This was written to be read at a memorial service for my friend who recently passed away. I thought some of you might enjoy it. I decided not to use his full name on the internet, as he was a very private person.
Adventure with L.
By Ruth Sims
This is the true account of the time L. took an innocent straight woman to Chicago for a wild, booze-filled weekend. Oh, well, not really. But it makes a great beginning and got your attention.
What L. actually did was make a magical weekend happen that otherwise could not have happened.
Sixteen years ago Sasha Alyson of Alyson Publications, published my first book and even nominated it for The Lambda Award. That year the Lambda ceremony and banquet was held in Chicago, at the Palmer House. Sasha offered to pay for myself and a companion to attend the banquet and awards ceremony. It would be an overnight stay, with book signings at the ABA the next day.
Trouble was, I had no one who would go with me, and for various reasons I couldn’t drive that far by myself. Not to mention that the thought of driving in Chicago, or of even being in Chicago alone, was terrifying. I knew I’d never again have the chance to attend something like that.
As luck would have it, I mentioned the situation during a phone conversation with L.. I probably whined. I’m good at whining. I didn’t see L. often because he lived in Springfield and I was in Danville, but we talked often. He said something to the effect, “There’s always an answer.”
The next day he called me and offered himself as my chauffeur and dinner companion. I was ecstatic, and I insisted I would pay all expenses for both of us-- the hotel rooms, gas for the drive, his tux, everything; after all it would be a great business deduction come tax time. I reserved two rooms at the Palmer House for us.
The big day came. We talked all the way there, of course. I doubt if there were thirty seconds of silence. Just the trip alone was enough pleasure. When he called for me in the evening, all dressed up in his tux, he looked so cute. When I told him so, his face turned five shades of red. He was as excited as I was, and his eyes fairly danced. The food was fancy and not very good, but who cared? We got to meet and sit with Sasha Alyson himself. And let me tell you, Sasha Alyson was quite a looker, especially in a tux. And he was a tremendously nice guy. Also at the table were the men who were to buy the company a few months later, though we didn’t know that. L. and I were both kind of star-struck at the well-known people there.
As a small-town, working class girl, I had never been to any kind of event that fancy. And I had never tasted wine or alcohol. You see, though my dad and brothers and one of my sisters drank a lot, the few times I had tasted it, I didn’t like it at all. So for dinner, I stuck with water.
The alcohol came later.
Though I may have been in my 50’s, I was a babe-in-the-woods. As naïve as a 19th century missionary. I think L. almost fainted after the banquet when I blithely said, “I’m going out for a walk, L.. I may never see Chicago again.”
He kicked into full Mother Hen mode and said, horrified, “You can’t go out alone on the streets of Chicago at one in the morning!”
Well, ok, but neither of us was tired and not at all ready to call it a day. “I know,” he said, “there’s a cocktail lounge. We can go there.”
He laughed when I told him I had never been in a bar or a cocktail lounge. I don’t think he believed me at first. He soon found out it was true. I was clueless.
Well, we went into the cocktail lounge, low lights, soft music, just like a movie. The waitress…. Are they called waitresses in a cocktail lounge?... well, whatever they’re called, she took our order. L. ordered a fuzzy navel. I told the waitress I just wanted something sweet. She suggested Kahlua and cream. I’d never heard of it but it sounded luscious and I was thirsty.
The drinks came. I schlurped mine down and ordered another. L. was looking at me a little funny, and after a while, I realized he was trying to tell me something without coming out and saying it. I happily… and I do mean happily… schlurped the second one, giggling while I did.
Everything was funny even if my eyes did feel kind of heavy and if my memory serves, my lips were getting numb, L. finally got the words out. “I don’t want to alarm you,” he said, “but I’d go easy on that if I were you.”
I giggled. That was the funniest thing I’d never heard. “Why?” I said. “It’s wonderful. And it’s not alcoholic, is it?”
“Only about twice what I’ve got,” he said.
I looked at the remaining drink in my class. How could anything that good be alcoholic? I looked at L., his eyes large and still twinkling behind his glasses. I could tell he meant it.
“Am I drunk?” I asked, probably with a giggle.
“Well,” he answered, ever the gentleman and diplomat. “I wouldn’t say you’re drunk. Let’s say you’re tipsy. And not feeling any pain.”
And it was true! Even my feet in ridiculous high heels didn’t hurt! I finished the drink, much more slowly, and we left. I remember feeling floaty and sleepy and incredibly happy. So, I remember thinking, this was what being tipsy felt like, and giggled because “tipsy” is such a funny word! That night I slept like a corpse.
The American Book Association book fair was the following day and we were to meeting Sasha there, at the Alyson display.
The book fair was in some big convention center and we took a taxi. A Chicago taxi. Yes. With a driver straight out of a movie. The taxi was the smelliest thing I’ve ever been in and the man behind the wheel was the Taxi Driver from Hell. L. and I both wondered if we’d get there alive. Throughout the entire ride the driver kept up a continuous loud and profane conversation with all the other drivers on the street, and pedestrians, too. “What the bleep bleep are you bleepin’ doin you bleepin’ stupid bleep bleep bleep.” Then he’d look over his shoulder at me, while still driving, and say “’Scuse me, lady.” Two seconds later, “Bleep you, you bleep bleep bleep bleep—‘Scuse me, lady. You stupid bleep don’t you know better than to bleepin’ cross in the bleepin’ middle of the bleepin’ beepin’ street? ‘Scuse me, lady.” Well, we lived through it and laughed hysterically as soon as we were on non-moving ground.
One of the highlights of the ABA, other than seeing Sasha Alyson again—and L. and I agreed Sasha was as handsome in ordinary clothes as he had been in a tux—was meeting and getting hugged by Jewelle Gomez and Dorothy Allison. I about fainted when I met Dorothy. She’s one of my heroes. I know neither lady would remember either of us, but I know I will never forget it and I bet L. didn’t either.
The ride home was as much fun as the previous day. And again, we talked all the way home. And you know what? He hadn’t let me pay one cent toward his expenses, not his room, not his tux, not even the gas or the taxi fare.
It was the time of my life, and I couldn’t have done it without L.. So here’s to you, L.. You made possible one small-town girl’s wild weekend in Chicago.