As told by Hank Dawson
I thought I had it all figured out, falling love, that it is. When it finally happened, I was clueless —totally unprepared and I proceeded to make a bigger fool out of myself than I thought possible.
In retrospect, love slowly creeps up on its hands and knees until you suddenly realize you’re up to your ears — no, up to your eyes in love — and then it’s too late; you're hopelessly at the mercy of one of nature's greatest forces.
All kidding aside, it was one of the worst and most exciting experiences in my life and I’m certain I would never survive it a second time. I thought it would be like having Doris Day smiling and singing Love Someone, in the background. Instead, it turned out to be like Louis Armstrong blowing that damned horn of his and laughing his ass off; singing Why do Fools Fall in Love, punctuated with Edith Piaf serenading me in French.
And the lyrics to that song Love is Good for Anything That Ails You, are a lot of horsepucky. A little kiss does not pep you up, it utterly destroyed me and sent me on an emotional tailspin from which I have yet to fully recover. Love is not a precious little thing that never fails you, it catapulted me out into a ferocious sea of discovering who the hell I was — without a rudder. I walked around with an erection for three days before I realized what was going on. Whoever wrote those lyrics had to have had their head up their ass, whistling Dixie.
To make matters crushingly worse, I thought I was this macho straight heterosexual sex machine that no female on the planet could resist. I remember the day I saw my first naked breasts and promptly walked into a wall.
I thought I had made the team the night Sue Ellen Moskowitz seduced me under the bleachers behind our high school. Rubbing hot sweaty body parts, sucking face, exchanging spit and having an orgasm was mind blowing but, the next day, when she all but ignored me, I knew something wasn’t right. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who had the unique ability to make you feel like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. She has since become a successful madam, no surprise there; running her own brothel somewhere in the desert surrounding Las Vegas. It was called something or other with the word lounge in the name. Oh, yes, Ineda Mann’s Desert Lounge. Ineda Mann, indeed. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a neon lit giant penis on top of her brothel with fireworks shooting out of the end of it.
Anyway, back to my awakening. I knew him from high school. He was in my mechanical drawing class. The elmer-milk-toast type. Short — about 5-6, kind of scrawny, no eye contact, stayed to himself. But his drawings were pretty good. In fact, I think he won some kind of an award. I think his name was Bobby Wilkerson. He was not part of my crowd. I never saw him at a game or a dance or any school activity. Maybe he was there but I never noticed him.
It must have been ten years after we graduated, I was going into a book store in downtown Chicago, and brushed up against someone coming out; knocking the books they were carrying out of their arms. I, of course, stopped and helped retrieve the books, “Sorry about that.” Then I saw who it was, “Wilkerson? Bobby Wilkerson?”
He took the books I handed to him, “Oh, it’s you.”
“What do you mean, Oh, it’s you?”
“What are you, hard of hearing?”
“That’s a bull shit thing to say.”
“You were a bully then — pushing people around. Look at me, Mr. Macho shithead. And you’re still doing it. Get out of my way, I take large steps.” He turned and walked away.
“Hey, wait a minute. That’s not fair. It was an accident.”
“No, it wasn’t. Fuck you, Dawson.”
God, he was really pissed at me and I wasn’t quite sure why. I wanted to follow him and talk with him but figured that was not a very good idea.
Several weeks later I took my lunch break in the park and saw him sitting under a tree, reading. I hesitantly walked up to him. He looked up, “Hi, Hank,” and smiled.
“Macho shithead here. How are yah?”
“I’m fine. Hey, Hank, I am really sorry about the other day. You caught me off guard.”
“I’ll say I did. Hey, can we talk?”
“Of course; sit.” He closed his book and set it aside.
I sat down, “About what you said the other day — was I really that bad in high school?”
“No, you weren’t, but I thought you were at the time,” he laughed.
“Well, that’s good to know. You had me worried there for a minute.”
“Hank, I had a crush on you back then. I knew nothing would come of it and reacted accordingly.”
I could hardly believe what I had just heard. I stared at him.
“Why so surprised, surely you knew I’m …”
“Everyone else seemed to know. Sue Ellen told me of your rendezvous under the bleachers.”
“You knew her?”
“Yes, we were good friends.”
“But she was a …”
I didn’t respond, just keep staring at him as I began to see him in a different light.
“That didn’t bother her. She was having too much fun. She was doing a survey.”
“Sleeping with all the football players. You were on the list. I remember her telling me about it the next day.”
“What did she say?”
“Well, you’ll be happy to know you ranked near the bottom of her rating list. We did a lot of laughing about it. She said you acted as if you were on a fishing trip and wasn't sure what to do with your pole,” he could not keep from smiling.
“Don’t worry about it. She never talked to anyone about the survey except me.”
“She’s out in Las Vegas now or so I understand.”
“Yes, she is. I talked with her the other day. She still has her notes on her survey. I suggested she write a book.”
“Don’t worry, she won’t use real names.”
“Well, that’s good to know. Did she ever tell you who was at the top of the list?”
