Stupefied at the turn of events was a good way to describe how the three of us felt as JC did his rant.
Finally, he stopped and looked slowly at each of the three of us. Then he started laughing. He was laughing so hard that he had to rest his hands on his knees to hold himself up, just like Jackson occasionally did.
“You guys are all so gullible. So easy to take. Just like Dad said you’d be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Frank said you’d basically be suckers and fall for it, and told me I should play it just like I did, and sure enough, you guys all fell for it.”
“That fake unpatriotic stuff. Everyone’s so sensitive these days. All I had to do was start in on the German car, just like Frank said, and everyone gets touchy, and then I had you.”
“JC, help us out here. What’s going on?”
“Oh, that’s easy. What’s going on is that all of you guys are being unpatriotic to the Mopar brand. The only way it would be worse is if one of you was driving a Ford.” He started laughing again.
We were all so confused we just stood there silently.
“Okay, you guys. Mopar is the brand for auto parts for cars from Chrysler Motors. Frank has never owned anything but a Chrysler product. He bought a Dodge once, meaning in the Chrysler family, but he even felt bad about that. I was always a Dodge guy, and that was tolerable because it’s a Chrysler Motors brand.”
He pointed at me and said, “So, you’re kind of guilty of treason because you not only don’t drive Mopar, you drive a German car. You know, a foreign car.”
He looked at Will, and said, “And you are a traitor because you drive one of those GM rigs.”
Then he looked at Jackson and said, “And, the thing that’s got Frank scared shitless is that you’ll become a double traitor and buy a Ford. So, besides coming down here to visit you three, I’m down here on a mission to make certain that my son never becomes a traitor to the Mopar brand.”
“What are you talking about, Dad? This started out weird, then got kind of funny, but now I just don’t get it.”
“You guys aren’t really car guys, are you?”
“Did none of you even notice that the car I drove down here isn’t my car?”
“What? This doesn’t make any sense.”
“You guys don’t make any sense. Or at least can’t sort out the sense of it.
“Dad, come on. Let’s get real here. What’s the sense we can’t sort out?”
“Frank can’t drive anymore, so he’s giving you his car. Meaning he’s making sure that you’re going to be a Mopar guy!”
“What? Are you kidding me?”
“Well, in fact, yes, kind of. Frank drives a Chrysler Newport. You know, one of those big sedans. That’s not something a cool and dapper college student like you wants to be seen in. But, on the other hand, someone like you might be persuaded to be seen in a Challenger?”
“JC, help us out,” I finally said, “We’re all missing something here. What’s going on?”
“Easy. Frank wants to give Jackson his car, so he’s got wheels and to make sure he’s driving a Chrysler product. I told him Jackson wouldn’t be caught dead in a Newport and convinced him to let me trade it in on a better car for a hip college student.”
Now both a smile and a dawning awareness was appearing on our faces.
Jackson finally said, “No shit. Is this for real?”
“For real. I made a deal and in exchange for Frank’s ’76 Newport, I got a 1970 Dodge Challenger. It’s the Special Edition. That was close enough to make Frank happy, and it gets you into a sporty car that isn’t too sporty, and is essentially comfortable and safe to drive.”
We’d all been stunned into silence. “So, guys. Are we going to go see the car Frank is giving Jackson, or just stand around in here with our mouths open?”
“Let’s go see this car!”
We walked down to the sidewalk where JC had parked the green Challenger. The body looked in pretty good shape and so did the paint. He handed Jackson the keys and said “Will can fill you in on the details about driving it. I transferred the insurance, so you’re covered until you get it added to your policy and license it in Oregon.”
They were already inside, Jackson adjusting the rearview mirror and looking like a kid at Christmas.
JC leaned in the passenger window and said, “Start it up and we’ll look under the hood.”
It roared to life, in a way that got my attention, and JC led Jackson to the front of the car and popped the hood. Will and I followed.
“It’s got a 383 cubic inch engine, a performance cam, a four-speed manual transmission, and is mechanically in good shape. It’s only got 74,000 miles on it and it doesn’t leak oil. The Kelly Springfield tires only have 20,000 miles on them, and a lot of tread left. It’s not the crazy Challenger R/T or T/A with the big magnum or hemi engines. This one is just sporty enough, but not crazy, if you get my meaning.”
Jackson didn’t know what to say, he was still trying to process what was happening and understand all the information JC was pushing at him. Finally, he just looked at Will and grinned, and then at his Dad and smiled and said, “Thanks. This is so cool. Can we take it for a drive?”
JC smiled back and said, “I gave you the keys already. It’s your car. Why don’t you and Will take a test drive, and check it out. You can give us a full briefing when you get back.”
The piled in the car and we stood on the curb watching as they buckled up and then pulled away.
“Good start. He didn’t chirp the tires. I guess he has learned a thing or two driving your BMW with the manual tranny. Why don’t we go finish our wine while they’re out burning up gasoline?”
We settled down in the living room where we’d left our wine glasses. “Tell me the back story here. Why is Frank doing this, and I don’t buy this was all his idea either.”
JC grinned. “The idea of giving Jackson his car was his. His sight is going, and he can’t drive safely, and he’ll probably fail his next driving test and then it’ll be forced on him. Besides that, there’s the practical and the financial realities.”
“Meaning you know Jackson and I talk frequently, and there are plenty of times when all three of you need your own set of wheels, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, and it gets complicated sometimes, but we’re getting by.”
“I’ll accept that, but it’s just getting by. It’s also kind of a great thing if your Dad or Grandpa can help you get into a car. I bet you good money that Will didn’t get his Nova without his Dad helping.”
I nodded, “no doubt.”
“And I seem to remember that your El Camino came your way with a little family assistance.”
“Then, there’s the financial part. It’s your life and I try hard to keep my nose out of your business, and especially out of your finances. ‘Your’ meaning you and Jackson. I’m impressed you’re pulling off college with his scholarship and the child support, even though I offered to help. I’m really impressed that you pulled off this house and have created a great place to live together. That said, and this may seem intrusive and personal and I don’t mean it that way, Okay?”
“You guys are making a real go of it, and I’m really impressed with what you’re doing. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you both decided that Jackson needed to have a car of his own in order to get to work dependably. Could you afford to buy one? I don’t know what you earn at the Campus Ministry, and I don’t want to know. That’s your business. I can only guess though that it’s not more than a minister or a schoolteacher, and from a cash flow point of view it all works because you don’t have a mortgage. The house is paid for. But if a big unplanned expense comes along, then what? How do you handle that? Or, like I said, if you decided you needed a second car, how would you swing it?”
I was silent because what he was saying was true and I didn’t have a good answer.
He waited till I looked back at him. “The last thing I want to sound like is your father giving you the money lecture when you were in college. Understand I’m not doing that. I’m just saying that in spite of the great life you’ve both got together, I can see some financial vulnerabilities, and here’s one way to address one of them while at the same time letting us feel good about helping him get his first car. And, on top of that, it let me move it up to the kind of car that’s totally fun for a red-blooded American boy to drive.”
He was watching me, waiting for my reaction
“Everything you said makes practical sense, and I’m not taking any of personally and I’m not offended. I know you guys love Jackson and want to help, and that’s all good. We’ve got some savings still, so we’re not living paycheck to paycheck. Just so you don’t have to worry about that. And we have a pretty good life because we don’t have a mortgage. I have worried about ‘what happens if…’ and that’s why I’m taking graduate classes, so my degree is more than a minister and also has career opportunity. It’ll take at least a year, but that’s in the formula. So, just know we appreciate you and Frank very much. I’m guessing this is completely blowing Jackson’s mind.”
JC laughed. “Thanks for understanding. Good to know we’re on the same page. I know that your 2002 would eat the Challenger’s lunch at top speed on the highway, but guess what would happen off the line?”
“Off the line?”
“Like I said, you’re not car guys, and that’s cool. Off the line, as in two cars racing from a side-by-side start for a quarter mile or a half mile or even a full mile.”
I was just listening to him.
“The Challenger with that 383 would eat your lunch! It would also burn a bunch of gas doing it!”
He started laughing again, and this time he had me laughing along with him. We heard the Challenger pull into the driveway, and they walked into the living with the proverbial shit-eating grin on their face.
JC grinned back. “Did it go Okay?”
Jackson nodded, “Yeah, it went fine. It was far out.”
“That’s all? It was fine? It was far out?”
“Well, it’s got a lot of power when you step on it, I can tell you that.”
“Meaning you got on the gas on an open stretch of road, or from a start?”
“Open road, kind of like passing. It just takes off. I was too spooked to try it from a start. Will says it has a lot more power than his Nova.”
Will chimed in, “Mine’s a Nova Sport Coupe, but it’s only got a 283 V-8. It’s not an SS model with a 327, so the Challenger would wipe it, hands down.”
“That’s all good to hear. Is it good enough for your first car?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s outrageous. The whole deal is outrageous. Will knows a lot more about cars than I do from working at his Dad’s auto parts store, and he filled me in on what all the specs you gave me really mean. I’m sure glad I’ve been driving the BMW and Will’s car, or I don’t think I’d know what to do.”
