"What do you drive?" he asked.
"A Mazda 323." I answered without looking up. He told me what he drove: some kind of Ford pick-up truck with two 25-gallon fuel tanks. "Costs me seventy-five bucks every time I fill up," he said proudly.
He mumbled on and on about his truck and how much he had spent on customizing it down to the chrome exhaust and little lights over the flared wheel wells. I stopped listening, even made it as obvious as I could. I submerged completely in the hot water until the chlorine in the water burned my eyes and even the tip of my nose. He kept ranting. I concluded that his distributor cap was shorted, and waded out of the little pool. He glared at the sheets of water running down my wet body.
Instead of drying in the Jacuzzi room, I pulled the towel off the hook, walked out and stood in front of the mirrors across from the shower stalls. A huge man came out shower and stood in front of the mirror. He squeezed a towel tight around his waist with one hand and groomed his hair like a squirrel. I saw his reflection in the mirror; he made a vain effort to smile. I beamed back.
"Were you in the hot tub?" he asked.
"You left quickly," he smiled and winked.
I stared at him with a blank face, unable to fathom the deep meaning behind his blinking eye and a thievish smile.
"You didn't get it, did you?"
"Of course, I did," I said, "you're talking about that guy in the Jacuzzi room. He's a frisbee. His elevator doesn't go to the top floor."
He shook his head confidently. "Naaah, he ain't that. He's a gay looking for a--you know what I mean? That's what he is."
I gave him a half-hearted wink, as if I knew what he was talking about. But I knew better. I would never fully comprehend the cultural nuances of my adopted homeland.
Last year I was on a business trip to Miami. My colleague and I drove to the South Beach one evening, found a spot to park and walked around. I was enjoying the sights and sounds of vibrant street life while my colleague glanced in every direction with a mixture of curiosity and nervousness. There was something in the air he sensed, but I didn't. While he soaked in the sights, I sat on a bench and watched a man roller-skate on a concrete walkway. He had placed glass bottles in a straight line every few feet and zigzagged around the bottles on his in-line skates at a dizzying speed--in reverse.
"Don't stare," my fried warned, "you give a false signal when you stare at him."
"What do you mean," I said, "the guy is showing off. What's wrong with looking at him?"
My colleague explained: "This place is full of gays, don't you know?"
"Of course I don't; I've never been to Miami before. And it looks like any other place I have been to. Look at all the people around here. I don't see any gays." "Oh my God! Man, this is the fagot-heaven on earth right here. They're crawling all over the South Beach."
"Show me one. Just one." I challenged him.
"Sure." He took me up on it. "See that tall guy in skinny short and tight T-shirt? He's standing by the walley ball court, the one in the black bike-short--his tight a** is hanging out like spare tires. He is gay."
So I looked while he warned me about not staring at him. I swept the landscape for a few minutes until I found him and had a good look at him. My colleague warned me not to stare.
"What must the gays walking around here think of us?" I asked him.
"We don't look like gays." He reassured me. I took his word.
Next time I went to the mall for a haircut, there was a thirty-minute wait. It was one of those dreary, cold, and rainy day and the whole town had flooded the mall. Window-shopping is not my favorite pass time, but it beats waiting at a haircutting saloon in the mall. I penciled in my name and walked around the shops. Someone I knew from somewhere waved at me. I turned around and headed in his direction. He was a volunteer for the local chapter of the National Marrow Donor Program.
"Would you like to be a bone marrow donor?" he asked.
"What do I have to do?"
"Well nothing, really. We will take your blood sample and enter your name in the national database."
"What happens then?"
"If there is match between your tissue type and a leukemia patient's, you can be a donor. Isn't that neat? You can save a life."
A woman in her mid-forties sitting on a chair next to my friend smiled at me. You can't say she was pretty, but she had this grace and dignity about her that commanded attention.
"Yes, I will be glad to register," I said. He pulled out some papers, and I started filling them out.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Don't you drive a Mazda 323?" I swung around and saw the young man. Oh God, what's the fag doing here, I wondered. He had the same Dallas Cowboys cap on when I last saw him at the health club. I took two defensive steps back.
The lady smiled at me. "He's my son Nathan. He was diagnosed with leukemia last year, the day he graduated from high school."
I had no words to comfort her; so I just nodded. "He is just coming out of depression," she went on, "he's too shy to take his cap off yet--the hair loss from the radiation therapy, you know. He just started going to the health club recently."
I shook Nathan's extended hand. "Fuel injected or carburetor?" He asked. I gave him a confused look.
"He is asking about your car." A girl standing next to Nathan said. "Hi, I am Suzy, Nathan's friend," She added.
"Fuel injected," I replied. "Suzy is more than his girl friend," the woman explained. "Her tissue has matched with Nathan's. She's going to be his life saver." Suzy curled behind Nathan and smiled.