Back in Toronto, I had a friend named Jack. After graduating for the local university (as did I), Jack went on to get an MFA at the Yale School of Drama, studying alongside Henry “The Fonz” Winkler and Emmy-winning actor Ken Howard (who once co-starred in a pilot I wrote called Island Guy.) It was the end of the academic year, and Jack needed to get his belongings out of his dorm room.
At that same calendarial moment, I harbored thoughts of becoming a stand-up comedian. (It was a bad idea, but sometimes, you have to burn through the bad ideas to get to the good ones.) I’d arranged – or, more accurately, it was arranged – I have little ability to arrange things myself; somebody has to do it for me – anyway, an arrangement was made for me to appear at a “New Comedians Showcase” at the Improvisation in New York City. I just needed to get there. Hopefully, considering my financial situation at the time, cheaply.
Aware of my circumstances, my friend, Jack, who had a car, and was driving to Connecticut (where Yale is) to pick up his stuff, asked if I’d be interested in accompanying him, after which, he would drive me to New York City for my comedy debut, after which we would drive home.
I said yes, and we went.
Since the drive to Yale would take more than one day, Jack had arranged for us to spend the night with friends of his, who lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. We arrived there that evening, and were cordially welcomed.
Allow me some haziness. I know there were a lot of people in the house, eight, maybe, ten smartly dressed gentlemen. Plus an uncomfortable number of cats (My “Comfort Number” for cats is one; this pack shot way past my quota.) I also recall that among the guests was a playwright, whose oeuvre included Equus, a play I had seen and had thoroughly enjoyed (even though it involved blinding some horses. They didn’t really do it. It was a play.)
I recall a very good dinner at a beautifully set table. I recall a lot of wine being consumed. There may also have been other mind-altering substances – I’m not being coy here; I don’t remember. But it was the sixties, so their presence was probable.
I remember a succession of exquisitely told stories, met with explosive peals of laughter. I remember myself, being uncharacteristically silent. I don’t recall saying a word. The other guests were charming, sophisticated and successful. And I was none of those things.
I guess I was in awe. Or shy, or exhausted from the drive, or drunk, or, likely, all of the aforementioned. I mainly spent the evening keeping a steady succession of cats from leaping into my lap.
Finally, it was time for bed. Our host escorted us to our sleeping quarters, and bade us good night. We carried in our overnight bags, and looked around. The room was of ample size, decorated in the style of the house – which was Colonial – and had one bed.
It was a large bed, I believe, a “king.” But there was only one of them. And there were two of us. Two men. Two adult men. And only one bed.
Belated realization: It was a gay house. Everyone there was gay. I should have picked up the signals – more than one houseguest had been wearing a scarf – but I hadn’t. My only thoughts were, “That guy wrote a good play”, and “I really wish there were fewer cats.”
I guess it was no leap to assume we were gay too. Two guys traveling together, seeking shelter in a house full of gays. It was a misunderstanding. The most natural thing in the world.
Jack and I laughed. Nervously. But confidently. Then we got ready for bed. We slept really far apart.
The next morning, our host asked, “How was your night?” to which I replied “Excellent.”
Then I realized that could be taken two ways. So I added, “I slept very well.”
Even though I hadn’t. I had things to think about. They’d thought I was gay. Did that bother me? It was a little odd. Was their conclusion merely a casual assumption, I wondered? Or did these fellahs have insights into these matters of which I was personally unconscious?
The truth is, being a congenital “stickler”, what bothered me was less that they thought I was gay than that they’d made a mistake. I like things to be what they are. And they’d gotten those things wrong. That’s what really bothered me. I’m almost certain of it.
The thing that stayed with me longest from this long-ago experience was how unquestioningly I was accepted. It didn’t matter what I was. I was their friend’s friend – end of story.
I was included in the bunch. Erroneously categorized, but included nonetheless. Who knows? Maybe they’d labeled me consistent with my natural proclivities, and they simply didn’t care.
People accepting you for who you are. It feels good.
It also seems like that feeling ought to run both ways.
Overcoming intolerance is a lifetime endeavor. That surprising sleepover in Stockbridge was my illuminating first step.