JC looked at Will. “There’s a part in here for you, my friend. This is Jackson’s first car and most of what he knows about cars he’s learning from you. You’ve got to give him a hand and make sure he stays out of trouble and takes care of it. Will you do that?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do that if I get to drive it every once in a while.”
JC looked at them both. “The tires ought to be good for another fifteen or twenty thousand, unless you spend too much time burning rubber off the line.”
They looked at each other, and Jackson said, “No worries, about that Dad. Tell me one more time that this is for real. I mean, I hadn’t planned to get a car anytime soon. Maybe after I graduated or something.”
“It’s for real, and maybe later you should call your Grandfather and tell him how you feel. This was his idea. I’m just the delivery man.”
Jackson nodded his head, “Good idea. I’ll do that.”
“You know what else,” JC continued, “maybe we should let you drive your new car down to McMinnville tomorrow. Oh, you don’t know yet we’re going to a barbecue at your aunt’s home. I dropped the idea on David when I got here. Are you up for it?”
You could see the glint in his eyes, as he smiled and nodded. “Yeah, that’d be cool.”
“You’ll also get a taste of what it costs to fill up the gas tank a time or two. Gas is a little more expensive now with the embargo and all that.”
We had dinner and talked cars and Jackson filled JC in on the day-to-day details of his job at the ad agency, and Will explained the classes he was taking, and told him with pride, that by the end of the summer he’d be back on track to graduate on schedule.
“Way to go, both of you. I’m proud of you. You’re doing good work. You should be proud of yourselves, too!”
The drive to McMinnville was not cool, meaning it was a warm day and the Challenger had no air conditioning. I made sure that JC understood that took it down a notch or two towards the BMW which also had no air conditioning. He and Jackson were sitting in the front seat, talking car stuff all the way down. I was trying to read one of my psychology text books, but not make a lot of progress. Once we got through Newberg, the road to McMinnville was pretty flat and the traffic dropped way off.
“You want to open it up,” JC asked?
Jackson was giggling.
“What’s so funny?”
He finally got control of himself and said, “It wasn’t too far from here our first summer together when I asked David to show me what the El Camino had, and when he punched it, the thing took off. Then we tried it from a stop, and if just roared and flew away.”
“Well, I can promise you that when you stand on the accelerator, either in third or fourth gear, it’s going to take off, too, and you need to get a feel for what that peak power feels like so there’s no surprises one day. It doesn’t have to be now, but you just need to know the range of capabilities, so you don’t get caught off guard. Same kind of thing for a fast start from a stop. If you just drop the clutch and stand on the accelerator, you’ll be burning up rubber. It sounds cool, but it wears the tires down fast, and they don’t always track straight when you do that. I know that’s not your style, Jackson. I’m just saying you need to know what the car can do, that’s all.”
“David, are you cool with this?”
I said “Yeah,” and could see him grip the steering wheel tighter and he floored the accelerator. The engine roared and the whole car rose up a little bit and jumped ahead. I was watching the speedometer, and started worrying when we hit 75 MPH, and at 80 I felt him ease back on the gas.
“Good decision. Anything over 80 on a road like this isn’t safe. You want to go over 80, you should do it on the freeway or at a track. How’d it feel?”
“Kind of like a monster under the hood. David, didn’t you think it took off faster than the El Camino?”
“Sure did. That only had a 350 V-8, and is a newer car so it had more smog controls and stuff like that than this one does. This baby feels pretty impressive, from back here. How’d it feel holding the steering wheel?”
“Exhilarating, and kind of scary.”
JC softly said, “Scary is never a bad thing in a machine that makes a lot of power. Knowing the range and limits of the machine and how to control it is really important.”
The barbecue was fun, just as it had been last summer. Jackson asked if I wanted to drive home, and I passed since I’d had a couple of beers. “It’s your car, Love, and you need to get comfortable driving it. I’ll drive the BMW tomorrow and give you a rest.”
Will was watching TV when we got home, and Jackson filled him in on the drive and the power test. Will loved it. We ate breakfast late the next morning, and then loaded up to pick up Sam and head down to Silver Falls State Park. JC was in the passenger seat, and they were busy filling Sam in on the new car Jackson had just been given. It wasn’t long before Jackson said, “You know, the three of us would probably have had more room back here if we’d driven the Challenger instead of the BMW.”
JC glanced at me, and I just said, “We could have done that, but then you would have bought your third and fourth tankful of gas this weekend. You know the deal, driver pays.”
I heard a grunt from the back seat, and a bunch of giggling.
We parked not far from the timber lodge we’d rented two summers before when we came down for Church Camp, and headed out on the Trail of Ten Falls. It was less than eight miles total, and less than 2,000 feet of total elevation gain, but was still a great hike and a nice workout. Just as Jackson and Will and I had remembered from Church Camp, the amazing part was the multiple ‘Wow’s’ when the trail dropped into a canyon with a big waterfall, and you saw it there flowing over a huge rock lip, and then the trail wound behind the falling water to come out on the other side. Sam and JC were enthralled, and we had lunch alongside the trail, and were actually back home by 5:30.
I told everyone there was a payoff for the long hike, and that was dinner at the Sellwood Grill, so we cleaned up and walked down to what was a pleasant dinner with, as ever, good food. Sam and JC got along well, and it was clear she’d received a ‘thumbs up’ as part of his son’s circle of friends. After we walked home, Will ran her home.
We sat down in the living room and JC said, “Tell me more about Sam.”
I grinned at him. “Does she meet with your approval?
“Sure. I think she’s a really great person. From what I heard today as you all were talking, it sounds like she’s quite the athlete, too.”
“She is,” Jackson said, “and I’ll fill you in, but some of it is confidential unless she tells you, Okay?”
He nodded, and Jackson gave him the summary about her attending the discussion group, then PDA, about her athletic background, what happened with her girlfriend, and how both Sam and Ruth had become close friends, but Ruth was working at Timberline Lodge for the summer, so was kind of out of the picture till school started.
JC was listening closely, became pensive, then said, “It’s another one of those tragic parents not understanding or accepting their kids things, isn’t it? It seems like most gay or lesbian kids I know or hear about have a bunch or trauma to deal with. I watched Jon go through it, but that was twenty years ago. We don’t seem to have progressed much as a society, have we?”
“No, we haven’t, even though the laws have changed in some states. That’s why the Campus Ministry is so important, and what David is doing is so great. Most of it is trying to help students you are gay or lesbian or don’t know and are trying to figure it out, understand their sexual identity so they can be who they are.”
He looked at me. “Is that the right quote.”
I grinned. “It is precisely: become who you are.” I looked over at JC, “The requirement, of course, is that you have to know yourself in order to become who you are. That’s what I spend most of my time on, whether it in group discussion or one on one. That’s true up to and including with the occasional adult.”
He raised his eyebrows and then said, “Well, I’m glad you’re doing it. I thought I understood and was tolerant because of Jon, but it didn’t take me very long getting close to Jackson and Will to figure out I really only understood a little and wasn’t as tolerant as I gave myself credit for.”
“What do you mean? You accepted me, no questions asked when you found out I was gay.”
“You’re right, I did. But there was still a part of my brain that didn’t want it to be true because I didn’t want you to go through what Jon did. Now I realized that’s a form of intolerance, because it doesn’t just accept homosexuality as a normal part of humanity. So, anyway, I’m slowly getting there. Keep it up, and you’ll have a pretty tolerant father.”
Jackson smiled, stood up and walked over to where JC was sitting in an armchair and asked, “Am I too old to sit in your lap?” JC shook his head and Jackson sat down and put his arms around his Dad’s neck.
“I’ve already got a tolerant father. A tolerant and loving father. Just in case I haven’t said it today, I love you, Dad.”
A minute later he was still sitting in JC’s lap when Will walked in. He looked in the living room and said, “Wow! A love fest. Can I get some?”
We all laughed, and he got a glass of wine and joined the conversation.
We had no plans for Monday, the 4th, so slept in and had a late breakfast, and then eventually walked down to Oak Bottom Park and along the river. We had a pleasant cookout in the evening and found our way over to Mount Tabor later to watch the fireworks.
Somewhere along the way I heard Jackson ask JC how he was getting home the next day.
“Easy. You’re at work, so either Will or David are going to drop me off at the Greyhound station and I’m taking the bus back.”
“You’re serious? You did all this for me and you’re riding the bus back? Why not the train?”
“Because the bus stop is closer to home. I’ve got my car parked there already. A buddy from work picked me up and took me home before I left. It’s called advanced planning. It’s a practice that comes in handy in life.”
He got a dig in the ribs for that, followed by a very warm embrace.
It was late when we got home, and Jackson had to get to bed since he had the work schedule the next day and would be leaving early. I saw tears in his eyes as he hugged his Dad and thanked him again. It was sweet to watch.
Will had a 9:00 AM class, and JC’s bus was at 10:00, so I drove him to the station. On the way I said, “Just for the record, this was for sure among the best family experiences Jackson’s ever had. The other great ones all involved you or Frank! You know he never got anything like this from Lilly’s husband, so what you’re doing is so wonderful and so important.”
“I’m just sorry it’s so late. I’m constantly regretting my decision to stay out of his life.”
