As my bus pulled up to the curb, I looked at the dark and closed office of the Canterbury bus depot and felt a chill of fear, despite the air conditioner not working and the temperature in the bus reaching what must have been the nineties. I looked at my watch; one-thirty in the morning. We were six hours late due to engine trouble that afternoon in the next state over. What would I do for a place to stay at this hour?
I stepped off the bus along with two other riders, both of whom looked to be about college age. Standing in the dark on the sidewalk were what appeared to be two sets of parents. I stood alone and waited for the driver to remove my suitcase from the luggage compartment.
"Excuse me," I asked as the driver dropped it uncaringly down in front of me. "Do you know a motel or hotel nearby?"
Saying nothing, he jerked his head toward the bus and got back on. The door slammed shut, the bus took off, and across the street I saw an old, seedy looking structure, "The Hiway 12 Motel." There was a light on in the office. I sighed, picked up my battered Samsonite suitcase and trudged across what the street sign called "Main St."
An older Hindu or Pakistani man sat behind the desk; he didn't look up.
"Excuse me, may I have a room, please?"
As if he couldn't have cared less, he slid a card across the counter with a chewed and broken pencil. I filled it out and handed it back.
I looked uncomprehendingly at him.
"Eye DEE," he repeated.
"Oh," I said, suddenly realizing what he was requesting. I pulled out my wallet and withdrew my fake driver's license, the one that said I was eighteen, grateful my old state had not yet converted to picture IDs.
The man glanced first at the ID and then at me and threw it back. I paid for the room for one night, he handed me the key, and I dragged myself and my suitcase out the door.
My room was at the far end of the building, past several beat-up station wagons and pickups. I was sweating like a pig as I stopped at the door. Even in the middle of the night, it was hot. I was surprised. I had deliberately chosen a northern state because I hated the hot and humid summers of the South. This was definitely NOT an improvement.
My heart sank as I entered the room. The stench was not much different from that of the industrial strength disinfectant that permeated every bus and depot to which I had been consigned for the last two days. I turned on the light and saw two roaches run for cover along the window sill.
Well, I thought, at least it’s not home.
And the water was hot, for which I was infinitely grateful. After spending forty-eight hours with every prison escapee and mass murderer east of the Rockies, breathing in their cigarette smoke and catching naps on the cold marble floors of bus stations while waiting for connections, I felt dirtier, nastier, and more disgusting than ever before in my seventeen years on earth. I ripped my filthy clothes off and allowed the hot water to wash over my body, cleansing me of the residues of the last two days and renewing my spirit and my emotions.
I felt so much better as I returned to the room. I would not risk the cleanliness of the bed, so I dressed again in clean clothes, pulled down the bed spread, lay down, and fell into a deep sleep.
It was nearly noon when I emerged from the room. The day was already in the nineties; I donned a nice, short-sleeved shirt and a pair of slacks. I wanted to be comfortable in the heat, but still look respectable and presentable. I walked along Main St. and gazed at the century-old buildings and realized, "This is my new home." They looked respectable enough and the people seemed friendly as I passed them. There weren't many people my age, but it was summer. Most of the college students would be home until the fall.
I was hungry. A couple of blocks ahead a sign on s store across the street caught my eye: Mancinelli's Pizza. Pizza definitely sounded good after all the greasy hamburgers I had ingested during my trip. A second, smaller sign in the door, however, was of even greater interest. "Help Wanted."
I walked in and saw the place was neat and clean— a couple dozen tables with the obligatory red-checked plastic table cloths, with a counter in the back where orders were taken and beer dispensed. The place was half-full with small-town businessmen and a few kids my age. A few people looked at me and watched as I approached the counter.
The boy behind the counter looked to be about my age. He was really cute, my height with olive skin, thick curly black hair, and the biggest brown puppy-dog eyes. I tried to avoid getting hard, though once it started acting on its own, my dick very seldom took orders from my other head. The kid smiled warmly at me and our eyes met, perhaps for a second longer than they should have with neither of us speaking.
I asked what a calzone was and after he grinned and explained, I ordered one. "You're not from around here, are you?" he asked as he handed me my change.
