Oct 10, 2013

Fall 1979: Was It a Date?

On December 16, 1979, shortly after I returned from Germany, I wasn't interested in the Catholic church anymore, so I started looking for liberal Protestant churches.  Like the First United Methodist Church in downtown Rock Island.

A young, cute preacher was preaching on homelessness during the Christmas season.  Social justice!  Just what I wanted!

I nabbed him during the coffee hour after the service.  His name was Fred; he was 27 years old, a new seminary graduate, and he was working as a student intern while looking for a pulpit of his own.  I told him about my interest in finding a non-fundamentalist church, and he invited me to dinner next Friday night to "discuss theology."

I spent the next week agonizing over what I should wear, trying to think of questions to ask about Methodism, and wondering:

Was he gay?
Was it a date?

We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Davenport, Iowa, across the river (not the one in Moline where Bruce and Leanne sniped at each other).  I tried hinting around to determine if he was gay or not:

Me: Is it hard to get dates, being a minister?  People thinking you're going to judge them?
Fred: Just the opposite, really. Lots of people have a thing for ministers.
People, not men or women!

Me: Nazarenes are complete prudes.  No sex outside of marriage, no divorce -- and they're really against gays.
Fred: Methodists realize that we're fallible. I'm divorced, but that shouldn't be a problem in finding a pulpit.
Divorced!  So he was straight!  Or did he divorce when he realized that he was gay

Me: I heard something weird about that hymn, 'In the Garden': he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.  If you didn't know it was about God, you'd think it was about two gay guys!
Fred: Yeah, you can find some crazy interpretations of those old hymns.

When the waiter brought out the check and fortune cookies, Fred said "Forget the fortune cookies.  I have dessert and coffee waiting for us at my apartment -- devil's food cake."

Straight or not, I never turned down an invitation for cake.

Fred's Apartment Building
So I followed Fred to his tiny two-room apartment in a terrible run-down building in Davenport (I know, it's dangerous, get to know the guy first).

I scanned his bookshelves for books with the word "gay" in the title, checked the pictures on his wall for beefcake.  Nothing!  We sat side-by-side on his couch, eating cake, and I still didn't know if this was a date!

"Do you want to watch tv?" Fred asked.  "I think The Rockford Files is on."

"Sure.  I love James Garner.  He's very handsome.  He should take his shirt off more often."

"Yes...he's a fine actor."

This was getting ridiculous!

I decided to make a move -- he was a minister -- the most he could do would be to grab a Bible and start screaming.  So I tried the "yawn and stretch" maneuver for putting my arm around him.

He was gay.  This was a date.

We dated for the next six months.

Fred's story continues in the summer of 1980, when we  move to Omaha together.