“JC, you were making what you thought was the right decision at the time. I can’t imagine you being in the picture would have ever worked while he was still under the misapprehension that he was Bud’s son and living in Bud’s house. It was Bud’s disappearance form the scene that opened up the possibilities, and you have done more than a magnificent job stepping into the picture. You can see in his eyes just how much he loves you, can’t you?”
He was quiet, and I could hear the emotion, and finally he said, “Yeah, I can, and it means more to me than anything else in my life. I’m so happy we’re connected, and so proud of the man he is becoming.”
When I got home from class, Will called and said he was going by the sporting goods store at the end of Sam’s shift and they were going to have pizza after she got off work.
Jackson and I were in the living room when he got home, and we both gave him the interrogation stare. He laughed and said, “She wants to teach me how to do some rock climbing, and asked me to come by and try on some climbing shoes. I thought that was really cool, so I said let’s have pizza afterwards and told her I’d drive her home. She rides the bus, so that was way more convenient.”
“Did you try on those blue Royal Robins? How do you look in blue shoes?”
He grinned. “Yeah, I did, and a few other pairs, too. I’m not buying anything. None of them are cheap, and I’ve never even rock climbed. Anyway, it seems like a fun and challenging sport. We’ll see. How’d the day go for you guys?”
We gave him a brief update, talked about how great a weekend it had been, and then Will said, “JC told me that the dealer he got the Challenger from told him the oil had recently been changed, but he couldn’t say at what mileage, so he thinks we should change the oil and put on a new filter. Let’s do it this weekend, what ’ya say?”
Jackson nodded. “Have you bought one of those car creeper things yet? Crawling around in the driveway isn’t all that comfortable.”
“Well, guess what? I get an employee discount at work. Want to go halves with me on the creeper? I can buy the filter and oil and get that discounted, too?”
“Deal. When do we do it, though? You’re working late on Saturday and Sunday we’re doing a BMX ride.”
“The weather’s good. We’ll do it Sunday morning before we go. It’ll only take twenty minutes.”
We’d fallen behind on the garden and housework, and it took a couple of weekends to get caught up, and then I had a paper due that I felt I needed to take Sunday to work on. Jackson had been fighting a cold, so he passed on Sunday’s hike, and Sam convinced Will to drive them to Beacon Rock to do a short hike and then she’d show him some rock climbing. I told him to bring her home with him for dinner before he took her home, and they showed up looking pretty elated.
Over grilled hamburgers, Jackson and I got a quick description of rock climbing technique, how it was all about the integration of strength and balance, so that you could move into a position on the rock, weight your feet on small toeholds, reach up to find handholds, and then hoist yourself up to the next one, all the while avoiding losing your balance and falling backwards off the rock face.
I found myself saying, “What do you mean by rock face?”
Sam laughed. “David, chill out. We were never more than five or six feet off the ground, right Will? It was kind of like show and tell, what the basics are, what the technique looks like how it all works. If we go again and for any exposure, we’ll set up a rope where the person on the rock is tied in at their waist, held by the other person. Then if they fall off, and they will, the person on the rope catches them and lowers them down. That makes it controlled and safe. But, I’m very comforted that you worry so much about our wellbeing.”
I probably blushed, with a touch of embarrassment, and she said, “I’m serious. You guys all care about me, and you especially care about me more than my parents do.”
I changed the subject and asked Will if he was going to buy a pair of climbing shoes? He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It depends if I keep doing this. I just started you know. Just what I need is another expensive hobby.”
Sam poked him. “I told you, all you need is the right boots or shoes for climbing. I’ve got the ropes and the hardware and all the gear. You don’t need to buy any of that.” Then she looked at me. “I’ve got the gear, he’s got the wheels. The other thing is that what makes it safe and controlled is being on a rope, that’s called being on belay. That takes a partner. Someone’s got to be on the other end of the rope, doing the belay, to catch the climber if they fall off. Solo climbing is a lot riskier, and only the top climbers do that. Like Royal Robbins did on those routes I told you about in Yosemite.”
That gave me a sense of comfort. Will had said almost nothing since Ron had gone to Ashland for the summer, but I noticed the calls were only occasional, and followed by a quick update that things were good, he was busy and learning a lot. If Will wanted to get involved in another sport with a good friend to fill up his one free day of the week, who was I to do anything but encourage it.
What started happening was that on the days we went on shorter hikes, or the days we went for a BMX ride, they’d go do some rock climbing on the drive back to town when Will took Sam home. He’d come home pumped, sometimes with raw or even bleeding fingertips, sometimes with scraped knees, but always happy. He was enjoying this new sport and the challenges it took to become proficient.
In early August Will said he’d really like us to go back to hike the Beacon Rock trail again, and then we could watch them do some rock climbing back at the Rock after the hike. It sounded good to us, and the weather was perfect, the view up and down the gorge was amazing, and when we got back to the Rock, we were both impressed with Will’s prowess. He seemed a natural on the rock, almost like I remembered Spider Man in the comics when I was a kid. Sam was good. She was strong and technically proficient, but Will just seemed to have this uncanny sense coupled with balance and agility that make it look like he had a road map in his mind about what the best route should be, and he moved with an effortless kind of flow.
Jackson and I were sitting next to Sam while she belayed him, and I said, “Is it just me, or does he seem to have some natural ability here that I knew nothing about?”
She didn’t take her eyes off him, feeding out just enough rope to enable his upward motion, with just enough slack so it wasn’t at all restricting, but at the same time just short of taut so if he fell she could arrest the fall quickly with a minimal drop. “You’ve got it David. He’s a natural. That’s what I wanted you to see. I’ve been doing it a while and I’m pretty good and I’ve got a lot of upper body strength, but he’s got the perfect combination of height, weight, strength and balance. He could be great at this if he wanted to be.”
“What does that mean?”
“It just means that for most people it’s recreational. But it’s slowly becoming a sport, and he’s that good. And, yes, I know he’s in college and he rides BMX and he has a job. I’m not pushing anything, believe me. I just wanted you two to be able to appreciate it. He’s like artistry on the rock, don’t you think?”
We agreed, and sat and watched, with Sam calling out the occasional suggestion about where to reach for the next handhold. Will would extend his arm, feel the handhold with him fingertips, settle into the right position on the hold, and then lift a leg to place it onto a new foothold. When he was settled, you could see all the muscle definition in his legs as he held his weight in place, then as he started to move up, could watch the muscles in his forearms immediately followed by those in his upper arms, tense and flex as he started to simultaneously extend with his leg and pull with his arms. It was mesmerizing to watch. It was hot, and the rock was in the sun, and Will was sweating fairly heavily, reaching into a rosin bag on his waist periodically to keep his fingertips dry.
After a few minutes, Jackson said, as if he was musing to himself out loud, “It’s pretty sexy to watch, isn’t it? Shorts and a cutoff T-shirt, watching those muscles work under a layer of glistening skin. I can see why people like this sport.”
Sam grinned, not taking her eyes off Will. “I didn’t know you were a lecher! This isn’t an audience sport most of the time, but it is a nice view. Occasional a very nice view when you’re below your partner and they have to really reach for the next foothold and it opens up the leg of their shorts, and you get to look right in. I’m betting that’s what you’re waiting for.”
Jackson was right back at her. “I would be if it was David. I like looking up his shorts. Will, not so much. He’s not my boyfriend. But I do admire the view, just like you!”
“The first time I took him climbing, he was wearing boxers under his shorts. Today you can see he’s wearing briefs! That first time with the boxers made for a different view to admire!” She was laughing as she said it. “He also learned quickly it was the wrong choice and you want a snug fit.”
“I can only imagine. Everything hanging loose and free, right!” He was laughing right along with her.
That led to some banter back and forth about Jackson and me trying it out when Will came down. Jackson was built much like Will, but not as strong, and he pretty easily stepped up, grasped two upper handholds and lifted a leg up to place the toe of his boot on a foothold and stood up on it while pulling himself up with his arms. He made a few more upward moves, smiling, but hopped down when the next one was a lateral. I tried a time or two, peeled right off the rock, and decided I didn’t have the build or the inclination, but appreciated watching.
Sam and Will were grinning. “See,” she said, “not that difficult, but harder than it looks from the ground, right?”
And Will added, “Can you see where the right shoes come in? Hiking boots are pretty clunky for this. Shoes like the Royal Robbins are closer fitting with that steel shank so you can stand on your toes and the sole doesn’t flex. Or there’s these other ones Sam was showing me with soft soles?”
Jackson looked confused. “The soft sole,” Sam said, “is a completely different approach. Instead of the stiff sole and stand off your toes idea, the idea is that the sole conforms to the rock, it’s called smear, and you conform the sole to the foothold for purchase. Either way, they’re both very different than hiking boots.”
We were all sitting around in the shade, enjoying the beauty of the Gorge and pleased with what had just happened. Jackson and Will and Sam were talking together about climbing, the day, technique, how good Will looked on the rock, and it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t seen him this happy and carefree for a long time, since when he and Jackson re-established their friendship, in fact. After that there had been his sexual identity challenge, then meeting Kevin, then the Kevin roller coaster ride, then the terrible end and the recovery. When I’d first met him back in Newberg, he’d seemed pretty much a happy-go-lucky kid, and I’d lost sight of the fact that so much had changed, and he’d lost that attribute. I smiled to myself, and felt warm inside as I realized I was watching a happy-go-lucky Will again.
