Book 3: The Centre

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

Speak Up

It was a Wednesday night. Matilda and I had polished off the rest of the Everything Pizza Argyll brought home the night before. He wanted to stop to eat before the Board of Supervisors meeting, but my stomach was already churning and I made him wait.

I'd never been to a political meeting before. There was this motion and that motion. There was this objection and that objection. There was old business. There was new business, but mostly there was arguing about everything. Most of the business was of little interest to regular people, and I stopped listening to what they were arguing about.

The open microphone gave ordinary people a chance to say their piece. The Board of Supervisors was an elected body, so they needed to pretend they cared about the voters. I think they listened to us about as keenly as I listened to them, but they had to do it if they wanted to be reelected.

Argyll nudged me after three people stood up and complained about the garbage that was spilled each time the garbage was collected. When asked why she didn't pick up the garbage and place it into one of the cans instead of leaving it lay there, she had no answer beyond, it's not my job. She was told spills are unavoidable and residents needed to help keep their environment clean.

A woman complained about her dog getting a ticket for taking a dump in a non-dumping zone. She was livid and no one had an answer for her. Doggy-do wasn't their department.

Being next in line, after a woman with the dog, I wasn't sure I'd get much response, as the supervisors were talking amongst themselves.

"There are homeless kids living on your streets," I blurted into the microphone and got an incredible feedback that alerted everyone to my presence, while clearing the sinus of everyone present.

I blew into the microphone and looked at Argyll, suddenly speechless.

"Is this damn thing on?" I yelled, and Argyll cringed and slipped down in his seat in disapproval. "There are kids living on your streets. Sometimes they're dying out there."

All the conversation between the supervisors stopped as they all stared at the microphone. One very dire looking gent leaned forward to speak into his microphone.

"Who are you?" he asked, looking like he'd like to wring my neck.

"My name is Billie Joe Walker Jr."

"Mr. Walker, we don't use profanity to express ourselves here. While I'll overlook your youthful impertinence, there are government agencies that provide services for the homeless. I'd suggest you find the appropriate agency."

His voice was dismissive and he pushed the microphone away from his face as he leaned back to make a comment to another supervisor.

"Street kids won't go within a country mile of your government agencies. Why do you think they're on the street in the first place?" I persisted.

"I have no idea," he snapped, leaning forward to make sure I got the entire impact of his displeasure.

"I was one of those homeless kids. I was living on your streets. I lived to come here to tell about it. Some of my friends died on your streets. Killed because no one gives a damn about gay kids thrown out of their own homes," I continued, bringing out my heavy guns and succeeding in making myself more angry. "Someone ought to give a damn. You're the Supervisors. How about you? Do you give a damn or are you just putting in time?"

Once again the skinflint leaned back to speak to another supervisor. A younger, better dressed, and half- way decent looking guy leaned over to put in his two-cent's worth. The older man covered up the microphone as they spoke for a minute. The old guy kept shaking his head no.

A black guy pushed his way to the microphone. He seemed to be in a hurry to speak.

"Hey, Hey, I'm in line here," a woman complained as I shielded the microphone from him.

I refused to budge, realizing this might be my one and only shot at telling someone what I knew about life on the street.

"I'm on your side. Let me say something," he said, reaching to pull the microphone toward his mouth as he leaned in front of me.

"I know some of those kids. They aren't going near government agencies. They've been thrown out of their own houses by their so-called parents. Those kids don't trust anyone," the man bellowed, taking the heat off me.

"Thanks," I said, and the word echoed around us.

"Who are you, sir?" the skinflint asked unhappily before he glanced at the clock.

"I'm Paul Jefferson. I work for the gay outreach. Those kids are all over The Castro in the evening. They come here thinking we'll take in our own."

"Our own?" the skinflint asked sarcastically, smirking, and then looking at the supervisor at his side.

"They're homeless because their gay," I blurted. "Who elects you people? Don't you go out on the street?"

The microphone was once more muffled as the younger supervisor talked to the older supervisor. I checked to see which supervisor was which, and Supervisor Henderson was the name in front of the younger man. Supervisor Wisner was consulting him. I looked at Argyll and mouthed the words, 'is that him?' He nodded affirmation.

