An
AwesomeDude 10th Anniversary
Story

Pyrrhus

by vwl-rec

Email vwl-rec

“The struggle was over by 2018 for all intents and purposes. It ended in a complete victory for gay rights.” Steven took another sip of the vintage 2012 Port that I had brought, tipping his glass toward me. “Not bad for a 30-year-old wine. You have good taste, young man.”

Having finished a wonderful dinner and two bottles of wine, we were sitting side by side on the porch of a beach house on one of the far inlets of Puget Sound – a beachfront structure that probably had not changed much in 100 years. The Ice Age had carved out a hundred-mile-long channel between the mainland and the Olympic Mountains, which rose from the water’s edge across from us in the west. The mountains were now silhouetted in mauve and gold under the setting sun. The smell of the sea permeated the air as the tide sank to its low ebb.

Steven returned to his main topic and the purpose of my visit: “The only holdouts in this struggle were a handful of small Muslim countries, and they may never leave the Seventh Century behind. The irony is that the gay community actually may benefit from those countries one day.” My eyebrows rose in question. I knew I would get an explanation from this long-retired law professor from the University of Washington, Steven Elmore, and a renowned expert on the gay-rights struggle.

He had won two major gay-rights cases at the Supreme Court, one on free-speech grounds. In one, Awesomedude.com vs TelComm, the court in 2014 found that TelComm could not discriminate against awesomedude.com by refusing its subscribers access to the website. The decision was a fine present for the website’s 10th anniversary. In the other case that Steven argued, Gay Coalition vs. Reparative Therapy, the Supreme Court in 2015 had affirmed a lower-court decision that homosexuality was not a choice, a position that would be accepted quickly throughout the United States and the world – except for those small Muslim countries.

The comment that the gay community may benefit from those small countries, though, would have to be explained in the morning because we were too mellow from the food and wine to pursue a topic so serious – the topic I was researching for the web magazine where I worked.

* * * * *

I had arrived several hours earlier, guiding my car down a dark, narrow, curvy, one-lane, paved road from the highway on the plateau to Steven’s house at sea level. The mile-long, steep route led through dusk-like light caused by the unbelievably beautiful 12-foot-diameter, old-growth fir, hemlock and cedar that forced the road to their realm, as if the road was an intruder that needed to be repelled. Patches of sunlight – spots of brightness on the forest floor – could be seen from time to time piercing rare breaks in the foliage. Electricity wires trailed from wooden post to wooden post under the trees. There were a few gated, side driveways on the way down, apparently leading to other houses, none of which was visible from the road I was on.

Professor Elmore’s spacious house was at the end of this road – on a flat bench of land 15 feet above mean sea level. The house was clad in cedar shakes under a cedar-shake roof. Weathering had turned the wood into a deep brown. Beyond the house and toward the water was a neatly tailored lawn leading to a sea wall. Beneath the sea wall were oyster beds, exposed in white and sand-gray at low tide. A garden had been planted at the south end of the lawn, guarded from depredation by a deer fence.

I had barely turned off the engine when Steven came around the house from the front porch, a big smile of welcome on his face. “I’m Steven – not Steven Elmore, not Professor Elmore. I’m glad you found the place.”

“Jeff Colson. Pleased to meet you,” I said as I shook Steven’s hand and handed him the bottle of port that I’d brought. “The cloud navigation system left me at the turnoff, and since you advised me not to use it to go down the hill, I had to drive a car farther than I have in months. But the drive was worth it. That is an amazing road; it seems like driving through a different century.”

“Nicely put. Satellite navigation doesn’t work too well in a forest that dense and that old, so you got a chance for an old-fashioned driving experience. So, let’s gather your luggage and take you to your room, and then we can have a glass of Pol Roger before dinner.”

Despite his age, Steven snatched one of the pieces of luggage out of my trunk. I took the other, and he led us into the house.