When my mind focused back on the activities at hand, it was just in time to see Jackson look at Will and grin, saying, “I was telling Sam how sexy you looked while you were clambering around on that rock face, looking like Spider Man. I bet you’d be even sexier in the right colored shoes. David, do you think he’d look sexier in blue or say, orange?”
Will gave him the eye and said, “Don’t start, man!” But was laughing along with the rest of us.
A little later in the afternoon two other pairs of climbers showed up and started climbing some of the more difficult routes, and it became more apparent where that Spider Man combination of abilities came into play. Strength could make up for deficiencies, but not all of them. Climbers that were tall had a handicap versus those of moderate height, and they paid for it in balance. Really strong climbers were usually bulkier, and that meant more mass to move up the rock. By the end of the afternoon I was understanding what Sam had been telling us about the combination of attributes.
As they were packing up Sam’s gear, we told them both how good they looked and how impressed we were. Before we left to walk back to the Challenger, Jackson said to Will, “I’d go with the cool blue boots. Then you’ll really be able to climb!”
The following weekend, we were all invited over to Robert Atkin’s home for dinner on Saturday. Will whipped home after work to clean up, Jackson, drove and we picked up Sam on the way. Robert lived not far off campus over the top of the Palatine Hill on the Portland side, and had a really cool northwest ranch style home that had a lot of wood beams and an exterior of rough cedar siding. The garden was landscaped in a Japanese style that I knew Lois would really like.
Dieter was there when we arrived, and the two of them looked so happy I couldn’t believe it. We all went through the requisite apologies for not seeing one another for over a month, but life had been busy. Dieter asked about the car Jackson was driving, and there was a delicious smile on his face as he shared the details about coming into the Challenger. Jackson asked if he wanted to see it up close, and Dieter nodded, and both of them with Will went out in the driveway, and I heard the hood open and then the engine start.
Robert waved Sam and I over to an open counter between the kitchen and the dining room and poured us each a glass of wine. “For me, cars are utilitarian. I appreciate that Dieter sells automobiles and is really into them, and it looks like Jackson and Will are car guys to, but I’d much prefer a more genteel conversation here with the two of you.”
His eyes were sparkling, and I said, “I’m pretty much the same way. The BMW is a great car, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not really a car guy, and I can attest that Dieter is an absolutely superb automobile salesperson. Notice I didn’t say ‘car salesman.’ He’s not that at all. He’s very concerned about the right fit of automobile to customer, and totally committed to long term customer satisfaction, but that said, he’s an amazingly effective salesperson.”
Sam had been listening attentively. “Maybe I should ask him for pointers so I can sell more kayaks!”
I told her it wasn’t a bad idea!
I heard the engine shut down and the car guys troop back in the house. Jackson was grinning, and Dieter was smiling appreciatively too. I looked at him inquiringly.
“Don’t assume I am a believer only in German or European cars. I recognize the quality of their engineering and design, but it was driven by a different set of needs after the war. The economies were recovering, there were fuel shortages, we’re smaller countries with for the most part smaller roads. So, most cars were designed for efficiency, and performance was secondary. Here, on the other hand, was a dramatically larger country with long and wide-open roads, very inexpensive fuel, and the designs went in that direction. That said, I appreciate the engineering to manufacture an engine that size and the amount of horsepower it develops.”
He looked at Jackson and smiled wickedly, “It does make an amazing sound when you rev the engine, does it not?”
Dieter went on, “But, it also consumes just a little more gasoline per mile than my BMW. However, I do not believe Sam or David or Robert are what are referred to as car guys, so we should discuss something of more general interest.”
He looked around and asked, “What is new and exciting this summer?” Then he paused, blushed for moment and said, “Robert and I excluded, since you already knew about us.”
Everyone laughed at that, and Jackson said that Sam had been teaching Will how to rock climb. That led to a detailed discussion of what it was, how it worked, and what the risks were.
I could tell the rock-climbing discussion was coming to a close, when Jackson said to Dieter, “Ask Will about the blue leather climbing shoes.”
Dieter raised his eyebrows and grinned, and Will said, “Lighten up you guys. I’m just learning this sport.” He then slyly looked around at everyone and said, “In terms of what’s new, but maybe not exciting, does everyone know that it’s David’s birthday tomorrow?”
Jackson and Sam giggled, anticipating my embarrassment, while Dieter and Robert did the expected ‘Ahhs’ and then joked about how many years had been counted now. I rolled my eyes and let it pass.
Robert understood I would like an exit, and gracefully asked me to help him serve, and I followed him to the kitchen while the conversation continued.
Dinner was a lovely poached Petrale Sole that Robert served with a beurre blanc sauce, accompanied by fresh green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.
As we sat, Dieter looked at Jackson and said, “Apologies in advance, as my salad is not as good as yours.”
Jackson grinned back and made a comment about being available to give lessons, and everyone was loving the give and take.
We sat and talked over dessert, and one of the subjects that came up was running into Dieter at the protest after the Dan White trial sentence, and how that had led to our introducing him to Robert. Out of that conversation Dieter told us about how Harvey Milk had been quite active encouraging homosexuals to come out of the closet, and the tragic loss of his voice was still being felt. What we came to learn was that before 1977 ended, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus had been formed and continued to perform. Robert said there was an effort to form a Portland Gay Men’s Chorale, but it had been a little slower getting going in Portland versus San Francisco. Jackson and Will immediately volunteered if and when it happened.
Before we left, they told us that they were spending the next weekend in Ashland to attend the Shakespearean Theater and planned on looking Ron up. They asked if there were any messages? We all said to tell him ‘Hi,’ and Will told them that he seemed to be having a good summer, learning a lot with the internship, and more and more inclined toward theater set design as a major.
Robert asked if they were staying in regular touch, and Will said, they were, but made clear that while they’d been dating, it wasn’t necessarily something permanent, because they were both helping each other work through their problems. He looked at me and said, “That’s something David helped us come to grips with. Namely, the nature of our sexual identity, sorting it out, and freeing ourselves to be true to ourselves. I’m glad he’s having a good summer in Ashland. I’m having a good summer in Portland too.”
They said that they would convey our greetings and best wishes when they saw Ron, and shortly after we headed over the hill to drop Sam off, and then down to the Sellwood Bridge to head home.
The next morning JC called early and asked what we all had planned for Labor Day weekend. I told him that as far as I knew we had no plans yet and asked what he was thinking.
“I managed to get the entire weekend off again. The 4th was so great I decided I’ve got to do all I can to spend time with you guys. The opportunity for things like this only comes once in a lifetime. So, anyway, I found this place at Bay Center on Willapa Bay where I can rent a couple of cabins. That means you guys could drive up and I’ll drive down with Frank, and we could have a great Labor Day weekend together. What do you know about Willapa Bay?”
I said, “Not much except we drove along it when went up to Forks to meet you to go fishing. It’s beautiful, that’s for sure.”
“It is, it’s an amazing body of water. Most of it is estuary, home to some of the best oysters in Washington, lots of hiking and kayaking. Anyway, it’s a great opportunity, especially this close to Labor Day. They only had one cabin left, but then had a cancellation and called me back. So. There’s two. We’ve got to act fast or risk losing it. Do you want to do it?”
“Jackson’s in the shower and Will’s not up yet. Oh! Does the invite include Will? Remember you made a deal that he’d be included in the next adventure. What about Sam? We usually all do something every Sunday.”
“David, Will’s included, and if Sam wants to come, great, and we’ll make it work. I don’t know how many beds each cabin has, but we’ll make it work. Each cabin has a full bath, so it’ll be comfortable. Talk to the boys, then call me back. Don’t take too long. If we’re going to do this, we have to decide this morning, as in soon this morning!”
When Will came into the kitchen, Jackson and I were working on breakfast, and I told them what was up, and both were thrilled at the idea. Jackson was grinning, and Will said, “You’re sure I’m included? Like JC said, I could be part of this? I don’t want to be the friend that just got dragged along.”
“Will, he likes you a lot, you know that. He made you a deal, and we’re all part of this family we’re making. Remember? You’re included in the invite. We’ll have to sort out the bed arrangements, but he needs to jump on the reservations this morning if it’s going to happen. Sam’s included, too, but it’ll be late morning by the time we talk to her. Do you know what she’s got planned for Labor Day weekend?”
“Nothing I know of. She told me she could get Saturday off if she wanted to, but was probably going to work, since she had nothing else going on.”
“So, do we call JC back and say ‘Yes,’ including Sam, and then we’ll all go to work on her to get her agree if she tries to resist.”
He grinned. “I like that plan. It’ll be a great weekend no matter what. Yeah, let’s do it.” That took care of plans for Labor Day.
We ate breakfast, and then he looked at me and said, “Now, my Sexy Man, about your birthday.”
I rolled my eyes again, hoping this wasn’t going to be a big deal.
“You’re not getting away with ignoring it. That’s all there is to it.” With that he handed me two gift wrapped packages, one an album and the second a small box. He smiled softly and I smiled back, taking the packages and kissed him on the cheek.
