For days, David had been checking the convenience store at the VA building for the arrival of the latest TIME magazine. Then, there it was. On the cover was a breaking new story about an oil spill along the coast of France. There was absolutely nothing in the issue about Having Fun In America.
Sam Waggoner told him to be patient about the photos from the Beaux Artes Ball she’d submitted to the magazine.
A week later David was again hanging around the store. The salesclerk said the magazine was late. Towards the end of the workday, David snuck out of the office to look for the magazine. Finally, there it was, with a bright, brassy cover and the headline Having Fun in the 70s — Leisure-Time America.
He quickly flipped pages to find the article, but saw none of his pictures. The photos were by TIME staffers or from big photo agencies. He disparagingly paged on through the third and fourth pages of the layout. Shit. Then on the last page of the spread he saw — as his heart skipped two beats — one of his black and white photos of TVs at the ball. Alongside the photo in small but important-looking lettering was David Nunley/Pacific Image. He bought five copies and made a spectacle of himself squeezing into a crowded elevator just as the doors were closing.
His coworkers seemed impressed and patted him on the back, though Vince seemed peeved that David had left work. In a sudden sweat and after a funny look from Gene, David wondered if he’d compromised himself by showing a photo of people in flaming drag. But he carried on, acting as though it was nothing extraordinary.
Vince tried to imagine how David would look dressed up.
That evening one of the TVs in the photo called to say that if his wife or one of her friends recognized him from the picture his marriage would be over.
In the flush of his small success David temporarily put aside memories of his evening with Pat. He knew that if he tried he could probably locate her through some of the Society members from Palo Alto. But she had his phone number and knew where he lived — after all, she had dropped him off. If there’s anything between us she’ll get in touch. Besides, he’d been busy in the darkroom.
David happened to be walking downtown on Market Street during his noon hour one day when his roving eye detected something interesting in the weave of moving bodies — a woman crossing the street toward him. A quick glance revealed that the woman was one of the transvestites from the Society probably trying to live as a woman. She was in her late forties, dressed conservatively. Obviously, David thought, she had studied the kind of woman she wanted to be and had imitated her down to the last detail. The woman had seemed oblivious to him, not even casting a glance in his direction.
David wondered if he would ever try a daylight foray and how much of a thrill it would be. Then he thought about Karen, who called herself Karen Various — that sense of humor of hers — and the hormones she was taking.
Jeanette and David had recently thrown a little party for some friends, including Karen and Jean. Karen had come along dressed as a man. But he had worn a semitransparent shirt and everyone could see budding breasts and darkening, expanding nipples underneath. Jeanette had been mildly upset and no one had been comfortable enough to talk about the sensation. David too had been ill at ease. He liked things to be less ambiguous — either you look like a man or woman.
Along the same lines, some new types were showing up at The Parlour get-togethers. They called themselves gender-fuckers and came in dresses along with mustaches. One came in a sequined dress with a flat chest and hairy legs ending in tennis shoes. These newcomers brewed controversy among the regulars. Should these clowns be asked to leave or could they be the wave of the future? After all, some of the original members had been pretty far out in their own time.
David had gotten into a habit which was with him everywhere. He liked to imagine how a given man might look if dressed as a woman. David was positive that given the right wig, makeup and clothing, a good number of men could pass quite successfully as beautiful women. Conversely, he looked at women, especially on the bus, and imagined them dressed as men, with men’s haircuts. He thought that the main non-reproductive difference between the sexes was the way they adorned themselves.
I guess I’d like to brag a bit about some things that have happened to me recently.
Number one is that I’ve been selling some of my photos through a stock photo agency.
Number two, and not the least, is that one of my photos is in the current issue of TIME magazine in the section about “Leisure-Time America.” I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere with my photography.
They called on Sunday when rates were low. A faraway-sounding woman’s voice asked, “David?”
“David, this is Mother.”
“Well, hello!” His enthusiasm was hollow and he had the distinct impression of being visited in prison.
“David, your father and I are so proud of you. We went out after we got your letter and bought the copy of TIME and saw your photograph in it. We’re so happy for you.”
