Aug 9, 2012

Spring 1964: Two Men Hugging

In an old science fiction story by Robert Heinlein,  a man discovers that the world is a lie.  Every building in every city is a movie-set fake, constructed for his benefit and disassembled when he passes on.  His friends, family, and even passersby are actors, staging scenes for his benefit and then going home to memorize tomorrow’s script.  He uncovers the lie only after years of living in what he thinks is the real world.

One day he is scheduled to go away for the weekend.  It is raining outside, so he opens his umbrella.  Suddenly he realizes that he has forgotten something upstairs, and rushes up to get it.  But it is not raining upstairs!  “They” neglected to produce sufficient rain to cover the entire house, and in that small detail their entire deception was revealed.

I spent my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s  in a lie of my own, told over and over again that I, like every boy on Earth, would spend my life yearning for feminine curves and smiles, that same-sex desire did not exist.

But I kept noticing momentary lapses, tiny mistakes, unguarded moments that revealed that it was not raining upstairs.

Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans living together in the Treasure House.
Rich and Sean smiling at each other in The Secret of Boyne Castle.
Robbie Douglas singing about boys holding hands among the candles.

The first unguarded moment came very early in my life, when I was still a toddler.  Probably in the spring of 1964, when I was 3 1/2 years old.  We were living in Garrett, Indiana.

I woke up late at night, but I thought it was morning because it was light out, so I walked into the living room, where my parents were watching our old black and white tv.  On the small, flickering screen, I saw two men.  They looked like a cowboy and Indian, but in modern clothes.  They were hugging.

My mother noticed a moment later and rushed me off to bed, but it was too late.  I had seen two men who weren't swooning over women.  They wanted men.



I never saw that "cowboy and Indian" again, and over the years I concluded that I had dreamed it.   But recently I did some detective work with wikipedia and a phone call to my mother:

It was an episode of of The Real McCoys (1957-63, but rerun through 1964): a hayseed comedy about a farm family in rural California. The hugging "cowboy and Indian" were eldest son Luke  (Richard Crenna) and farm hand Pepino (Tony Martinez, who was actually Puerto Rican, not Indian).

Luke was married, and Pepino had girlfriends.  They weren't "really" gay.  Maybe they didn't even hug. But it doesn't matter: I learned, for the first time, that not all fairy tale princes get princesses.