OpEd: Straight Guys With Cigars

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I felt like a character from a Robert Heinlein novel. I was a stranger in a strange land.

Last week, my cross-country summer tour took me to my hometown, Brooklyn, New York, and Peter Luger's Steak House along with a host of other venues, from baseball stadiums to Broadway shows. Yes, I saw Hamilton. So hate me.

The first of my journeys was a reunion of old guys who once played baseball together. Or at least we thought we did. Okay, you win. We pretended to. We were not exactly dukes of the diamond.

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We were a collection of Los Angeles Dodger Adult baseball campers who 20 years ago, in the 1980s and ‘90s, ruled the roost at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida.

Here it is, a generation later, and no one is hitting line drives or throwing curve balls. We are taking heart pills and comparing our knee replacement surgeries. But we are unrepentantly hedonistic baseball enthusiasts still, helplessly succumbing to our urges. Thus, year after year, we gather in a self-indulgent reunion of feasting and fantasy.

Still, it is something very special, because bonding with your buddies generates visceral charges to your soul. It is like a quiet ride in a nice car on a country road. It recharges your being.

Last week, then, I found myself with a collection of businessmen, you know, complaining about their wives and lives, pounding down beers while chomping on their toxic stogies in some mountain lodge removed from civilization. Meanwhile, I am silently vaping on my pen, filled with the highest quality THC, scored a week before at a dispensary in LA.

It was a beautiful sight. Real estate magnates Wayne and Bob were smoking Cohibas. The right wing anesthesiologist from Indiana was snorting propofol. Meanwhile, their gay publisher buddy was doing sour diesel and pink kush.

A group of guys came in from all over the country, and in a few short days we were reliving memories from years ago. We talk about the guys no longer with us, reminiscing about fantasy camp championships one minute and chemo treatments the next. You do it too, when you run into an old college buddy, talking about your youthful conquests, and those college days when you woke up eating Chinese food off the floor.

You see, we all have a lot more in common than we do apart. I have learned over the years what counts most is not the stats on the field but the friendships fostered off it. So it goes.

Together, we would go to Yankee Stadium to watch a young Dodger rookie from Mexico start his second major league game against the Bronx Bombers. For me, it was no different than watching a young Cuban dancer make his debut at Le Boy or the Boardwalk. At least there I stand a chance, because I sure would not be able to hit a 98 mph fastball anymore.

As 13 guys were getting ready to load up for the ride to the stadium, the driver lost the keys to the van. It could have as easily been my ex-boyfriend, John. He still does that twice a week. We will laugh about it next year though, when we meet in Arizona for Spring Training.

Even though all these guys I am hanging with are straight and married, they don’t have a problem with me- I mean, as long as I don't hit on their sons. Actually, a lot of these 60-year-old dudes probably wish they too could date a 25 year old, albeit of a different gender. But they settled down and raised families. The Supremes said a couple of years ago gay couples can too, and the Earth is still on its axis. How about that?

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Ironically, on the same weekend we met in New York, a Connecticut summer camp that I was a counselor at in 1969 was holding a reunion of its own. There too, I gathered with a half dozen former campers, now married, of course raising lesbian daughters. Camp Kendale alumni all, we met in South Windham, comparing bunk raids and Fribbles from Friendlies. The ties we had made then cut through 45 years of time like a dinner knife through warm butter.

Walking through one of the old bunks, we could see some of our names carved into the wood on the original ceiling, etched in decades before, when we were young and still dreaming. We walked down to the lake, as beautiful day as it was so long ago.

There is a moral to this tale. Gay or straight, rich or poor, male or female, the people you meet when you are young become special as you get older. The paths you crossed, the roads you took, settle like rocks on the ocean floor. They are there for all time.

The truth is we are all kids at heart, but some of us will grow up to build nuclear rockets while others will just win bowling tournaments.  Either one is okay, because what freedom delivers to all of us is free choice. I wish the sick zealots from all over the world could understand that. There is a lot more you can do with your life than being a homicidal suicide bomber.

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The saddest part of our planet today is that we can't all live in a world built by Disney or Universal Studios. There, everyone gets along. Instead, our lives are marred and mangled by purveyors of hate who want to steal our freedoms away, their own lives lost with obsessive hatred. Why? What for? Life is too short, our windows too brief.

So there I was ending my vacation on Times Square in New York, at a reunion with life-long friends, only to hear of a senseless bombing in Chelsea, 16 blocks south. Meanwhile, at theaters and restaurants all over Broadway, life went on. Terrorism won’t stop our future. It will just bloody our nose. Those of us that survive, we will go on. Sadder, wiser, but we will carry on.

Gay or straight, we play out the nine innings of our lives, just as athletes and actors do- with many hits and some strikes or busts along the way. But we learn that statistics can still be kept when your playing days are over, because our lives are measured not by points scored or Tony awards won, but friendships made and loves captured. 

It’s a precious journey, and you get one go. Make the most of it. You create the world you live in by each and every choice you make every day.


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