Ssssssshhhh!

Westminster’s Best in Cement. Billy’s latest collectible obsession

“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.

A replica of Billy’s torso (allegedly) with concrete canines in situ.

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.

What did he do now?

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.

Back in the day

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.

Drive-by photo shooting.

Pear Picking in the USA

In my cousin Carol Ann’s backyard.

Last fall I took a no expenses paid trip to the mid-west. The region was in crisis. The local Fort Wayne Steak and Shake could not maintain regular business hours.

This franchise had experienced numerous unscheduled closures. Either they didn’t have enough staff to open or no-shows at shift changes forced shutting down in the middle of the day. Hiring was at a standstill, the usual suspects had no interest. High school kids couldn’t stomach the idea of working fast food. Immigrants preferred the underground economy to rampant xenophobia.

If capitalism is dependent on cheap labor, this trend could spell trouble. Ray Kroc might have to rise from the dead to demand: “Mr. Trump, tear… down….. this…. wall!”

 

Studying growth patterns to formulate picking schemata.

In retrospect the skyrocketing prices of Imodium should have been a tip-off. Of the many acronyms I’ve been diagnosed with, I’ve had some success controlling IBS with a gentle dose of loperamide. I know something about this shit. Two years ago 100 tabs cost $11 on Amazon. Today my local Walgreens sells 12 for $7.

It’s part of the FDA’s feebly belated attempt to control opiates. Apparently each tab contains a small trace of narcotic. Taken in huge quantities they get you off. If pain meds can’t be refilled or your dealer is out of China White, crush up a hundred little blue blockers instead. It must be a hell of a high if the trade-off is eight months without a bowel movement.

OxyContin seems to be the root of this generation’s problems. These Oxyennials have overindulged in the deadly cocktail of opiates and video games. The result is a bunch of apathetic lemmings primed to be led over the cliff by the next great dictator.

Going that extra mile to pull in a bumper crop.

I ran these ideas past Billy when I was home but he wasn’t buying them. He’s the oldest openly gay man on the planet and a major reason I go back to Indiana. He will be 87 on St. Patrick’s Day and has one of the most wicked senses of humor of anyone I know.

When he opened Fort Wayne’s preeminent beauty salon in 1959 he made no apologies for being gay. He was having too much fun to feel any shame. He owned his business so he didn’t worry about being fired and he was so charming all of the society women befriended him. I’ve always admired him for what he did because not many did at the time. It would be another 15 years, for example, before Harvey Milk deigned it safe to come out.

Because people accepted him didn’t mean they wanted to understand him or lose their prejudices. They just didn’t talk about it. Fort Wayne has always been very conservative and remains so today. The surprising thing is Billy has been a life-long Republican too.

When I had the condo in Fort Wayne, people visited from around the country. Billy always enjoyed these occasions because he shared many of their interests and no longer had a local outlet for them. He, in return, was a hit with my friends because he was unlike anyone they expected to meet in Indiana.

One evening my Kentucky Derby hosts, Jan and Mar, stopped on their way back to New Albany. Billy joined us at dinner for a rollicking good time. He still talks about how open and accepting they were compared to heterosexuals he knows. When I point out the link between their political thinking and social justice he will have none of it. To him they are simply good people.

This red state/blue state thing may just be a lot of blind allegiance. Like picking a sports team, my Dad was a Bear’s fan so I’m one too. Billy is bored by politics and puts little energy into it. It’s such a minute component of his personality, I can live with that.

I may have lost the battle but overall I think I won the war. Billy has been a friend to my Mother and me since I was a teenager.

Billy leading the Peru High School Band down Main Street in 1948. There’s a discernible hitch in that get-a-long that fortold greater things.