The Tides of March

For the 15th of March, Tim Evanson created this image (reproduced here with his permission):

(#1) Tim used a picture from a “Kittendales” calendar; a free clipart calendar page of March; and pictures of Tide products from the Target web site

Kittendales. Hot Awww, “men and the kitties they love”: beefcake — a very wide range of types of men, all displaying their attractive bodies — plus adorable kittens. And, of course, in a good cause, the proceeds going to the Hull Seaside Animal Rescue in Hull MA, a no-kill cat shelter serving the South Shore and Boston. (No actual connection to the Chippendales, dancers whose function here is to supply the beefcake reference to the portmanteau kitten + Chippendales = Kittendales. The models here do not in fact dance, but merely stand and pose, and that’s good enough for me, even if it fails to supply sweat.)

Tim’s Facebook version is just a thumbnail. Here’s the hunkitten in close-up, from the cover of the 2021 calendar:

(#2) You’re such a lovely audience / We’d like to take you home with us / We’d love to take you home

One more example, from a great many available on the net: this guy from the 2015 calendar:

(#3) I chose him for his face, believe it or not; I’m into faces

The trek East. Today is also traditionally Higashi (Removal) Day in my household, the day when (many years ago) my man Jacques and I would set off for our annual traversal of the interstates from California to Ohio (note Japanese higashi ‘east’). Day 1 aimed for Barstow, the western end of I-40; the route then followed I-40 east to Oklahoma City, I-44 northeast to St. Louis MO, and I-80 east to Columbus OH. Across the high desert, over the Rockies to the Great Plains, then across the interior lowlands from the Mississippi River to just short of the Appalachians.

Sometimes we would stay the first night in Barstow itself (a transportation center, and a town of ca. 25,000), but more often we’d press on to Needles CA, on the Colorado River at the Arizona border (just a bit south of Nevada). Needles is a tiny desert town (population ca. 5,000), but it is adjacent to the Lake Havasu recreation area — which we never got to appreciate, because we always pushed on to get to the Day 2 destination, Flagstaff AZ.

Day 1 was an ordeal of going over mountains. Consider this topographic map of California and Nevada, with cities conveniently labeled:

(#4) From the San Francisco Bay area (the label for San Francisco has been cut off the map, but you can clearly see Santa Clara and San Jose) to Needles (just under the southern tip of Nevada)

The route goes over a section of the Southern Coast Ranges (the Diablo Range on the map) down into the Central Valley, down I-5, over to Bakersfield, and then dramatically up over the Sierra Nevada Range at Tehachapi Pass (Tehachapi is marked on the map) and down onto the high desert to Barstow (also marked on the map), where you could take I-15 to Las Vegas or travel with Jacques and me to Needles (dipping down some to the Colorado, then up again on the other side to Kingman AZ).

In the early years, we divided the 2,500+ miles of the trip (east in mid-March, west in mid-December, every year) into roughly 500-mile segments, taking 5 days for the trip, so as to allow time to exercise and rest along the way, because I needed to arrive at the end ready to teach at the university there. This yielded overnight stays at some not very pleasant spots. Eventually we discovered places we really liked to stop at — Flagstaff AZ; Albuquerque NM; Oklahoma City (where there was a pleasant, and unexpectedly gay-friendly, area near the airport); the western suburbs of St. Louis — and adjusted our 5-day driving schedule to achieve that. We also set off very early, in the dark before sunrise, and then stopped for a late breakfast, at decent places we ferreted out over the years. Then a lunch at another such place.

In time the trips became familiar adventures. Also like little vacations: some stunning scenery (though really appreciable only by the guy who wasn’t driving at the time); a lot of time just to enjoy one another’s company (without the constant pulls of my professional life); small touristic pleasures, like county historical museums; and even an unexpected bonus: the opportunity, every night, to defiantly enjoy various forms of sodomy in states where it was then quite seriously illegal.

Being Other. At either end of these trips, in Ohio and California, we lived in supportive networks of our families; of linguists; of shapenote singers; and of motss-folk (with rich communities in both places). In between, on the road, we were rootless strangers, exposed, identifiable as queer to anyone who knew how to look: neither of us read superficially as gay, but everybody could see that we were Together, so — first guess — brothers or buddies, but — whoa! — brothers and buddies don’t look at each other like that. Like this:

(#5) Our 1996 wedding-equivalent photo

Jacques ordinarily left it to me to do the gay displaying (with his support and encouragement), but I toned that down on the road (no QUEER QUEER QUEER t-shirts). Still, we both felt constantly endangered, threatened, at a low level.

Now, I’d become accustomed to this ambient whiff of danger from early childhood, since I was an outlier child in so many ways and perceived as Other by so many of the people around me; but Jacques grew up mostly fitting easily and amiably into his social world, only rarely experiencing Otherness (and that happens to everyone on occasion). Now, especially in backcountry Texas and Oklahoma, he smelled the threat. And he just hated that.

Here you need to know that Jacques had keen senses of moral responsibility and moral outrage. These qualities of character were a big part of why I fell in love with him (and, he told me, similar qualities that he saw and admired in me were a big part of why he fell in love with me); yes, I know, the sexual attraction was inflammatory — I used to think that I could smell the sexiness on him, even from a distance — but sexual attraction is scarcely enough to support embarking on a life together, which is what we did.

So there was Jacques, not just hating this unaccustomed feeling of being threatened, but outraged by it. It was wrong, and he was going to fight it. In a small way, but fiercely.

It became a point with him that we insist, when we checked into a motel, on making it clear that we needed one bed big enough for two people (two guys, they always give you two beds); they could give us two amply sized beds if that was their custom, but we were using only one, and it had to be big enough for two grown men. (You can always put your suitcases on the other one, and we did.) The point being that we should made it clear that we were lovers. Not cower from the threat.

And then we were obliged to have sex in that bed. Not explosive and noisy — that would have been annoying to the neighbors — but easy and affectionate. And then we fell into sleep in each other’s arms. (Up at 5 to start the next day.)

We understood that they might call the cops and have us dragged off to jail, but supposed they’d realize that that would be bad for business. Nevertheless, we were committed to this course of action and to making a hell of a stink if we got into trouble. No shame, no hiding, that was the ticket. (A recurrent topic in our conversations: Ordinary People Don’t Have to Think About Things Like This. And then you shrug.)

I mostly took the executive role in our relationship, making final decisions about arrangements and the like (with Jacques in the advisory role), but in this case he just took the helm and I followed his lead. (In a real relationship, you pass the roles back and forth and negotiate a lot, of course.) Surprising, but quite admirable, ferocity; that was my guy.

As I said, eventually we found a good spot in Oklahoma City. And tried not to think too much about the rest.

2 Responses to “The Tides of March”

  1. kenru Says:

    Loved the transition from the Tides of March to your Travels With Jacques post. I’ve followed large portions of that route in my own extensive travels by car (almost always alone, alas.)

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I can remember that back in the ’70s and ’80s, when John and I traveled in Europe, we were just about always given a room with two (often twin) beds. We didn’t attempt to fight this.

    However, on one occasion, in a smallish town in Sicily (must have been 1989), when we found a hotel and asked for a room, and apparently they only had one; the clerk looked at us somewhat dubiously and said “È un camera matrimoniale” (I think that was the word he used – in any case it clearly meant a room with a double bed, intended for a married couple), but when I calmly replied “Va bene” (OK) he didn’t protest further.

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