A special Villager supplement
On being Captain Lous first real live gay person
By Kate Walter
Captain Lou picked me up at the Bay Head train station on a hot summer day.
I was the writer from Manhattan coming to the Jersey Shore to interview a forensic marine investigator. When we went to the Ocean Bay Diner for lunch, I was shocked by a surfer entering with a lit cigarette. We were not in the city anymore.
As we settled into a booth, I was already thinking of how Id describe him khaki pants, boat shoes, dark tan. I made small talk, trying to warm him up. We were doing the main interview later at Lous office. We were not in official tape recorder mode.
Id just asked my subject if he was married and how long hed lived at the shore. (He was 67, married 33 years, lived at the shore over 40 years.) I was getting background, not chatting, so I was startled when he asked me, So Kate, are you married?
Maybe Lou felt familiar because he went deep-sea fishing with my brother, John, who had turned me on to this guy. Or maybe Lou did not get that I was a journalist working over lunch. I told him I had never been married, thinking we were done with this question, but he persisted, So youve never been married, Kate.
Im gay, I stated, annoyed at his repetition. I have a partner.
Youre gay, he said, surprised. Well thats nothing to be ashamed of. Why didnt John tell me this about you? Ive never met a gay person before.
Could this be true? My subject was an intelligent man, a Democrat who ran for office in a Republican county, yet hed never talked with an out gay or lesbian! And this was New Jersey, a progressive state. A recent poll indicated a majority in the state supported gay marriage.
So you dont like men, he asserted, picking up his thick ham sandwich.
Thats not true. I have male friends, I replied, knowing this was not what he meant. Now I was eating my cheese sandwich quickly. I wanted out of this smoky diner and hoped this discussion would end fast. I was not here to teach Queer Studies 101, but I didnt want to be rude. I needed this guy to open up to me later about his specialized line of work.
I was an out gay writer stuck on a weird work date with this guy for an afternoon.
When the waitress put the check in front of Lou, he immediately picked it up. Still stunned, I let him get it, only adding to the role confusion.
We got into Lous S.U.V. and headed toward a marina. At a stop light in Point Pleasant, he turned to me and said, I hope you dont mind my asking, but do you use anything artificial when you have sex?
I was shocked. No wonder he was good at investigating. But where was this guy coming from? Was he being perverted or just curious?
No, but some people do, I found myself saying. I couldnt believe a character I was profiling for a regional magazine was asking if my partner and I used sex toys. By now I was thinking, why didnt my darling brother clue me in more about his fishing buddy? This was our first meeting.
Just when I thought this interrogation couldnt go any further, Lou said, really puzzled, So then your relationship with your partner is like an older married couple who are close companions but dont have sex anymore.
Huh? Its not like that, I said. What are you talking about?
Well, do you..
Yes, I practically shouted.
Lou, use your imagination. Your problem is you are applying the heterosexual model to a lesbian relationship. Now were off this subject
Fine, I appreciate your talking to me. I hope I didnt make you uncomfortable.
No, its O.K., I lied. And, by the way, Im sure youve met some gays here at the Jersey Shore, you just didnt realize it. Who do you think is behind the rebirth of Asbury Park? Its gays and artists.
Youre right, everyone says the gays are bringing back Asbury.
Thankfully, the boatyard came into sight and we got out. The rest of the afternoon, everything went smoothly. He gave me a great interview in his office and showed me the tools of his specialized trade. We finished the afternoon with a trip to another marina.
As the day wound down, Lou drove me to my mothers house in nearby Ocean Beach where I was spending the weekend. I could not wait to get there.
I have one last question, he said, as we turned the corner. Id be home free in another minute. Have you ever slept with a man?
Yes Lou, I had boyfriends, in high school and college and later. Now I figured he is one of those men who think, If only she had the real thing, shed be straight. So I let him mull over my answer.
As Lou dropped me off, he gave me a hug, like we were old friends. He seemed clueless that his questions were rude and that he had treated me like a circus freak. I thanked him for the interview, thinking he was bizarre, intrusive. After calming down, I saw him more as simply naive, a curious old salt who had never met a lesbian.
Lous probing went overboard, but he seized this opportunity to ask his lifelong burning questions. I was so taken off guard, I answered politely. But why was this man expecting a course in sex education from me? Plus, I was insulted he only seemed curious about one thing. Not, How long have you two been together? (since 1980) Or, How did you meet? (at the Gay Teachers Association).
Although Lous hunger for information was single minded and insensitive,
I tried to be a good gay ambassador. Id like to think that these kinds of one-on-one encounters make people more aware. If nothing else, Lou will think twice before assuming everyone is straight. I wondered what he told his wife that night.