I opened the album first, to clear anticipation on their part. It was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “You’ll have to tell me about it, I’m not familiar with the band, but it’s an interesting name.”
“They’re billed as a psychedelic rock band, and listening to some of the Moody Blues songs got my attention. There’s some interesting songs and pretty amazing guitar work. Will and I thought you’d dig it.” I grinned at them both and reached for the small package.
The anticipation on their faces increased measurably, and I felt a little suspicion. When I opened the package, it contained two bottles of something I’d never heard of or seen before, called KY Jelly. I looked at him quizzically?
“It’s a surgical lubricant that just became available over the counter. It’s supposed to be way better than Vaseline or baby oil.” His eyebrows were wiggling like an electric current was running through them, and he was grinning like a wild man. Will was cracking up.
Jackson finally got control of his facial expressions, and then said, “Something else comes along with it.”
I raised my eyebrows.
Now I cracked up. “I’ll go for the combination. I suppose to do them both justice we’ll have to do some experimentation, won’t we.”
Will was almost falling off his chair, he found it so funny. When he’d quieted down, he handed me a gift that was clearly an album. I opened it slowly and said, “Wow! Two albums on my birthday., I guess this means you guys don’t think I have a large enough collection?”
He grinned and said, “No, you’ve probably got too many, but it’s important to stay current. Any ways, with all the driving and listening to the radio, I realized with all the shit going on in our lives for the last year or so we missed a big release. This is Linda Rondstadt’s latest called Simple Dreams. It’s got two Top 10 hits that are on the radio all the time, Blue Bayou and It’s So Easy. It overtook Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, and I really like the songs, and think you will too.”
“Thanks, you guys, for being so thoughtful. This is a great pair of gifts. We know music is the food of love, so amazingly you both have given me something that focuses on love. Well, maybe, love and making love!”
Summer term at Lewis & Clark ended a week earlier than it did at Portland State, so Will was through finals and had done very well, while I was still writing my term papers and preparing for final exams. He’d picked up another day of work at the auto parts store until school started after Labor Day, and also had the option to keep working Saturdays after school started, if he wanted to.
That Friday Will took us all out to dinner to celebrate finishing Summer term and being back on the scholastic schedule. He’d called home to update his parents on his confidence of good grades after finishing final exams, and was clearly happy he’d done well and was back on track.
We picked up Sam and Will drove us all to the restaurant in the Red Lion Inn on Jantzen Island, right on the Columbia River. The restaurant had pretty good food, and looked out on the Columbia River through huge windows. The weather was great with blue skies and bright sun, and we started on the deck and then went inside for dinner, and all toasted Will’s academic success. In the course of the conversation, Will and Sam told us that they’d be gone the next weekend. She’d been able to get Saturday off at the store, and wanted to expose him to a different and more challenging type of rock climbing and a new location while the weather was still good. They planned on driving to Smith Rock on the east side of the Cascades and do some hiking around and also climb the Rock itself, which was just above the Crooked River. They explained that Smith Rock itself had a large number of climbing routes.
We talked about the drive, the hikes and the climbs and it did sound like fun. They’d be camping, but Smith Rock was part of a State Park, so had a campground and restrooms, and wasn’t that far from the small town of Terre Bonne. We told them it sounded like a good undertaking.
Will actually worked three days during the week, he said to cover for other employees and to pick up some extra money to cover the trip. On Saturday morning, he went to pick up Sam early before they headed for Highway 26 over the Cascades. I told him I’d have breakfast ready when they got back, so they could eat and run. Their goal was to be there by early afternoon to get a hike and some climbing in on the first day. Even though it was an early breakfast, it was a lively and animated one, with lots of talk about climbing, the do’s and don’ts of camping, and safe driving on highways over the mountains.
We walked out to the driveway with them to say goodbye, and I told them to drive carefully. Sam gave me a big hug and said, “Yes, Dad. We’ll be safe.” I grinned at her, told her I took that as a compliment, and we stood there watching them back down the driveway and head down our street.
“I hope they have a good time, and no accidents or problems.”
“Yeah, me to.” He paused for a while, and then said, “You know something’s going on, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Between Will and Sam.”
“Wait! You’re the counselor and you’re acting like you’re not seeing anything. Maybe you’re too close to the subjects.”
“Anything’s possible. You tell me what you see, Dr. Freud.”
“I see them getting closer and closer. I’m not saying if it’s a thing or not. I’m just saying I’m seeing it happen, that’s all.”
“I told you what hit me a month ago, about Will again becoming the happy-go-lucky young man he used to be. Don’t you think that’s the biggest part of it. He’s content in himself. He’s past Kevin and that trauma. He’s caught up with his academic schedule and had a good summer. He’s learned a new sport and is really good at it, and was taught by one of his really good friends. He’s got time off between quarters and gets asked to go camping. Add that all up, and of course he’d be happy and close to her.”
He had his arm around my waist, and squeezed, and said, “I’m just saying that I’m seeing things and getting a vibe. I didn’t say I have X-ray vision or anything like that.”
We spent Saturday being domestic, and that included house cleaning, laundry, and then the requisite garden work and lawn mowing. On Sunday we drove to Forest Park above Portland in the West Hills and did a long trail hike.
Will got home after 6:00 PM on Sunday, and besides being a little sunburned, looked both elated and tired. He dumped his dirty clothes by the washing machine, stowed the rest in his room, and joined us in the kitchen as we prepared dinner.
“You look like you had a good time, at least if sunburn is any measure.”
“Yeah, the elevation is higher, and a lot of the climbing routes are on the south face, so they’re in the sun. Do I look that burned?”
“No,” quipped Jackson, “just a nice light red, kind of like a lobster five minutes into a boil!”
Jackson grinned. “No, it’s not that bad. But you should be putting plenty of lotion on tonight. How was the camping part? Did you like sleeping on the ground?”
Will rolled his eyes. “Not so great. That was the only not great part. I think we need better ground pads, or whatever they’re called, if we do this again. That ground was hard.”
“Sounds kind of like when David took me car camping down by Devil’s Lake and we slept in the back of the El Camino. We dragged that beater mattress out of my fort and threw it in the bed. It was a piece of crap, all broken down, and we didn’t sleep for shit. Come to think of it, the love making was pretty shitty too because the roof on that camper was low, and there was no room to do anything!”
Will laughed out loud. “You guys were more novices that Sam and I were. At least we had her tent and some camping gear.
“Since you’re car camping,” I threw in, “why don’t you just buy a couple of air mattresses. They’re not expensive. They’d be heavy if you were packing them in on a hike, but to just walk from the car to a camping area, they’ve got to be a lot better.”
“Good idea! I’ll remember that one.”
Over dinner he told us about the hikes around Smith Rock, and then detailed the rock climbs. They’d had a lot of fun, met up with some other people from Portland and climbed with them a couple of times.
“It was cool for all those reasons and because it’s a different kind of rock. And on top of that, it is so beautiful. Smith Rock just sticks up in the air on the north side of the Crooked River. I mean the river is here, and right next to it this massive yellow rock formation sticks up. It’s so beautiful it’s almost surreal. And it’s got all these climbing routes, and you can see the peaks of the Cascades from the east side. Anyway, that was all totally cool.”
“And no problems or complications?”
He looked at me. “Like what?”
“Well, no flat tires, you didn’t run out of food, you got along, you didn’t get robbed, you know, all that kind of stuff.”
“No, none of that kind of dramatic stuff.”
“What about less dramatic stuff?” Jackson asked the question softly, and I knew where he was going.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘less dramatic stuff.’ We climbed and hiked together. We camped together. We cooked and ate together. It was great. We just have a lot of fun being together.”
“What do you mean ‘and?’ I don’t understand.”
“Will, it’s me you’re talking to. You got a little tense about the ‘less dramatic stuff.’ Come on, what’s the deal?”
“Well, like I said, we did all that stuff together and it was lots of fun and it was fun being with her. And, and…we slept in the same tent together, and I didn’t know what to do.”
“Meaning didn’t know what to do more than what friends do?”
“Yeah, I guess. I’m not sure. I mean…you know, after Kevin and Ron…I was feeling things, and…”
“What did you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Nothing heavy. I felt like I wanted to hold her in my arms.”
Jackson had gone quiet, so I stepped in. “Did you ask her what she felt like doing?”
“Maybe if you had you’d have had an answer to the question, you would have known what to do, as long as it was what you both wanted to do. Does that make sense?”
He paused, then said, “You mean we were together and doing stuff together and having fun, but we weren’t talking about the other stuff, the real stuff, how we were feeling?”
“Specifically, if I’m reading the tea leaves right, how you feel about each other. Can I ask you a delicate question?”
He paused again, then looked at me directly. “David, you know me. I know you. You can ask me anything, about anything.”
“Are you feeling a little uncomfortable or even embarrassed about what you’re feeling?”
He was quiet.
“You don’t have to answer that question. Maybe you’re not at a place yet where you can answer that question. Maybe it’s the same for Sam.”
We sat quietly for a couple of minutes.
