THE KID didn't look anything like I'd expected. He was taller and he was thinner and he was dressed better than I'd imagined he'd be. We had talked on the phone - on and off for a week. He was concerned about me. He had to talk to me. I had things all wrong. He would straigten me out.
So we met. I had my reasons and he had his. He was going to explain why I was wrong in being bothered by homosexuality and I was going to do a column about an 18-year-old kid who had turned gay and had come out of the closet almost everywhere but home. His parents didn't know and he didn't know when or how he was going to tell them. I was going to write about that because for some people that would be the ultimate parental nightmare - the kid who comes home with The News. Sometimes it's different news. Sometimes it's news about drugs or about changing religions or about becoming a hobo for anything that says to you that you have botched the job of parenting. We all have our nightmares.
I think of this sometimes and I think of some of my friends when I was a kid and how they surprised their parents. There was one, for instance, whose older brother became a rabbi and whose father sold kosher foods, and who turned out to be a horse trainer. There was another whose father was a sweet prince of a man, a book collector and music lover, a self-made man from the old school and an officer at the local synagogue. His son opened a surf shop and sold German crosses. There was another kid who got a Corvette as a gift from his father and who then hit him with the car. Some things, I tell you, are worse than Excedrin headaches.
Anyway, that's the sort of thing I'm talking about - the sort of thing that haunts most parents. This was what I was going to talk to the kid about - how he was going to break the news to his parents. I told the kid that and he sort of shrugged. This was of no great concern to him. This was something he would do when his mother did not have so much on her mind, when things were going better with the family, when his father's business was doing better. This was not a great concern. This, I soon discovered, was my concern.
The kid was dressed in a plaid shirt and oatmeal colored pants. He was lanky and dark-haired and a bit loud in his speech. He was very serious about what he had to say and had called in sick at work to have the time to meet me. We sat in a coffee shop, the kid sipping from a cup of coffee, fiddling with a danish pastry he never ate.
He produced two books. He had brought them for me, he said - newly borrowed from the public library. I should read them. They were fantastic, proving that I was wrong and he was right. One of them, he said, proved that most men had homosexual experience as children. He showed me the book and asked me if I had ever heard of it. It was entitled "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" - the Kinsey Report, I told him I had heard of it.
The kid talked very intently, not slowly, but carefully, as if he was giving a lecture. Sometimes when he used a word or a term he would pause to see if I knew what he meant. He did that once with the word "dike" and he did it another time with the term "cruise." There were some things he wanted to explain - things he wouldn't believe I would know. I said I knew.
Then he went into his family history. He told how he disliked his father and loved his mother and he said everything with such certainty that you had to ask how he could be so sure of things. He was sure, he said, and he was sure that he had made the right choice in life, and he said this all in a way that I had heard before. He seemed to know all the answers - to be certain. It was hard to put your finger on it - the lecture - like talk, the explanations, the pauses to see if I understood.
All of a sudden I realized what was happening. He was talking to me as an adult. He was talking to me as I used to talk to my own father back in the days when he knew nothing. I knew everything and only a feat of instant education could salvage our relationship.
I wanted to tell the kid a thing or two. I wanted to tell him that there was little he could tell me - that this was Cohen, and Cohen had lived a little in his day. I knew the words. I knew the terms. But I said nothing of the sort. Instead, I held my tongue and felt the way I did years ago when I was a kid working in a store and for the first time in my life someone called me "mister." I felt older. It was one of these days and it made me feel closer to someone.