The sun was rising on a park which we call “Amazon” here in Carleton Park. There was a pooling of mist over the hills, a part of that juncture where the Cascade mountains meet the Coastals. I think they give the park that name because of the green slough that runs along the wood chip bike path. The water is rich with willows and the sound of frogs. Wearing my “Pride” cap and t-shirt, I had just come over our Iron Butte, through the patterned shadows from the maples, past the Stone Face, where the shirtless climbers with their magnificent deltoids test their moves. Today one electrician (I know because his truck was parked right there by the stone) was inching his way up, with the sun just touching his naked shoulder blades. After I had plummeted down the hill at a full run, reluctantly leaving him behind me, I entered a Sunday city with the morning light spangled all over the streets. I saw three bronze spider webs in three separate gardens—one had interstitched three crimson hollyhocks at once.
I was finishing my long run, which was at the start of every week, my shirt all soaked. The route I chose was truly all over the map, but one I had clocked several times in my car. I felt very strong—even at sixty-five years old—a retired judge with part-time literary ambitions—and I knew that I could have added another five miles if I had wanted, but I was tapering down for the Gay Games ahead—a 10K in Vancouver, B.C. The park before me, this multi-shaded Amazon, was like a reward for a coming out process that had taken most of my adult life. First the reward of the water fountain just under the eaves of the white-stone, green-roofed public restrooms, and then a quick chance to pee inside. With the sun like a full flower in the sky now, and the temperature rising to 70 degrees. I took my shirt off and wrung it out, just as a gray police car pulled up, with two men inside—and I mean in the front seat. At first I thought they would get on my case for splattering the sidewalk with sweat. One of them took me in—looking at my chest and back in a way that I had learned--and not too long ago--was a “cruise.” Now even if I do say so myself, my torso looks good. All of my life (and it has been an unmarried) one I have been blessed with a physique which reminds you of the shirtless man on a pulp fiction cover.
I don’t mind being admired, especially with all the memories I have of being hated by some of the people I’ve sentenced. “I’ll get your ass, I’ll get your ass,” one of them said in court not too long ago, just before I retired. And I’ll have to admit that I wouldn’t have minded getting my ass “gotten” by a vagrant, this attractive man who belonged to “rough trade,” who said that. But right now, visited by troubling thoughts, I felt spooked by these lingering policemen—two of them--in the car (we have the partner system in this town), and ducked into the bathroom, leaving my wet t-shirt on top of my car.
I’d scarcely finished at the urinal and was starting to wash my hands (no soap, as usual) when one of the policemen came in and went to the back booth, even though he had nothing more to do than stand and pee. Despite all the tension that exists between men in this situation, I was moved to washing my hands slowly and taking my time with the paper towels.
“That pride cap,” he said. “I need information.” He stood waiting for the basin with the same intent expression. “Can you give me something fast? My partner is waiting.”
Outside I could hear the police car still going. It sounded restless.
“What would you like to know?” I asked.
“Is there a place in town besides the bar where I can be proud?”
I observed him, returned the cruise. He was lean and in his late twenties. He looked familiar. “Plenty of places,” I answered, “although I haven’t checked them all out myself. I’m new to this business as well.”
My heart misgave me a little. The moment I realized how attractive, actually beautiful, he was, instantly I went to the suspicion that he wanted an encounter with me now—even with his partner waiting with the car running!
He answered, “Just give me one quick example now.”
I said, by way of penitence for even having a doubt, “We have a small LGBT running group just across the street at the shelter by the running trail. Every Saturday morning, 9AM. You can call me for information if you like. I’m—“
“I know who you are—Judge Behn. I’ve seen you in the paper. Heard about you on the Force.”
“And I know you.” It occurred to me. I’d seen him in the paper, too. You’re--"
"Jimmy Melbourne. Pole vaulter.”
But he seemed familiar beyond that.
“Although sometime pole vaulter,” he added. “Presentday policeman.”
We shook hands. “Sometime judge for me,” I said, smiling.
He moved gracefully away. There wouldn’t be any doubt in his capacity to run a few miles. Part of his story was that his career had been ruined by a broken foot, but there seemed no trace of that now. He was six foot two, in emphatic black, and he moved the way accomplished swimmers move, although there seemed to be catch to his shoulders.
“I’ll get in touch with you,” he said.
“You can get my email address off my website—I have one now for my poetry. Herbert Behn.”
