When the aspens reached their peak color last fall, my friend Diane and I drove from our tiny, western Colorado town into the nearby mountains. We sat at the side of the road to enjoy the snow-dusted peaks, tumbling scree fields and golden-and-peach aspen forests.
Soon enough, a truck
pulling a camper with Washington state plates stopped and a pair of
handsome, well-groomed men emerged. Their truck had stalled in the
high altitude, and they seemed disturbed by the prospect of
spending the night in such an isolated corner of the world. We made
some unsuccessful attempts to revive the truck while the men stood
humbly by, and then offered them a ride to the nearest phone,
located in a store about 15 miles away.
As the older man
prepared to come with us, Diane and I looked at each other happily:
"They’re gay!" we gasped with the exultation that
comes to, say, a Bedouin who has been offered his first sip of
water in days. You see, tiny Western ranching-mining towns
aren’t exactly magnets for gay men. I’ve lived in
Paonia for about a decade, and while there is rumored to be a gay
community around here somewhere, I have only known a single gay
man, who tested the waters for a few months before fleeing. (In
towns the size of Paonia, being single and heterosexual is a
daunting enough prospect. As for our former gay citizen, he may as
well have tried to find a partner on the floor of the Pacific
Ocean.) But I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco, where
my sister has an awfully good time with her gay male friends.
They’re fun, they’re communicative; they’re
attractive and stylish and blessedly off limits to my more
So the presence of these coiffed,
overtly lost men right in my own backyard made me as happy as a
lark. While the men of our town might be handsome, hardly any of
them are particularly well-groomed. They tend to be kind of hairy.
And dusty. And they’re never, ever lost.
So up on
the pass, Diane and I thrilled at our new position of protectors,
nay, saviors of these stranded men.
As the older man bid
his lover goodbye and folded his lanky form into my car, I happily
ticked off the way the evening would unfold: We’d deal with
the truck problem, then retrieve the younger man and go out for a
big dinner, with martinis, all paid for by our grateful new
friends. I’d make these guys comfortable in my rough and
tumble house, which was built a century ago by miners, shock them
with the Dickensian look of my ancient coal furnace, and introduce
them to my sweetie, who would make them cookies. They would tell us
barbarously witty things about life in Seattle. They would maybe
subject my sweetie to a "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" makeover.
Perhaps they would cure him of buying everything in a shade of
forest green. Bless them.
So we drove down the bumpy
road, merrily chatting about this and that. We talked about his
growing interest in landscape photography, his kids in college and
his wife. Excuse me? His wife? Yes, his wife, who induced him to
retire early when she had done so, he said, smiling the fond smile
of someone who loves their spouse and who, at that moment, missed
her very much.
But, but, but…they were so willing to
depend on us. By the time we got to the store with the telephone in
it, my mood, and Diane’s, had darkened significantly.
Fabulousness was not going to enter our evening after all; rather,
we were going to spend a long time watching a straight man try to
get organized. And "try" was the operative word. We listened to him
procrastinate about every possible avenue for action. Then we
listened to him try vainly to describe his wilderness location to a
Triple-A employee in a town 50 miles away.
wasn’t gay; he was merely urban. Call me out of touch with
"metrosexual" men, but suddenly, I wanted this man to get a grip.
Later, I would realize how simplistic and loutish my thinking had
been and remember that all of my gay friends are adept at both auto
mechanics and life in the outdoors. But all I could think in the
moment was how much I wished there was a gay man somewhere in my
When the cashier in the store offered to drive the
man back to his camper, Diane and I eagerly sped home through the
evening, realizing that our gaydar had become severely uncalibrated
through years of disuse. And I braced myself for the preponderance
of forest green in my home.