Oct 27, 2013

Cousin Joe and the Good Gay Place

Cousin Joe
Two days after Christmas 1971, a few weeks after Brian and I first heard the word "homosexual" on tv: My brother and sister and I are sitting in Grandma Davis's living room, watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Cousin Joe, who took me to meet the President, is in high school, too old for cartoons, so he's watching while pretending to be immersed in a chemistry textbook.

We are watching H. R. Pufnstuf, about a boy named Jimmy, slim and cute with shaggy black hair and a lisping British accent (“that’s tewwific!”).  He's stranded far from home on Living Island, a psychedelic Paradise, with a friend, a green Dragon named Pufnstuf, and an enemy, Witchiepoo, who wants his magic golden flute.

The flute: not gold in color but dark bronze, thicker and blockier than a real flute, and alive, with eyes, nose, and mouth made of diamonds.

Suddenly Cousin Joe laughs. “You know what the flute represents, don’t you?”

“Come on, it’s easy.  Jimmy plays with his flute, and it gets bigger? What does that sound like?”

In year or two, I will be able to think of something dirty, but I have just turned 11, and all I can think of is Jimmy's essence, the most important part of his being. “His heart?” I suggest.

“Ok, that's good enough.  Pufnstuf and Witchiepoo are fighting to see who gets Jimmy’s heart. And who wins?”


“Think about it: Jimmy always picks the Dragon over the Witch. The boy over the girl. .."

Suddenly I understand what Cousin Joe is trying to say: Jimmy has managed to escape the "discovery of girls" that the adults are always going on about.  He wants a boy, not a girl.  Why is he free?

"If you live on an island," I say slowly, "You don't have to discover girls.  You can grow up and have a best man. Like me and Bill."

“Maybe." But Rock Island isn’t really an island,” Cousin Joe points out.  “It’s just some bluffs between the two rivers.  So if you stay in Rock Island when you grow up, you and Bill will need wives."

"Well, what about if we move to Australia?"  I sometimes watch Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, where teenage Mark and helicopter pilot Jerry like each other.

"That's really far away.  Won't you miss your mom and dad, and all your friends?"

"I guess."  I think of all of the other "good places" I've been looking for, Greece and Africa and Japan.  They're all far away on the other side of the world.

"Where you and Bill want to go is San Francisco. That's only a couple days' drive.  And there's lots of cool cats out there.  You can sing and dance and put flowers in your hair."

Years later I wondered: Was Cousin Joe advising me to move to a gay mecca when I grew up?  Did he know something that I didn't?  Or was he thinking of flower children, not gay people?

He doesn't remember the conversation.  But I do: a glimpse of my future on a cold Saturday morning in 6th grade.