“Thank you. It was a surprise. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.”
There was a short silence. “We never thought anyone in our family would be published in a national magazine.”
“This is just a one-time thing, though.”
David gulped and felt something stick in his throat. He coughed and wasn’t sure he could speak.
“David, it’s really something to be published in a magazine like TIME. Your picture looked very professional.”
“Though the subjects were off-color.”
“You know, you’ve reached the top when you get in a magazine the caliber of TIME.”
They were all too nice to each other, but the subject of David’s dressing was never discussed. After the call David leaned back in his chair and balanced on its rear legs by touching the wall behind him. So his parents had taken the big first step. But they’d never be comfortable with his transvestitism. They probably thought it was something he could excise like a mole or corn. It seemed they were better off pretending that the TV side of him didn’t exist.
On the other hand, he felt like he was a little boy again in the sunny back yard of his childhood with his parents stroking his head and saying, “You’re such a good little boy.” It seemed that a compromise was in the works. He’d be good and they’d forget his transgressions. He tried to balance on the two back legs of his chair without touching the wall and was able to hang in suspended animation for as long as ten seconds.
That evening David dreamed many dreams and recorded several in his diary. In one, he was visiting a house occupied only by women. In one of the women’s rooms he looked through drawers and found a filmy blue bra, which he fondled. The woman it belonged to came in and saw it and his erection. She took this as something usual and went about her business. He knew then that the women accepted him and that touching the bra was just part of the total sensuousness of the world.
In the other dream he was riding on a bus with some eager Japanese touring San Francisco. The bus driver, David’s father as a younger man, was explaining the history of the city over a PA system. While the tourists were all on one side of the bus photographing buffalo in Golden Gate Park, David idly looked out the other side and saw a very high radio tower which resembled the Eiffel Tower. Some college students were climbing it as part of a zany fraternity stunt. Before they reached the top David found himself climbing above them. The tower was being blown in a strong wind, swaying dangerously. Eventually David was confident enough to hold on to the tower with one hand and swing out from it. He wanted his father to see him, but he was still describing the buffalo scene to the tourists.
After two weeks, he still hadn’t heard from Pat and was wondering if he’d been a none-night stand.
Pat, however, had been starring in some of his masturbation fantasies. In one, he pictured her being filmed for a porno movie. She was deliciously dressing up in a man’s rough clothing. He dwelt on a scene where she was pulling on long, thick socks over smooth limbs. Seeming slim and muscular, she lay down and began to massage her clit under white jockey shorts.
Then he imagined her pointing a pistol at him and forcing him to dress as a woman. Finally she ordered him to accompany her down a busy street, she wearing a man’s pinstripe suit and him a loose-fitting dress. People could see that he was male and looked at him curiously. Pat walked proudly like Diana Rigg.
The Diana Society’s social night at The Parlour was refreshingly like the old days — there were no gender-fuckers — except for the news that the get-togethers wouldn’t be held there any more. The Society’s new president didn’t get along with the management.
Josie, the bus driver who always wore satin, was at the bar talking to Charlotte the warehouseman who never quite lost his burly voice. Next to him was his wife Sandra. At one of the tables was Jimmy Kim in male clothing along with Dedee Chu, who worked as a waiter in an expensive restaurant as a female. Susan, a petite commercial artist taking hormones, and Rose, a shy college student, filled out the table.
David-as-Natalie had walked from home again nearly without a second thought, past the junior high school and archdiocese offices, past the ice cream shop and the blue collar restaurant. At one point she began to whistle a tune, not sure where she’d heard it before.
Finally she waved to the gypsy fortuneteller in her storefront and made her way across the busy traffic of Market Street. The fabric of her dress swirled around her as she walked. Men were looking.
Call me dangerous.