“A judge writing poetry,” he observed. “How does that work?”
That night I tried writing a poem about how he looked, but I found him impossible to capture.
Jimmy did email me, and eventually we did talk over the phone. He finally decided against the Frontrunner training runs, out of fear of being found out on the police force as well as by his athletic dynasty of a family here in Carleton. I knew all about that, recollecting. Instead he joined me for one of my Sunday long runs, saying that just because I was wearing a Gay Pride cap, people didn’t have to conclude he was gay, too. I took him on my Hilton Street route, one that, unusually, crosses the entire city. Approaching our biggest hill toward the end—and in the eighty degree heat—he said, “That whole thing is underhandedly devastating, Man. I mean, to look at.” At that moment, I was grateful to him for defining what I had been feeling for years when I arrived at this last hill. At this point, it seemed as if we had to run through a great bar of sun, across the railroad tracks, through the district of old houses and the Keystone Cafe (funky, overpriced, and featuring poached eggs), and up to the top of a mountain pass which promised a mirage or an oasis of green trees and much shade. The Iron Butte Climbing Columns (where we shared our admiration of the nearly naked young athletes, who were wet and tanned against the stone, again) were now behind us. And in this context, once he had heard about my plans to go to the Gay Games, he seemed intent on joining me.
“But what about you being found out there?” I asked, toweling off—we were back at Amazon Park by the time I got wind enough to say all this.
“Who’s going to know in Canada?” he said. “Seems like the perfect opportunity to find out about Gay Pride, since I’ve chickened out on all the places here and in Portland. Isn’t there a parade along with a sports festival—in a safe zone? The only thing is—would you be willing to share your car and your hotel room with me?”
“That’s not a problem,” I answered. “I wasn’t able to find a roommate in the first place, and I’d be glad to split the cost. What with the retirement and limited income. But do you think you can get the time off?”
“I have a week coming to me,” he said. “That’s what it would take to do Vancouver.”
He was right. Five hundred miles did not seem far off, but if you were going to take in a chunk of the sports festival besides your own event, and allow for arrival and exit, that’s what it would take, for sure.
So a few weeks later, we launched out. The drive up there was smooth and sunny, after an unusual intervention of early August rain. We spent a night in Seattle, where I took him to Golden Gardens—the beach, sacred to me, where I had scattered the ashes of my father, just a year before. The huge and dignified cirrus clouds in their glowing burnt orange, and the assemblage of sail boats on the perfect blue below formed a kind of heraldry for the remembrance of my Dad, who, although living in Carleton Park, had made a special request to be cast among the atoms which had been my mother; she was in the very veins of the yellow trees which grew at the base of the cliffs, because her ashes had been scattered there as well.
The meditativeness, brought on by this visit, followed us the next morning as we neared the border into Canada. Jimmy was wearing a tank top at the time, and he blushed as the flattened roofs and the chain link fence of the holding station came into view.
“Already, already,” he said, “I have pulled many people over as a police officer, and found they didn’t have their driver’s licenses with them. I feel as though my karma may be coming up now. This woman will find something, I’m sure”
He took his passport from the pocket of his jeans. I had mine out as well. The Canadian agent who leaned into our window looked Jamaican. “And what are your reasons for going into Canada?” she asked.
“We’re doing a sports festival,” I said.
“Ah, congratulations,” she answered. “The Gay Games. We’re very proud of you here.”
With the sound of “congratulations,” Jimmy’s hand shook holding the passport.
“You’re Jimmy Melbourne?” she went on, leaning in further. “The famous pole vaulter? Do they have a pole vault event? I wasn’t aware of that.”
“No,” he told her. “We’re just running.”
His face had broken out into sweat, and she smiled again. “Have a good time. See you in a week.”
We were silent for a mile or two into Canada. “By God, that woman was informal,” he said.
“That’s the gay part,” I told him. “No doubt she’s one of us.”
“I’ve never been to Canada before,” he said. “Although I’ve been in meets all over the world, never in Canada. Somehow I thought I might be able to slip in without any association with the gay thing.”
“I don’t know what you might be expecting, really.”
“I could have told them we were going to the Butchart Gardens in Victoria,” he said. “As a kid, I had the Viewmaster slides of them.”
I had seen those myself. English boxwood and the Star Pond. The Quarry Fountain seventy feet high. Endless burning red and yellow begonias beneath geraniums in a green house.
