Dallas Long

July 1998

Hey Strangers! Wow, it's been a while since I wrote a real column for Oasis, so here it goes...

I graduated from college four weeks ago. I was the fourth person to walk across the stage, shake hands with people I'd never known, receive a curiously heavy piece of paper which bore only the words "Your Diploma Shall Be Mailed To You At a Later Date," and suddenly the world as I knew it was over. I said goodbye to people whom I shall certainly never see again. I wandered through the grounds, wondering why my college years came and went so quickly and why my parents looked so old and why none of my classmates in the psychology department had found full time jobs if the economy is so damn good right now. Then I endured a lengthy meal with the sixteen members of my extended family, as I am the only man in my family as far back as anyone can remember who has received a college education. My best friend rescued me when night fell and my family had fled from the mosquitoes into the house. There's not much to do where we live, so we pointed his car west and simply drove outside of town and into the countryside. The stars are very clear and bright and the hills are dark, heavy with brush, and very, very quiet. We just sat and smoked a few cigarettes, neither of us saying much. The night was not very different from the countless summer nights where we drive nowhere special and soak up the silence and the stars. But to me, it was perfect.

There is a twenty-four hour coffee house, called the Cartel, in one of the few pockets of wealth in downtown St. Louis. This coffee house is known as a hang-out for young gays and lesbians, and I've started going there in recent weeks. My first and only boyfriend broke up with me abruptly months ago, and I have had no contact with other gay people since then. He was the only gay guy I've ever really known, and I didn't know how to meet others. I placed a personals cyber-ad and said I was looking only for friends, and I've met two very friendly gay college students from other universities near St. Louis. They introduced me to the Cartel, and at once I knew a world which confounded and seduced me. Dozens of high school and college boys, sitting around chatting about other boys! The obviously straight girls and guys mingling with the gay and lesbian kids didn't give a fig! Two of the most beautiful guys I've ever seen -- whom I've named "Blue Shirt" and "Golden Boy" -- hugged me goodbye when I left with my friends, even though I had never met them before in my life. That was an amazing night, absolutely amazing! Never before had I imagined there to be so many young gay people, all seemingly completely at ease with their sexuality, gathering at a place not too far a drive from my quiet and lonely town. Hell, there was one time when I figured out that statistically there are perhaps eight other gay guys around my age in my town, and in that coffee shop there were dozens! At last, a chance to meet some other guys like me who are very real and not just words printed on a computer screen by another gay kid halfway across the nation!

I've gone back a few times since then. I managed to coax my best friend to come with me once. That surprised me! He is not that comfortable with my bisexuality, but maybe he is starting to be more open-minded about gay people after all. But we did have to drive past the Cartel three times in forty-five minutes before he could summon the courage to park the car and go inside with me. And I did have to promise to go dancing with him at a nightclub in rural Illinois that is well known for its trashy atmosphere. But it's a start, and he surprised me further by saying that "this place wasn't so bad" and he would be willing to come back another time. I'm sure we will...


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