In the cozy bar Natalie was pleasantly surprised. Her photos of the ball had been published in the Society’s newsletter and there were orders for extra prints. A glass of wine made her feel even better. Soon Karen came in looking impish and sat down for some girl talk. Yes, her breasts were still growing. No, her patients didn’t seem to notice — or didn’t want to notice. Jean was getting turned off by the changes. That didn’t seem to bother Karen terribly — she was concentrating on forming the wardrobe she’d wear as a real woman. On the recommendation of her shrink, Karen had decided to live as a woman full time before she was sex-changed.
Natalie grew disturbed as she listened to Karen chatting on like a songbird, sometimes creating elaborate fantasies about her upcoming womanhood. Natalie wondered just how stringent the screening process was for sex-change operations and how much counseling pre-operative patients got. There had always been something whimsical and screwy about Karen and now that part of her seemed to be taking over. And she was a doctor for Christ’s sake.
The new president of the Society, a big-shouldered broad, came by to ask if either of them knew of another bar where the socials could be held. Was there another simpatico gay bar? Natalie, irritated at her for losing The Parlour, so close to home, was about to answer when she felt cool and gentle hands cover her eyes.
She impulsively slipped her head around, twisting her wig slightly. There stood Pat, resplendent in a tweed sports coat and black turtleneck sweater, with a warm smile.
“I can’t believe it! You beautiful woman! How’d you know I’d be here?”
“Jeanette told me when I dropped by the house.”
Natalie absorbed some of the warmth emanating from the figure standing before, combined with a dusky fragrance that might have been perfume.
Natalie introduced Karen. “Won’t you join us? Would you like some wine?”
“Gee, I’m sorry but my daughter’s out in the car. Why don’t you come out and meet her? I can’t bring her in here.”
Natalie was less than excited.
Danielle Wending was two and a half years old, a quiet blonde. She looked at the stranger seated next to her in their Volvo station wagon only when she could hold on to her mother. Pat gave her to Natalie, who felt ridiculous holding her. She’d left the easygoing part of herself back in the bar. Now she was a guy wearing greasy makeup and a wig.
“Hello, Danielle,” he said, lowering his artificial voice a notch. He asked Pat if her daughter had met TVs before.
Pat nodded yes. But the little one pouted and put her hands to her eyes as if to cry. David tried to pull her closer to his bosom and then she actually did cry.
“Well, I tried.”
“She doesn’t know you. Don’t feel bad. I just wanted you to meet her.” Danielle immediately stopped crying as Pat took her back, and the toddler looked intently at David again.
“She’s a very cute girl,” he allowed.
After a pleasant bite to eat in The Parlour’s restaurant, an invitation to Pat’s home was extended and quickly accepted. On the freeway in San Francisco, with Danielle asleep in her car seat in the back, Pat drove by the giant bubbling glass of beer atop Hamm’s brewery. They had stopped to pick up some male clothes at his flat, but he remained dressed as a woman.
“Love your outfit,” he said as they passed gentle hills lit with the scattered embers of distant street lights.
“It’s my favorite. I wore it because I hoped I’d find you tonight.”
“I feel so lucky to see you again.” He paused. “I’m just a little curious. Why didn’t you get in touch before? I was beginning to think I was a one-nighter. I have an excuse — I forgot to get your phone number.”
Pat was driving at ten over the limit. “Well, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to see you, believe me.”
“I suppose I’d better tell you. I have a friend, a guy from out East. He’s a research biologist, a well-known one — Marty’s his name — and guess what, he’s a TV. He was just out visiting. He’s quite taken with me and tends to be very jealous. So I didn’t want you calling or anything.”
“How do you feel about him?”
They both looked back to see Danielle asleep, clutching a doll.
“Friends.” She smiled. “I think he’s a brilliant guy and all. He’s really into dressing. The guy flies all the way out here to be with me and dress maybe three times a year. But whether he realizes it or not he’s too involved with his research to have a relationship. He calls a lot. Very intense person. Very funny sometimes, too.”
“How does he look dressed?”
“Pretty nice. He can afford the best. He knows his makeup. Last time he actually flew out in drag.”
“You seem to have an affinity for transvestites.”
“I do. You’re probably thinking I’m some sort of TV den mother.”
They both laughed.
