Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gay Coming of Age Stories: I Learn the Football Lesson

Watching "3rd Rock from the Sun's" "Fourth and Dick" episode, in which the aliens encounter fall football and its (to them) bizarre ritualistic significance for Americans.  Harry and Sally predictably think they're watching a dance competition with strange homoerotic overtones: "Those two dancers have been all over each other all day long.  Get a room, already!"

And, suddenly, I'm back in memory to one revelatory night when I finally grasped the significance of these rituals as arcane to me as to folks from another planet--almost grasped their significance, that is.  It's a crisp fall evening, a perfect football evening in a sleepy, small south-Arkansas town.

Bonfires wafting odors of frankincense through the wine-tinged autumn air.  Trumpets blaring.  Tubas bellowing.  Siss, siss, boom, boom.  Rah, rah.

Men marching.  Men in uniform marching and executing elegantly choreographed balletic maneuvers under bright stage lights.

Yes, I could almost get into it, suddenly, magically.  I could almost reach out and touch the significance so many of my fellow citizens seemed to see without effort in the football stadium on that night, the significance they apparently saw on any of the consecutive Friday nights they gathered there to gesticulate, shout, pray, plead, raise their hands to heaven.

The barely hidden subtext of eroticism running underneath it all--teenage sex in steamy automobiles before the game, after the game.  The adult eroticism, since the hunky football coach for whom I babysit down the street has--or are these his wife's?--one of the most amazing collections of porn I've ever seen on any bookshelves anywhere.  Something I've certainly never seen on the shelves of any member of my own family or anyone else I know, so I associate the row of steamy novels with football.  And coaches.  And that lean, appealing athletic body topped by a snazzy crew-cut.

I'm at this memorable game with my, well, let's call her girlfriend, though that term comes nowhere close to capturing who we are for each other.  Or who any girl in the tiny set with which I chum around is for any boy in that set.  My female companion? 

We kiss perhaps once in the year in which we do things together, go to movies together, go to the after-graduation party given by parents in my senior year, at which I have champagne for perhaps the third or fourth time in my life.  The kiss is a perfunctory peck, pursed lips against pursed lips as we say goodnight.

I remember the dryness of it--of the pursed lips.  And the sense of relief at having checked off a checklist supplied by someone somewhere one more item that told the world (and myself) I had begun to grow up.

And here's what I really remember most of all about that night when I almost got the ritual so self-evident to everyone else in the world, as my town gathered in its football stadium: I'm wearing the intricately carved white-gold cufflinks of my grandfather that my grandmother has given me as the oldest grandson and my grandfather's namesake.  Cufflinks I adore.

And so what better place to sport them than at a Friday-night football game, on a date with my female companion?  How they catch the bright lights and sparkle as I raise my hands to clap!  How the light brings out their intricate designs.  How elegant one's wrists framed by starched cuffs buckled with shining gold cufflinks.

And then I look down and see one of the links is missing, my cuff hanging open like a sagging mouth.  And as I search for it, I hear a sickening crunch underneath my black wingtip shoes, and find I've stepped on it.

The cufflinks are gone forever--the heirloom set of cufflinks is gone forever.  And just on the night when I think I've finally mastered the football lesson so essential to heterosexual coming of age in my community and countless small towns across the land.

The night on which I choose to wear antique white-gold cufflinks--and a shirt that demands cufflinks!--to a high school football game . . . .

I should have known something about myself that night, which it took many more years for me to learn.  Though I don't imagine the lesson I was so long in learning was entirely lost on my "girlfriend" or many other friends and acquaintance in our little town.

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