Sunday, March 7, 2010

For some reason I was thinking about Tom Fleming tonight. He was one of my closest childhood friends, from pre-school on. Lived about a half-mile into Hopkins, MN - easy walking distance. His father was for many years the state epidemiologist for Minnesota; his mother was Scottish. Dr. Fleming, a native of Canada, had enlisted in his country's Air Force at the beginning of WW 2. As he was debarking from his plane in Scotland, his future wife (then a WAC or WAVE) was standing on the tarmac... & as he stepped down the ramp, she said to a friend, "I'm going to marry that man." Such is fate. She ended up in Minnesota, had 3 sons, John, Steven & Tom (the youngest). John & Steve both became excellent high school hockey players. Tom, it turned out, was gay - & died of AIDS, in SF, in the early 1990s, in his late 30s.

Memory is mysterious... I was reading a spy novel (The Spanish Game, by Charles Cumming) this afternoon, which reminded me of my 1st visit to Paris, on a trip with Tom after our sophomore year at college (he went to Stanford, & I went to Brown). We had spent 2 weeks at his mother's family home in southern Scotland (they were Campbells, local aristocrats, friends of the British Prime Minister).

I had a terrible 2 weeks at the Campbell estate in Scotland (except for the pub visits - there was a tiny 1-room joint nearby, where the locals had a prenuptial habit of soaking the groom's feet in black TAR & holding him upside down as he walked across the pub's CEILING... then there was the young Scottish nationalist tenant farmer, living in a trailer by himself in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere... his trailer filled to the brim with Scottish flags & political posters, & U.S. music albums...). The only time I relaxed was during the day, when we worked out in their fields, baling hay with the tenant farmers. They were very nice people, but Scottish - that is, no-nonsense. & I was extremely shy & awkward & introverted there. Paranoid. Hid in my room. Didn't know how to talk to anyone. Tom told me later (in France) that they said I was a "nice boy who had gone bad." I couldn't argue with that.

Anyway, I began thinking of Tom & me, traveling through Europe that summer, hitchiking, taking trains... eventually we split up in Provence, after visiting Italy (tired of each other's company, finally). Tom stayed on in Europe & spent the fall there on an exchange program. I went back to Providence.

All that time I had no idea he was gay. Maybe he didn't either. It never came up. I remember wandering around Aix-en-Provence, trying to find a place to crash... not easy. A lot of rip-off tourist dumps for traveling students. We wanted to go visit Cezanne's home, which was on a road outside of town... but it was closed for the season.

But the thing that triggered this memory was something in the novel, The Spanish Game, where the narrator is talking about sharing a hotel room. For some reason this reminded me of a youth hostel Tom & I stayed at outside Paris. We were the only boys there, it seemed. We spent the night in a totally swamped overcrowded room full of girls in sleeping bags. Tom & I were on the floor. Somehow I finagled my way into the sleeping bag of the girl next to me... & she let me stay there, though she wouldn't let me touch her... in fact, finally, she pushed me out ("stupid boy!"). I was very sheepish about it at breakfast next morning, surrounded by all those young women... Yes, what triggered this memory (of a 57-yr-old man) was the sheer suspense of lying naked, ALL NIGHT, in a sleeping bag next to a beautiful stranger... who was wise enough, in that early Paris dawn, to shove me (finally) onto the floor...