“Will.” He looked up at me. “One final comment. Don’t push it, and also, don’t be afraid of it. You and Sam have a great relationship. People feel all kinds of things within a great relationship. Just be aware of it, don’t push it, understand it, don’t suppress it. You remember when we were meeting together in Newberg?”
“What did it all come down to?”
I could see him running the memory tapes and thinking hard. “I guess it all came down to ‘know yourself and be true to yourself,’ right?”
“That pretty well sums it up. Be true to yourself and you’ll be fine. You’re both bi, and you’ve become good friends with a lot of shared interests. You’re also both human beings at the peak of your physical development. It’s not unusual to feel physical attraction. You’ve just got to sort out where it fits in the picture, that’s all.”
“How come it can be so complicated?”
“Because, as a wise man once said, ‘there are no simple answers to complex questions.”
Dieter called on Tuesday to tell us that they’d had a really pleasant trip to Ashland, enjoyed the performance they’d attended at the Shakespearean Festival, had some good meals, and gotten together with Ron.
I told him that sounded like a very positive trip, and he said Ron had been able to join them for lunch. Dinner was out because even though he was doing set design, during performances the designers were part of the set crew, so he was working most every evening.
“How did he seem to you, Dieter?”
“He appeared to be in good form. Meaning his attitude was positive, he seemed happy, he told us he had learned a great deal and was more and more sure that set design was what he wanted to do.”
“That tracks with what Will says he’s been told. That all sounds good, right?”
“Yes, it does. It appears to be a significant experience with a major theater company, and of the type that most students do not get between their first and second year of college. So, that is very good for him if that is his desired career choice. Success in theater has a very large element of both experience and connections. I mean, on top of talent and ability, which is a given.”
“It sounds to me like you know something about theater. That’s an area I didn’t know about you. Tell me more.”
“Well, I acted for quite a few years, in college and afterwards. Nothing professional, all amateur, but the dynamics are the same. If you watch, you’ll see the same names for producers and directors rotate through major festivals and staged performances. It’s much the same with classical music. Herbert von Karajan was my favorite conductor when I was younger, and he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic. However, he also guest conducted many other symphonies. Theater directors are the same way, and a network builds of talented lead actors and choreographers and even set designers that they would like to work on certain productions. So, getting known and established early is quite important.”
I agreed and asked if I could ask something somewhat personal. He said yes, and I asked, “How did he seem personally? My observation is that he and Will haven’t communicated that much over the summer. By contrast, when I was back east for a week for my parent’s funeral, Jackson and I talked every day.”
His smile became a grin. “Ahh, but you were in love them. Very much, perhaps even madly in love, is it not true?”
“Yes, it’s true, but still. You understand what I’m asking.”
“I do, and I also remember both Will and Ron making clear that they were dating, not madly in love. Isn’t that how they described it? That said, he’s having a good time, as in a lot on fun on the social side, too. There’s a much larger what you might call gay community in the theater world, and he’s dating. I think the American term is ‘playing the field,’ is it not?”
I nodded. “And?”
“And, I got the impression that it is settling into something more than just dating with one person, based on the frequency with which the person was mentioned. I know it was wonderful for him dating Will and being around you and the other students at the Center, but I think he’s discovering what it feels like to be part of a larger gay community, to be able to explore all the options. Such a contrast to how he grew up. Perhaps out of that is coming something more substantive or permanent. I’m only surmising based on what he said. Does that answer your question?”
“As much as you are probably able to tell me, so thank you. Jackson and I have been concerned, given what Will went through with his last boyfriend, and he seems fully recovered and doing very well. But one is always concerned when a relationship ends.”
Dieter said he completely understood, and we talked about a few more things before he rang off.
Wednesday Will called at lunch and said he was taking off early from work because Sam was, and she’d asked him to go kayaking with her “You know, kayaks from the store, it’s all free for employees. I’m going to pick her up at 3:00 and we’re going to some place near Sauvie Island.”
I told him it would be good practice for Willapa Bay because we would be kayaking there. “If you two want to come by here before you take Sam home, I’ll keep dinner warm.”
He said that sounded great, and they pulled in the driveway about 7:30. Jackson and I had been lounging around in the living room, and we all settled in the kitchen when I pulled the food out of the oven. Jackson poured them a glass of wine and refilled our glasses, and quizzed them about the kayaking. They’d spent time in the big slough on the west side of the island, then downstream in the Willamette, then back up to the slough.
“It’s kind of a giant version of what David and I did around Ash Island back home, right? Except I’m betting the Willamette is a much bigger river there. It’s almost to the Columbia, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s only a few miles to the confluence,” Sam said, “downstream from Newberg the Tualatin and the Clackamas Rivers join the Willamette as well as tons of creeks, so there’s lots more water. Paddling upstream at that point is a lot of work. You don’t want to have to do it for very far. Next time maybe we’ll go do white water on the White Salmon River.”
I looked directly at her and said, “It looks like you had a lot of fun together today. Like you both really enjoyed being out on the water together.”
She glanced at Will, and I swore there was a momentary and subconscious reflex on her part to reach for his hand, but she stopped it. I didn’t know if Will saw it, but he’d glanced at her and smiled, she smiled back. Will looked at me and said, “Yeah, it was fabulous. The weather was great, there wasn’t much boat traffic, we had a lot of fun together.”
I looked back at Sam. “So, you’re feeling good about this, too?” I knew it was a leading question, and I was asking it on purpose. I saw the slightest sly smile on Jackson’s face.
She looked at me like she didn’t understand. As if it was so obvious a question that it didn’t need to be asked.
“Sam, did we ever tell you how Jackson did the thing with me about my feelings? I know Will knows.”
“No, fill me in. Jackson’s full of all kinds of stuff, so I’m betting it’s good.”
I looked at Jackson, and he outlined how I’d been out of touch with my feelings when we got together, and it didn’t take too long for me to figure it out and even tell him that I understood and asked for help getting in touch with them.
“So, I made a point of making sure he was in touch with his feelings whenever I saw him drifting out of touch. The most extreme example was when his parents died, and he went on auto pilot because he had to go back east, pretty much organize everything, deal with the funeral and all the rest of it. I could tell he was shutting down.”
She didn’t say anything, but her expression said, “Tell me more.”
“Well, I knew enough from what he’d told Gary and me after our Mom died, about going through the grieving process, that there’s a tendency to shut down your feelings. Or even if you don’t totally shut them down, to kind of ignore them because you’ve got this other stuff to deal with. So, while he was back east, I’d call every day and eventually get around to asking him what he was feeling? Sometimes I had to really press to get him to say what he was feeling. You know what I mean about how you can turn the feelings off or kind of ignore them?”
She nodded. He went on, “And if you’ve turned them off or if you’re ignoring them, then it’s hard to talk about them.”
Will hadn’t said anything, and Sam was silent, too, but she and Jackson were looking at each other as he talked. “So, a couple of times I had to come up with a game or stunt, or whatever you want to call it, to get him in touch. Like we did this thing where I’d make a kissing sound and tell him I was sending him a kiss down the phone line and ask him if it had arrived, if he could feel it yet?”
“That’s so nice. You really are a sweetheart.”
“Yeah, he is, and he was, and the truth is that I needed it because like he said, I’d gone on auto pilot. I can still remember thinking about the kiss thing, ‘this is pretty childish,’ and then he kept after me and finally I realized, this is my boyfriend telling me he loves me. Not just that, what he’s doing is for me, to make sure I don’t lose sight of how much I’m loved. And then I realized what I hadn’t been doing. I hadn’t been loving him back. I’d been so caught up in the stuff I was dealing with that I’d turned it into a one-way street.”
Will was still quiet, and Sam’s face had gone blank.
“When I got back to Portland, Jackson arranged to come pick me up at the airport. And, he came alone…on purpose. And, do you know what he did? He drove me to campus, where we’d been not too long before when we were visiting colleges together, and we both really liked the campus. And we walked me out across the big lawn, and we sat on one of those benches looking out east over Portland and talked, about feelings and caring for each other and loving each other, and finally, he pulled me out of it.”
No one said anything.
“What I’m saying is that it’s important to be in touch with your feelings, and even if you are in touch with them, maybe especially if you are in touch with them and they concern another person, you’ve got to be willing and able to talk about your feelings with them.
Her expression had softened, and I saw her glance at Will. He smiled at her softly, and she smiled back.
She looked back at me.
“My sense is that you two have gotten closer and closer in a whole lot of ways, but you’ve both got conflicting feelings going on. Within you and between you. We’re not trying to force you to talk about them till you’re ready. But we are pointing out to both of you that it’s kind of apparent to us that something is going on, and that something is good. We’re encouraging you two to work it through, openly and candidly. You’ve both gone through your own kind of heavy stuff in your life and in your relationships in the last year or two. That’s enough right there to create tension, or maybe conflict. We’re just encouraging you both to be completely open and candid about it. We see you two together, and you know what, it’s good.”
Jackson was smiling at Sam and said, “You know Will and I can talk about anything, and you and I are getting closer, but we’re not there yet. Can I do something for both of you?”
Sam looked momentarily confused and a touch concerned, but she glanced at Will and he smiled back at her, with a slight nod conveying total trust.
“I want all you guys to come with me into the living room. I’m going to play you a song. Is that Okay?”
