Mar 7, 2015

Summer 1986: The Cowboy of Kangaroo Island

In West Hollywood, relationships happened fast.  After three dates, or hookup plus two dates, you were officially a couple, listed in address books together, invited to parties together, off-limits for cruising but available for "sharing."

But it was weird to be considered a couple after one hookup.

And even weirder to be invited to Australia.

I met the Carl the Australian Cowboy around Easter 1986: in his 30s, tall, slim, with a long face and a scruffy beard, wearing an incongruous plaid shirt and cowboy hatt. Not my type -- until he said "G'day!"

Australia was my childhood ideal of a "good place!"

He was a tour guide of some sort, just finishing up a two-week holiday that mostly involved camping at Yosemite National Park.

An outdoorsman -- definitely not my type!  But I wasn't bringing Carl home, I was bringing home Ken James from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Dominic Guard from Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Troy, the Australian soccer player who took off his clothes in class....

We spent the night together, and the next day went to church and brunch at the French Quarter, and then he had to go to LAX to return his rental car and catch the flight back to Sydney.

As we were saying goodbye, Carl brought his face to my ear and whispered: "What about if I get another ticket, and bring you along?"

Thinking he was joking, I said, "Sure!  Oh, wait -- I have a paper due next week!"

"When classes are out, then?  I work in the industry -- you can fly for free."

He was serious!  "Well -- I'm sort of committed to spending the summer in Japan with Alan."

 "All the better.  It's a short flight from Sydney to Tokyo. Why not pop down for a week or two on the way?"  He wrapped his arms around me.  "Or longer, eh?"

Sure enough, a week later a plane ticket arrived in the mail for me: Los Angeles to Adelaide, Australia, on May 27th.  Open return.

Fly across the world to visit a guy I just met?  What could possibly go wrong?

In case you ever get a similar offer, here are a few guidelines.

1.  Find his town on a map.  I didn't bother, figuring that Kingscote was a suburb of Adelaide.

It wasn't.  An hour and a half drive to Port Jervis, a half hour wait for a ferry, and then another half hour to Kangaroo Island.

2. Ask about the sightseeing itinerary.

Before I arrived, Carl told me about all of the sightseeing we would be doing.  Ayres Rock!  The National Museum of Melbourne!  The gay neighborhood of Sydney!

I got Kangaroo Island.

"I moved to Sydney when I was a youngster, did all the wild life," Carl said.  "To be honest, mate, it gets old fast.  I moved to Kangaroo Island to get away from all that. "

The kangaroos come right up to your door.  You can shake hands with them.  Who could ask for anything better?"

"Um...well, is there much of a gay community in Adelaide?"

"I only get out there once or twice a year.  Too much to do here on the island."

3.  Find out about the amenities in his town.  Kingscote, the only city on Kangaroo Island, was small, flat, and dusty, with a population that barely reached 2,000.  It had half a dozen restaurants, all seafood, no gyms, one art gallery, no museums, no bookstores, no movie theater.  For that you had to take the ferry to Adelaide.

"What do you do here?" I asked, dubiously.

"Why, it's the greatest place in the world!  We have penguins, seagulls, and kangaroos you can walk right up to and pet.  We have hiking, camping, swimming, diving...well, the water's a bit cold at the moment."

4. Ask about the living situation.  

Carl lived in a small square house right on the ocean -- you could hear it from the living room, and see it from the front porch.  Inside there were no books except some wilderness guides.  

And no tv!

"What do you do at night?" I asked.

"Oh, listen to music and read, I suppose.  But mostly I go visiting.  Aussies are big on entertaining."

5. Ask about the local gay community.

He was right about that. Every night we had dinner with a different grinning heterosexual couple who asked if I had a girlfriend back in the states.

"I'm not exactly out to them," Carl explained.  "Or to anyone, really."


"Are there any gay people on Kangaroo Island?"

"Lots!  I have one gay friend here, a bloke I grew up with, and there's a lesbian couple who run a gift shop for the tourists.  They have me over for dinner every week."

"That's not exactly lots."

6. Ask about his intentions.

I asked about the open-ended ticket, but Carl said "No worries.  I know you have to get to Japan sometime this summer.  But what if you like it so much, you want to stay?"

Since Carl arranged for my ticket, I felt obligated to put in at least a week.  Admittedly, it was fun to see the kangaroos, pet the seagulls, feed the penguins, have dinner with the lesbian couple, and "share" Carl's childhood friend.

Once I took the ferry by myself into Adelaide, for the South Australian Museum, some bookstores, a bath house, and an Indonesian restaurant.

But overall, it was a dreary holiday.  Made more dreary by the work visa application that Carl presented me over breakfast one morning.

"Now that you've fallen in love with the place, why not stay?  You can come work with me.  We can have a life together here, far away from the noise and crowds of the gay ghetto."

I wanted the noise and crowds of the gay ghetto!

After 10 days, I said goodbye and flew home.

I'm still waiting to go to Ayres Rock, the National Museum in Melbourne, and the gay neighborhood of Sydney.

See also: Finding a Boyfriend at the Horseman's Club.