After the blue hour, p.1
After the Blue Hour, p.1John Rechy
Also by John Rechy
City of Night
This Day’s Death
The Fourth Angel
Bodies and Souls
Our Lady of Babylon
The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gómez
The Coming of the Night
The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens
The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary
Beneath the Skin: Collected Essays
About My Life and the Kept Woman: A Memoir
Tigers Wild (The Fourth Angel)
Momma As She Became—But Not As She Was (one act)
After the Blue Hour
A True Fiction
Copyright © 2017 by John Rechy
Cover design by Charles Rue Woods
Cover photograph © Philipp Zechner/Alamy Stock Photo
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove Atlantic, 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 or email@example.com.
First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition: February 2017
Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
an imprint of Grove Atlantic
154 West 14th Street
New York, NY 10011
Distributed by Publishers Group West
17 18 19 20 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
FOR THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER
AND FOR MICHAEL EARL SNYDER
“What is the answer?”
—Alice B. Toklas
“What is the question?”
Table of Contents
Also by John Rechy
A letter came through the offices of Grove Press in New York, forwarded to me in Los Angeles, where I lived in a room in a downtown hotel on Hope Street. The letter was from a man responding in admiration to two stories I had written, recently published.
The first one, titled “Mardi Gras,” had appeared in the leading literary quarterly of the time, Grove Press’s Evergreen Review. The second, titled “The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny,” appeared soon afterward in what would become a famous but short-lived literary journal, Big Table. I had sent that second story first to Evergreen Review. When it was twice rejected there, I sent it, on the recommendation of one of the Grove Press editors, Don Allen, who continued to champion it, to Big Table, recently founded. Its editors had broken away from the Chicago Review when, after they had announced their intention to publish sections of William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and all of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” its publications board said no to both, fearing a censorship battle.
“Mardi Gras”—which began as a letter to a friend, but was never sent—had recounted, as closely as I could remember out of the fog of hallucination, what I thought of as my season in hell, when, during the Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans, drunk and drugged and sleepless for sex-driven nights and days, I saw leering clowns on gaudy floats tossing cheap necklaces to grasping hands that clutched and grabbed and tore them, spilling beads; and revelers crawled on littered streets, wrestling for them, bleeding for them on sidewalks; and beads fell on spattered blood like dirty tears—and I saw costumed revelers turn into angels, angels into demons, demons into clowning angels; and in a flashing moment the night split open into a deeper, darker chasm out of which soared demonic clowning angels laughing.
During the purging of Ash Wednesday, as the mourning bells of St. Louis Cathedral tolled, the withering grass of Jackson Square nearby became a battleground of bodies, of men and women besotted with liquor and pills and drugs, passed out like corpses under a frozen white sun; and I fled the hellish city.
My story of Miss Destiny was about a spectacular drag queen who longed for a white wedding and who threatened to one day “storm heaven and protest”; and it was about other queens, male hustlers, and denizens of what was then called the “sexual underground” of Los Angeles. I had lived, and was still living, among those outlaws—lost angels—living the life of vagrant hustlers who inhabited the city’s downtown bars and Pershing Square, a daytime sex-hunting pickup park in the midst of the city, under rows of shrugging palm trees.
Both “Mardi Gras” and “The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny” were narrated in the intimate voice of a male hustler, with discernible connections to my own life; and both would, in altered form and years later, become chapters in my first novel, City of Night, a book not yet even contemplated.
In bold black ink, the writer of the letter praising my stories said: “You have opened the door into a world that few people know exists, and you have revealed it with all its exuberance, which I love, and its hellishness, which you describe in one place as dominated by—I admire this very much—demonic clowning angels.”
At the bottom of the letter, the writer invited me to join him for the summer on his private island, an inland island.
My life had become entangled in Los Angeles, an entanglement of anonymous sexual encounters that only seldom extended even into morning, a situation I welcomed and guarded. Unwanted demands for affection had kept me for years running away from the large cities I had lived in since my release two years earlier from the army’s 101st Airborne Infantry Division, stationed in Germany, a country still scarred by heavy bombing during the Second World War.