Will was grinning now knowing what was going on. Sam’s tight smile softened as she saw it, and then she connected with the feeling of total trust coming from Will, and her smile broadened and she said, “Is this some kind of music therapy?”
Jackson simply said, “It’s music. You’ll have to tell me if it’s therapy!”
We all trooped into the living room, and Jackson headed for the record collection and cued up an album. I recognized the cover and knew where he was going.
“I’m playing this song for both of you, and I know Will has heard it already. You both heard me tell Ruth about it at PDA early in the year, but I think it’s important not just that you hear the song and what it says, but that you hear it together. Are you hearing me? That you listen to it together. It’s a Steven Stills song called How Far that David played for me back when, that kind of says it, at least for me.”
He lowered the tone arm and sat down, and we listened to the song play. When it ended, he lifted the tone arm and said, “It’s a guy and gal song. When David and I listen to it, we had to change some words around to make it for two guys. You get that, right?”
They both grinned at him.
“So, the first point is how the song opened. The words tell a story of struggle and resolution.
Most of my life I have spent alone
Most of this past year I been searchin' for my home
I met a girl she won't leave my mind alone
If she's listening I hope she understands my song
It goes: If you get lonely
All you gotta
Do is call me
I'll come on the run
Wherever you are
No matter how far
You heard the bit about ‘time spent alone, and searching for my home?’ And then the part about ‘meeting a girl that won’t leave my mind alone?’ How do those words feel to you two?”
He paused, and no one said anything. Will and Sam were sitting next to each other on the couch, and their hands came together.
Jackson went on, “the next block of lyrics is pretty striking too:
Bless my soul I think I'm fallin' again
I hear my woman she is callin' me again
If she needs me I gotta go she's my best friend
Y'see I promised her and I remember what I said
I said: Most of this life is such a hard road to go down, go down
Count your blessings on the good friends you got hangin' around
It takes two to be friends it takes two to be lovers
Know you got it made when you got one that’s the same as the other
“This is serious stuff, you guys, because we all know from experience that life is a hard road to go down, and you do have to count your blessings on the friends you’ve got. Are you with me?”
He looked at them, willing them to answer the question. Both of them nodded and said “Yeah, we are.”
Jackson smiled, and the smiled widened into a grin, and then his dimples flared, and he said, “You two know I love you totally, right? Will’s my best friend, and Sam, you’re just about there, too. So, for me the main line is:
It takes two to be friends, it takes two to be lovers. You know you’ve got it made when you’ve got one thing or the other.
I said back in PDA that I’d change the second sentence to say,
You know you’ve got it made when you’ve got both things in your lover.
I’m really lucky that it’s what I have: both things in my boyfriend. I don’t know if you will, but I hope so. But I’m just encouraging you two to get over this thing, this being stuck and talk about how you really feel for each other.”
Listen to the YouTube video of Steven Stills and Manassas perform How Far
He fell silent, and both Will and Sam were quiet, too. You could see the emotion on Will’s face, and Sam was on the edge of tears.
I looked at them both and said, “We want you to know we’re not trying to tell you what to do or how to do it. We’re not trying to run you’re lives, but we see something we think needs to be addressed. That’s all. Sam, so you know, Will knows something else that you may not or are just figuring out. We all grew up in families that were dysfunctional one way or another. All of us who appear to be so together. You get what I’m saying?”
A strained smile swept across her face.
“So, one of the things that’s part of the program here is that we’re building a new family. One that’s inclusive. One that’s loving and accepting. One where people get loved and helped to be all that they can be. Are you Okay with that, because I know Will’s signed on already?”
Her smile changed to more open, and she nodded her head.
“Great. I’m only going to say a couple more things, and the first is this. You both label yourself as bi, because along the way you’ve dated the other sex, but your most recent relationship was homosexual. I want to make sure you aren’t somehow hung up around that. Instead of thinking about it like the last relationship was with someone of the same sex, you need to think about it as a relationship with another person, because at the end of the day, we’re all looking for that relationship with the person that is our other half, with the person that fulfills us and makes us complete. Are you with me on that?”
They both nodded, and now their fingers were interlaced as they held hands.
“So, back to what Jackson was pointing out about the song lyrics, what I want to make sure you both hear together is the central point. It’s about love and friendship. In equal parts. Lovers and best friends. That’s the key question. It’s not about gender or genitals. It’s about the person, about being lovers and best friends.”
Jackson went over to them, sitting on the coffee table, and put his hands on their knees. “Okay, the lecture is over. I don’t know if it was therapy. That’s not what I was after. All I was after was trying to get you guys over what looks like a little sticky spot so you can talk about what you’re really feeling and what really matters.”
Will reached his arm around Sam and pulled her in for a hug, while he said, “Thanks, Bro. You’re the best.
Sam simply smiled, her eyes moistening again.
The next weekend we left early on Saturday morning and drove to Astoria and then north to Willapa Bay. We’d agreed that we’d only take one car, and settled on the Nova because it was roomier than the BMW with more truck space, but got better gas mileage than the Challenger. We knew we had a shorter drive than JC and Frank, and that allowed us to drive up Long Beach Peninsula to Ledbetter Point State Park and take a short hike, admiring the Bay on the east side and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean pounding the beach on the west side. Our schedule was leisurely, and after lunch we drove back south around the southern end of Willapa Bay, and then north on Highway 101 to Bay Center and the cabin location.
The timing was perfect. JC and Frank had arrived almost an hour earlier, handled the cabin rental and were getting settled in one of the cabins. We went through the greetings, and someone watching from afar would have thought we were long lost relatives meeting for the first time! Frank was pleased to meet Sam, after hearing so much about her. It turned out that each cabin had two twin beds and one single roll out bed. We all looked at each other, wondering how this would work best, Sam being the only female in the group.
Will moved closer to JC and said, “I have a suggestion if you think it would work. Sam and I went rock climbing last weekend and we camped. We’ve got her tent in the car, and at David’s suggestion, I bought two air mattresses this week. We’ve got sleeping bags in the car, too. How about if we pitch our tent between the cabins so we’re all together, we’ll sleep in the tent, and we’ll share the bathroom in David and Jackson’s cabin.”
JC was smiling. “You mean share the bathroom with those two, so you don’t risk embarrassing the two old duffers on the trip, namely me and Frank?”
Will stammered, “No, I mean….no, I didn’t mean…” He saw JC was laughing, and walked over and grabbed him into a hug. “You’re bad, JC. You’re bad. Now I know for sure where Jackson gets it from.”
JC gave him a huge hug back, and said, “I’m sure that’ll work. I’ll go do a sanity check with the owner. You know, in the spirit of no surprises. I’d be surprised if they have a problem with it. If they do, then they actually would have a real problem with something else they don’t know is going on yet?”
We all looked at him quizzically.
He laughed again. “There’s two gay guys getting it on in one cabin, and two old guys who have gone without for a long time in the other cabin. How funny is that?”
We were all pretty much in hysterics by that point.
Jackson and I helped them set up tent, but it didn’t take much. It was a nice Holubar two-man tent with rain fly, and had a high enough peak that you could almost walk in the front, and then had to drop to your knees as you went further in.”
We all sat on the porch of JC and Frank’s cabin as evening approached, sipping wine or pulling on a beer, and talking about the latest. JC was really interested in hearing about the trip to Smith Rock. He’d heard good things, but never been there. Frank was full of questions about Jackson’s summer job, how he got, what he was learning, and where it might go. The conversation then turned to Sam and her job, and finally Will got his about summer term and the auto parts store.
“Hey, don’t give me a hard time about the auto parts job. Someone has to work the counter, and that someone has to know their shit about cars. Most people have cars, so funny thing, most people need something from an auto parts store. All that said, there’s one more thing I get besides a paycheck you none of you do. An employee discount on auto parts!”
We all kind of laughed at that, and then Jackson said, “Yeah, true. But back when at home when you worked at your Dad’s store, you didn’t have to pay anything. So, the end result is you’re paying more now than you did then.”
Will looked at him and said, “You have a unique ability to be a killjoy, and if you weren’t so fortunate as to have a glass of wine in your hand right now, I’d tackle your ass right off that step and have you face down in the grass.”
Jackson grinned. “You and who’s army?”
Frank laughed and said quite loudly, “Maybe I should go get the bucket of cold water right about now.”
To which JC replied, “Probably not necessary. They’re actually quite civilized most of the time. Maybe we just go to dinner instead.”
We followed JC and Frank and had a pretty good dinner of fish and chips. On the way home Jackson pointed at something on the side of the road and asked what it was.
“It looks to me like a couple of 55-gallon drums cut in half. And judging by the sign that says ‘Barbecue’ I’d guess the grates on top tell us that they’re grills or something. I’m kind of liking the idea of grilled oysters. What do you guys think? Maybe we go there for lunch?”
Jackson was game, but he was adventurous with food. It was kind of quiet from the back seat. When we got back, we all re-convened on the porch of JC and Franks’ cabin and talked a little longer. Eventually the yawning started and after agreeing on a hike in the morning and kayaking after lunch, the party broke up.
