i don’t know
that this will
be of very
I don’t know that this will be of very great interest to anyone,
but it seems such a perfect place to begin. I’m on a bouncing
bus going back to New York after a weekend on Fire Island,
which was quite pleasant in spite of my misgivings beforehand.
The bus service is the best thing that’s happened in
years for going to F.I. It picks you up at various convenient
places around New York, gives you a free drink—fifty cents
each for seconds and thirds—and a package of toasted almonds,
and takes you right to the ferry. Plus they allow dogs
Before, I had to cab it to the station, take a train (with dog
in carrier), then another cab to the ferry—and usually had to
stand all the way on the train—all of which usually cost well
over the bus price besides being a rather unpleasant trip being
bustled about by Long Island commuters, feisty conductors,
hot trains (the buses are air conditioned), etc., ad infinitum.
But then some enterprising fellow got the idea of chartering
buses, and the Bus-A-Long was born.
At first, so I’m told, it was strictly a gay affair, with orgies all
the way back to New York in the back part of the bus. Dick
Cornelia swears that the first time he took the bus a giggling
voice was heard to say, “Don’t come in the air conditioner,
Mary—it’ll go all over the bus!” Se non e` vero, e` ben trovato.
Now, however, it’s quite integrated and proper.
But I was rather sad on the trip out just from looking at
all the people—the handsome young men so secure in their
youth and beauty, and the old ones looking at them, envying
them, desiring them perhaps, remembering probably when
they too were young and sure that (if they ever thought about
it at all) they always would be.
As they looked at them there seemed also to be a certain
pity in their eyes that these kids had such a bitter lesson to
learn in front of them—a certain sad tolerance of their arrogant
flaunting of their invulnerable youth and good looks.
Fair cheeks and fine bodies, etc.
There is also a great deal of projection in all this on my part,
I’m sure, though I don’t really have those feelings about growing
old. Still, to most “active” (as opposed to old tranquil me!)
homosexuals youth is the pinnacle, so I doubt I was too far
wrong in my musings. And they all seemed so awfully lonely,
young and old alike—as opposed to being alone (like me).
And as I thought that, it occurred to me that they might be
thinking the same thing when they looked at me.
Sad, too, to look at the beautiful young men and have their
beauty almost totally canceled out by their theatrically effeminate
mannerisms. They were all smoking like Bette Davis,
calling each other “Dahling” like Tallulah, holding their eyelids
half-shut like Dietrich—etc., etc., but even that wasn’t
consistent. It alternated with limp-wristed slaps and playful
shoves and high-pitched squeals of “Oh, Mary,
you’re really such
a camp!” and the inevitable sidelong glances
to make sure it was not lost on the spectators. But they mostly
got drunk and/or tired and finally calmed down.
It was nice at last to leave the bus and sit on the open top
deck of the little “ferry” (I had to laugh the first time I went
to Fire Island, remembering the ferries on the Mississippi, to
see these little sixty or so foot boats) with spray hitting you in
the face and to forget the bus trip.
Mostly it was a quiet and very nice (therefore) weekend. I
“had” to go to one big loud cocktail party, but only for a half
hour or so, and refused both nights to go to the bars. The
moon was full so Zagg (my dog) and I took long walks along
the beach all by ourselves and it was beautiful enough to bring
tears to one’s eyes. Nothing like “nature” to clear the head!
I don’t mean necessarily visible
nature, to which I am fairly
indifferent, but rather the hiss of cosmic silence, or the natural
sounds and smells of air and water and sand squeaking
under your bare heels, and the expansion that only solitude
in the open produces—preferably the virgin, uninhabited
open, but in this case the illusion was made convincing by
the moonlit dark and by keeping one’s eyes toward the ocean
until one was in a sufficient trance of self-communication to
I was amused to be flagrantly flirted with by a most handsome
young man for whom everyone was on the make but
me. He had come by with several friends the night before
(friends of his) at about midnight to pick up my host and go
to the bars. He kept insisting that I come with them, at which
knowing looks passed among the others. But I stuck to my
guns and went for a walk (and to bed) alone, much, apparently,
to the others’ consternation and amazement. Though I
can’t say that I wasn’t at least a little tempted.
However, it’s good to be going home, as always. Why do
always weaken and accept these invitations?2.
back home again
Back home again. It was good to find a letter from Jim waiting
for me in the mailbox. Perfect timing, really, as sitting
on the bus starting out on the trip, looking at all those people,
suddenly Jim popped into my head (a case of opposites!).
Tears came, and a tiny haiku appeared in my mind:
Thank you, God.
