Posted by: Bill Tracy | January 9, 2010

A Dark Side?

I’m working on a couple of rather heavy-duty posts at the moment. Since they’re not ready I decided to post something a bit lighter. At least it’s light for me! Or maybe you’ll see it as dark.

This is sort of a test. I’m going to tell a story, something that happened to me, let’s call it my first gay experience. What I’ll ask you to do as an interactive participant is read to a point where my story ends – I’ll say stop at that point. Then think about the story and what happened and why each person did what he did. After that, read on and compare your thoughts with mine.

Young Bill Tracy

This is me around age 19 and in the military. I'm sitting on the steps of a barracks at George Air Force Base, Victorville, CA.

The early morning walk up Philadelphia’s North Broad Street was cold and lonely that March 31, 1965. There seemed to be no one on the street. I remember it being windy with a few clouds sometimes obscuring the sun. Official weather records say nothing of the wind. High temperature for the day was 55 and the low was 37. Opening the door of that military induction center had a truly momentous feel, but once inside the cold was now merely institutional. After all the tests and paperwork and medical exams I put my hand up and swore to do what I was told. I hadn’t had a lot of success in that department so far in my life, but I was willing to try again. My elders had said the military could help me get the hang of it.

That evening I was taking the first airplane ride of my life, a jet airliner to San Antonio, Texas. By early next morning drill instructors at Lackland Air Force Base were scowling at me and my compatriots who had come in overnight – figuring surely this must be an April Fools joke on this April Fools Day. But they persisted and six or eight weeks later I was officially an Airman and headed for technical school at Amarillo Air Force Base, just up the road a few hundred miles. In spite of the mechanical category being the lowest of my aptitude scores, they decided to make me a jet fighter aircraft mechanic – a “crew chief.” From what I hear that’s often the military way.

There was substantially more personal freedom at technical school than there was in basic training. We had the weekends off.  Those weekends when we had money a group of us would get together in downtown Amarillo (at the Downtowner Motor Lodge oddly enough), rent a room, lay in a cache of alcoholic beverages and party all night long. The partying consisted mostly of talking about girls and sometimes going out trying to find some and lure them back to the room. I don’t think we were ever successful, but one weekend we did meet a couple of girls from Clovis, NM who were staying in the motel. A small party did ensue in their room. And as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

On weekends when we did not have money, it was sometimes suggested we go to town, find some “queers” and beat the hell out of them. Not wanting to be on the outs I usually went along. I’m happy to report we never found any “queers” to beat up. Apparently they were very accomplished at hiding in Texas. However, the whole thing stayed with me. I had heard about the queers in high school, but I’d never had anything to do with them. They had never done anything especially reprehensible that was reported to me, so I couldn’t understand why they would be the object of a gang of guys who wanted to beat them up. Just another of life’s mysteries, I guessed – similar to why all the black people lived on one side of town – the “other side” of the tracks. So much to figure out!

After 13 weeks of learning all about jet fighter aircraft, my academic bent had apparently shown through. They selected me out to attend an instructor school so I could teach instead of doing. (Those who can do, those who can’t, teach. Or so I’ve heard.) The military was building up at the time for our coming really big adventure in Vietnam, and that meant opening a new technical school. Instructors were needed so why not get the least experienced people to teach the new guys! More military thinking, I guess. Anyway, it seems like the instructor school was about six weeks long, and I actually enjoyed it.

Cooper River Park, Pennsauken, NJ

This is Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, NJ. It's probably the most attractive place in the whole town, and this is one of the very first pictures I ever took with a 35mm camera.

By now it’s probably late September or so, and I get my first leave – for you non-military types, that’s vacation. This is a week or so I spend at home with my parents in Pennsauken, NJ. Like any good 18-year-old male I’m rather obsessed with the female form. A girl I had gone to high school with was the object of my obsession so one night I went over to her house for the evening. I didn’t have a car so someone either took me to her house or I walked the several miles. Now I’d love to say we “got it on” or something equally risqué. Mostly I remember sitting around talking while her parents watched. Around 11 PM came the highlight of the evening – I got a good night kiss. Then I began the long walk toward home. After a mile or so I came to Maple Avenue (around where it intersects Haddonfield Road for those familiar with the geography). It’s a mile or two up to Browning Road where I’m then in easy walking distance of my parent’s house, so I hitchhike. It’s late, a weeknight and not much traffic. Soon a young guy picks me up. His car is a lot like the one my Dad has, a mid-fifties Chrysler. It’s quiet with a great ride and makes for easy conversation. I tell the guy I’ve been over visiting my girlfriend and I’m on my way home. The mile or two zips by and next I’m telling him he can let me off at the next corner, just beyond Browning Road.

He pulls over to the side and when the car stops I open the door. I start to step out, actually have one foot on the roadway when I hear him say, “You sure you don’t want a blowjob before you go?” Now the subject of blowjobs had not come up in our brief conversation, and while I may have said yes earlier in the evening with the female of the species, I’m not so inclined now, even though he is a nice enough looking fellow. I rather feebly say something like, “Oh, no, that’s okay,” and finish my exit from the car. He smiles and waves an “okay,” I close the door and he drives off.


A 1955 Chrysler

This is a 1955 Chrysler, the same type of car in which the heart of this story takes place.

Now that’s all there is to this story. At this point, dear reader, you should stop and think about what has happened. I know it’s sketchy, and you weren’t there (unless you’re the guy who was driving the car – if so I really want to talk with you about this!). What do you think happened here, and why? I have my own interpretations.


Over the years I’ve told that story a thousand times to as many different people. Almost always I told the story to illustrate how thoughtfully considerate gay people could be. I knew that he waited until I was almost out of the car to bring up a touchy subject. That way if I felt threatened by it, I was already safely out of the car. It never occurred to me there was any other way to interpret the story. However, as I’ve grown older, perhaps even some wiser, I can see a different interpretation. And this different interpretation seems closer to the truth than I could have imagined in my more naïve youth.

A completely different interpretation of the story suggests the driver of the car was afraid I would attack him for suggesting homosexual behavior. His fear caused him to hold the question until I was mostly out of the car – meaning that if I reacted violently, he could hit the gas and get himself safely away, with me left lying in the street.

Same facts, same story, two different ways of seeing it. How do you see it? Did I see it benignly most of my life because I was naïve and wanted to believe in the goodness of people? Do I now see a different possibility because I’m an old, grizzled geezer? Did my 10 years of working in California prisons bend my thinking toward the dark side? Or is there another way to see this story that has nothing to do with any of that?

If you like, please comment. Keeping with the theme of navigation, was that just some dramatically memorable clouds passing on the horizon one day long ago or was it the edge of a hurricane that didn’t come my way?

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