The house felt the same inside as outside due to the dark, aged wood – mainly, knotty pine. The faint smell of years of wood smoke emanated from the large, currently cold, stone fireplace – no fire at the moment but chopped wood was stacked and ready. The fireplace rose almost 20 feet to the ceiling. Part way up its large-stone chimney was a second-floor balcony gallery, with bedrooms leading off it. A narrow stair led to the second floor – a stairway that creaked with every step. I had managed to grab the heavier suitcase from Steven before we climbed the stairs. Off the gallery were a number of bedrooms that could house a dozen guests. Steven led me to one of them. “Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll be on the porch when you come down.”

I unpacked the few things that I had brought, used the bathroom, and went back down to the main floor. Steven was sitting outside in one of the Adirondack chairs on the porch and motioned me to sit in the one next to him. He had opened the champagne and had two crystal glasses ready on the small table between us. He poured a tiny bit for himself, took a sip, nodded his head and filled the glasses.

“I assume you have some time to relax with wine and dinner before we get down to the reason you are here. So let me tell you a bit about this house, a story that plays, peripherally, into our later discussion,” he said, waving his arm to incorporate the house but also the beach and the scenery.

“It used to be that all the rooms upstairs were filled on many summer and fall weekends. We had a gay old time…,” Steven said as he leaned back in his chair, “in all historical senses of the word. As you may have noted, the walls upstairs are thin, so a gay old time was heard by all as well.” Steven’s eyes gleamed with humor at his pun and his memory. “Our weekends were really bacchanalias – food, wine, sex, play. Joy and fun. We were absorbing the fruits of our victory. We didn’t notice what was slipping away – and that we were all getting older.

“Of course, we had similar weekend parties before winning on the gay-rights issues, but after we won, all the clandestine nature of our meetings disappeared. Coming here became something natural, uninhibited, open and free, the reward of a hard-fought struggle.

“There was a bustle about the place: cooking, playing cards, eating and drinking, oyster-gathering, kissing, hugging, and holding hands, and sneaker- dipping.”

“Sneaker-dipping?” My eyebrows rose.

“Often when the evening was warm enough – and we were inebriated enough (which was very often) – we would go sneaker-dipping. You couldn’t call it skinny-dipping because the barnacles were too sharp to go without shoes. In late summer, there would be a bunch of us who decided that jumping in the water sometime after midnight would be a glorious adventure. So we dumped our clothes on the porch, put on some old sneakers that were always available on the steps – as they still are – and raced for the water. We’d store the sneakers on the floating dock once we cleared the barnacles and then turn our adventure into true skinny-dipping. God, those were the days.”

Steven reached across the table, lifted the champagne out of the ice bucket and refilled our glasses.

“And the food. I think the finest amateur chefs in Seattle would bring their best to our weekends. They would spend hours and hours of cooking before they came, preparing for those meals – particularly the sauces. We would sit at the table on the porch…,” Steven pointed to a large, heavy wood table that took up most of the south end of the porch – “eat great food and drink equally great wines…” He stopped, seemingly halted by his reflections. When he began again, there was a wistfulness in his voice. “Premiere-cru Bordeaux, village Burgundies, the finest of the California, Washington and Oregon vineyards – I can still taste them.”

Steven took another drink of his champagne, his eyes looking across the lawn to the sea wall, the water and the mountains beyond – a view that had not changed in a hundred years.

“Sorry. I’ve been rambling on like an old man, not like the young and virile man as I see myself in my mind. You know, we never can really cast off our younger selves even as our bodies become more frail.

“Now, tell me what you are up to, Jeff.”

“As I told you on the phone, I’m writing an article on the current status of gays in the Northwest,” I said, “but I’m at a loss to describe what’s going on. Where are they? You’re the preeminent world historian of the gay movement, Professor Elmore—”

“Steven.”

“…Steven, so I came to pick your brain.”

“Your visit is timely. I’ve been trying to synthesize my thoughts on what’s happening. I can try out my thesis on a guinea pig. I’m assuming you’re straight, am I correct?”

“Actually, no. I’m gay.”

Steven raised his eyebrows. He was taken aback; his query had yielded an answer he didn’t expect, something a lawyer is taught to avoid, but he recovered quickly. “That’s interesting. If you’re gay, you must be somewhat alone in the world.”

“Not exactly. I’ve got lots of friends.”