I wrote to the letter writer, thanking him for his praise and, noncommittally, for the invitation, anticipating mor
I packed the duffel bag I had kept from my army days, and I waited for the air ticket.
Two weeks passed without further contact. I unpacked my duffel bag.
The plane ticket arrived.
I left Los Angeles and said good-bye to no one, wondering whom I would be meeting and why exactly I had been invited: certainly because of the stated admiration for my writing, yes, that; and perhaps because my stories, along with the photograph of me that accompanied the first one, had aroused some fantasy or other, yes, that, too.
I was twenty-four years old, and it was 1960.
Even though he stood in the hot, congested airport among bodies squirming and sweating and hurrying to claim their luggage before anyone else, I determined that the imposing man, now walking toward me, was my host, a handsome man, probably in his mid-thirties, dressed casually—khaki slacks, a pale-blue shirt. He wore dark sunglasses. I had not anticipated such an attractive man, and I had imagined an older man.
“John Rechy,” I introduced myself, holding out my hand.
“Paul.” He took my hand firmly. “Paul Wagner. It’s good to meet you.”
He removed his sunglasses. His brown hair—the color of his eyes—was sun-tinted. His skin was deeply tanned. He was tall. Two open buttons on his shirt indicated a toned body, slender, like that of a swimmer. It pleased me that I, too, had left two revealing buttons open on my shirt.
I responded to a flash of competition by quickly evaluating him further: He was taller than I; but, having worked out for years, I was more muscular. Of course he had a deeper tan from being on his island; I would catch up fast. I was dressed in my own usual style—faded jeans, Levi’s; a somewhat formfitting blue denim shirt; and short-cut Wellington boots. Our different styles of dressing obviated any competition in that area. I relaxed, feeling secure.
I spotted my duffel bag and retrieved it from the luggage belt.
“Shall we get help?” he offered.
“No, of course not.” I slung the duffel bag over one shoulder, as I had when I was in the army. We moved ahead, out of the airport lobby and into an ambush of ferocious heat under a white scorched sun. Even within the shade of the parking lot, the heat barely relented.
My host, Paul, opened the back of a new station wagon. I flung my duffel bag in. When he started the car, the air-conditioning rushed at us in a chilly wave.
“You’re a talented writer, you must know that,” he said, as if to assert quickly that I had been invited as a writer he admired, perhaps at what he might consider the inception of a promising career.
“Have you had lunch?” he shifted the conversation swiftly.
“Something terrible on the plane.”
He laughed—“Of course”—as we approached a roadside restaurant, and he parked in the lot beside it.
“I don’t care for lunch. I haven’t for a long time,” I told him.
“It’s an unnecessary meal,” he agreed, “but maybe something cold?”
We went into the restaurant, one of those chromey coffee shops that look alike and are situated on the outskirts of cities, villages really.
A heavyset waitress led us to a booth. The way she looked at us, an unconventional couple, suggested some kind of interest or curiosity.
After we had both ordered—a dutiful sandwich, which, when it arrived soon afterward, was limp, and iced tea, since wine was served only at dinnertime—Paul said:
“My son is joining us on the island. He’s on holiday from school. Sonya, my intimate friend, is already there.”
A reference to his son, and the pointed reference to an “intimate friend,” a woman, made me wonder whether he was indicating at the outset of our involvement that he was not homosexual (the word “gay” was still only beginning to filter into the language). If that had been his intention, his evidence was not decisive. From several experiences, I knew that such an assumption, based on marriage and having children, was not strictly warranted; I’d had several sexual connections with married men, most otherwise closeted.
Paul asked me with abrupt directness about my use of first-person narration in my writing. “Your experiences, autobiographical—all true?”
“All true? I think autobiographers are big liars.”
He laughed, appreciatively, I thought. “Because …?”
“You can’t trust what you remember, can you? Memory is too unreliable to be ‘truthful.’”
“I do like that, man,” he said.
Man. Surely he had used that word, so incongruous for him, to assert some affinity with what he must have considered was the language of “the streets” I had written about.
“Do you prefer fiction?” he added.
“It’s more honest in its disguise … man,” I said, feeling odd to address him in that way, but deciding to accept his borrowed tone. “I think the camouflage of fiction allows more authenticity—you know, acknowledging that it is a ‘fiction,’ a terrific lie, and that you want it to be believed.”
