“Shut the door for a second,” said my dad, sitting in the family room watching TV. I was in fourth grade at Annunciation, the same Catholic grade school he’d graduated from. I did as told and settled into a chair next to him. He had a philosophy-spirituality book on his lap, like always. Our eyes stayed on the TV.
“Your brother told me you were telling him about how babies are made,” he said, softly. “I just had a talk with him and explained it, and I realized that you and I have never talked about it. I wondered if you had any questions.”
I thought I was pretty up to speed, and told him as much, but soon realized I had no clue at all when he forged ahead with what exactly went on with a man and woman. I was in over my head and grossed out. I wanted to ditch the awkward heart-to-heart and go outside and play. I was good. But first I thought I should ask the old man a question to make sure he knew he’d done his job.
“Why do people do it, Dad?”
He never missed a beat.
“Because it feels good,” he said, and I went out to play.
Ten years later I found myself on the dance floor of a Richfield hotel, freaking out freely and effeminately at a bunch of Incarnation friends’ summer high school musical party. The music on the turntable was Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Ohio Players, Queen, T Rex, P-Funk, and David Bowie. I moved my hips and feet accordingly, ran my fingers through my hair, licked my lips, and felt the soul-release of teenage kicks and androgyny. The night was young.
Until. Out of the corner of my libido I felt someone watching me. When I popped out of my pop reverie to check, I saw three drunks glaring at me from the sidelines. They muttered and pointed and it was clear they didn’t appreciate me or my Rod Stewart or Iggy Pop, so I recruited Pat Wollack and Johnny Rath, a couple of my huge basketball/guitar player pals to escort me to the parking lot. I got in my car and raced out of there, the drunks followed me, but I lost them and got home safely.
I hadn’t thought about that kid or that moment until this time last year. I was in the dressing room at Blacklist Vintage, and my friend, the shop’s owner, Vanessa Messersmith, asked me through the curtain, “How does it look?”
It was snug. A jump suit that left little to the imagination, way too tight and far too revealing for my comfort level, but as I stood there looking in the mirror I had a flashback to that kid, that fear, and those rednecks and decided on the spot — with Vanessa’s encouragement — to wear it on First Avenue’s big stage the next night at the annual Rock For Pussy David Bowie tribute.
So I did. Just before I took the stage, I went into the dressing room’s bathroom and changed. Vanessa gave me some mirror shades, Mary Lucia sprinkled me with some glitter fairy dust, David Campbell gave me affirmative whoop, as did John Eller, who whipped the band into action. I slapped my butt cheeks for the crowd, stripper-style, then we launched into Bowie’s “Heroes,” an anthem about peaceniks, misfits and outsiders finding solace in each other in a time of war.
Last weekend, as Minnesota lawmakers declared war on all of us who have ever felt, loved, or been gay, I found myself on the train tracks of Northeast Minneapolis in the middle of the afternoon. I jumped off the tracks when I saw a train approaching, then turned to watch it speed past.
It was filled with people of all ages and races. The faces blurred into a tapestry of tired smiles, a reaction to the smiles and peace signs I flashed their way. A few kids returned the peace signs, and in the second-to-last car sat a plump young lady. Our eyes met, from about 50 yards away.
The train bulleted along, and in an instant we both knew that the instant was about to be gone. So I blew her a kiss.
She blew it back, we waved quick goodbyes, and broke into huge grins. My heart swelled, and I’m certain hers did, too; we both felt it. “Did you see that?,” I said to my buddy, who hadn’t. The girl on the train and I were the only ones on the planet who had experienced it, but it was as real a love connection as they come.
Which was somewhat comforting, a subtle reminder in these times of scarlet letters, sexual suspects, and same-sex lynchings: No matter what laws go on the books, no matter how hateful the ignorance, people will find good love and good sex with whomever or whatever they please.
Because it feels good.
Now go outside and play.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.