April 29, 2004
Vance Lawson was my best friend. I never knew he was gay until after he was dead.
We hung out in a post-highschool clique of young adults at the end of the 70s and early 80s. I was 18 and had just dropped out of USC when I started my first full-time working stiff job at the legendary Fedco on La Cienega. Vance worked in the Garden Shop, I worked in Radios. Vance was a tall good looking light skinned brother with hazel eyes. They guy on CSI, Gary Dourdan, could be his brother - they look that much alike. Vance had the problem of most light skinned brothers who didn't have a bad attitude, he wasn't black enough, plus he had a 'faggy' name.
When I met him for the first time, I gave him shit about his name, but he was in a bad mood. His manager had accused him of stealing some tools, which he hadn't. After proving he didn't, he decided after much internal debate that what he would do to get back at his boss was steal some tools. It came down to a single socket wrench. He actually needed it for 'The Ghost', his blue and primer low-rider-in-progress.
Vance was independent minded and funny as hell. Our clique centered around myself, he and Tracy my soon-to-be girlfriend. About 8 of us, all graduates of Dorsey except for myself would regularly get together after work and go to Westwood to see a movie, or the Carnation Company Restaurant on Wilshire. The lot of us were seriously into music and movies and parties and typical young adult stuff. Tracy was the sweet and sensible woman, heart and soul of the clique, Ant was the mechanic and DJ, Brett was our scapegoat and pet, Precht was a part-timer with the clique because he was in flight school (and T's long-distance boyfriend), Caroline was neck swiveling boy crazed one with the firey attitude, Veronica was the BAP with long straight hair, Janice was the bombshell (and my girl) misunderstood ghetto girl, and R. was the other military guy, husky and musclebound with a heart of gold and Caroline's on again off again love. Finally there was Tonya, the ditz with tits, myself and Vance the merry prankster. I always thought of myself as sort of the conscience and the organizer of the crew. I came up with the name Oui Clique.
Vance had a crush on this girl almost exactly like Tom Hanks did on Donna Dixon in the popular TV show 'Bosom Buddies'. Strange irony that, given that Tom Hanks is gay, I always thought of our friendship sort of like the male friends on the show. But he talked about her all the time and was constantly coming up with schemes to get her. She ended up going with some hardhead and he and Vance almost got into a knife fight about it. I remember that he was very depressed about the whole thing. He was a big chilvalrous romantic.
Vance could be very meloncholy. His father was white, we guess, because nobody ever saw him and he would never really acknowledge Vance who lived with his mother around the corner from my house. Sometimes he'd get into a funky mood about Shelly (aha, I remember her name!) or his father and not want to talk. But most of the time, Vance was the life of the party. He was a practical joker and a quick wit. He dressed almost as well as I, we were about equal skill in disco skating, but he was better looking. He was a maniacal driver - his favorite maneuver was hitting 70 in the 'suicide lane' near the curb and passing cars from the right. Every once in a while he'd do reverse donuts around the lampposts in the Fedco parking lot. In many ways he was a big kid, but he could dis you down to size.
Kevin was Vance's 'cousin'. He started hanging with the clique in 80 or 81. I had left Fedco and gone to work for City National bank on 6th and Olive. This was while I was still with Janice but about to quit her. (She said she'd stab me if I didn' marry her, but that's another story.) Kevin was in the Navy and just got out. He was bolder than any of us and would be down for whatever. I introduced him to Missy a pale and slightly chubby girl from the bank and it wasn't 3 months before she was pregnant. All that time Kevin had been hanging with the clique and his boldness, especially about sex, made him something of the authority. Up until that point Janice and I were pretty much the hot sloppy couple. Kevin said he could hook me up with even hotter chicks, which was strange, given his attraction to Missy. I remember off the cuff suggesting that we go to the Pussycat theatre in Hollywood to check out a blue movie. Veronica, of course, wasn't having it, but Tracy, surprisingly said she would. Kevin thought it was a brilliant idea that the whole clique go, but in the end, only a few of us actually went in and then immediately came back out.
This was the first of two memorable flirts with gay life. The other time Vance told us about this great club. The clique was always looking for new places to party, and white LA was starting to open up. So we'd go to whatever new place would have us. This particular club was called the 'Blue Parrot' in West Hollywood. Vance said that the music was the bomb, so we went. When we got there, it became very obvious that it was a hot disco, but also a white gay club. So we debated the whole thing and then decided to go for it. Ant tooke the most convincing. The girls stayed back in the cars - we figured we'd have to persuade the bouncers to let girls into a gay club. As we got up to the bouncers, a huge Crescent wrench dropped through a hole in Ant's pocket. Unknown to us, he brought it 'just in case'. We broke running back to the cars in a fit of hysteria. We were all kind of pissed off and yet relieved. That was one barrier not broken that night. Vance went back and retrieved the wrench.
