So Bubba City proved, again, the two rules of large group management, both of which I was previously determined to break. No more!
Rule #1: Large-ish groups hate even moderately strenuous hikes. Even when composed of people who, alone, will run uphill five miles in the snow.
Rule #2: Everyone is determined to stay together.
My plan was for people to break up and do their own thing on the last day. By now, I figured, people would have picked out a crag and some people they wanted to hang with (romance!), and would resent a summer camp style schedule of the day’s events with too big of a crowd to mack on anybody. Not so! People wanted to move as a group and they wanted someone six feet tall with a beard and a huge stick clip to take them. So after Bubba City turned out to be wet and everyone was all pissed off about trudging to and from the car through sludge and brambles, there was clamoring about what to do next. We ended up, yet again, at Summersville Lake, I guess because everyone knew where it was and that it would be dry. In the New, most of your decisions are based on what will or will not be dry. And sometimes you go to the Meadow or to Bubba or wherever thinking you’ll avoid the crowds, and sometimes you do, but sometimes you get fucked, and so Summersville was packed.
I discovered when we parked ourselves by the best arete route in the whole wide world, Under the Milky Way, that I had lost my Swiss army knife, which was very upsetting, because it was a gift from when I lived in Switzerland and it has my name engraved on it. Which means that whoever found it and did not return it to me is a big mega douche.
Anyway so I had to borrow Connor’s knife to open my can of tuna. I learned how to open a can with a knife from Dean, Chavez’ friend. Dean is totally straight and totally twenty years older than me and he totally gives me a boner every time I see him. I think the next time a guy older than me on the internet gets pissy because I blow him off, I’m going to forward them a picture of Dean, and say, “if you were once in the military and raced motorcycles and had a face like this, I’d fuck you too.” Despite being totally hetero, I think Dean will help me get laid regardless, because he took awesome photos of me at the Red (and of Mike when he was at Kaymoor), and gave me the ever wonderful moment of vanity of being in a five star photo on rc.com with a comment that says “SUPER SICK!” and being the protagonist in a flame war between sport and trad climbers. I’m tempted to comment on there that I’m gay and single. Gay and single y’all! (Can someone with an rc.com account post that in there? Please?)
(Other Dean photography highlights: Dictator Chavez sending a wet Bubba City trad climb, and Dictator Rio literally smoking on Tobacco Road.)
We ended up at Orange Oswald again, doing endurance climbs. I asked Ann how she was getting home, and she said with me, which was fine, cause I had one seat open. But then I asked Leo, and he said with me, and then I asked Jasper, and he said with Leo, and I asked Mike, and he said with Jasper, and then I was like, “hold the fuck up, I don’t drive a clown car,” and “you motherfuckers better find someone else to ride with.” I had idle fantasies of having a drunken bisexual three-g with Ann and Leo so I was like, what the hell, they can share the seat in the back, they might as well get to know each other now, right? So it was us and Mike and Connor, and I put on a headlamp and did a little after-dark climbing at Orange Oswald.
We only had three headlamps between the five of us, so we had to walk close together on the hike out. I had one of the best parts of the trip, standing on that one part of the trail where you’re on the edge of the water in view of the bridge, but at night, which I hadn’t seen before. It occurred to me that no commercially available camera could capture this without blurring the ripples, and that was why I felt it important to stop and look at it. Marching back through the mud in the halo of a spotlight, nobody was speaking, concentrating on the ground, and I was happy, because this is the sine qua non of a good climbing trip–I didn’t have to ask if anybody was uncomfortable with staying past dark. Alis doesn’t have to ask Odin, Noah, or Myau if they’re afraid to hack up a bunch of monsters in some cave somewhere, she just fuckin goes and does it. (Funny story: after my oldest brother woke up from a two week coma, the first thing he asked for was the released-in-his-absence PHANTASY STAR III. On my most recent visit to the emergency room, the most disturbing event was the realization that hospital TV’s no longer have A/V hookups. What the fuck do children recovering from comas do now? Watch HGN?)
So anyfuck, it’s like 10:30pm when we get to the car and I’m pretty sure there ain’t shit open in Fayetteville so we headed to Summersville and Summersville, West Virginia, HAS AN APPLEBEES OPEN UNTIL 1 AM. And they have TWO DOLLAR COCKTAILS UNTIL CLOSE. She carded Leo but not me, although I suppose that’s expected, since people stopped carding me at 18.
I wish I could say it was the cocktails, but I’m pretty sure Mike and Leo would have ended up arm wrestling even if they were sober. Maybe they were sober. Anyway they were arm wrestling at Applebees, and the waitress came over with my drink. It had on the rim a pineapple slice, cherry, AND a strawberry.
“This looks beautiful!” I said.
“It normally comes with a pineapple,” she said, “but the strawberry and the cherry are my special touch!”
I could hear Chris in my head: “And by [redacted], I mean you can do anything!”
On her recommendation, I had my first Applebees meal which was not horrendously awful, but I forgot both the name of the meal and the drink, so I’m kind of fucked if I ever get screwed again into going to Applebees. I don’t know why, but my carpools are inevitably full of people who are willing, no, excited about pulling into an Applebees. I can skip showering for days, wear sneakers with holes, clothes from Goodwill, and eat peanut butter and jellies for weeks, but my upper class upbringing is inevitably betrayed by the reaction I have to being told we’re eating at Applebees. People probably figure I just paid for the law degree with scholarships, until, “Me? At an Applebees? Do you know who I am?” That and the car.