"Well schedule this for our next meeting. We can't accomplish anything talking back and forth tonight. Our time is about up for tonight, Mr. Jefferson. You contact my office and get that boy's information so I'm not dealing with children. This meeting of the Board of Supervisors stands adjourned."

He banged his gavel to keep from hearing my goodbye.

"I'm old enough to vote and I'm not with him," I protested into the dead microphone. "Bastard. You're the problem," I said, as my words followed their retreat.

"Thanks," I said to Paul.

"It was your dime. I just put in my two-cents worth. They don't react well to youngsters. You need a spokesman or a mustache."

"I'm not a youngster. I can speak just fine," I protested, feeling very much like I'd been dismissed.

"You didn't have to use so much profanity," Argyll scolded.

"I didn't?"

"Yeah, you did. You cuss like a sailor," Paul said.

"They weren't paying any attention," I explained.

We decided to exchange information so we could stay in touch. I wasn't sure, but I figured it couldn't hurt. It was a start but not the one I envisioned.

"You do have a way with words, Joe. You bring admirers out of the woodwork," Argyll said as we walked toward the restaurant he had picked out without consulting me.

"What do you mean? Those assholes didn't listen to a thing I said. Sorry, your time's up. Son-of-a-bitch. It was a waste of time?"

"Welcome to big-time politics, Joe. That was your baptism under fire."

"Yeah, right, I could have been yelling on a corner on Market Street for all the attention they paid to me."

"Paul Jefferson paid attention. They talked to him. You might want to talk to him. By the way he was looking at you; he might be willing to help."

"You think so?"

"Just don't go to his apartment for any late night meetings on the subject," Argyll suggested, "and you might not want to call the supervisors assholes to their face. It tends to put them off."

"Truth hurts," I snapped.

"Emotion is the death of any argument. You need to go in prepared. Raising your voice and cussing will mostly assure the brush off."

"Now, you tell me. I didn't know what I was doing. I should have been better prepared but I didn't know what to expect."

"I thought you'd act mature. You do around the house. I thought you were pretty smart, but you sure made a horse's ass out of yourself. I guess I should have realized you didn't know what was coming. It didn't bother Paul Jefferson."

"Everyone isn't after my body, you know?" I argued.

"You obviously haven't lived in this city all that long. Did you do much dating when you were on the street?"

"No, not really. Someone else was always willing to do it," I explained. "They knew the ropes and they knew I didn't."

"And they took care of you?"

"Mostly," I said. "I'd never been on the street before. They knew how things worked."

"I rest my case, Joe. You have that effect on people. We all want to take care of you. Those kids you were with, they'd never been on the street before either. They learned how it worked because they couldn't go home. You went home."

"Get out of here," I said, not connecting to his observation in a very mature way as I pushed him away from my side.

"Greek?" he asked.

"It's Greek to me. I've never been popular with anyone," I defended. "You're full of it."

"Greek food? Lamb. Grape leaves. Black olives. Feta cheese. It's all quite healthy, but even you'd like it. Mellow mingling Mediterranean flavors"

"Sure," I said. "I lost my appetite back there in that meeting. They didn't pay any attention. Why'd you take me there?"

"Well, to let Steve Henderson see you. I've got a feeling he won't be so anxious to come over for dinner now that he's seen you in action," Argyll observed.

"You just said everyone wanted to help me. Make up your mind."

"He's a low key kind of a guy, Joe. He can do more good undercover than if he comes out. You've got to learn to leave a better impression."

"Bullshit. People seeing him come out would do more good than all his undercover nonsense. We need role models not more shame from people afraid to admit they're gay. The secret is killing us, Argyll."

"Joe, do you want help or not? I can only do what I can do. I'm not a politician. I'm a cop. Let's finish this after dinner. I don't need indigestion."

"If you really liked me you wouldn't mind," I smirked.

