A Story in The Human Calculus



Abe’s heritage was a great and noble one, being from a little mining town in Arizona, he the many-times-great-grandson of Spanish nobility. He was part of a huge extended family, one with a lot of land, a lot of money and a lot of power in local terms.


Auntie Abe had money, and spent it freely on others, and not just the pretty boys. He was renown for his generosity, and always up to party, go bar hopping, or eat a good meal. For all that, despite his constant laugh and smile, he was a serious man, with a serious role to play.


Abe was one of the regulars at “The Table”, an ordinary round table in Lonnie’s Lower Level Café in the basement of the Student Union that functioned as the unofficial center of the gay community. He had been there longer than anyone at The Table could remember.


He loved everyone, even the lesbians, and if people loved him back so much the better, and if they – well, not the lesbians, of course, but the boys – out of whatever motivation got into bed with him, with his thirtyish corpulence and beard and thick black all-over body hair, well, so much the better. But he didn’t expect it.


Abe wouldn’t turn down a curiosity fuck, a sympathy fuck, or a gratitude fuck – or really, anything but a spiteful fuck — he wasn’t one to judge people by their weaknesses and he felt honored that someone pretty cared that much, or needed what he had to offer and was ready to reciprocate if that’s what they wanted.


And his deep barrel-chested laugh and twinkling blue eyes and the casual touch of his big hands on shoulders and backs and necks said so much more to the young ones, the confused ones, the vulnerable ones, than anything else could. If you were looking for a dad, here he was; if you needed a confessor, it was here, if you needed protection this was the place to find it. Oh, and if you needed a safe place to experiment, Auntie Abe was here for you.


Among the boys who chanced to cultivate Abe’s happiness in a certain way – and none were permitted to feel like whores, for Abe never believed himself that he was exchanging money for anything; would have been horrified at the characterization – was Michael. And Michael was a horse of a different color.


Michael would have had many alternatives, at least until people got to know him. He was slim and smooth and small and full of lithe youthful beauty, captivating gray-blue eyes, and if you put him into a gay bar or club the flies would buzz around quickly. He was sexy, sexual, and loved older men, the fatter the better, and hairy was a prerequisite. Michael was eighteen, and he was a bright boy, not brilliant but smart enough, though he was not very stable. Which accounts for the depth of his attraction to Abe.


For most boys Abe was a port in a storm; they came to love Abe for his care and sage advice and practical help and jovial nature and willingness to give them their freedom without forcing awkward conversations once they had moved beyond needing him in that way. He mentored them, fucked them if it was helpful, then sent them out to live their lives. He lived up to his honorary title – Auntie, though in his mind he heard Alcalde when they said it – for dozens and dozens over the years. Abe never expecting anything in return but the joy and status he earned by being helpful.


Michael was different; Abe was exactly what Michael wanted. Michael was in love with Abe but he was not at all the sort to share.


*  *  *  *


To understand Auntie Abe at all you must know the land of his birth; for its landscape and human-scape alike shaped his unusual, noble character.


His was not a flat land, stretching in every direction, like Kansas. It’s not desert like you’d see around Phoenix, stretching to the end of sight with occasional bumps of a small range of hills or a line of mountains in the distance. It’s not dry and faded and sandy.


His ancient homeland didn’t offer a view of mountains in the distance – it was the mountains in the distance, cooler, cleaner, greener than the deserts surrounding, an island in the midst of the harshness of the Southwest.


To Nortes, it straddled New Mexico and Arizona. Abe’s family didn’t think of this land in terms of political borders, they saw the real boundaries that defined their lives; they lived on an island, or at least a peninsula.


There were three hundred miles and more of desert to the West, and as much to the East. To the North the shorter, flat desert of the Apache and Zuni reservations and the Petrified Forest led to the base of the Mogollon Rim, a thousand foot cliff rearing up, running across Arizona, splitting the state in half, north from south. The Mogollon segregated the high desert plateau and mountains, with bitter hot summer winds and biting cold winters and Navajo and Hopi territory, the Painted Desert, Monument Valley, Four Corners.


Those all were foreign lands to Abe’s family.


