When I was about 11, I overheard someone tell a joke at a party. It was about someone pushing Rock Hudson off the Golden Gate Bridge because they wanted to see a fruit fly. I didn't get it. I probably wasn't supposed to hear it anyway. My mother tried to explain it to me. I understood that the Golden Gate Bridge was in San Francisco, and that Rock Hudson was supposed to be a "fruit."
"Why is he a 'fruit'?" I asked.
"Well, honey, because he's... sweet," she replied.
But I still didn't get it. She gave up and sent me to bed.
My older cousin always referred to people he didn't like as "queers" and "homos." I asked him once what that meant.
"You know, like 'funny,'" he said.
I still didn't get it. And I definitely didn't understand why that would be a bad thing. I liked funny, sweet people. Didn't everyone?
"No, like... Boy George. And that guy from Wham! Those kinda guys," he said.
I still didn't get it. But I wondered if being a stylish pop singer may have something to do with it.
Then there was another joke, the one that a boy told at school. He went to shake my hand; with one finger he tickled my palm and said, "Hi, I'm from San Francisco." I didn't get it. But there was "San Francisco" again.
My uncle tried to explain that one to me. He said that tickling someone's hand while shaking it is "suggestive," and that if a guy did that to another guy, well, then he was probably from San Francisco.
Though I was still very unclear as to what everyone was talking about, it certainly had something to do with San Francisco. I didn't know much about "Frisco," as we called it in Northern California in the '80s. (Don't try to call it that now.) I knew that it was a few hours from my house, and that a very popular sports team called the 49ers was from there. But I still didn't think any of it had anything to do with me.
I remained ignorant on the subject throughout my early teenage years. I took part in the usual homophobic high school banter. But I still didn't really get it. Why were we always tormenting the unpopular kids by accusing them of being sweet, funny pop singers?
During my junior year in high school, some friends kidnapped me on my birthday. That was what we did on our birthdays in Sacramento when I was in high school: kidnap each other. I didn't know where we were headed until, after about two hours in the car, I saw the bright orange towers and the swooping cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.
We went to Fisherman's Wharf, because we didn't know what else to do. It smelled awful. There were a lot of homeless people. And people playing the steel drums. And people singing with karaoke machines on the street for money. I thought these people were perhaps trying to be stylish pop singers but failing at it miserably. Maybe Rock Hudson had been one of these people, which would almost justify someone pushing him off a bridge. But I still didn't get it. No one tried to shake my hand in a suggestive way. And I didn't encounter anyone who was particularly "sweet" or "funny." Except my friend Rick.
I really liked Rick. He was definitely sweet and funny. He was a junior, and I was a sophomore. We always helped each other with our homework. We often talked on the phone at night. Sometimes I wished he was my brother so that we could live together in the same house. Maybe we could even share a room.
On the way home, I rode in the back seat with Rick.
"Happy birthday, buddy!" he said and put his arm around me sleepily. The sun was going down as we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. As I laid my head on his shoulder, I looked for the spot where Rock Hudson must have been pushed off. But Rick made a noise. He took a deep breath and made a little sigh. And let his arm relax across me. I got an erection.
We fell asleep in the back seat like that. Exactly like that. His arm across me, my head on his shoulder, my erection. And just before I dozed off, I got it.