(Editor: Miss Ann Raber notes that the drink was the “Baltimore Zoo.”) (Me: How does she remember these things? It was very delicious. Almost as much alcohol as you get out of one of those little vodka filled chocolates.)
We drove back toward Fayetteville.
The next morning, we ate at the Cathedral for breakfast, and I had the Dobson, like always.
Later, we were driving back home through north Georgia when I saw a sign that said “Boiled Peanuts” and so I was like “STOP THE FUCKING CAR” cause I love boiled peanuts.
But sadly, they were closed. Connor still got out of the car to take a photo of the place, I guess because being in the south and seeing a wood shack with a tin roof and a rocking chair and a gigantic American flag and a wooden duck with a blue ribbon around its neck and woven baskets and produce on sale is like being in France and seeing a dude wearing a beret holding a baguette and a paintbrush and a cup of coffee doing a mime routine to Depeche Mode.
The next day, dad drove me and Mike and Connor to the MARTA station so that Mike and Connor could get back to the airport. I gave them hugs at the turnstiles and returned to the car.
“Fuck, I’m depressed.” I was no longer in West Virginia, Mike and Connor were heading to California, Chris was back in Honkyville, and I was scheduled to take the bar exam in a week. The preceding week was no less of a reality than the next week’s reality, so it would be inaccurate to say that I was now returning to reality. But I was returning to something. Something significantly less fun. And it wasn’t the obligation of work either–I brought my bar review materials to the New, to the Alabama canyons, my income tax books to the Red. And I wasn’t leaving friends, I have friends at home. And there’s climbing in Georgia. So what was out there? A state of mind? A temporary suspension of Positioning Myself For The Next Thing?
A week and a half later, my father got a thank you note from Connor. “He doesn’t know I’m sending him a bill for $150 a night,” Dad said.
Part of Connor’s letter said that “it was refreshing to see a father so comfortable with his son’s sexuality.”
Dad said, “I should write back to him, and say, ‘I appreciated your letter, but I didn’t understand the part about Alex’s sexuality. Is there something I should know?’ …You know, to fuck with him.”
“It could be seen in poor taste.”
“Ok, I won’t do it.” But I kind of think he will do it, the next time he’s drunk Facebooking. So I’m warning Connor now.
Later, at Red Lobster, I asked Dad about emancipation in the sixties. What was it like to have “Whites only” signs? Did he even know what gay was?
“Well, your great uncle was pretty open about it, as you know.” My great uncle, aside from being a super genius getting attention in Virginia for using bootleg AT&T equipment to build his own working car-phone in the 1960’s, had a mansion with enough opium and heterosexuality-optional group sex to make Andy Warhol wince. “The last time I saw him alive, (he died in his forties from heart problems), he was walking through the hospital with one of those rolling IV’s, with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other.”
What was racism like in the south? “Well in a way, it was better there. When I moved to New Jersey, I thought, oh, this is the north, it’ll be a lot better, but instead it was worse. Also all the people there thought that since I was a southerner, they could talk to me openly, because of course I hated those blankety blanks. Most of the black people I knew who moved up north moved back to the south.”
Even with plenty of friends from rural Georgia with thick southern accents who are hardcore queer rights activists, I still can’t shake that impression that the south is behind on the gay train. Which is why Connor’s note surprised me, even though I knew it shouldn’t have. When I turned on the TV as a kid and they (CNN, based in Atlanta) showed the gay pride parades, it was always a parade in New York or San Francisco. Growing up, I thought up north, and out west, and in Europe, these were the places in the world where the gays roamed free. The reality was, I discovered, very different. RuPaul is from Atlanta. Atlanta’s ratio of Pride attendees to city population is about the same as San Francisco, and many times larger than New York (note crowd counts are notoriously rough). The gay bars in Dallas have the mega-club real estate of East Berlin. But prejudices are hard to shake, and my stereotype is that because the people out west are so ahead of the gay curve, of course they’ll be cool with their kids being gay, and of course, this isn’t really true at all.
So if the dirty-dirty’s penchant for faggotry, lesbianism, and trannydom still surprises me, despite having so many things deflating my own prejudices, the Homo Climbtastic convention must be a real mind-fuck for its non-southern participants, some of whom have never been to the south before. When an old pick-up truck with men in camo hats rolled slowly around the hostel corner one morning, more people probably expected a fag drag than the fucking hot guy leaning out to say, “hey boys.” Of course, true to type, maybe part of the reason we’re all so friendly down here is because we’re all packing heat. No seriously. All of the southern carpools had guns. Welcome to the south y’all!
Homo Climbtastic held the largest queer climbing convention in the world, but it would be overly reductive to describe its significance in this way. This year’s convention again spawned new local climbing clubs. It proved that the south, that queer people, that queer climbers, that you, can all be whatever the fuck you want. It was an ephemeral suspension of the mindless drive to worry about the next thing. It was a reclamation of athletics, a poster for a people shoehorned into a limited sphere of acceptable sports and performance. It was an expression of humor’s centrality to meaning. It was a portal to Outland. If you weren’t there, I promise, you want to be present for the next one. It’ll be bigger anyway.