“Oh god, it’s him again,” the snotty voice says in an aside to someone else, “I can get rid of him quickly.” A second later there’s a feeble, “hello?”
That’s the way my 87-year-old friend Billy answers the phone when I’m in Fort Wayne. He’s using state-of-the-art caller id technology to let his friends know exactly how he feels about them.
I’m on the banks of the Wabash this week visiting friends and family in Indiana. Highlights of the week include sleepovers with the kids (being taught chess by a five-year-old is a trip), and anytime I spend with Billy. Which I do daily.
Despite his snobby phone demeanor, Billy has always been open to anything. It makes him fun to hang out with. His ken for the offbeat led to the discovery of the Quiet Corner near Churubusco.
Busco, to the locals, is a bedroom community of 1000 located approximately 15 miles northwest of Fort Wayne. It is surrounded by cornfields and Amish pastures that provide a pervasive waft of aromatic manure that is breathtaking.
Amongst the corn and the poop, Billy found a tea house surrounded by emptiness. It is octagonal shaped with a central dinning room for light, homemade lunches. For the dessert (or, more accurately, pie) course, one takes their coffee onto the screened-in porch and is served in a rocking chair. You gaze directly into a wooded stand of forest 15 feet away. Rock me baby, rock me all night long.
Billy is one of the few friends who’s ever said they’ve found me to be a calming influence. So we feel right at home in Busco. If it weren’t for the oppressive Christianity that is everywhere.
There are bible verses inscribed in the molding, atop the furniture, framed on the walls, included in the menu, posted on the lawn–you can’t fucking get away from them. The gift shop is nothing but.
Which brings us to the strange dance of denial that goes on between Christians and gays in the heartland. In the abstract we’re reviled. In the now, we’re loved–as long as we don’t bring the subject up.
For gays, the price of admission to the wonderful strangeness of places like Quiet Corner is to keep your mouth shut. It’s not the ideal solution but it works. For now. It obviously should not continue but we’ll have to pass that torch on to a new generation.
This trip we squared the country mile for about 45 minutes searching for our little piece of nothingness. There are no posted signs. When we finally happened on it we found, to our dismay, it was closed. Hopefully just for the season.
Billy refused to get out of the car to sit for a portrait. We settled instead for a selfie from the front seat of our Buick 6.
I’ve been charming older women since my days at Cantara Street Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley. I had my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Leventhal, wrapped around my little finger. I’m beginning to worry, however, this skill will atrophy. There aren’t too many left who fall into that demographic.
The talent was in full force on our first visit to the Quiet Corner seven years ago. As Billy and I entered the tea house that day, we were met by four elderly women on their way out. Brimming with excitement after their big adventure, one asked if I would mind taking their picture. Of course I wouldn’t.
When I handed the camera back to her, she thanked me repeatedly then added, “there will be jewels in your crown.”
How she knew about my pageant work I’ll never know.