I can't remember if it was before or after this incident that I practically busted Kevin and Vance together. I happened to be driving in Kevin's neighborhood, off Queen Ann Place just north of the old Sears on Pico and I saw Vance's car. I pulled up and knocked. No answer so I just walked in. It was funky as hell, but they managed to convince me that they had been working out on Kevin's new weights. No they were too tired to do any more working out. I wasn't really in the mood to work out but I was mad that I wasn't invited. I never thought twice about it until many years later.
By 82, my four years of being associated with my parents for financial aid purposes was over. So it was off to CSUN where Tracy had been. Tracy and I got together, and Vance and my younger brother and I shared a two bedroom flat on Vincennes in Northridge. Living with Vance was a pain and we drifted apart as friends after a year. He had gotten work as a medical assistant of some sort at an area hospital, and he was taking Tae Kwan Do. His hours were odd and he was always tired. He seemed to get progressively stranger and defensive for no reason. He wasn't quite himself. I got deep into campus politics, moved into another apartment, pledged Alpha Phi Alpha and so our paths never crossed much. He dropped out after a while and I didn't see him any more. The clique essentially ended by 82.
Some years later I got the word that Vance was ill. Nobody really knew what it was. We figured it was some germ he got in the hospital, a kind of super pneumonia or anemia or something. He still lived at home and I saw him once or twice. He had lost some weight and yet it made him look somewhat harder and more ripped, but his attitude was completely different. He acted as if I had betrayed him by going out with Tracy, and not taking Tae Kwan Do with him and all kinds of shit. He kept comparing himself to me, I was working in El Segundo but did I have a really good credit rating like he did. He was sick a couple of times, I guess.
I don't know when he died. But when I ran into Tracy one day, she told me the whole story of how many men showed up at his funeral. It was a shock to everyone, especially me, but apparently Vance was a real player. Some of these men, including Kevin, were guys who had come around peripheral to Oui Clique, most, Tracy never knew.
There had been on guy that Tracy said was there. I don't remember his name, but he was definitely out when we met him. We were actually having a discussion at Tonya's house. We talked about gays and whatnot. What's the difference between a queer and a queen and a transvestite, blah blah - the talk of kids 20 and 21 years old. I remember saying that if I was gay, I'd be out and proud of it. I don't remember Vance agreeing or disagreeing with me. But I do remember hearing that it's harder than it seems.
I was very angry at Vance for never sharing his secret with me, and it hurt me for a very long time that he would take that with him to the grave. It hurts me now just thinking about it - that he thought he might lose me as a friend. Maybe he lost me as a friend because he didn't tell me, I don't know. But I often think that there were plenty of things I said about fags in the ordinary course of being myself that he took as clues that he couldn't confide in me. I wondered if Tracy knew. She said she could have guessed and maybe suspected, but was still shocked to find all those men at his funeral. That's part of the life Vance chose to live and I can't change that, nor blame him for his choices. I blame him for not being a better friend; I blame myself for not being a better friend.
I've found others of my male friends to be gay but much of it by accident or a chance meeting after our friendship ended with the pretense dropped. And at least one of them made a (crude, drunk) pass at me in a way such as it could not be mistaken for anything else. But I've been largely oblivious to men's attractions to me, and of some of my male friendships I wonder what component may have been a lopsided sexual attraction. I've known one man to whom I've been strangely attracted and if I were gay I would have jumped his bones in a heartbeat, but most of my emotions on the subject center around Vance.
I don't really have any specific conclusions to draw, but I was compelled to tell this story.
Posted by mbowen at April 29, 2004 07:49 AM
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Tom Hanks is gay? Someone should tell his wife!
Posted by: the wolf at April 30, 2004 11:44 AM
According to Famousandgay.com, Tom Hanks isn't. Which is to say he's not on their list. Of course there is no big database, and I really don't pay attention to Hollywood, but I thought this was common knowledge. Maybe it came from his portrayal in 'Philadelphia Story'.
Clearly my gaydar has a major malfunction.
Posted by: Cobb at April 30, 2004 12:06 PM
I am glad I found your Blog Bro. You and I have so much in common. Reading this post gave me flashbacks to my Youth in Los Angeles.
Posted by: David Anderson at April 30, 2004 08:23 PM