May 21, 2015

Summer 1987: Notre Dame, a Catholic Boy, and a Warm Summer Night

Summer 1987:  26 years old, in grad school at the University of Southern California, I had a paper on "Boccacio and the Jews" accepted at a Medieval Studies Conference at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

I flew into Rock Island to visit my parents for a few days.  Then they dropped me off on the way to visit their relatives in Garrett, Indiana, about an hour's drive away.

I loved Notre Dame!  It was like a Medieval university, with archways, pillars, Gothic buildings, crucifixes, small side chapels, and statues of saints everywhere.

I expected Duns Scotus to walk by at any moment, discussing De consolatione philosophiae with Thomas Aquinas, while St. Hildegard of Bingen sang "O nobilissima viriditas!"

And did I mention the beefcake? Hot Catholic boys walking around, their scapulars gleaming against their hard brown chests, talking about the Bangles and Robocop and last night's baseball game like any students at any secular college.

There were no conference activities scheduled for Saturday night.  Most of the participants went out to dinner with their husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends.  My roommate went to the Linebacker Lounge, hoping for a heterosexual pickup.  My Gayellow Pages listed one gay bar in South Bend, but it was too far to walk.  I was stuck on campus.

Lonely, bored, I wandered into the library, like I used to at Augustana on Saturday nights, when I felt overwhelmed by my friends' chants of  "girls! girls! girls! let's get some girls!  let's look at some girls!" 

Nostalgic for Augustana, I walked into the stacks and browsed through the PD section (Scandinavian Literature).  Nathan was sitting at an isolated study carrell, surrounded by thick books.

No, he wasn't naked.  But he was cute -- 20 years old, short, slim, pale, with curly brown hair and a boyish face.

"Studying Norwegian?" I asked.

He looked up and smiled.  "Oh -- no, Spanish.  This was just a quiet place to study."

"Yo hablo Espanol tambien.  Podimos discutir cosas intimas, si?"

"Whoa, whoa, I'm just first year!"

"Sorry.  I'm in grad school in Spanish.  In Los Angeles."

"Wow, Los Angeles -- that must be great!  All the movie stars everywhere.  Who's the biggest star you've met?"

Every heterosexual guy who found out that I lived in Los Angeles inevitably asked me about "hot girls."  Nathan was gay!

"Met, or saw naked?" I asked with a leer. "I could tell you some things about Tom Cruise..."

Soon we were eating hamburgers in the Student Center, while Nathan told me about growing up in an all-Catholic neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, not knowing anyone who was black, Protestant, or gay.  He came out during his freshman year, but he only knew three gay guys on campus, two students and a professor, and he had never had a boyfriend.

"There's lots of sex at Notre Dame," Nathan said.  "I could get a dozen guys a night, if I wanted.  But just once, I'd like one of them to say hello to me the next day."  He reached under the table and took my hand.  "Is that the way it is in Los Angeles, too?  Lots of secret stuff with straight guys who are thinking about girls the whole time?"

"Oh, no.  Everybody in West Hollywood is gay, so we don't need to trick with straight guys.  We date.  We fall in love. We have permanent partners."

He quickly moved his hand for a brief grope.  "So, wanna make out?"

"Make out?  Um...where?  I have a roommate."

"Me, too.  Let's take a walk."

He led me across the dark, quiet campus to a footpath that led around St. Joseph Lake.  It was heavily wooded, but I could still see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart across the lake; St. Mary, who topped the Golden Dome, had her back turned to us.

Nathan pointed out the Moreau Seminary, a priests' residence.
And the Sacred Heart Parish Center.
And the Our Lady of Fatima shrine.
And the Solitude of St. Joseph, a retreat house for monks.

"This must be the most Catholic place on Earth!" I exclaimed.  "Except maybe the Vatican."

"Yeah.  And the woods are busy all the time.  Not a lot of college kids, but priests, monks, professors.  I swear I had a Cardinal one night."  He grinned in the darkness.  "Creepy old guy, but Italian, you know.  Gigantic."

We started kissing and groping.  Once we had to move aside as a fratboy and his girlfriend passed, giggling with erotic anticipation, but otherwise we were alone.  Soon my pants were down.

It felt weird, being semi-naked in the summer night.  It reminded me of when I was a kid, and Uncle Paul showed us how to pee against the side of the barn.

Nathan and I stayed in contact.  The moment he graduated from Notre Dame in 1989, he fled to the gay haven of San Francisco, where he went to work at the Macy's in Union Square.  It wasn't exactly the career his parents intended for him, but at least he was home.

See also: The House Full of Men