I found I enjoyed the way Feta cheese crumbled and Greek olives were just the ticket with the cheese. I'd had lamb before but not seasoned like in the Greek restaurant. I suppose the freshness along with thousands of years of experience made the food great. Argyll seemed to know all the best restaurants.

That night Argyll came to my bedroom door with a stack of books in his arms. The door was open. He knocked with his knee before coming in with the books.

"Here, I picked these out for you," he said, setting them down beside Carl's picture. "Writing him again? Can he even read?"

"Argyll!" I protested.

"Sorry, just highlighting my strong points."

"I've got plenty to read," I said.

"Yeah, that envelope from Carl weighed two pounds. I thought you said he was in the Army. Don't they have some work for him to do?"

"Argyll, is there a purpose behind the books?" I asked, looking up from the letter I was writing.

"Yeah, it's gay history. There are books that tell you about the modern gay movement. If you're going to fight with people you need to come armed. You can't cuss them out and expect them to fall at your feet and beg to help. Not the supervisors anyway, maybe that approach will work with Paul."

"I know about gay stuff," I said.

"Yeah, but this is our history. There were turning points that created what we have today. Did you know it was a crime to be homosexual up until the 70s? Did you know we may owe a bunch of drag queens for beginning the modern gay pride movement?"

"No way," I said, looking up from my letter, not believing a word of it.

"Way!" he said firmly. "Read."

"Drag queens? Come on, Argyll. I'm not joking here."

"Drag queens. Read your history. You might be surprised what you don't know and who the real heroes are. It's all in these books."

Argyll kissed my forehead and bid me goodnight. I continued on my letter to Carl and never did look at the books he'd brought that night. I'd spend other nights reading them later and learning more about where gay pride started and what it was like before.

I got a call from Paul the next day. He invited me to his place the next afternoon. Paul was definitely interested in more than helping street kids. He was smart and funny but wanted a date with me. I told him about Carl. I told him about my mission. He questioned my determination and especially my tactics. I told him I was working on my temper.

"Argyll?" he quizzed once I made it clear there was no one but Carl.

"Argyll is merely a sweet, adorable friend," I said confidently.

"An adorable friend who adores you. He looks at you like you're the main course at a feast."

"Argyll is fond of me. He's sweet."

We left with the agreement that our mutual interest should be the gay street kids. I had the feeling Paul wasn't as passive as Argyll. I'd continue seeing him as long as we were working on the problem I was there to address. I'd try to talk Argyll into going along to Paul's with me.

I came in before ten and found Argyll reading in his bedroom.

"Come on in and sit down," he said, patting the bed beside him. "How'd it go?"

"Just like you said. You think you're so smart."

"And did Paul take no for an answer?" Argyll inquired, setting his book to one side.

"For the time being. It could be a problem. Maybe you should come with me next time, since you're so smart?"

"Schedule your next meeting with him at a time when I'm off. I'll go with you."

"Yeah, that might be a good idea. It'll be all about the street kids. Maybe wear your uniform and bring handcuffs."

"I want to help, Joe. I've got to be careful not to cross any lines. My job comes first. I won't always be there to protect you. We've got to find you allies so you aren't alone with people like Paul. The reason I'm so smart is because I saw the way he looked at you. You couldn't see his face until he came to the microphone and then he was on good behavior."

"I won't ask you to do anything out of the ordinary."

"No, this wouldn't be a good place for that. Carl called. There's a number on your dresser but he had to be back on base by ten. It's almost ten now. You can try him if you like."

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He wanted to know if you were eating okay. He wanted to know if the place was warm and comfortable."

"Sounds like him. He worries a lot. He's stuck on that army base most of the time."

"He cares a lot about you. It's apparent in his voice."

"Yes, he does and I care a lot about him."

"Well, try that number. He might still be waiting for your call."

I used the phone in my room but Carl had gone. I looked at his picture and felt bad about missing a chance to talk to him. Holding the frame against my chest, I thought about having his arms around me. I thought about going back to Alabama to wait for Carl to be discharged.

It was an evening later when I was sitting in my bed writing Carl, when Argyll came to my door.

"Hope I'm not interrupting anything," Argyll said from the doorway to my room.