I mentioned the southern state from which I had just escaped.
"I thought you sounded Southern," he replied. I was surprised. I never thought I sounded Southern. In fact, the kids at school always called me "Yankee" because of the way I spoke. "Here for school?"
"I hope. Maybe in a year, after I settle down. I saw you have a help wanted sign. I used to work at a Pizza Hut back home after school. Could I apply?"
You'd have thought I just called his mother, his grandmother, and every other female relation he could think of the worst possible insult.
"PIZZA HUT! Pops!"
An older man, with the same face, hair, and eyes as my assailant came up front.
"Yeah, what you want, Nicky?"
"This stugatz used to work at Pizza Hut and now he wants to work here!"
"Eh! You think you know pizza! You work at Pizza Hut and you think you know pizza? I know pizza. My boy, he knows pizza. You! You don't know pizza."
This was not quite the response I had envisioned.
"Excuse me," I mumbled, my face burning. I turned around and saw everyone in the restaurant grinning. I wanted to die from embarrassment and humiliation. Gee, all I wanted was a job, for Pete's sake.
I was shuffling toward the front to an empty table in the corner where I could nurse my wounded pride and plot what to do next when the man came up front again and yelled, "You do drugs, Pizza Hut?"
"Pops!" said his son. "Look at him! He looks like Donny Osmond with red hair! You think he does drugs?"
A couple of long-haired hippie-freak radicals sitting near the counter raised their beer mugs in salute to me.
Half expecting to see Rod Serling walk in the front door, I turned and looked out the window at the parade of people passing by. Soon, Nicky brought my calzone and grinned as the hippies walked out the door.
It wasn't half bad and when I was finished, the man in the kitchen yelled, "Eh! Pizza Hut! Where you live?"
I walked up to the front. "I just got in town and don't have a place yet. I'm staying at the Hiway 12 Motel."
The man walked over to the ancient cash register, wrote something on the back of a ticket, handed it to me, and said, "You go there. They give you garage apartment. You like it. Its good. Tell them Mancinelli sent you! You be here in the morning. Nine sharp! You work hard?"
I was stunned. "Yes, sir! I work very hard!"
"Good!" He turned away. Nicky grinned at me.
I couldn't believe my luck! It was definitely a weird experience, but I had a job! And, I might even have a place to live!
I followed the directions Mr. Mancinelli had written until I came to a neighborhood of large Victorian houses set close together and near the street. In the middle of one block was the house for which I was searching. It appeared to be three stories with a round tower on one corner and mansard roofs. It needed some paint, but was not TOO bad looking. I approached the front and heard The Doors emanating from within. What had I gotten myself into?
I became even more concerned when I saw some hippie, earth-mother type approach.
"I'm sorry, if you're a Jehovah's Witness, we're not interested. But, we wish you peace, anyway!" She smiled warmly and started to turn.
"No, ma'am. I'm uh, I'm not a Jehovah's Witness. I'm an Episcopalian."
The woman giggled and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry!"
I wasn't certain if she was sorry I was an Episcopalian or sorry for confusing me with a Jehovah's Witness. I was more than ever convinced I was on a journey through the Twilight Zone.
"Please, ma'am. I was told by Mr. Mancinelli that you have a garage apartment for rent?"
"OH," she exclaimed, before giggling again. A strange burning odor emerged from the door. I thought it might be incense, but it didn't smell like any of the incense I knew. Of course, the only incense I had ever smelled was at church on high holy days, when they brought out the smells and bells.
"Come on in. It’s not really an apartment. It’s more of a room with a bathroom. but you might like it."
I followed her through the living room, furnished with massive old furniture and LOTS of macreme. There was a very bizarre print on the wall showing a building with some sort of classical type of architecture and a lizard going around in a circle and turning into the building. It looked like some kind of hallucination. I was VERY uncomfortable, especially when I saw the lady was walking as if she were a ghost, seeming to float and sway as she led me through the living room, down a very long hall and to a very old-fashioned kitchen with an ancient stove. The back door led to a small room cluttered with boxes and lawn tools and boots.