“But most of them are straight. Am I right?”

“Well, I have some older friends who are gay.”

“Can I hazard a guess that those are almost twice your age. You’re in your early 20s, I presume.”

“Yes, 22. But why do you assume I must be ‘alone in the world’?”

“It’s part of my theory.”

We sat for a few moments, quietly sipping the wonderful champagne that Steven had opened. After a while, he rose from where he had been sitting, showing his age in his careful movements. “You must be getting hungry. Let me think about how to best present my thoughts to you while I make dinner. So, how about we recess this and have something to eat?”

I wanted to tell him that I was more hungry for answers than for food, but I nodded my acquiescence. I followed Steven across the foot-wide pine flooring into the kitchen. “Can I give you a hand?”

“That would be wonderful. I have two nice veal chops and the makings of a mushroom risotto with mascarpone. Maybe, I could persuade you to put a salad together.”

“I’d be happy to.”

“In the drawer there are some scissors. In the garden you’ll find lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. In the fridge, there is an avocado. On the shelf above the utensils are some olive oil and vinegar. Am I making the task too daunting?”

“Not at all. There’s nothing like a salad fresh from the garden.”

“Ah, a man after my own heart.”

We spent the next hour in companionable cooking. I was directed to find a wine from the wine-storage bin after Steven’s suggestion of a 2025 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon or 2027 Chateau Montrose – or both. He said ‘both’, so my decision was easy, and I carefully carried two bottles of wine into the kitchen. We chatted about this and that as Steven finished off the veal chops with a port and demi-glace sauce and added the mascarpone to his risotto.

I put a tablecloth down and set the dishes, wine glasses and utensils on the table on the porch and then returned to the kitchen to assemble the salad as Steven plated the inch-thick veal chops and the risotto. After pulling a loaf of warmed bread out of the oven, I helped carry the food and wine outside.

We sat down side by side looking out over the mountains, and Steven poured some of each wine in the glasses in front of us. A toast for the Montrose and a toast for the Woodward Canyon, and we dug into the food in front of us.

When I put a forkful of meat and sauce in my mouth, my only regret was that I had not been there years earlier when Steven’s friends gathered for what he had described as his ‘gay’ weekends. If the food was as good as I was tasting, I could have even done without the sex – almost. The thought of a sexy weekend with a number of gay men started me giggling, which drew a questioning look from Steven.

“I was just amused, thinking about how truly sense-filled your weekends here must have been.”

“I take it that you’re enjoying your dinner. Wait until you taste the pithiviers I made for dessert. If I were 60 years younger, that would be the final dish, and then I would seduce you.” Steven laughed.

“You must think I’m easy,” I said. “You’re right. I wish there were people my age to make such enjoyable times. Why, with another sip of wine, I could even contemplate sneaker-dipping.”

“There are sneakers on the steps. Go ahead.”

“But I don’t have a swimming suit.”

Steven leaned back and eyed me, raising his bushy, grey eyebrows and laughing at me, his eyes merry.

“Oh,” I said.

“I will enjoy this and the memories it brings back,” Steven said as I stripped off my clothes, put on the sneakers and headed to the water. “And maybe I’ll feel some stirring in my loins – enough embers there to remind me of my years of sexual joy.”

Puget Sound was cool as I waded up to the knees and thighs and balls-shrinking cold beyond; I had to count to three and jump forward into the sea for the ‘beyond’. I quickly got used to the water, though, and swam toward the floating dock, throwing my sneakers onto the boards. A few quick dives from it, a glance at Steven applauding my antics from the porch of the beach house, and I was ready to come out of the water – well, almost, considering the hard-on I was close to sporting despite the cool water. But I decided what I sported he had already seen in various forms over the decades.

Steven had found a towel to soften the goose bumps from the sea water and the cool, evening air. After drying off, I was handed a robe and blanket to warm me and at least cover my tumescence. Steven seemed to enjoy my predicament.

“The sight of you brings back wonderful memories, but I am too old now to act upon them. If I were many years younger, I would have joined you,” Steven said with the tone of a lament. “So, are you ready for dessert, some coffee and some of that port you brought?”

