West Hollywood, July 1980
The summer of 1980. I have just finished my sophomore year in college and moved to Omaha with my boyfriend Fred. I have met only three gay people in Omaha. As far as I know, there are no others. As far as I know, there are no gay magazines, newspapers, bookstores, political organizations, or social clubs anywhere in the world, nothing out there at all but a few furtive closet bars and some porn magazines.
Then my friend Tom, who moved to California after high school and is now going to UCLA, invites me to visit. This is a perfect opportunity to escape, so I pack up my things and drive cross-country for two days, secretly intending to never come back.
I stay in Tom's room in his cousin's house in Westwood. They are both attractive, but nothing happens except for what I call the "heterosexual huddle," what straight guys do while thinking about girls.
We see Mann's Chinese Theater, the Cinerama Dome, Griffith Park, see the Hollywood Sign, go to the beach at Malibu, cruise down Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset, Melrose, the places and streets that have been familiar throughout my life, ever since The Lucy Show suggested that Los Angeles might be a "good place."
It feels like home.
We stop at Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard, three blocks from my future apartment.
I see a section marked Gay and Lesbian.
I assumed that there were only 8 Gay and Lesbian books in existence: Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, which Peter gave me, and the 7 on Fred's secret bookshelf. It is amazing that they have a whole section.
Isn't it illegal to openly sell books about gay people? Fred said it was all done by mail order, without using anyone's real name.
I'm afraid to stand in front of the section, lest anyone think that I'm. . .you know. I pretend to be immersed in a section nearby, Psychology, and steal surreptitious glances.
Finally I gather my courage, snatch a small paperback called The City and the Pillar from the shelf as I rush past, hide it under some science fiction novels, and go to the cash register. I don't realize until I get there that there are two naked guys on the cover, but it's too late to back out now.
I expect the cashier to scream "The sting worked! Call the police!", or at least yell "Price check on the gay book! This guy wants to buy a gay book -- how much is it?" But she just looks at me funny.
"What did you buy?" Tom asks.
"The Ringworld Engineers and Lord Valentine's Castle," I tell him, naming two science fiction novels. "And some other stuff."
Later we're driving down Wilshire Boulevard when the Billy Joel song "It's Still Rock and Roll" comes on the car radio, with the line "are you going to cruise the Miracle Mile?"
It feels even more like home.
If I stay in Los Angeles, I will have to drop out of college, so after a week-long visit, I drive back to Rock Island. For now. But in 5 years I'll be back.