The following Saturday David was in the offices of The Real Times with a camera slung over his shoulder. Don Hill and the crew were still there, but David quickly learned that the newspaper had been sold. “I’m hanging on a thread,” Don confessed, though he seemed relieved that the suspense was over. David asked about the new owners. The slight editor chuckled in the conspiratorial way that underground newspaper people developed. “It’s a consortium of investors incorporated in the Bahamas. Kind of shadowy. Our esteemed owner must’ve made enough money to keep him happy in his old age.”
David remembered the legends of how the former owner had gone from selling photocopied Real Times on streetcorners to creating a full-blown weekly newspaper.
“Here, have some cheap wine,” said Don. David had seen many half-finished plastic cups around the office and the paste-up crew looked hung over. The newspaper, already a pale version of what it had been at its zenith in the late sixties, would forever change.
David stayed on to commiserate with Don. He realized that the switch would alienate him, David, from the paper. The new editor would likely be a guy wearing phony beads and white shoes, carrying computer printouts. For the memory, he snapped a quick shot of Don at his roll-top desk. Then the two of them hugged briefly, both a little embarrassed. David gulped the last of his wine and made for the door, grabbing a copy of the latest Times on the way out. The cover displayed a photo taken by none other than Diane of a nude woman meditating on a beach. A lover of hers? David wondered if she would try to get herself on the new staff.
When he got off the bus and walked the two blocks home, he picked up the day’s mail and found a letter from his parents. They hadn’t written for several months. Inside his apartment, he dreaded opening it. At least it contained his mother’s gentle handwriting –
Your father doesn’t know I’m writing this. He wouldn’t like it. Still, I want to write so you don’t think we’ve forgotten you.
He is still angry about what you told us. I don’t know if he’ll get over it. He’s always been uneasy about homosexuality, so that’s where it stands. You’re his son so it’s hard for him to accept. Sometimes he says that you’re not his son any more.
I want to tell you that mostly he doesn’t understand you. I don’t either. But I’m not writing to tell you to change. I just want to tell you that I love you and always will. Please allow your father some time. You can write if you wish — I won’t show the letter to your father if you don’t want me to.
The last few lines were squished together on the bottom of the page, as was her custom. David had always read his mother’s letters, for it was usually she who wrote, with trepidation. They were invariably serious, full of the small misfortunes of her group of friends. When he read the letters it was as though he was sitting next to her at the family’s old kitchen table. She usually understated things — the mention of a breeze might indicate a hurricane. The few times his father wrote, the language was spartan and terse, without the shadings of his mother. The old man’s handwriting resembled bent wires while his mother’s was soft and delicate.
This letter complicated things. Now he was expected to reestablish contact again, if only with his mother. She didn’t want to lose him. He supposed that there was something about him having been a baby inside her. Even so, David didn’t feel an affiliation. He didn’t think he needed her or them. He had coolly thought that if they died he wouldn’t attend their funeral. They had nothing in common except the thin thread of tradition. They were getting old. Maybe he’d get around to writing in a month or so. He’d show then he could dish it out as well as his old man could.
David enlarged one of the photos he’d taken at the Civic Center demonstration — a nonviolent one — and took it to the office to mount on his cubicle wall. Vince Grasso noticed the new picture. He wondered what it meant. David Nunley, employee, was always trying to be different in an obvious, raw way. Vince wondered how a regular clerk could have such pretensions of being a photographer. If David was that good, why wasn’t he earning his living at it? David was always trying to show off, always thought he was special. He’d go off to eat by himself or with the quirky Gene Gatzo. Finally there were David’s offbeat clothes, some of which Vince heard were from secondhand stores.
Vince had never mentioned it to David but once, while looking for a lost file, he had found a little shopping bag in David’s desk. It contained three pairs of panties, a bra and several bottles of makeup. The way he pictured it, the panties and bra might be for a girlfriend, but no guy would buy a woman makeup. Vince had only mentioned it to his wife. They had laughed about the possibility of the stubborn David being gay or a closet drag queen.
David certainly did get rebellious at times. Sometimes Vince could see the anger in his clerk’s eyes. In the end, though, David usually went along with the program. His work was better than average — if only he didn’t call in sick so much. Vince’s eyes went back to David’s photo. Below it David was working on file entries.
Diane and Laura welcomed David with knowing smiles as they let him in their old front door. It was a weekday evening and they were putting their children to bed.
“What’ve you got?” asked Diane. David was carrying a blue nylon athletic bag. “Some goodies,” he replied with a furtive smile.
On the way over, and now in the apartment, he felt cold, to the point where he left his jacket on even in the house.
After some wine and pot, Laura and Diane escorted him back to Diane’s bedroom. “It’s Rocky Horror Show time,” said Diane, opening his bag. “Look at this. You’ve outdone yourself, David.” She pulled out a long black boned corset.
At the same time, David pulled down his trousers to show them the stretch-lace panties he was wearing, complete with half an erection.
David proceeded to dress up, wearing the corset and a dress of Diane’s. They put a little makeup on him and he pulled on a long wig he’d brought. This was always what he’d wanted — so close to his fantasy of being captured by women and turned into one — but he was developing a major headache and queasy stomach.
The three of them lay on Diane’s bed. Diane was reaching under his dress while Laura, like a basking cat, was watching. He pulled away.
“What’s the matter?” asked Diane.
“I’m just not into it.”
“Of course you’re into it, buster,” she kidded. “Don’t act like a vestal virgin.”
“I’m sorry. I just don’t feel like it. I don’t feel that well.”
“It must be your time of the month, Natalie.”
“Don’t get all catty with me, Diane. I could be getting sick. Besides, I probably wouldn’t come, anyway, like last time. I’d just be frustrated while you two get off on each other.”
“So that’s it. Plain simple old jealousy,” said Diane.
“I’m sorry. I’m not into it any more.”
“I’m not into it any more,” mimicked Diane. Laura reached over and touched his forehead. “I think he’d got a temperature.”
He dizzily put his accouterments in his bag and went to the bathroom to wipe off his makeup. Diane came in and looked concerned.
“I’m sorry I teased you, David. Maybe it won’t work out with us — you and Laura and me. Besides, you always seem like you only half enjoy dressing. Like, you’re guilty about it.”
David mumbled an incomprehensible answer. He was sweating profusely.
Diane drove him home. Without Laura, she wasn’t so bad. On the way she mentioned a transvestite group she had met at the Real Times office. She was thinking of doing a photo story about them.
He took an aspirin, then allowed his body to sink into bed. As he floated and slowly rotated in space before falling asleep, he wondered if getting sick was a payback for being degenerate.
“David.” Diane was calling, three days later. “How are you?”
“I’m in bed sick. Catching up on reading.”
“Now we know why you were so out of sorts. Say, I’ve got to tell you about the transvestite meeting I went to, the one I covered for the Times.”
“Oh yeah, you said you were doing that.”
“You don’t sound very interested.”
“I suppose I should be. Well, what was it like?”
“”Hmmm. I wonder if I should even tell you.”
“OK then. It was really something. This was in Millbrae. These guys are really into it. It was like a Tupperware party or something. You would’ve liked it. They were nice people — had a sense of humor. Some of them even looked sharp.”
“Were there any real women there?”
“A few wives and girlfriends.”
“I got in good with this one guy there, which wasn’t easy because a lot of the transvestites were afraid of getting their photos or names in the paper.” She went on to tell about a Korean-American electrical engineer who lived in San Francisco. “He said you should come to a meeting. He’d like to meet you.”