When we arrived in Vancouver an hour later, we found, in the courtyard below our rooms, a garden of similar flowers, accenting a swimming pool. The Gay Games 10K was the next day.
“I have the strongest desire,” he said, unpacking his underwear, “just to jump ship now, and take a slow boat to Victoria. 'I'd Love to Get Ya on a Slow Boat to Victoria.' Get hidden behind the ferns, and then have an exit reason for being in Canada once we go back into the U.S. Five will get you ten the American agent wouldn’t say he’s proud of us if we told him.”
“And who cares?” I asked.
I was setting up my toiletries in the bathroom. I was calling to him over my shoulder. I could see him in the mirror. Through with his unpacking, he was taking off his sweaty pink tank. Although, because of our running together, I had seen him wear far less, the intimacy of the situation caused my chest to tighten. He had remarkable blonde-reddish hair and a kind of perfectly formed abdominal cage which was no doubt one of the past secrets to his success as a pole vaulter, all of which had, still, come to crash. I had the presence of mind to add, “Are you afraid the media’s going to get a hold of your name up here, or see you in the parade?”
“No. I’m known,” he answered. “But not that known.”
“Well, then, what, then?”
He stripped off his underpants and slacks. “It’s what I said about karma,” he told me. “Ten years ago, at eighteen, I gaybashed a drag queen. It was just outside what was then called Pedro’s, the one gay bar we had in town. The man was known as the Young Divine. Really very handsome, really very pretty. He came on to me, and I was drunk. I hauled off and punched him in the face. My case would have been sent to your court, but the D.A. dragged his feet so much in bringing everything to trial, it was cold by the time additional evidence arrived—a woman had seen me punch the queen on the street, and she had been slow to come forward. Also my parents had just the right pull. They knew which attorney to hire. My name as a brilliant athlete even then helped me. Later I won the decathlon. It was set right.”
I came out of the bathroom. I remembered reviewing the case. Now. He was right--it had been plain as day it would have gone into my court. My relief back then had been extraordinary. I knew there was no way in hell I could have sentenced this near teenager (two years past the incident now made him twenty) without overcompensating and throwing the book at him. Being closeted myself, I had everything to prove to the world and to myself that I was sympathetic to gays and to all the political groups that had rallied behind the "Young Divine.” It was at that time I began to feel I was walking around with a time-bomb ticking inside myself. Or I could think of myself as doing polevaulting and being just on the verge of falling down on my face.
I came out of the bathroom, took out my running gear and put it in the one drawer below the television that was still free. Jimmy had gone naked to the window and stood behind the filmy white curtains. My refusal to respond immediately was raising a tension altogether different from the one we had first known in Amazon Park.
“I wish you had something to say,” he told me.
“Your story isn’t altogether surprising,” I answered at last. “At eighteen, you were just a walking mass of hormones anyway.”
“I’m in A.A.,” he went on. “In A. A. now. He’s one of the amends I’m going to have to make in order to stay sober, hormones or no hormones. His charges were right, but I was told by my attorney to deny them.”
Again, I waited to answer. His nakedness was so strong, I felt nearly ready to pass out. I had known this was on the horizon for some time. At sixty-five years old, I was new to sex (some flings with women and a few men, but all out of town and all ephemeral and under stress), and the prospect of making love with a man in his late twenties in a protected room nearly frightened me out of my wits--and even my desire to make up for the past.
“You’re rather well known,” he said, “for lecturing convicted criminals in court about their offenses. All this time I’ve been imagining what you would say to me once I told you.”
“I would want to tell you to go and sin no more—that is, come out and live an open life, then you wouldn’t have to go backwards into violence and booze as cover-ups, but how could I do that, when I couldn’t come out myself?”
Relieved, he came over and put his hands on my shoulders. Then I took off my sweaty shirt and undershirt, and stepped out of my trousers and pants. He put on a lubed condom and I draped myself across the white bedspread of the appropriately queen-sized bed. He entered me and then came up against my back pressing his thin but heavily muscled chest into my body. I went straight over the crest and emptied myself while he continued thrusting. At last he reached his peak, widened himself inside me, and then we turned and came down into an embrace. Lying there, I noticed the thickness of my chest, my arms, as well as his. I felt muscular from my hips to my ass, because everything was for him, and was him, moving straight at me. It was as if, in the Greek myths, I had been visited by Athena, who enhanced men's bodies, to make them more beautiful for the beloved.
