The beginning of something oh-so-right?
Wrong Turn on Gay Street
by Jack Mauro
That crack you hear is the breaking of a modest, yet thoroughly respectable, bottle of champagne striking my first official column.
Now, to begin: Protocol dictates an explanation of the column's cutesy name, whatever it may be. So here is mine.
Sometime around the ushering in of the last millennium, I was on my way home from my career/job/autocracy at Club LeConte. All I had to do was walk down Gay Street, a linear stroll with which I was way familiar. Yet I inexplicably decided to make a right and then take State Street home. In no time at all I discovered that I had, through idiot whim, added several blocks to my journey. It occasionally is brought home to me that I can be very stupid. This, I often get a kick out of.
Anyway. I retraced my steps and heard myself say--one talks out loud to one's self if one is me and nobody else ever listens--"Gee, I made a wrong turn on Gay Street!"
Suddenly, pulp novel covers appeared in my mind. The phrase struck me as a wonderfully lurid possible title for the book of short stories I was then completing. I will paint no pictures of the cover illustrations then mentally summoned. The reader is not stupid and can easily conjure a few. I will only hint that someone's shirt should be in the process of being torn off, and hands should be shooting up in alarm.
Gay Street. Knoxville. Silly wrong turns. That is what this column will document. There will be no politics, local or big stuff, because politics brings out in me volcanic belching. University of Tennessee sports I regard as Hamlet was spectrally advised to deal with his mother; I leave it to Heaven. Nor, I dare say, will much ink here be devoted to Knoxville's place as a city in the great scheme of American cities. Better writers than I handle that issue, as parents far more skillfully handle the babies that scare the shit out of me.
Which leaves me an' my town.
I took me a walk last night, the first such taken since Christmas. Down Gay, past all those buildings in the process of being shucked like oysters. Around the corner of Union (which I still believe is the nexus of the universe), and then down Market, seeing to my left that enormous yellow tube running down the side of the Holston. I'm thinking it's a chrysalis--when the Holston opens its doors, they will mark the occasion with the release of a monster butterfly.
As always, the corner of Market and Cumberland knocks me out--it is so damn intimate, so brownstone-y. Maybe it's the shade, but I think it even has its own ecosystem. Then a right, and thence to my bench. No, I don't own the thing; the proprietary aspect comes merely from how often my rear has roosted on its ancient slats.
I sat and looked up to see the vista that is more a part of my internal landscape than the recess ground of my elementary school or the house I was a boy in. The Whittle Building clock belfry, the First Tennessee tower beyond it? Yes. It's as powerful as gazing upon Babel. New Jersey should have such profound impact on me. (It actually does now and then, although I may be mistaking the buzz from Elizabeth's fumes for emotional resonance.)
It was nice sitting there, notepad in hand, feeling premature summer air and sending good, if pointless, thoughts to the dogwood loitering in front of James Park House. But it was awfully melancholy, too. It was here that I scrawled notes for my first books. It was here that I sang badly to myself and was very happy. Now, last night, I had to confront the dismaying reality that I'm my own ghost. This translates to a boo! then a boo-hoo.
See, the real wrong turn I made on Gay was the turn off of it, three years ago. The reasons were good and the life that followed not at all bad. But even the good residue of that time makes this time... bizarre. I left Knoxville as a flawed but (ahem) promising writer of Southern fiction; I returned as a dude with a major book deal revolving on gay Internet dating. Huh? I mean, I've heard that life can kick you in the ass. No one told me about the steel-tipped boots, though.
Nevertheless. I'm back home, if ethereally so. God smiles from afar and my notepad does not phase through my ghostly hand. Like Japan before Admiral Perry kicked the door in, I float. Down Gay, up Gay, in the Square. And what I see you will see, you lucky bastards, right here in this inky rectangle.