“Very good …. You’ll like the island.”
I didn’t like being graded. If that continued, I’d object; and eventually I would become used to the way he changed subjects randomly, perhaps following shifting thoughts; and I would soon find out that the subject of experience, now only implied, would recur in startling questions and revelations between us, not yet, but soon.
I took out my wallet to pay for my lunch.
“No, please”—he placed his hand on mine to emphasize his insistence—“you’re my guest.”
Asserting control? If so, I would deal with that—I was intent on creating a level field in my relations with him, whatever they might turn out to be.
As we were about to walk out, the waitress moved hurriedly to delay our exit. She asked Paul: “You the folks on the island?”
Paul paused before responding icily, “Yes.”
“The kid still there talkin’ stuff?” She had rushed her words as if to make sure she would speak them.
Paul did not answer.
No doubt she was referring to his son; it was not a friendly inquiry, and Paul had pointedly ignored her.
Back in the car, Paul said: “My son, Stanty—that’s his nickname; he prefers it because he hates his real name—I’ve told him about you, and he’s excited to meet you. You’ll like him. He’s exceptional, and he’s an expert swimmer. I warn you, he’s very competitive.”
That was a competition I wouldn’t invite, swimming with his son or him. I had never learned to swim. “How old is Stanty?”
“Just turned fourteen.”
Fourteen! From what he had said of the boy’s excitement at meeting me, I had assumed someone older. What had this boy been told about me to arouse his expectations? Oh, of course, his son would want to be a writer; and if he was fourteen, then Paul would probably be older than I had thought, perhaps in his forties, the early forties. He had the exceptional good looks that some handsome men retain, appearing younger.
We drove several miles through a leafy area out of the quaint village.
“When I read your stories I felt—I know what it’s like to live by one’s wits. That’s how I’ve lived my life, my adult life,” he said.
I was sure he was not referring to the kind of hustling that I knew, street and bar hustling that I preferred because of the blunt directness I considered honest. Although he had relegated that association to his “adult life,” I chose not to respond with any welcome of kinship, which I seldom, if ever, felt or courted.
He parked in a cleared space at the edge of a sprawling lake. We walked out of the car onto powdery dirt, like beach sand. Trees lined the inland shore; they were vivid green, not scorched by the sun. There was not
He had shouted those two words—startling me—as he looked out to the distance.
“Island! Island!” came a distant answer from the lake.
“That’s what Stanty first said,” he laughed, “when I brought him here the first time. He said it was as if we were entering a world that was his and mine. We signal to each other that way.”
I grabbed my duffel bag before he could and shoved it onto a motorboat.
“Just out of the army?” he asked me, nodding toward the duffel bag as we boarded the boat.
“A couple of years ago,” I said. “I’m glad to be out.”
The motorboat moved smoothly along the water, stirring it up in double fans of foam. The island we were approaching was lush shades of green, clusters of trees, a green oasis. The house on it was large, split into two wings jutting out on the lake like arms welcoming, or clasping.
My eyes wandered away, gauging the breadth of the lake. A distance apart was another island. It looked abandoned. The sun cast only gray patches on it as if avoiding it.
“That island,” Paul said over the sound of the motorboat, which he was guiding expertly, “is vacant.”
“For sale?” I asked. Even from afar, it looked neglected, left to die.
“Difficult to sell,” Paul said. “Its background—”
“What happened there?”
“Nothing,” he said. But still gazing in its direction, and quietly as if speaking out his thoughts, and—this occurred to me—as if quoting memorized words, he said: “What happens to evil when its flames are snuffed? Does it wait to spring out?”
He looked away from the distant island. He laughed. His tone turned ironic, parodying his own words: “That lofty shit, man—it stuck with me from a crazy book I was reading. No, I’m not a religious crank, not religious at all.”
“I’m relieved,” I said, and I was: I had thought perhaps his invitation had been sent with a desire to “purge” me of imagined sins gleaned from my stories. I was glad to accept his explanation, much more consistent with the man I was with. I could agree with his disdain for religion. Born into a Catholic family, I had long since abandoned any religious connection.
After the Blue Hour by John Rechy / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes