Sorting through old documents, I came upon this essay that I wrote sometime in the 90’s. I was tempted to edit or rewrite and then reconsidered. Even though it’s a bit long for this 140-character world of readers, I left it as is. It may not have a shelf life label of “history”, but it does show how times have changed (or not).
After Six O’clock
Turning the clocks ahead each fall always saddens me little. Not that it matters to me about how dark it is in the morning, although I do prefer walking the dogs in the early light instead of under the guide of street lights. But the early afternoon darkness signals not only cold evenings and pre-dinner headlights but a form of cocooning which happens in the neighborhood. I no longer see the kids chalking the sidewalks in the never changing hopscotch grid before bedtime. I can’t visit with my neighbor and sometime fishing buddy as he practices casting on his manicured lawn to a chorus of invisible cicadas.
So much of our lives become intimate after the sun goes down, after we securely close the front door and turn the porch light off, after six o’clock. That’s the time we change from the standard ‘biz’ attire whether it be a dark suit and white shirt, a uniform of blended polyester, high heels or wing tips, into our ‘comfies.’ My comfort duds are fairly standard, I think; baggie blue jeans, an old sweatshirt turned inside out, and tennis shoes which cost more than the good suit I wear to work.
After six o’clock, unless I have plans, no one shares in this comfort zone of mine. I talk on the phone or watch TV or work at my computer and basically feel, for lack of a more clever word, comfortable.
This past summer I visited my friend Michael in Oakland, California. Michael and I met several years ago when I was dating his roommate and although that relationship went by the wayside, our friendship stayed and grew and though we live miles and miles apart he’s the friend I can call anytime, anywhere and know he’ll be there. I hope and believe the feeling’s mutual.
So, we’re having dinner in his home; Michael, his friend Don from Indiana, Kay, my life partner, and me and our discussion in addition to ‘How did you make this sauce?’ and ‘Did you see that movie?’ turned to race and understanding. This was not the most balanced of forums. First, of all, we were all gay at the table, although Don and I had been married (to other people) for a number of years and secondly, only Michael was Black, or Afro-American. Don and Kay and I are White, or Caucasian. (Please feel free to nestle into your particular comfort zone of terminology.)
Michael’s point was that, “yes, we can work and go to school together and co-exist in department stores and at the market but until, and unless, you meet someone after six o’clock you really don’t know who they are.” Letting one’s guard down is natural since one feels safe in one’s home. Michael got me to thinking. How many fears are dispelled when the front door of one’s home is opened?
Some time ago (which is only relevant because I was much younger and Robert, my then hospice patient, has since died) I went to Robert’s home. He was terminally ill with cancer. A divorced father with a teenage daughter, Robert lived in Watts, a section of Los Angeles synonymous for most people with rioting and slums. He had been discharged from Cedar Sinai Hospital and was packing up his belongings to move back to the mid-west to be closer to his sisters and cousins. He wanted his daughter to meet what would be her ‘new’ family after he died, while he was still alive.
With my trusty Thomas Guide, the bible of LA streets on the seat beside me, I weaved my way off the freeway to a part of the city I had never been in. Surprise. Robert lived in a neighborhood that looked like mine in Santa Monica. As I parked down the block from the rented moving truck, I observed neat flower beds and trimmed lawns. His front door had a crafted wreath not unlike the one my neighbor hung on her door. Inside, amid stacked boxes and crumpled newspaper, Robert lay stretched out on the sofa. Happy to see me, he introduced me to three or four black women who were sisters and friends who seemed surprised to see me. I didn’t stay long and I’m sure I looked as awkward as I felt, but Robert seemed genuinely happy I had come. As I hugged him good-by I realized that I would never see him again. But he became more to me that day. More than a patient in a hospital bed, more than a black man who I talked to about his daughter. Coming into his home made Robert real to me and I bet I was more real to Robert that day, too.
I’ve always been adamant about the safety and comfort of my home. Never one to buy into the Tupperware/Amway ruse of inviting friends to the house to buy anything. I don’t have a problem with other folks doing it but it’s not for me. I guess that so many places we go and things we do in the world are for reasons other than friendship and I understand the necessity for that but my home, the place where I feel safe and honest, can only remain so if I open the doors for only the right reasons. So, no parties for profit and no fancy dinners to impress business associates. I’m obviously not thrilled with groups like the Promise Keepers telling their following to ‘take a person of color’ to lunch. Why? To show the world what a good person you are?
Recently, I’ve opened the door to my home with increasing regularity. The church’s dilemma with accepting homosexuality, or not, has forced many people not only to question what’s right or wrong but who’s right or wrong. Unlike breaking bread with people of another shade, questions arise in insecure or unknowing, well-intentioned souls. For instance, if you have a black person to dinner in your home there is absolutely no possibility that you will ever be perceived as black or that you will even have a tendency to be black. (By the way, my guess is that the reverse would be equally true; that if a black person invites a white person to dinner there would be no fear of changing skins.) But invite a homosexual and two things may occur (well, actually three, the third being that absolutely nothing will happen.) First, you may be perceived as having sympathy towards those tendencies and secondly, particularly if you are single (which is an absurd misperception that traditional marriage rules out homosexuality) your intentions may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Who knows? Who cares?
Basically, after six o’clock everyone I know, straight, gay black, white, young, old, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera takes off their work clothes and slips into their ‘comfies.’ Life really isn’t any more complicated than that.