JC said, “I’ve got all the fixing for breakfast in our cabin, so Frank and I are the breakfast chefs. Coffee will be ready at 0800, followed shortly thereafter by breakfast. Tomorrow it’s bacon and eggs. G’night all!”
We had the windows of our cabin wide open, and while you couldn’t hear the lapping of the surf on the shore because we were on the east side of the bay, you could certainly feel and smell the marine environment.
When I came out of the bathroom, Jackson was laying on the bed naked. “God, you’re a sight for sore eyes. You do know how beautiful you are, right?”
“You do know, and it’s so sexy.”
“Is it just me, or is this ocean air sexy. I’m getting hard just laying here waiting for you.”
“Is that the ocean or the fact that you’ve been thinking about me?”
“Maybe it’s both,” he said, as I settled down on the bed next to him and started playing with his pubes.
“What would you think if I shaved my pubes?”
I had to think about that. “Why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t know, it just seemed like an interesting thing to do. You know, it makes it all smooth and slick. Do you think it would make me less sexy for you?”
“No, you’re flat out sexy. See, you’ve got this lovely cock here, see how it’s standing up proud and beautiful. That’s called sexy. It would be whether you shaved or not.”
“So, it’s be Okay with you?”
“You mean it’s up to me?”
“Well, I’d want you to be happy with it.”
“Oh, so I get to like test, or make an assessment. And if I’m not happy?”
“Then I’d grow them back.”
“That sounds good. And if I was happy with you shaving them, then what?”
“Then you’d be telling me you really like smooth and slick, and I would require you to at least lick it once a day.”
“Really? That seems like a pretty big requirement?”
“You wouldn’t want to make love to me every day?”
“I didn’t say that, did I?”
“Well, maybe you should start right now. You could start here just above my pubes where it’s nice and smooth and tell me what you think.”
“If I do that, you know where this will end, and the windows are open and there are two people in a tent just outside there. Can you keep it kind of quiet?”
“Maybe I don’t have to. Maybe they’ll be so busy themselves that they won’t be listening to us.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice. Now, Lover Boy, where do you want me to start?”
Jackson and I were up and on the porch of JC and Frank’s cabin just before 0800, and JC had cups of coffee in our hands right on the hour mark. All four of us sat on the porch watching the morning light brighten. The cabin faced the bay, but east of us were mountains, so while dawn came early, it was later on when the sun actually came over them and the bay began to receive full light. It was pleasant to sit, talking occasionally, watching the light increase and the tide slowly come into Willapa Bay.
About 8:15, we heard a zipper sound, and a few seconds later Will emerged from the tent and came over to the porch. JC had headed inside as soon as he saw Will come out, and came back out with a cup of coffee he silently handed over to him.
“Thanks, JC. You’re the best!”
They both smiled at each other.
Will sat down next to Jackson on the top step, sipping his coffee.
“Isn’t it great? Watching the light increase, seeing the tide in the bay?”
Will nodded. Jackson put his arm around his shoulder, giving him a hug. Then he put his other arm around me. It felt wonderful.
We all sat there quietly, five guys together, just appreciating nature as it unfolded on this beautiful September morning.
After a while we heard the zipper, and Sam emerged, waved at us, and headed to our cabin…presumably to use the toilet. A few minutes later she came back and JC was already standing there with a cup of coffee for her.
“Good morning, gorgeous!”
He grinned. “You’re the only possible candidate for gorgeous in this joint. You do know you’re with five guys, don’t you, and none of us qualify as gorgeous.”
She laughed lightly at that, and as she sat down next to Will she said, “Thanks, JC. No one has ever called me gorgeous before.”
JC grinned widely and wiggled his eyebrows, and then said, “Dad, come on, it’s time to start cooking.”
They disappeared inside, and within a minute the smell of bacon wafted out the door and across the porch.
I’d been looking out at the bay, just taking in the vista, the extent of the water and the growing light.
Jackson had been watching Will and Sam. When she sat down next to him with her coffee, she stroked his back with her free hand, then slipped it around to hold his free hand and bring it up to her lips for a kiss. He leaned over and kissed the side of her face, and she slipped the free hand around his waist.
Jackson gave me an elbow in the ribs, and when I looked over at him, he nodded his head toward then and wiggled his eyebrows. It was a scene of placid love.
Jackson looked at them and said softly, “So, did you guys sleep well? Like, the ground wasn’t too hard?”
Will knew the interrogation was underway and smiled brightly. Sam ignored Jackson.
“The ground wasn’t hard. I bought two air mattresses like David suggested. With the sleeping bags on top, they were terrific. We didn’t even feel the ground. It was great sleeping.”
Jackson wasn’t letting go. “Great. The sleeping was great. How was everything else?” He’d seen the slight smile on Will’s lips.
Will paused, figuring his course of action. “It was a wonderful night. Didn’t you think so? I noticed you had the windows wide open to capture the ocean air. How did you two sleep? I’m guessing you did more than just sleep, but how was it overall? Did you ocean air help?”
Good for Will. He could give as good as he got.
“Oh yeah, we slept really well when we finally went to sleep. I was telling David how sexy the ocean air is. Did you guys find it that way.”
Sam finally looked at him and said, “So, this is the way it is with you guys? No privacy?”
“Sam, really! We’re all just one big happy family, don’t you know?
“Yeah, I know, and I dig it. So?”
“So, what do you want to know?”
Jackson paused. He hadn’t expected Sam would come right back at him.
“I just want to know that everything went well. You guys look so cute and happy this morning.”
“Didn’t your mother teach you about not lying?”
“Lying? What do you mean lying?”
“You don’t just want to know if everything went well. You want to know what went well, right?”
“Well, yeah. I just want to be sure.”
“I’ll dare you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You tell us what you and David did last night, and we’ll tell you what we did last night?”
“You mean you want a blow by blow take down on our sexual escapades?”
“Pretty much.” She looked at Will and was grinning widely because she knew she had Jackson backed into a corner now. “Will, don’t you think that’s Okay. Jackson gives us a detailed run down of what he and David did last night, and then we will, too?”
“Oh yeah, I think that’s fair. I want to know if it started with Jackson in his boxers or if it started with him naked, though.”
Sam looked at Jackson. “Well, what do you think? You go first.”
Jackson looked at me. He’d had his bluff called. I just rolled my eyes. In the end I didn’t care if we told them Jackson and I had fucked each other the night before. That wasn’t the point. It was that he’d pushed a little too far and gotten called on it.
He swallowed hard and finally said, proudly, “We made wild and passionate love.”
Sam looked him straight in the eye, smiled widely, and then said equally proudly, “So did we.”
Jackson was still mentally deciding to try and go for more detail when JC called out that breakfast was ready, and we were all to come inside and serve ourselves. That conveniently ended the discussion about the previous night’s activities.
As planned, we hiked in the morning, and kayaked in the bay in the afternoon. The highlight of the day, though was going to that place on the side of the highway with the 55-gallon drums. It turned out that there were a pair, each had been cut in half length wise and hinged, and under the grate that covered the lower half was a bed of charcoal.
What was on the menu was smoked oysters, six per order, served with French fries or Cole Slaw. For each order, fresh oysters were shucked laid open on the grill in one shell, with a shake of seasoning and a dash of Tabasco, and then the lid was closed. Four minutes later the lid was opened and out was served grilled and smoked Willapa Bay oysters. They were unbelievable. Freshly tasting of the ocean, meaty and succulent. They were equally fabulous with either the slaw or the fries, an absolutely killer lunch.
We repeated at the only restaurant in town Sunday night, and had another enjoyable evening. When we got back to the cabins, we were all sitting on the porch of JC and Frank’s cabin having a final glass of wine, and Jackson looked at Will and Sam and said, “I’m sorry if I was too pushy this morning.”
They both laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Will told me that as soon as we got to the cabin this morning, you’d be giving us the third degree. To be fair, he said it would be out of love, not out of malice, but I pretty well knew what was going to happen. So, I figured, all’s fair in love and war.”
“So, you’re not pissed?”
She paused, looking at him hard. “Jackson, how could I be pissed at someone who I love so much and who’s my boyfriend’s best friend.”
Jackson was silent. A rare thing. She spoke before he did. “You all heard that right. I just said Will’s my boyfriend. We’ve sorted out our stuff, and we’re happy to tell you.”
She turned to Will and took his hand, “I shouldn’t be doing all the talking, I’m the newest one here.”
He hugged her and said, “No worries. It’s true. We’ve sorted out our stuff, thanks to you two confronting us. We’ve talked about our feelings and our hang ups and what’s happened in our lives and what mattes and what we want. What we want together. Sam’s my girlfriend. I’ve found my other half.”
Jackson said softly, “That’s so far out.”
JC and Frank and I all said something mild and congratulatory. We talked for a while longer, then the yawning started. As Will and Sam got up to head for their tent, Sam leaned over toward Jackson and said, “I know you’re dying for the details, so I’ll tell you some. Yes, Will and I got it on last night. But you know what? We were way quieter than you and David were!”
JC and Frank, who had been dutifully watching this unfold, taking it all in, but saying nothing, finally totally cracked up. They were laughing so hard JC almost tipped his chair over, and I thought I was going to have to find an oxygen bottle for Frank.