The back yard was small and overrun with lots of flowers and vines. It didn't seem very well-tended at all. I began to think that maybe I might get a break on the rent if I offered to do their yard work for them.
The garage was a large structure in need of paint. My heart sank as I looked at the peeling paint on the wooden stairways on both sides of the garage. This was a far cry from what I had left behind. My family wasn't wealthy; it was just a typical middle-class Southern family. This was quite foreign to me.
"We divided the old servants quarters into an apartment and two small studios. Yours is the one in the front," she said as she floated up the stairs. She assumed I had already agreed to take it, it seemed. I was REALLY not all that certain.
The room was not bad. It had a nice southern exposure for lots of light, a desk in front of the window, a dresser against the north wall, and a foldout couch that turned into a bed. This was a nice plus. I began to imagine myself living here and suddenly it didn't seem that bad.
And then I saw him.
Looking outside, I saw a second floor window open in the woman’s house and a boy crawl out onto the roof of the mudroom. He was barefoot, wearing a white t-shirt and cut-offs and as he climbed down what looked like a ladder permanently attached to the house, I could see long dirty-blond hair blowing in the wind. The boy looked to be maybe ten and as he walked across the grass to the birdbath in the middle of the yard, I could see he had freckles across his face and very white skin.
I started getting hard again.
"That's Davy. He's real quiet. He won't bother you."
Blushing, I turned quickly away and said, "I'm not picky. It won't matter."
She smiled and we settled on a surprisingly affordable figure for rent. It was decided that I would bring my suitcase over that afternoon.
"Oh, by the way," she said as an afterthought as we descended the stairs. "You're not a Republican, are you?"
I was getting accustomed to strange behavior, sights, and questions, so the inquiry, though off the wall, did not surprise me.
"Um," I said, thinking quickly as I collated all that I had seen and processed an appropriate response. "I'm not registered to vote."
"Hum. Well, just as long as you're not a Republican. Donald HATES Republicans."
I assumed Donald was her husband, though he could just as easily have been the lizard in the glass terrarium I’d noticed in the living room.
"Oh, and, what's your name?"
We were crossing the grass once more.
"Stephen. Stephen Kissinger."
The woman gasped, and for the first time I saw the boy up close, sitting in the grass by a wild looking rose bush. He looked at me with horror.
"You're not related to Henry Kissinger, are you?" she asked.
I was back to being surprised again.
"I can't see how. My family's been in America forever."
Earth Mother relaxed. So did little Davy, to my relief.
"That's a relief! Donald HATES Henry Kissinger."
She floated on back to the door. I followed, but I looked back and saw Davy watching me with his big brown eyes. His look was almost disconcerting, as if he was analyzing me and drawing conclusions. I turned and followed his mother in.
I heard the screen door in the front slam and a voice bellow, "Patience! I need Patience!"
"In here, Donald." She turned to me. "Would you like a glass of herbal sun tea?"
I was afraid to ask what herbs she had used, but I was quite thirsty and hot.
"Yes, ma'am. Please."
"Oooh. You're such a Southern gentleman."
I blushed, but just then one of the hippies from Mancinelli's Pizza came in. He was dressed in dirty jeans and a denim work shirt. His dark hair was long and curling and hung down to his shoulders. He had a mustache and as he took in the scene, he smiled and slapped me on the back.
"Pizza Hut! What the hell are you doing here?"
"M, m, Mr. Mancinelli suggested I ask about your room for rent."
"Patience! Did you rent Pizza Hut here that room?"
"Yes. He loves it, don't you Stephen?"
"Yes, ma'am. It’s very nice."
"Well, good," Donald said as he collapsed on a chair. He reached behind him to a shelf and picked up a strange looking contraption, a round container half full of water with a long thick tube sticking up and a cone-shaped thing in front. I realized with horror what it was: a water pipe!
Donald was going to smoke marijuana right there in the kitchen. Right in front of me! With his son out in the yard!
He pulled out a baggy containing some green stuff, filled the cone and then looked at me. "Want a hit?"
"No, uh, thank you."