“Yes, and it wasn’t one of the guys. It was Coach Hughes. She told me he plowed her like an Ohio corn field. We laughed about that so many times. She was a good sport.”
“I’ll say she was. Hughes. He was kind of short.”
“Yeah, but built like a brick shithouse with every brick in place. She was into muscle.” He looked at his watch, “Hey, I gotta go. I’m glad you stopped by. It was good talking with you.”
I got up, “Maybe we could get together again. You know, for old times’ sake.”
“Sure, I’d like that. Here’s my card. Call or email me when you have time.”
I looked at his card and chuckled.
“WoofWhenWet. Is that for real?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Are you woof when wet?”
Bobby smiled in a way that surprised me. “Play your cards right and you may find out some day.”
“But I’m not…”
“I know, Hank.” Then added, “Do you know the difference between a straight man and a gay man?”
I shook my head.
“Six pints of beer.” He laughed, “Bye.”
“Bye, Bobby.” I stood and watched him as he walked away. When he got to the underpass he paused and waved. I waved back and put his card in my pocket.
[email protected] — I’d have to try that to make sure it worked.
We met several times in the next few weeks. I was amazed how intelligent he was; he could carry a conversation about any subject to its nth conclusion. I hate to admit it, but I had difficulty keeping up with him.
He had a wit which endeared him to me in ways I had yet to understand. We spent most of our time together laughing. I remember one time, as he was about to board his bus, “I’ll be back at five to make love to you. If I’m late, start without me.” I began to laugh so hard my sides hurt. When the bus was out of sight I wondered if he was joking, or did he mean it. I was confused. Later on, he told me it was one of Tallulah Bankhead’s famous quotes.
The confusion only grew. We were at a performance of La Bohme one evening. Act IV was coming to an end and I knew Mimi was going to die. I had been so caught up in the opera, the tears were cascading down my cheek. Bobby reached over and took my hand and held it tight to comfort me. It wasn’t until the curtain came down that I fully realized what he had done. He was so in tune with me, he knew exactly what to do at the moment.
The weather had turned bitterly cold so, we decided to forego a drink after the show and went our separate ways. I laid awake half the night thinking about Bobby and wondering if I had fallen in love with him. Christ Almighty, that just can't be. I won't let it be. I will not let it be - period. But, I wondered, did he still have a crush on me after all these years? Was it possible? No, it's not possible. Fuck me! It's insane to even think it. The emotional tailspin I was in only increased to dizzying proportions.
I drifted off to sleep as the dawn broke and was awakened when the phone rang. It was Bobby. He wanted to see me as soon as possible. I agreed and then panicked after I disconnected the call. What was going on? We agreed to meet at La Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar on Lake Street. I arrived first and paced frantically back and forth until I saw him coming toward me. He did not have the usual smile on his face I had come to expect. There was something terribly wrong. I could not imagine what was going to happen.
“Bobby, what is it?”
“Let’s go in.”
“No, I want to know now.”
He closed his eyes and pinched his lips, then looked up. “Hank, I can’t see you anymore.”
I was shocked, “Why not for Christ’s sake?” I knew I hadn’t done anything stupid, at least not recently, so that was not the reason. I just stood there staring at him.
“I told you I had a crush on you.”
“Yes, but that was in high school, a long time ago.” Then it hit me like a thunderbolt. “Please ... tell ... me .... you ... aren't…”
“Yes, Hank — I never really got over it. I’m sorry. It’s just too painful for me to continue seeing you.”
I turned around, walked a few paces while my brain went into overdrive, turned around and stared at this Bobby Wilkerson. He was still short and scrawny and the most beautiful human being I'd ever laid eyes on. With my heart beating like a drum in my chest, I marched right up to him, “You can’t do that. I won’t let you. What about me?”
He just looked up at me and smiled, his eyes brimming with tears, “What about you, Hank?” The look of kindness and love on his face almost knocked me out.
“I’m going now. I love you, Hank. I just can’t help myself anymore.” He turned and began to walk away.
‘SHIT, GOD DAMNIT ALL TO FUCKING HELL.’ The last vestiges of my macho foolishness dropped away, I stepped after him, grabbed him and pulled him around, “There’s no tomorrow for me, Bobby Wilkerson, without you.” Then I did what I had been wanting to do but had not been able to accept until that moment. I locked my mouth onto his mouth with a passion that surprised even me, and in front of God and the crowd passing by. I heard clapping, horns blowing, and a lot of cheering. I knew at that moment if I lost him there would be no tomorrow worth living.
When I withdrew from his face, he had the most wonderful surprised expression.
He grinned, “Did you just drink those six pints of beer?”
I smiled, “No, I didn't. I just fell in love with you. That’s all.”
Then he began to laugh. And I began to laugh. Finally, he suggested we go in and have lunch. I agreed. “Hey, I’m still waiting to see if you’re woof when wet.”
“How about after lunch?”
“You mean it?”
“Sure, I’ve been wanting to take a little fishing trip with you for the longest time.”
“I love you.”
He just smiled and pushed himself closer to me as we entered the sandwich bar.