"No, just thinking," I said.

"I told him you were fine, safe, and staying well fed."

"Yeah, well enough he'll leave me flat if I don't slow down on the food intake."

"You're fine," Argyll reassured me without hesitation. "Steven is coming to dinner tomorrow evening. I'm having dinner catered. He likes French, so if you can be here at six to let the caterer in. They'll have things ready to serve by the time I get home. I told Steven eight thirty so I can shower and get changed. Try to limit your cussing if you could. He's important if you want help getting done what you want to get done."

"Steven?" I said, thinking I ought to know the name.

"Henderson. Supervisor Henderson. He remembered you with no difficulty. Of course all the Supervisors have a clear recollection of you. In spite of it he wants to meet with you for a chat."

"Progress?" I inquired to get some feel for what to expect.

"That or you've got another admirer. You are collecting people at a pretty good clip."

"Argyll, I'm not collecting anyone. Whoever wants to help is welcome to help."

"One small piece of advice, Joe: these are sophisticated people. You'd score more points if you don't cuss them out. They're there to help and most of them do their best within the context of what's politically expedient."

"I'll watch my mouth. I don't usually lose control so easily but those guys were jerking me around. They've got to take the issue seriously. Something has to be done and they can help."

"Just remember it's a nice friendly dinner. He's coming to talk to you. It wouldn't hurt for you to give him the benefit of the doubt."

"Okay. Thanks for arranging it. After the Supervisor's meeting, I was starting to get depressed."

"I have my admirers too, you know?"

"You and Henderson?"

"Me and nobody, but he's let me know he's interested."

"I thought you said he was married?" I remembered out loud.

"Yeah, he is. I told him no, but that doesn't mean he isn't still interested. A lot of politicians marry out of convenience."

"How convenient is that for their wives?" I inquired.

The caterers were prompt. There were enough of them to feed a small army. I was already thinking about the leftovers that I'd share with Matilda the following afternoon. The smells that came with them had my stomach growling by seven. The table was set in the dining room and all the pots and pans they used in cooking the meal were removed, replaced by silver serving bowls with candles flaming underneath to keep them properly heated.

One man in a chef's outfit stayed on duty when everyone else left the apartment. A few minutes after the place calmed down Mr. Henderson arrived with a bottle of expensive-looking wine. We shook hands and went to neutral corners.

"You're from Alabama?" he inquired, ill-at-ease.

"Minnesota," I answered, made devilish over my hunger pangs.

"Oh! I'm curious about your experience here. You mentioned it at our meeting."

"There's not a lot to tell. I survived it. Some died. Street kids are invisible, you know," I said as fact. "Someone should take notice and see what can be done, medical care, clothing, and especially food, simple things that might keep them alive."

"You are passionate," he said, as I rattled off the list of things that made sense for me to memorize after I blew my first chance in front of the Board.

It was easier one on one, but I couldn't completely resist saying the obvious.

"You people aren't blind. You know about the kids. A guy like you should be leading the charge. If people knew how the kids lived, they'd demand they receive aid, but they are invisible, aren't they?"

"Unfortunately there's a lot more to consider than getting street kids to come in out of the cold. They don't co-operate. They don't ask for help. When they're picked up and put into a program, they run the first chance they get. You are right. They fill our juvenile facilities."

"They were thrown out of their homes for being gay or just couldn't stand living at home any more. Rather than commit suicide, they come to the city to find people like them."

"Some maybe. I can't believe that so many families disown their own kids. Parents don't dump their own kids. What kind of people would do that?"

"The same kind that think it's a sin and something they won't tolerate under their roof," I snapped. "This is organized religion's finest hour. Root out the queers and run them off."

"That's not fair. There's more to consider," he argued. "There are drugs and wild kids who don't want to listen to their parents. I'm sure there are any number of considerations."

"Your fucking career? You wouldn't give that up to save the lives of those kids? You wouldn't stand up to be counted if it meant saving lives? You must feel really good looking in the mirror at yourself when you shave," I told him unsympathetically.