David grew silent again and looked out at the night. Stars were showing above the nearly deserted freeway that lazily followed the contours of wooded hills. Pat’s features were softly defined by the warm glow from the instrument panel, yet she still had the look of a determined woman.
He had begun to whistle under his breath before he became consciously aware of it. Again he wondered what the tune was — it was the same one he’d whistled on the street earlier. It was so familiar –
“I feel comfortable with TVs,” she was saying. “After all, in my own way I’m kind of one myself.”
“That part of you turns me on in more ways than you could imagine.”
“When I’m dressing in guy clothes I feel more together. I just like heftier clothes. Sometimes I’ll dress frilly like a woman, but just as something different to do, not the way I like to be most of the time.”
“You were a tomboy, I suppose.”
“I grew up on a sheep ranch my dad owned in Wyoming. I don’t think I wore a dress once until I was in high school.” She explained that both of her parents were dead, her father in a truck accident, then her mother of a heart attack several years later. And Pat, the only child, had come into a modest inheritance.
Pat excited the 280 freeway and slowly angled down into the quiet streets of Palo Alto. As she entered a cul-de-sac, David made out Marwood Court on a street sign. As they pulled into the driveway of a darkened, pleasant-looking small house he was suddenly uneasy. This is where I want to be, isn’t it?
Danielle was put to bed after being carried in over Pat’s shoulder. Then in her softly-lit living room Pat and David sat on a sofa and looked into each other’s eyes. Pat reached out and touched his face. They kissed gently.
After getting up and pouring him wine, Pat went to a closet, found a gift-wrapped package and smilingly handed it to him. Never a great present-giver himself, he was always taken aback and pleasured when someone gave him one.
“This is a surprise.”
“Just open it, kid.”
Inside the wrapping was a slim box with a Frederick’s of Hollywood logo.
“What a wet dream!” He was looking at a red satin corset, the most erotic he’d ever touched. The cups had just the right amount of tasteful decoration and stiffness. Its sides were lightly boned and there were dainty garter straps.
“Aren’t you going to put it on? You should know that it wasn’t easy to find. I had to go to the San Jose store to find a tall one.”
When he came out of the bathroom he felt like the lead in the Rocky Horror Show. Pat, meanwhile, had changed into soft corduroy trousers and a starched white shirt under a soft sweater. Her hair was pulled back again masculinely.
“It’s just a little small,” she said as she had him turn around. “How does it feel?”
“It’s so nice and tight.” For a moment, David compared this scene to his scenes with Diane.
At that moment his penis chose to spring loose from under the corset and hung in the air. Pat put her hand around it as David quivered and stood for a moment on his toes.
“All right, big boy,” she said as though talking to his member, “get your dress back on and we’ll take care of you.” She grabbed his ass and squeezed it hard.
In bed the next morning after a tumultuous coming together, Pat wanted to know about David’s growing up as a TV. David was back in a male mode.
“I don’t know for sure why I got into it. For a long time I read every psychology and psychoanalytic book I could but they didn’t tell me much.
“My dressing has always been pretty sexual. But when I was a kid sex was never discussed — it was all a mystery. I started by getting off on lingerie ads. The bras seemed so perfect, you know, like they were on Greek goddesses or something. Then I started wearing my mother’s lingerie and stuff when I was alone. I even stole some of her things.”
“Didn’t she ever find out?”
“I was so careful she never knew anything. Or if she did she never let on. Finally when I came out here to California I could do whatever I wanted and began to get serious about the whole thing.”
“You’re from Ohio, right? That’s where your parents live now?”
“Newsome, Ohio. Yeah, They’re still there. Listen, I’ve got to tell you how it was growing up there. Can I bore you?”
“Yes, please bore me.”
“I can remember wearing my mother’s clothes while everyone from my family was away at church. I’d hear the church bells ring and know that other boys my age were walking to church like little saints while I was sinning my ass off. I’d beat off and then try to destroy every last shred of evidence of what I was doing.”