Only to the South was continuity, the ranges of mountains, ravines, river valleys, and big rolling bands of hilly pasture sandwiched among them led far across the Mexican border into the states of Sonora and Chihuahua. It was the northernmost venture extruded by other mountain chains: the Chiricahuas, the Peloncillos, the venerable Sierra Madres themselves.


The land was ravines and gullies and hundred foot drops lurking around the curve of any road. Striated cliffs showing layers of rock and sediment and the weathered bones of the very earth alternated with thick patches of lush greenery.


The earth is hard packed, rocky, thin soil, covered with exotic cactus, native grasses, bushes and brush, dotted with clumps and even forests of real pine trees as well as the drought resistant Palo Verde and Mesquites and upthrust Yuccas.


It isn’t as hot nor as cold as desert land, this is mountain territory, a summer day much in excess of one hundred degrees was a rarity, nor is there a permanent snow pack. It’s dry; outside of monsoon season water comes from the sparse snowmelt, from deep clear mountain lakes feeding thin streams and rivers.


The late summer monsoons come like clockwork almost every afternoon in season, and yet come upon the unwary without warning. One minute the sky is impenetrable cloudless azure; then from the southwest, sweeping over the peaks, stealing up from behind, come dark, towering cliffs of gloomy slate gray, rearing miles-high into the sky. Soon the air chills, smells of water and ozone as the wind rises, swirling dust and debris with unexpected force.


Finally the power unleashes. Furious volleys of lightning hurl across the sky, to the earth, a thousand blows, ten thousand in a single hour. The rains come, torrential downpours, the water cascading off thin, quickly saturated soil, and bare rock. This water, the tears of the land, gains momentum, running into channels, depressions, down the gutters of countless hills and mountainsides, gathering together drop by drop until it is a flash flood raging and sweeping everything loose into the gullies and arroyos and stream beds and down into the rivers, Eagle Creek, the San Francisco, the Gila, the Blue, and they in due course to the Rio Grande. Everything is swept clean; the new is swept away until all that is left is the ancient land and its living denizens, those plants and people who can cling on tightly enough to not be swept away.


Newcomers don’t think about floods in a place that gets ten inches of rain a year, but then they don’t realize all ten inches come in just six weeks. Towns had been built too close to river banks or in restricted river valleys; some years they are all flooded out, washed away, and one entire town in the area had been moved – lock, stock, and barrel – ten miles to get it away from a river valley that had flooded it out ten times in fifteen years.


This is a place where survivors learn not to oppose the forces of nature. Often it is a hard-won lesson. This is a never-civilized land, unconquered; settlers only coexist with nature here.


This magnificent, daunting land has not really changed much since the days of the Conquistadores, it was legend that Coronado himself had wandered these hills.


Or rather, it had changed and changed back, and Abe’s family had original Spanish land grant documents signed by His Excellency the Viceroy in Mexico City; they had been here from the first, from perhaps early in the seventeenth century, grazing cattle in the mountain pastures and trading to the natives goods brought in from the South while growing roots deeper than the taproot of a hundred year mesquite. The ebb and flow of the land is in their blood.


The family hardly noticed when the Gadsden Purchase mooted the question of whether they were now Americans, though they lost some of their land to the swindling and cheating and denial of ancient Spanish claims. But this was not sought after land in those early days, not like lands elsewhere, not like California. There were few who wanted this land; and later, when it did become valuable, the family was well prepared to defend what it owned. When the governments were overlaid on the land Abe’s people became the sheriffs, judges, mayors, the county commissioners. These formal structures were quietly subsumed into the real system, the way things really worked. Power never changed hands.


The Anglo rancheros came in a trickle in the years just before the civil war, more during the war, and in a flood just after. Their cattle grazed over what were now federal lands, the mountain pastures rolling, boulder strewn, but covered with grass and chaparral enough for them to feed on – if the herds weren’t too big; if they moved regularly. But there was enough land for that, except that the Natives didn’t agree; they thought Abe’s people newcomers but managed to coexist for more than a century. The latest round of immigrants was too much for them. This was the land of Cochise and Geronimo, who burned their names into history as the inevitable encroachments of ranchers and miners led to the rebellions; the Apache.