"This kind of attack won't get you anywhere. I'm on the Board and I do my best. I'm the last person that needs to get behind this problem. One word. One hint that my motives aren't pure, I won't be on the Board any longer."

"It's a gay city. The gay people can't help because the law puts anyone at jeopardy who takes in a street kid. Even being with one makes you suspect. Don't we have any attorneys? Can't we get the laws changed?"

"There's always the risk someone who is willing to help ends up compromising himself. It's something we've got to be cautious about."

"I don't give a damn about how it looks. The point is you have the power to do something and it's criminal if you don't. Those kids are getting into cars with strange men and sometimes they're never seen again.

"They're dying. What difference does it make if they are doing the same things, only they have a place to stay and food in their belly. Maybe even go to school. At least they might live to have a life. Because there's sex involved they don't deserve your help? They're gay kids. They're out of options."

"It's an ideal picture you've painted in your mind, but not one the general public will sanction. Going against my constituents assures I don't get reelected. Then, what good am I? I can talk to the other Supervisors and see what can be done."

"Even if you weren't any longer on the Board, would that mean you have no value? Wouldn't you rather go down in defeat fighting for the lives of kids that get no say in anything?"

My mean streak surfaced with a vengeance. The Billie Joe who came to live on the streets of San Francisco no longer existed, but his temper had me wanting to punch Mr. Henderson in the face for spouting political talking points to justify doing nothing.

These were the times I thought about people like Jesus and Gene, Jake and Ty. They had no reason to assist me, keep me alive on the streets, but they did whatever they could. The cops chased me and the powers that be threatened me. I wasn't a kid any more and I'd come back to finally help the kids who kept me alive, when I wouldn't have survived without them. No wasn't the answer I was willing to take.

Mr. Henderson and I had reached a loggerhead. My future in politics seemed doubtful. My ability to put up with obfuscation, at least on this subject, didn't exist.

It was obvious to me that Mr. Henderson and his Board would be an obstacle to getting anything of importance done. I was talking commonsense and he wanted to discuss politics.

Mr. Henderson's early arrival, for whatever reason, was ill-advised. Luckily Argyll arrived before we came to blows. The situation must have been obvious to him as he rushed into the room, hand extended and ready for shaking. He was all smiles as he came between us to greet Mr. Henderson, who stood to shake hands.

"You're early, Steven. I'm sure I said eight thirty. Does that food smell good?" he asked, sniffing the air politely. "How are you getting along with Joe," he asked, buoyantly optimistic, as usual but managing to stay in-between us without turning his back on either of us. It was probably good positioning on his part.

"Let's say we've agreed to disagree," he answered. "He's bent on getting something done that isn't within our power. We are governed by a culture who'd be suspicious of our involvement in such a program. Probably the gay community would be willing to stick their necks out."

"Well, let's eat. I'm starved," Argyll interjected, anxious to change the subject.

Argyll seated us around the table, close enough to chat but not close enough to punch each other out, although I had no sense that Mr. Henderson would defend himself if I did decide to punch him in the face. In reality he had done absolutely nothing wrong, but the fact he wasn't going to do anything totally pissed me off. He knew what I was after. Why did he bother to come?

Chef served and we all sniffed and commented on the crepes and accompanying dishes that were so rich that even a little bit was too much. It was all full of flavor and new sensations for my mouth, but a little went a long way.

Argyll made an effort to pour the wine Mr. Henderson bought, and I put my hand over my glass, getting a few drops on the back of my hand as I shook my head no. He poured Mr. Henderson's glass half full and poured less into his glass before returning the wine back to the ice. I licked the alcohol off the back of my hand and drank water to wash the taste out of my mouth. Wine was fine but not his wine.

I felt just like I felt once I returned to Minnesota the year before. I hated the world and sitting around the dinner table was the pits, especially all the phony politeness. I just wanted to tell everyone to get fucked and leave me alone. Argyll was fine and if we'd thrown Mr. Henderson out before dinner, I might have enjoyed it. Instead I was left with indigestion.

