It was a Saturday night in South Bend, Indiana.
I’d just exited the theater after watching an enjoyable Broadway Theatre League production of Lettice and Lovage.
I wasn’t quite ready to call it a night so I decided to drive over to Truman’s, the gay club in nearby Mishawaka with the awesome piano bar, and chill for a little while before calling it an evening.
The Notre Dame boys and their local counterparts were drinking, laughing, dancing up a storm.
Truman’s catered to a pretty young crowd. Indeed, I’d wondered how many even understood the bar’s namesake.
Or took a second to look closely at the scrip they received as change toward a future drink.
At 29, I felt like I was on the cusp of aging out.
Just off the dance floor, the curly-salt-and-pepper-haired guy immediately caught my eye.
It took awhile for me to muster up the courage to chat. I rarely felt comfortable in bars, and it wasn’t unusual for me to order my 7-and-7, Screwdriver, or Long Island iced tea and nurse it, listening to the music for the rest of the night, rarely venturing out on the floor.
And almost always solo.
Tonight felt… different.
I stood beside him and asked, “What would you play if you owned this place?” Without hesitation, he said, “Donna Summer.”
“Good answer,” I said, even while marveling at his choice. At the time, Summer was persona non grata to lots of gay men who had taken as fact rumors of her supposedly referring to AIDS as punishment for gay sex.
I didn’t believe the rumors. I was still a Summer fan.
So, when I heard this older guy stand up for Donna, I thought:
“OK: An independent thinker.“
We chatted more and went upstairs to a part of the bar that once had been The Ice House, a restaurant I went to in high school. “Tell you what,” one of us said. “I don’t dance too much, but if Donna Summer comes on, we’ll hit the floor.”
“Deal,” the other said.
We settled at the booth to chat and became acquainted. I immediately warmed to his Southern drawl. He explained that he was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. How he’d lived in North Carolina for years before moving to Elkhart, Indiana to work at Miles. I told him how I’d lived off and on in South Bend since my junior year in high school when my dad moved the family from Chicago, my birthplace.
Then we stopped, shocked, as we heard the beginning of a Donna Summer song. (Guess we weren’t the only ones who dispelled the rumors.)
A deal was a deal.
So we went down to dance, laughing our way through what turned out to be a medley, ending with her most recent hit, This Time I Know It’s for Real.
As we went back upstairs and chatted until one in the morning, I got the sense that, maybe, Donna was right.
I told him, “I’ve got to get going. I have to get up early because I’m taking a youth group from my church to a musical performance more than an hour’s drive away.”
It turned out that he was Catholic, too, adding it had been awhile since he’d been to Mass. (Catholic boys are quick to confess.)
He asked me if I’d like to go out for dinner sometime, and — just a bit cautious — I gave him my work phone number. This would have amazed anyone who has ever worked with me because I have an extremely low tolerance for personal phone calls on work time.
On Monday, he called, and we made plans for Flytraps, a restaurant in downtown Elkhart.
“Sounds great! Gotta get back to work,” I said. “See you Wednesday night.”
That Wednesday, I drove the 45 minutes east from South Bend to meet him for dinner. He recommended the angel-hair pasta and said they knew how to make it right. I thought, “hmm, he knows how angel-hair pasta ought to be cooked.”
We talked more about his career and mine. And how I became involved with Little Flower Catholic Church.
At some point, he told me he’d just sold his house to move back to North Carolina, where he’d lived in the ’70s and most of the ’80s.
Oh, I thought — I met a nice guy.
Who was on his way out of town.
We enjoyed a great meal and, as we walked out, we stopped by his pickup truck. He asked if I wanted to stop by his place for a nightcap. I said, “Sure. Why not?”
He’s always marked our anniversary from our first date.
I’ve always marked it from the night we met.
Either way: we recently celebrated 30 years since our paths crossed in ways neither of us expected, leading us to places neither predicted.
Our dance on our back porch the night of our wedding reception, not to Donna, but to Percy Faith’s Theme from ‘A Summer Place.
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