He smiled, put the lighter to the cone, drew in quite a breath held it and then let it out. The smell! That was what I smelled when I came in! Oh, my God! What if the neighbors called the police? What if I got arrested? What if they found my fake ID? What if they called my parents and they found out where I was and that I was in jail for drugs?!
Donald exhaled and then began to laugh uncontrollably.
"Dude, you should see the look on your face! It’s priceless!"
Davy came in and stood in the doorway, silently watching.
Donald continued his harangue.
"Don't tell me you've never seen weed before?"
"Um, no. But, that's OK. I. Uh, I won't tell anyone."
He burst out laughing again.
"Shit, in THIS town, it wouldn't matter if you did. Hell, you're probably the only person in town who DOESN'T smoke."
Had I misjudged? Had I made a serious mistake in my research and planning? I had spent a week at the library studying every major college town in the North, looking for a place that might be accepting and open for people like me and this one had seemed perfect. Was it TOO open-minded and liberal?
"So, Pizza Hut. What's your name?"
Patience inhaled. Davy went back outside.
"Stephen Kissinger. And, yes, Henry's my uncle."
The room was deathly silent. Donald's eyes grew narrow as he studied me. I awaited the explosion.
He burst out laughing and extended his hand.
"You're alright, Pizza Hut! So what brings you to Canterbury? School?"
"Well, I hope to start next year."
Donald studied me again. I felt I was a lab rat; and, in a way, I was.
"Let's see your ID."
I wasn't expecting that.
"Well, I'm gonna be your landlord. I just need it for security."
I was really nervous now. I pulled it out.
Donald examined it for less than a second.
"I hope you didn't pay very much for this," he said with a grin.
"What do you mean?"
"Its awful. No pig would accept this. It obvious. So why'd you run away?"
"I didn't run away!" I declared with as much bravado as I could.
"Suit yourself, though I'd have a lot more respect for you if you WERE a runaway!"
I sat there for a moment. Donald was looking at me kindly, as Patience watched with a slightly glazed but benevolent expression. Davy had returned, apparently realizing the room was safe to re-enter.
Softly, I replied, "Things were getting difficult at home."
"Must have been bad. You are definitely not the kind of kid who runs away."
I said nothing, merely looked at my untouched glass of tea. Suddenly, I wasn't thirsty anymore.
`What was it?" he asked softly. "Sex? Beating?"
I said nothing.
I looked up in surprise.
Donald smiled and nodded.
"Look, son. You're safe here. No ones gives a shit here. You are free to be yourself. You want to dress like Pat fucking Boone, you dress like Pat fucking Boone. You want to screw the iguana in the living room, you screw the iguana in the living room. In Canterbury, you can be yourself!"
I was stunned. No one had ever told me it was OK that I was gay. No one. Tears formed in my eyes.
Davy walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. I looked at him and he smiled and walked away.
Later that afternoon, Donald drove me over to the motel to get my suitcase, and by the evening I was all squared away in my new home. Happily, as the sun set, I sat down at the desk and wrote my first journal entry in my new home. For the first time in weeks, even months, I felt free. I felt as if life would work out after all and that there was hope for me to find a meaningful and happy existence.
As I finished writing and the darkness had settled over my new home, I looked across the yard at the big old house in front of me. The light in Davy's room was on and I could see him moving about in there. Loud music, which I thought might be Pink Floyd, was booming from the downstairs. Davy picked up a book and sat down at a desk in front his window. He looked across at my window, saw me, and waved tentatively. I waved back and smiled.
As it was still fairly early, I decided to take a walk and get to know my new hometown. It was not much different than most college towns, a lot of older houses near the campus, an area that people called, I would later learn, the Student Ghetto. Downtown was mostly diners and old shops, like a Ben Franklin and a Woolworth's, as well as several bars catering to the students at Canterbury College. It was a nice environment and for the first time in months, I actually felt happy. My family had no idea where I was and, except for the irritation at not being able to control my actions, probably was happy to be rid of me. I was free finally to be me, to make my own way and to live my own life. I had a job and a home and a future, and life was beautiful. With the most wondrous sense of euphoria, I returned home and went to bed, ready to begin my new job in the morning.