“I have another confession to make,” he said, as we lay together, spent and under the covers this time. “I informally tracked your movements—as a runner—throughout town. I knew you’d probably be in that bathroom on Sunday morning the way you always are when you’re done. I work Sunday mornings so it took some ingenuity to figure out a way of ‘running into you.’”
“Did you want me that much?” I asked.
“I wanted you,” he answered tactfully. “But I wanted even more the pride you had on your cap. How was I to get that when I’ve been ashamed all my life?”
“You’ll see tomorrow how to get it,” I said. I was stroking his hair, his chest. He sat up and kissed me on the neck.
“I never imagined this would be something to be proud of, too,” he observed. “But it is.”
The next morning we ran the 10K in Stanley Park, right along the stone sea wall. The sun came up, a blinding torch above the water—so blinding I wanted to keep my head turned while I was running. Jimmy, in a yellow tank off, was gone and away from me in the first minute, and finished in overall second place. He was given a medal and had his picture taken. I finished third in my age division (there were only three of us), but I thought it was part of my humility to take the medal anyway. Next morning, we marched with all the gay athletes in the vanguard of the enormous Vancouver Gay Pride parade, and I could see that Jimmy was moving past his reluctance to be known while still resting in the assurance that no one on the endless streets of the city would know who Jimmy Melbourne was. Besides, along with the balloons, drag queens, topless men, and nonstop disco floats, there were contingents of gay firefighters, gay policemen, gay doctors. I suppose I should have looked for one for gay judges. It was a thrill to wave our multi-colored Gay Games flags, and clank our medals with the rest of them.
Back at the hotel room, we made love again. We drew and drew at each other as though trying to restore ourselves for our return. I could feel there was everything to face once we got back to Eugene. This time through, we would not be stopping in Seattle. I had already paid my respects to my mother and father. In many ways, I wished that we could do the same with Jimmy’s parents, since they, perhaps, formed the most formidable obstacle, should he and I think of going on together. They were alive.
We had the border nearing us again the next morning, when Jimmy, who was driving, said, “You have no idea what it’s like having a line of athletic champions in your family history. If you were to look at my family tree, you would see a line of discus throwers like a row of flying saucers. And then my father the revered decathloner who didn’t win in Mexico in 68 but certainly distinguished himself. What would they say if they knew about me?”
“They’d have to say you were in line with the Greek tradition,” I answered. “All athlete and all gay.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, his face falling as the line of stopped cars came into view—we were at the check point--“we’re not living then but in the present day where the men in the locker room—at least at the police station—put a towel around them even when they’re pulling on their shorts.”
A kind of freeze came over us now, not just because we were about to be checked but also because we were nearly back to our own original lives.
Our agent was a skeptical man—damn!—and wasn’t thrilled to hear we had been at the Gay Games. He was dark and mustached—a man in his thirties whose eyes suggested cunning. He handed our passports back. Good, I thought, good. At least we’re past stage one.
However, many things had been stacked in the back seat, including some pillows which Jimmy had brought for his back when he was sleeping. They covered our clothes underneath.
The man asked, “And are you two the only ones in the car?”
Jimmy and I looked at each other.
“The only ones?” I asked.
“Is there any one else in the vehicle—hiding?”
“No,” Jimmy told him. And started to sweat.
Seeing that, the agent asked Jimmy and me to get out of the car while the back seat was searched. Finding nothing, the man then asked for the key to trunk. “Always good to have a look,” he said, slamming it after a glance. “You can go on now.”
Instinctively I knew Jimmy was too shaken to drive off, and so in a kind of dance that might have belonged to an aged couple, I simply got out and took the wheel while Jimmy sat in my place and slammed the door.
Looking straight ahead, we were silent a mile or two upon entering into a new country and what was to be a new life.
"What the hell do you think he was looking for?" Jimmy asked, and put his hand on my shoulder.
In the future, I would always think there had been a couple of bodies--our own--under those pillows--the old invisible selves we had brought back for burial.
Henry Alley is a Professor Emeritus of Literature in the Honors College at the University of Oregon. He has four novels, Through Glass (1979), The Lattice (1986), Umbrella of Glass (1988), and Precincts of Light (2010), which explores the Measure Nine crisis in Oregon, when gay and lesbian people were threatened with being made silent. His stories have appeared in journals over the past forty years.