THE BACK SEAT
Ruminating on 'gay' experiences from my youth in the previous posting about Spanish model River Viiperi, I was reminded of another incident from early childhood, one which could have had tragic consequences, except for a strange, providential twist of fate. As a boy of eight, I was almost abducted off the streets of San Francisco, a fact I kept to myself for over fifty years. I never told my parents, and semi-repressed the memory for most of my adult life. It was never completely forgotten, simply placed in the nether regions of memory until the time I could face its full implications. It is as if the unconscious protects us from the full horror of certain incidents. I can now understand the 'concept' of repressed memory in cases of child abuse, however true it might be that the concept is abused.
Claire Lilienthal Elementary School
During my early grammar school days, I attended the Jean Parker Elementary School in Cow Hollow, the Marina District in San Francisco. The school long ago changed directorship and is now part of the very progressive Claire Lilienthal Elementary Schools in SF. My mother was a math and gym teacher at the time at Marina Junior High School on Chestnut Street, some seven blocks away. It was my custom when school let out to walk the seven blocks to my mother's school, where I would cheerfully walk into her classroom and wait for her to finish, so we could ride the bus back to our apartment on Pacific Avenue. At the time, San Francisco was busing students from poorer neighborhoods to more upscale schools, and Marina Junior High had a high percentage of black kids from Mission or Potrero Districts. My mother had great sympathy for these underprivileged kids, but had to work hard to gain their confidence and trust, let alone motivate them to learn. I was always fascinated by the social interactions in her classes, as I would wait in the back, where I would be greeted with sly winks and smiles from her students. However, that is another story from the one I wish to reflect on today.
Marina Middle School
One hot June day near the close of term, I was walking from school along busy Chestnut Street with its array of shops and restaurants. I was wearing shorts and a white t shirt and sandals, and skipping along happily, contemplating the summer just around the corner, when my family would go on trips to Ray's Resort on the Russian River and Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Thanks to my dear and loving aunts, Helen and Dorothy, who kept constantly gushing about my good looks and pinching my cheeks, I knew I was an appealing child. My father was extremely (and wisely) annoyed by all of this attention, but it gave me a bouncy confidence in myself and contributed to a chattery friendliness. I talked to everybody, talked and talked and talked, cheerily, with big smiles and giggles. My parents had warned me numerous times not to talk to strangers, but it was difficult to repress this innate friendliness.
As I approached the corner of Chestnut Street and Fillmore, with my mother's school just across the wide boulevard, I noticed a scruffy man leaning against a long black limousine parked against the curb. As I came close, he stood up and came towards me and said, "Where're you going, kid?" Did he really say this, or am I creatively embellishing past memories. No, I can confidently say - after some 60 years - these were his exact words. And with that prompting, my innate talkativeness kicked into high gear. I immediately began babbling, "Oh, I'm going across the street to see my mother. She teaches at Marina High. She teaches math and gym. And one day I went in the girls showers to see her, and the girls were taking showers two by two in these stalls with curtains, and one time I saw their titties and they screamed and laughed." Did I actually say that? Yes, that is what bubbled out of me almost word for word some sixty years ago to a complete stranger on the streets of San Francisco - within minutes of safety just across the street.
So the man then said, "Well, would you like a ride across the street in my big car?" And he opened the door to the back seat. I remember being so impressed by the size and luxury of the vehicle, and intensely curious. Had I ever ridden in a car before? I know my family didn't have one until some years later. This was just too much of a fascinating opportunity to pass up. And so I said, with great friendliness and gratitude, "Oh, thank you," and climbed right in. I remember clearly thinking, "gee, it's only just across the street. How nice of him. Isn't that a lot of trouble for nothing." What trust and naivete.
Chestnut Street today at almost the exact location where I encountered the man with the limousine.
Once inside the car, I immediately began bouncing on the big black leather back seat, bouncing up and down up and down. I saw the man come around the back of the car and I could see him looking around with his hand on the toothpick. That is the precise moment when I came to my senses, and realized this was probably not a good idea. I could see the man was scruffy looking, with several days growth of beard, he seemed nervous and his eyes were darting back and forth along Chestnut Street. But I realized I was 'trapped' at this point, much too timid to try to get out the car. And I was still bouncing, more from nerves now than from everything.
The man got into the car and sat down heavily with a sigh. I was bouncing in the back seat and just at that moment I cut a little fart. Pop! I was terribly embarrassed. The man looked around over his shoulder, sighed, and said rather gruffly. "I can't take you today, kid. I'm sorry." I was so shocked, and even a little hurt, despite the reservations of the previous moment. Had he been offended by my fart, had I talked too much, had I said something to offend him? When I sat there dumbfounded, he shouted at me, "Beat it, kid, I'm busy." Some sixty years later and I have no doubt this was the exact conversation. I scrambled out of the car immediately, confused, hurt and embarrassed. I should have been relieved. Instead, I wondered what I had done wrong? At just that moment, the street light turned green at Fillmore and Chestnut and I skipped across, determined to run up to my mother and tell her all about it. I pushed open the big glass doors of the school and scampered up the stairs, full of excitement and nervous anxiety about this strange encounter moments before. But as I got closer to the second floor, I began slowing down until I was barely moving at all. I realized my mother would be furious with me for having not only talked to a stranger, but even gotten into his car! I would be punished for weeks. It was one of my worst faults, babbling to everybody I met about this and that with an irrepressible friendliness. And so I walked slowly down the corridor to her classroom, entered and sat down and waited for her class to end so we could take our bus ride home. I never said a word to her. Not then, not ever. And I never told a soul for over fifty years.
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I was going to include within the posting a spiritual comment to this effect, that I was 'saved' in the last moment only by the grace of Providence, since I don't believe this was purely accidental. I have no doubt that if the man had succeeded in driving me off in his car, I would have been gone forever, vanished without a trace. But what about all of the other victims of abuse and abductions who were not so lucky? What about them? Was the mercy of a loving Universe not watching over them? Very difficult questions to face and answer. I only know that I feel so blessed and protected by a gracious, loving Providence that in its own mysterious way carries all victims in its loving, wounded heart, the Heart of Divine Compassion.