The mines and the miners came fifty or sixty years after the rancheros. Longworth, Phelps-Dodge, Anaconda and all the others swept in, especially after 1900 because America was going electric, and copper which had been worthless, was now vital. Railroads began to snake their steely way through the valleys, along the ridges.


Seven decades later the copper was depleted and only one company remained, and finally it left in the eighties as a hundred years of labor strife and worn out mines and cheap copper from Africa changed the calculus of mining, the calculus of life in this little corner of the world.


That was when the newcomers, the drifters, those whose families had been here only a century or less left town; the mining company closed the Mercantile store and sold the company housing which made up eighty percent of the town, for a song.


And Abe’s family was there before, and there after, running the stores, shipping the cattle to market, breeding horses and sheep and chickens and children; tending to their ancient heritage.


There were no farms. You couldn’t seriously farm the rocky, ravined hills that stretched seventy, a hundred miles in every direction. Oh, a few acres of vegetable patch here and there, but not commercially farmed, just enough to supplement the household or sell in the farmer’s market every other Friday. Maybe a specialty crop of marijuana for cash, but even that would probably just circulate in the local economy. This was, after all, an island.


The retirees started moving in, attracted by the rugged beauty, relatively cool summers and warm winters, the quiet, the rural small town lifestyle, the cheap housing. Money went a long way here. Now the community was ranchers and retirees, both newcomers by Abe’s reckoning, though one group had been here a hundred and more years before the other.


The last passenger railroad had stopped running in the sixties and the copper trains were gone, the lines all abandoned. The depot was still there, slowly crumbling. There was talk of making it a community center but with a population now under 3000 there was little need and less money.


One day out of curiosity, an adult Abe looked the town up, found a web page for the community of his youth and heritage, and clicked on the “points of interest” link. He found only two: the County Airport and the Hospital. He knew they were both closed.


It was the sort of town where the teenaged kids hang out in the box lobby of the post office on Saturdays, so of course no one would miss a football game on Friday night. In 1934 they’d had to go twelve miles out of town to find enough flat land for a football field, but football was about all the community entertainment there was, aside from the traditional fiestas.


Abe had associated himself with the football team. Though built like a linebacker, violence was not in his nature. He became a trainer, go-fer, and kept the boys happy in other ways. All the guys knew what it meant to stay after practice for a session in the Jacuzzi or a massage with Abe.


The community had an interesting take on young queer boys who grew to adulthood in its heart. If one were to ask the denizens how they felt about gay liberation, they’d find a very conservative take on the issue. But the reality of life was quite different, because when you had lived here three or more centuries you weren’t queer in that sense, you were just different, peculiar in your own way, yet part of the fabric. You were a son.


Everyone became a known quantity as they grew up and Abe became known for his sexual interests from a very early age and it was just accepted, known; that was Abe. Not talked about by the adults too much, but it was no secret. Abe never had to come out; he was never really in the closet.


There were no nasty notes about Abe in the bathroom stalls, no one needed to communicate Abe’s interests, abilities, or even his phone number, the community was too small in every way for any of that to be noteworthy. And if the boys on the team had to let off a little steam, needed an occasional blowjob after a tough Friday night game, well it wasn’t a huge deal that Abe was there, wanting to help. Things were as they were.


He wasn’t the only gay boy in town, one or two of the football players over his high school years had been more than casually interested in Abe; it hadn’t all been one-way trips, far from it. But he was about the only one who was open about it, known for it. Others might dabble; Abe was committed.330


All in all, it was an acceptance of a sort.


But life here had limitations. Abe knew there wouldn’t be a life partner for him here, though there was one set of aged bachelors in town that everyone sort of agreed were a match without ever quite acknowledging the nature of the pairing. They had moved in with the Depression or perhaps came to mine during the Second World War, no one quite remembered – they were Anglos; they didn’t count for much. If the community had had issues with them it was dim history.


It would be a different thing to try to start something like that now.