I thought you had forgot me,
And you gave me such a friend.
I kept saying it over and over to myself, and felt so good that
I couldn’t begin to describe it. And whenever I was by myself,
as on my walks (both nights I was there) along the beach, it
stayed the same way—really a kind of exultation—and I’d sit
on a log and imagine Jim sitting in California looking at the
same moon and thinking of it as a sort of satellite for all our
thoughts. Silly in a way, I guess, and rather childishly romantic,
but there it was.
I do often fear that my effusion of friendship for Jim might
put him off somehow. I pray it won’t, but from past experience
I know that it can do so. I guess that if it does, then it
does, and no amount of worrying or reassurance can help.
Offerings must be true, so that the receiver (if any) knows
what he’s getting.
How wonderful it would be if we could develop one of
those ideal friendships in which each friend was totally natural
and honest so that no word or letter or gesture came from
anything but a true, natural impulse, with no feelings of guilt
or reproach, but only of gladness and love and respect. In
which I could, for instance, with no hesitation, beg him for
a letter, and he could, without guilt feelings of any kind, not
write one for a year even, if he didn’t feel like it, and I would
understand and love him even more for it. I think, naively,
perhaps, that it’s possible.
I wonder sometimes whether loving someone isn’t simply
paying attention to him. In friendship, paying attention to
his mind and welfare, and in “love,” in its popular sense, to
his body as well.
My own friendship with other men, particularly with
“straight” men, such as Jim, gets into complications at times,
and my motives are often suspect, even to me, and whatever
I say, I do feel acutely the difference between us. I accept it,
though, and live quite comfortably with it on the whole.
I was talking with a young friend of mine the other night
about various “serious” things, including love. We were concentrating
on that, because sort of offhandedly one night a
few months ago I had said I thought loving someone was
an end in itself. That is, loving someone with—deliberately,
if necessary—no thought of being loved in return. Wishing
for it, maybe, but no expectations. I think it’s nourishing and
makes one grow.
And this isn’t just idle conjecture, either. I’ve tried it and
it works. Tried it not in the way of testing out a theory, but
because it once was forced on me. That was with Ilya in
Greece (a three-volume novel in itself!). But when I realized
that it was a one-sided affair I thought about it for a couple
of nights in a very concentrated way (I couldn’t think about
anything else!) and rather than become bitter and vindictive
and bitchy as I might have done, I decided (really consciously
decided) to love him just the same for as long as I did love
him. (Though a question arose as to whether “love” was love,
but anyhow . . .)
That went on for a couple of years and got calmer and
calmer and actually almost more and more beautiful, and that
one experience—the blossoming (and going to seed, I suppose)
of a lot of experiences in the then past—turned out to
have taught me one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned.
Anyway, this friend of mine took it up and apparently has
been thinking a great deal about it. He has his doubts, but I
have now passed the point of merely believing it. I know it,
and it’s part of me.
I’ve been accused so often and by so many different people
of being a bad influence that it scares me. We can know,
it seems to me, almost anything except how we affect other
people. No, that’s not true. We can know nothing. It seems to
us that we know certain things, but only because they are so
unimportant to us that we never think about them enough to
realize that we don’t know them. But important things, like
what people think about us, are frustratingly inscrutable. We
can learn what are called “facts”—we cannot learn what we
want to know.
In my own way, I’m very stubborn, which I can see in my
way of dealing (in my own mind) with the world at large. I
have decided how I like it and live in it as though it were that
on all sides
Paradoxes spring up on all sides, it seems. It becomes both
easier and more difficult to write, though the focus becomes
finer as I go deeper into things that I am not used to talking
about and so don’t know how. For Jim, my response to his
friendship, there is of course a lot more to be said. It will take
me the rest of my life to say it.
If just one little thing had been different I’d probably
never have known Jim. I wouldn’t have known the difference,
naturally. One could go mad thinking of the friends,
the perfect lover still unmet because on a certain evening in
1953 one decided to turn down Fifth Avenue instead of going
on to Seventh as originally intended. And I do believe the
old adage about suffering being good for the soul—if,
should, it produces understanding, which it has in his case
even though it often does not. I’m sure he knows that—but
who could blame him if he’d have preferred somewhat less
understanding! The trick is to understand how much everybody
suffers—to understand it and keep from going mad, that
is. At the same time I’m saying all this I am blissfully aware it’s
all so much meaningless chatter. Saved again!
Excerpted from Landscape with Traveler by Barry Gifford. Copyright © 2013 by Barry Gifford. Excerpted by permission of Seven Stories Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.