s 12:48, but we’re okay, since it’s been an hour
fast since Daylight Saving Time ended. We drive into the blue-black,
the radio mellow now, the hour slowly turning from nighttime to
Noah is a hazy memory in my mind. I am losing track of the way
he ran my nerves; the giddiness is now diffusing in the languid air,
becoming a mysterious blur of good feeling.
“How come I’ve never seen him before?” I ask.
“Maybe you were just waiting for the right time to notice,” Tony
Maybe he’s right.