Maybe I was wasting my time. The entire time I stayed at Sal's, I kept thinking I was wasting my time, not doing what I came back to do. I'd been two rounds with the politicos and I thought about throwing in the towel and going back to where I belonged. I picked at my fancy vegetables with the yellow sauce, feeling on the outs.

"How's Kim?" Argyll asked politely.

'Must be the wife,' I thought, looking up from my plate at Mr. Henderson, waiting.

"Fine," Mr. Henderson said. "She's at her mothers."

"The baby?" Argyll inquired.

"The baby," I choked on a piece of asparagus and let my fork drop on the plate.

Both of them looked up at me like I'd just tossed a turd into the punchbowl. Argyll was mortified, all his politeness wasted.

"You're having kids? You're gay and you're having kids?" I said, unable to hide my displeasure.

"I like kids," he explained, looking at me like I had two heads and he'd heard enough from both.

I was on a roll and nothing was going to stem the tide of ill-will.

"Does the little woman know about you?" I asked, which was like a slap in his face.

"Joe!" Argyll squeaked, choking on his asparagus.

"I don't see where that's any of your business," he spoke with his sharpest tones.

"No, that's true. Maybe it's something she should know, but it isn't any of my business. How can you live a lie and call it a life? It's pathetic. It's dishonest. You are a phony and that's why gay men have to continue to endure having their civil rights denied them. You are why we can't make progress. You ought to grow a backbone. I'm done. Thank you. I'll let you two finish up. I've had enough for one night."

I stormed out of the dinning room, having made a perfect ass out of myself, but feeling good about it. I wasn't sorry. I had to go off on someone and who better than the man standing in the way of what I wanted to get done.

I thought about Argyll and bit my lip. I'd probably need another place to stay after my performance. Why did I go off at times when I needed to be a little less angry? Each time I thought I was growing up, I acted like a kid. I remembered how Sal wanted to do something for me and I dumped him, because he didn't understand what I wanted. Maybe I'd never grow up.

I sat in the library reading, waiting to apologize to Argyll. The two of them stayed at the table and there was laughter I could hear a couple of times. I hoped Argyll was able to soothe the guy's hurt ego. I'm sure he wasn't accustomed to being spoken to in the manner I talked to him.

I still wasn't sorry for anything I had to say, but I had no thought that it had reached a man that should be leading the charge to make sure all gay men had the same rights as every other man. I couldn't believe he didn't feel like a heel.

"Sorry," I said, when Argyll came to the door and took a long look at me.

"It's not me you insulted," he said. "I thought he'd turn green there for a minute."

"I'm sorry you went through so much trouble and I ruined it for you," I apologized again, looking out of my book with both of my knees bent over the arm of the overstuffed red leather chair.

"It's only food, Joe. I've thought the things you said. I just never had the nerve to say them. Not the kind of truth that'll help you get to where you want to go, but there's more than one way to skin a cat," he said, sitting on the other arm and putting his arm around my neck.

"You have another Board member you want me to verbally assault?" I asked in jest.

"No, he was the last one of those. I think I'll leave it alone for the time being. I'll need to think about it."

"The food was good," I said. "Thank you."

"You want to finish your dinner now that he's gone? There's a considerable amount left in the serving dishes. I'll dismiss the chef and we'll be on our own. I'll have him come back to get his serving dishes tomorrow."

"Yeah, sounds good. I can smell it all the way in here. My stomach is growling."

"Oh, that's what that was out there. I see," he said, laughing like he wasn't angry with me.

He told the guy he'd serve me and they could come back to collect the remnants and clean up the following morning. We pigged out and I put the rest in plastic bags to preserve some for Matilda. I thought she'd get a kick out of genuine French food, even if it was leftover.

I enjoyed the food a lot better without the supervisor. The rich flavors were easy to take when my stomach wasn't upset. Argyll splashed a little wine in my glass and I cocked my head to look at him.

"It's not tainted. Goes good with the food. Quit being contrary and try it."

"He's part of the problem, you know?" I couldn't help myself.

"Steven is dense, but he means well. He might come around in time but he's young and ambitious and he knows his career will hit a serious headwind if he comes out."