And damn few choices anyway, not that Tia Linda and his mother and all his other aunts and endless cousins wouldn’t be looking around on his behalf, looking for a nice fat girl to make babies and dinner for him, and no doubt looking for suitable boy with a similar inclination to discreetly fill the gaps. These were practical people, they had a sense of propriety – a man needed a wife and children – but they didn’t fight nature, they knew better. Husbands strayed, it was in a man’s nature, why be picky about who they did it with as long as they brought home the beans and made the babies?


So for all his three-centuries-deep roots; for the fact that his father was one of the most respected men in the community; that his Tio Hermann was Alcalde – not mayor nor magistrate in an official sense, but the man people went to for justice, the man who told the community what was proper – Abe felt the walls of the canyons and of history and especially of family closing in around him as he reached seventeen and he knew he had soaked up the love and wisdom of centuries but needed something this place could not supply.


A week after graduation he left for Navy boot camp.


The Navy was good to Abe, a good place for a gay boy looking to spread his wings and horizons. He became a Medical Corpsman, a somewhat exalted position in the Navy, where there could not be enough doctors to go around, where many ships’ clinics were staffed only with these highly trained men, the only medical care available for a thousand miles and six or more months at a time. It was from the corpsmen that the concept of civilian paramedics had been created. These weren’t hospital orderlies; they were medical practitioners of skill. These were the men the Marines called “Doc” the combat medics who went into battle with them.


It suited Abe to be helping people, to be respected, to be called “Doc” and he found that whatever others thought, whatever the Navy said, it had an unspoken policy about gays – live and let live. Quietly.


Oh there were occasional purges and witch-hunts, but for the most part he found he was respected for his contributions, though quickly known for his proclivities. And when someone had a personal issue that he didn’t want to show up in his medical records – a bout of gonorrhea after shore leave a wife didn’t need to know about, or one in an inconvenient part of the body; or a urine test that needed to come up without that little trace of pot – Abe was the one they sought out, the guy who could fix things up politely, with a smile and no judgments.


That’s not to say no one reported Abe. In five years Abe was investigated for reports of homosexuality nine times, and in each case the allegations were found to be unproven.


Abe liked to recount being interrogated by an investigator from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, in the days when it was all-military. This was an agent he knew well, for he had picked him up one night in a gay bar. In the interview, each of them staged a delightful charade. The agent was asking what Abe knew of these allegations, dutifully recording Abe’s professions of ignorance and innocence while they grinned at each other and played footsies under the table.


Abe liked the Navy, the many horny young men to which it gave him access, the freedom of his lifestyle. He ended up being stationed at Alameda, across the Bay from San Francisco; living in his own apartment, holding court, playing host to weekend-long parties, with dozens of gay and straight sailors every weekend, and no one too picky about who went to whose bedroom. What more could he ask?


But the Navy would not move Abe along and up the promotions chain quite as it did others; subtle prejudices affected his performance ratings – most unfairly he knew – and he began to lose his sense of invulnerability to being caught, began to think it would happen sooner or later. And too he came from a more serious tradition; he needed work that would garner the respect of his family back home.


So when his enlistment was up, Abe left a life he loved very much, and decided on higher education. This was a path of compromise. Education would bring him respect from his family and yet enable him to live apart from them, for Abe loved his home but could not imagine living there; loved his family, wanted to be near them in his heart but could not live with being stifled by living in their presence.


He could never explain what led him to the East Coast except a little of his Navy experience, nor why he would decide to enroll at a University in the south. But he did and it seemed like a short time until he was working on a Ph.D. in social anthropology, and then he had it and was adjunct faculty and a full-time researcher. Doc became an entitlement instead of a courtesy. Doctor Abe.


And, naturally, he became a mentor to all the young, confused, gay boys who were coming out in college.


*  *  *  *


It had been difficult for Abe; Michael tried his patience endlessly.


They had begun to live together, another first for Abe who loved his home and loved entertaining but had never let someone actually move in before, not just stay a few days or weeks, not just a roommate. In truth, Abe was having second thoughts, but despite his age and words of wisdom for the boys, he just didn’t have the kind of experience he needed for this situation.


Michael often embarrassed him; by his youth and beauty for one thing, for Abe knew others thought it inappropriate that such a boy and such a man be mated. Abe was neither young nor pretty. But he wasn’t embarrassed enough to let it go, and in the gay community though it sparked much comment, and some jealousy, it was not harshly judged, indeed, if concerns were voiced there they were mainly concerns for Abe.