We ate his fine almond dessert – I had seconds – and ended up with a wine glass in my hand, looking over the water to where the last of the light was settling behind the mountains.

After a half hour more of conversation, Steven ended the evening. “I’ve eaten and drunk enough that, at my age, I’m ready to collapse into bed, so I’ll wish you goodnight, and we can talk again in the morning. You can find your way upstairs, I’m sure.”

I did, and I took a quick shower to wash the salt off my body, took care of my sexual needs, and fell into bed.

* * * * *

I awakened to the smell of cinnamon. By the time I finished cleaning up and had shaved, the smell of coffee had joined the scent of cinnamon, and I couldn’t get down the stairs fast enough.

Steven handed me a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice as I entered the kitchen, and then he put some bacon in a hot oven. Freshly iced cinnamon rolls were cooling on the counter. Steven poured some strong coffee from a thermos.

Bacon, cinnamon rolls, orange juice and coffee. I was in heaven.

Sitting at the table on the porch again, with the mountains now lit by the morning sun and ready to test one of the finest minds in the country sitting across from me, was also heaven. I knew I was going to get the answers to my questions and the material for the story I was writing.

“We never noticed what was happening” was Steven’s opening to our discussion. “The changes came slowly over the past three decades, almost unnoticed. I think I have unraveled the mystery and found an explanation of what happened. I plan to write my ideas up and give a few lectures on them.”

“And you’re not retired enough to stop working and writing.”

“Writing and studying and teaching what I’ve learned are my passions. And in order to write, I need to have a foundation to build upon, just as a litigator needs a foundation to do cross-examination.”

For a while there was only silence. A blue heron had stalked its way along the beach and was now directly between us and the Olympic Mountains beyond. I poured another cup of coffee from the carafe on the table and picked at the final crumbs of my cinnamon roll. A bald eagle soared in front of us before rising up to the top of a tall fir tree that overlooked the beach. This place seemed so idyllic and so far from the mid-21st century.

Steven’s eyebrows arched and a questioning expression crossed his face. “Why are you gay?”

“I was born that way.”

Steven nodded and looked at me closely.

“My dads are gay, too.” I added.

“They adopted you?”

“No, I was born to a surrogate mother.”

“Ah, that makes sense.”

It was my turn to have a questioning expression on my face.

“You said you were 22.” Steven said finally.

“Yes.”

“And you said you don’t have many gay friends your age.” Steven asked.

“Not really. The people my age must be either straight or in the closet. If 10 percent of the population is gay, there must be a lot of people in the closet. Either that or I’m radioactive or my personality turns everybody near me off.”

“I don’t think that’s what’s happening. But first, a point of fact. The 10 percent number was based on a study of a prison population by Kinsey. Later surveys showed the number closer to 4 percent in the population as a whole. But that was when those surveys were taken – between 2010 and about 2020. If you accept my theory of what has happened, that percentage would be substantially lower now – pure arithmetic.”

Steven looked closely at me, appraising me. “Twenty-two is a fine age. By the way, I know another young man about your age who has also tried to understand what has happened. ”

Steven’s digressions could be annoying – this time into matchmaking, it appeared. I knew he had been a professor at the UW and was considered one of the best and was the expert on gay history. But I was looking for answers, and he wasn’t very forthcoming in a manner timely enough for me. My face must have shown my coming exasperation.

“You didn’t come here to talk about matchmaking, did you? You came here to talk to this old professor about the gay ‘crisis’, as some have called it and to get answers.”

“Yes. What happened to the gay movement? Where are the gays in our society?”

“Let me ask you a few more questions. Was there a GSA chapter in your high school?”

“There may have been, but it was not really active. With acceptance of gays in society as a whole, its purpose probably had passed.”

“And the same is true, I presume, of your college gay-support clubs?”

“I think acceptance of gays obviated the need for those clubs. They had died out before I got to the university.”

“And you would explain the demise of gay nightclubs for the same reason?

“Yes, there isn’t really a reason for gay clubs to exist when other nightclubs accept gays and lesbians on the same basis as the rest of the population.”