"That's not what I mean. He's living the lie. Until we stand up to be counted, it's going to be too easy to deny us our due."

"Yeah, but getting where he is takes careful planning. Being gay isn't the thing you want on your resumé. This might be the gayest town in America, but not everyone is gay. We have some fairly conservative residents and he's too ambitious to count out statewide office."

"As long as he lives a lie, I wouldn't vote for him."

"Don't yell at me. Remember my title. I'm the gay liaison to The Castro. I don't have to come out."

"Just what do you do?" I asked.

"I furnish a friendly face. I'm gay. People talk to me. Some of them make passes at me, but I'm professional. I do my duty as a police officer."

"His fear is killing us. When do we say, 'Here I am, deal with it?'"

"Not everyone can make a stand at sixteen like you," he said.

"How do you know how old I was?"

"I can count. I listen to what you say. You were sixteen when you got here last year. We can't all make a stand because you think that's what we need to do. He's doing the best he can. He's a Supervisor. Making him the enemy doesn't help you. He gets to do it his way and you get to do it your way."

"You're taking his side, you know," I argued.

"I'm being reasonable. I can't live his life. I don't expect him to live mine. If he meets a girl and gets married, who am I to argue with that?"

"He's gay."

"There are more gay married men than you can count."

"You think so?"

"Look east, young man. What do you see?"

"From here? I see a canyon in Utah, a lot of big hills before you get to the flattest land in the world."

"It's America, Joe. You see America, and how many gay men do you think come out here to be with their own?"

"How should I know? You're confusing the issue."

"No, Joe. A lot more gay men stay home. They aren't burning up the highway to get to San Francisco. Only hardcore gay men want to live here. The country is full of men that have nowhere to go. They end up in secret relationships with other men, or they get married so they aren't alone and they get a little on the side, when the opportunity arises."

"Their wives? Don't they get a say about it?"

"Not in a culture that would ruin them for being gay."

"How many?"

"Millions, I figure. Steven Henderson came to San Francisco, but he still wanted to achieve respectability."

"Gay men aren't respectable?"

"Perceptions are hard, Joe. The majority of people see us as perverts, child molesters, and drag queens. Those people will only change their mind when they are dead. They will die. One day the perception will change, but gay men will still need to make the decision whether or not to come out. You can't make them come out."

"I suppose not. I don't want him speaking for me or thinking he speaks for me. I'll speak for myself. I don't need help like that."

"Don't get angry with me," he said, sipping wine. "I'm trying to help."

"You don't see how important this is?"

"I see how important it is to you."

"You still don't think they're worth helping."

"I still don't know if you can help kids that don't want to be helped. They don't trust me, I'm in a uniform. They don't trust social workers, because they want to put them in a program. They won't trust you, because you're old."

"I am not old," I argued vainly.

"You no longer look like a kid, Joe. You have circles under your eyes, lines in your face. You aren't an immature little boy. Now, you're hardcore, determined, and won't take no for an answer. Those kids don't see the youthful Joe who needed them to survive."

"I'll find a way, Argyll. I'm in-between the adult world and the street kids and I'm going to make enough noise to get them the attention they need."

"You ever think the last thing they want is attention? You'll have Social Services, the cops, and everyone else looking into the problem and that means getting them off the streets. If the wrong people get involved, getting them off the streets will mean locking them up or handing them a bus ticket to make it someone else's problem. Is that what you want?"

"No, of course not. When did you give it so much thought?"

"I don't know. I met someone who alerted me to the problem. I guess that's where I got the idea. I know someone else. It might be a better way to go. The kids won't be so quick to distrust him. He might be able to get them fed and clothed, maybe furnish some alternative housing and medical care."

"Who are you talking about?"

"Father Flannery. He's a good guy. He might listen to what you have to say if you don't cuss him out. He has a big heart. If he thinks he can do more good than harm, he might look for ways to help."

"That would be great. Food would help keep them out of the cars."

"It's a long shot, but it's worth a try."

"This stuff isn't half bad," I said, getting my appetite back.

"No, not bad at all."

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