He was much more embarrassed by Michael’s conduct.


Abe had held an open house after Michael moved in. He’d moved in to a nice three bedroom place on the edge of town with a stunning view of the distant, hazy mountain ridges, not so rugged nor beautiful as those of Abe’s homeland but beautiful nonetheless, backing up against a forested area. The house had an inner courtyard with a small fountain surrounded by a little plot of lush green grass and an old brick patio.


He invited his friends and coworkers as well, and the party had been a disaster. At one point, he heard, Michael intruded into a group of his older, straight, coworkers in the courtyard, and launched a discussion of their sex life. He introduced himself as Abe’s boyfriend, and his opening line, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I sucked Abe’s cock.”


The coworkers might have taken offense, and surely they’d never forget that conversation but Michael came across with such lack of guile they were instead vastly amused – and as full of affection for Abe as everyone was. But not impressed with the choice of partners. They were all University employees, not conservative about such things, but…


And Michael’s physical clinging didn’t help at all.


Possibly the worst combination of his deficits had been demonstrated when Michael borrowed his car. The police had called Abe and asked him to come to the scene of the accident. Dread permeated him as he grabbed a taxi, the worst images rushing through his brain, but when he arrived he saw his car stuck up on the median, a tow truck preparing to pull it off, and Michael in hysterics.


Abe climbed out of the taxi and started walking toward the police officers when Michael jumped up and ran to him, jumped on him, clinging, crying, and said so loudly no one for a block could miss it, “Oh honey, oh my god, I’m so sorry!” And then he kissed Abe.


Abe and a cop in his line of sight both rolled their eyes at the same moment.


Finally Abe had stuffed the sobbing boy into the taxi to the vast amusement of the entire police department, and most of the taxi force, no doubt. He was sure this story would make the rounds.


Abe was chagrined. He told the story himself knowing that it was too funny to hold back, but it was a most undignified event. He was not above himself, but his dignity mattered, he was a man of substance whatever others thought.


So to outsiders the relationship’s days seemed numbered, the thinking being Abe would throw in the towel, though Abe was certainly putting his all into it.


But they, as Michael, had misread Abe.


A more experienced person might distinguish love from infatuation, or love from one’s own loneliness and longing for love. But Abe had never known love and here it seemed was everything he really wanted – a pretty boy who was actually attracted to him in corpus, in addition to those things that attracted all the others. So perhaps Abe was in love, or perhaps he was infatuated, or perhaps he was in love with the idea of being in love. Time answers these questions. For the moment, however, he was in love or thought he was or thought he should, at least, be in love; and love was a force of nature, and nature was something you had to accept as it was. His upbringing had carried the message clearly – it didn’t pay to fight a nature. You cooperated, you worked to limit the damage, you tried to be practical, but you didn’t try to change nature.


*  *  *  *


They had made love as Michael preferred, fast and furious, and Abe understood the eagerness and swiftness of youth, knew that he would have to be patient before the lovemaking could be slow and delicious, like a mountain lake slowly feeding a little stream, knowing the Rio Grande was at the end of the journey, but taking the journey for its own sake.


Michael was not good at this approach, and he realized that Abe was not fully pleased with their sexual encounters, which added to his sense that he was on shifting ground. Which is why he was very distressed when Abe, in a sleepy moment afterward, mentioned the new boy at The Table, the cute, young, brilliant, intriguing one.


Michael was not good at planning things out, but he had a great intuitive sense of how to achieve something he aimed for. Michael began to put what passed for thought into how he could keep Abe safe from this Barry Holmes.


*  *  *  *


Abe thought himself the Alcalde of The Table, in the sense he had learned the word in his childhood; the man people went to for justice, to arbitrate complaints, the man who told the community what was proper. He was following in the footsteps of his father, his uncles, his cousins, his family heritage. He took his life and lived it well, enjoyed everything, and had a place in life that was at its core important. He was a man of respect, of substance, of value.


It was rewarding, it was a life to be proud of, until love came along and spoiled everything.




Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc. at Last accessed 2/6/2013