“You have come, I surmise, to the tentative conclusion that the lack of gay groups results from gays and lesbians blending with society as a whole and no longer being singled out. So why are you here – except for some fine food and wine?” Steven grinned.

“I think I’m missing something in this narrative, and I didn’t know about the food and wine.”

“The food and wine are my pleasure to offer. You are right that you are missing something – at least, based on my current thoughts on the problem.” Steven poured himself a fresh cup of coffee, added some cream, and stirred it, laying the spoon in the saucer with a clink – the whole operation done in a teasingly languid manner.

“Do I need to beg to get you to enlighten me?” I asked with a smile.

“Yes. But first go get us some more orange juice from the refrigerator.”

“Grrr. You are exasperating.”

“It’s a privilege of age.”

I returned from the kitchen with the pitcher of orange juice, setting it down in front of us with a clang, which elicited a laugh from Steven.

“Aren’t you going to pour me some?”

I poured him some. “Why are you torturing me?”

“I’m not torturing you. I’m having fun with you. You’re a fine, enjoyable, intelligent young man, who is blessedly gay despite all odds.”

“Despite all odds?”

Steven took a sip of orange juice and followed it up with a sip of coffee. “What has happened has been so gradual that we never saw and never realized what was coming. Ultimately, our world as gays and lesbians has been profoundly changed. We won equality – decisively – but we lost the war, like General Pyrrhus did in his battle with the Romans. The bigots in our society couldn’t have gotten a better result if they had tried. General Pyrrhus would sympathize.”

“How could we have won and still have lost?”

“Your analysis about GSA clubs disappearing, the college counterparts withering, gay clubs folding and the like is true. But the reason all this happened and the reason that you are a lonely gay man – I am right about that, aren’t I? – are related. The fundamental answer is genetics.”

“Genetics?”

“Yes.”

There was a silence. I didn’t know where to go from here or where Steven was going. I pretended to enter information into my computer while trying to absorb what was said.

“Imagine,” Steven continued, “when Noah was loading his ark—”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Next, you’ll be telling me stories from Leviticus.”

“Given my sexual persuasion and love of plaids, I don’t think so. I’m just trying to make an instructive point. The ark story is a fine tale.

“If Noah had loaded his ark with two male giraffes and two female horses along with the rest of the pairs of animals, that would have been the end of giraffes and horses as species.”

“…Instead, we got inbred giraffes and horses?”

“Well, that would have been a problem post-Ararat. But you see where I am going.”

“I think so.”

I sat for a long while mulling over what Steven had concluded about the gay movement. “So we’re a bunch of male giraffes leaving the ark and only able to live out the remainder of our existence.”

“The genetics that we used to refer to as the reason we didn’t ‘choose’ to be gay is the same genetics that could be our undoing. Gays are not reproducing in sufficient numbers to replace our population. You’re gay, I know, but that is because you carry one of your father’s genes through the surrogate mother. But most gay men and women who want children simply adopt them, and the children they adopt are increasingly heterosexual. There are fewer and fewer gay men and women to be assimilated in the general population. Of course, there are some people that are bi and some that just slipped through the cracks – born to a gay or bi parent.”

“That’s a bleak picture for a gay man like me.”

“Yes, it is.”

“So what do I do? We can’t return to a gays-in-the-closet world or a seventh-century theocratic regime.”

“It is a bit ironic that there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between oppression of homosexuals and their perpetuation. I hadn’t thought of things that way. Anyway…”

Steven reached for a pad of paper and wrote down a name and a phone number, tearing the top page off and handing it to me.

“First, for you personally, this is the name and number of my best friend’s grandson. He’s also about 20, and he was born as a surrogate child to two wonderful gay men. He’s gay, just like you, and he’s as alone as you. My guess is that you two will get along famously.

“Second,” and a twinkle rose in his eyes, “the answer to what you can do is in Genesis. Not the two-by-two on the ark story, because we know that won’t work. No, it’s a bit later in Genesis: ‘And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.’”

“In simpler words,” I said, “gay men and women need to go forth and multiply.”

Steven nodded.