Pat tried to suppress a laugh. “No, I’m not laughing at you. I just remembered this thing that happened in high school. I had a big crush on one of the football players, and he didn’t even know I existed. They called him Truck. Truxtin was his real name. He had the neatest snakeskin cowboy boots. One time I appropriated them and took ‘em home. You know how pointy cowboy boots are. You know how one might kinds fit in down her — ” She pointed between her legs. “They provided some great solitary sex.”
They traded stories, luxuriating in a Saturday morning bed. Danielle came trotting in later to crawl in bed with them. Pat had explained the night before that Dannie was from her seven-year marriage to the part owner of a small electronics parts company. Bought out by his partners, he’d grown distant and hostile even though he too was a TV. “Believe it or not I didn’t know what a transvestite was before we got married.” He’d spent too much time tooling around at night on his motorcycle. Since the breakup Patricia had been supporting her abbreviated family by running a computerized rental-finder service.
When David returned to the city that afternoon he was giddy, his brain occupied with the memory of Pat’s body against his. It occurred to him that she combined the best of both worlds. She had a strong, mother-like, nurturing quality besides being a temptress.
As days went by things seemed different. The world was happier. He noticed that when he walked the few blocks from the bus to work he was more aware of smiles than frowns. Pleasurable ideas were bounding around and expanding inside him. The glow and excitement was also mildly threatening. If he didn’t watch himself he could become silly. He’d been that way briefly with Corky and Diane, too, but without any trust.
One day out walking during the noon hour he found himself whistling that familiar tune again. Then while he was listening to an offbeat FM station that evening he heard it once more — and it finally registered as the tune his father used to whistle when he was preoccupied.
At work David plodded on, struggling to stay awake, watching the clock, imagining he was slipping down a hillside of scattered, slippery file folders. He continued to rue the fact that he wasn’t making enough at photography to quit. He and Gene weren’t talking. Vince Grasso was his usual white-bread self.
On another front, David slacked off production of stock photos for Sam and Pacific Images and spent most of his time producing the desert prints. In the late hours of the night he hung out in his red-lit darkroom, and amid the smells of sulfur and acetic acid relived his Anza-Borrego trip. This was the nitty gritty of it all — developing pieces of silvered paper that sometimes responded magically and sometimes cursed him. But the more time he devoted to the darkroom the better a printmaker he became.
Midway through the process of making his large prints he brought some samples to a professional studio photographer he’d once been introduced to. The feisty old man, who’d become somewhat shaky in his later years and whose assistants did much of his work, gave him fifteen minutes. Mr. Stanton’s close-cropped hair and neatly-trimmed beard were white, and David watched as the man lit his pipe and put on bifocals that hung from a slender chain around his neck.
“It’s just my opinion, of course,” he said, “but your prints overall need more contrast. Also, I think a warmer paper would fit your subjects better. Your blacks should be blacker. Do you use toner?”
David shook his head no, and wrote down Stanton’s recommendations.
The old man complimented David on his shooting and conception, however. When David explained that he was trying for a show, Stanton phoned a friend who ran the municipal gallery downtown. “George,” he said, “I’ve got a young man here who should get a show at your place.”
Evidently the elder photographer’s recommendation carried some weight because David was given an appointment to see the curator. As he was leaving, David was told by one of Stanton’s assistants that “I’ve only seen the old man do this for one other person,” and he named a well-known nature photographer.
David returned to his darkroom with a head of steam that carried him past 20 new prints in two weeks. He spotted, mounted and wrapped them and took the stack in a handsome new carrying case to George at the Irons Gallery. George noncommittally looked at the prints while talking about everything but. Finally David was forced to ask him point-black if he was going to get a show.
“Oh, yes, yes. Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I make it clear? Oh, yes, Mr. Nunley. Anyone that Mr. Stanton recommends is quite fine with us. Don’t mind me. It’s just that I enjoy talking so much to artists. I’m sorry if we had a misunderstanding, I really am.” And so on.
David left with directions on how to prepare his work for the exhibition and a firm date for it in April. When he told Jeanette — “My first show!” — she said he deserved it and shook his hand like an old-fashioned pump handle. David insisted on a bear hug. Jeanette promised to cater the event, five months away.