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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Guy On The El

This is the story of a conversation I had today -- the type of conversation that, if you weren't there in person, you'd think it could only happen in a movie or TV show. (And anything I show in quotes may not be exact, but they're to the best of my recollection. Now that I think of it, I really wish I would've somehow secretly recorded it with the video camera on my phone.)

I was on the Market-Frankford El to make my way home from Center City a little after 5 pm. I had a seat open next to me for a while, until at one point a guy in a t-shirt and jeans got on and sat down next to me. Dark hair, masculine good looks, in good shape, not too old but not very young, maybe around 40 or so at most. A real blue-collar, macho guy. He immediately started to talk, and pretty much didn't let up the whole time.

He started by complaining about the rain, which he wasn't aware was in the forecast. (I don't know where he gets his weather from, but the reports I heard were calling for a chance of late-day showers and thunderstorms.) He's a roofer and you can't put the rubber coating on a wet surface, so not only did he have to stop work on the roof he was on, but he had to go check the roof on another job he had been doing. Then he asked if I was finished with my newspaper because he had a long bus ride to take after he got off the El at Frankford Terminal -- the route 58 to Neshaminy Mall, because he lives in Feasterville and normally doesn't take the bus. (I wasn't really done but I skimmed through the rest of it as we talked so he could take it. There were a couple of regular columns that I figured I could read online, and I skipped over the rest. That probably says as much about how much actual news is in the Daily News as anything else.)

The El train runs through the Kensington section as it makes its way to the terminal. Kensington is where I grew up, but it has really gone downhill over the years. There's a lot of poverty, crime and drugs. It was at one of the stations in that area where he got on, and he talked about the guys on the corners begging for money and having their girlfriends walk the streets. All drug addicts. He was a Marine and was in Iraq and Afghanistan for six years, and was amazed at how much worse it was out there since he came back. His attitude is that they're young and should "get a job!" but he said he realizes it's easier said than done.

He introduced himself as Anthony, and then asked if I was headed home from work. I told him I wasn't, just hanging with a friend downtown. And then it got interesting.
He said, "Center City's real nice. There's a lot of nice scenery, if you know what I mean." He then elaborated: "Like, if you're into chicks...or if you're into dudes." I just said, noncommitally, "Well, there's something for everybody." So he said that there's this friend of his who's gay, and "I don't care, he's my friend." Then he asks me "Did you ever hear of a bar down there called Woody's? It's a gay bar." (A quick aside: how many gay bars named Woody's are there? There seem to be one in almost every city.)

Anthony then told me the story about this time he went with his friend, a black guy named Phoenix, to Woody's, and how "the guys talk like women," and he didn't get that. "They shouldn't act like chicks, they should act like themselves." Then Anthony's wife met them there, and all the guys were all over her, touching her, and he didn't understand that either. "If you're into dudes then you'd be into a guy, not my wife. And they kept hanging around her and touching her. They said they're fascinated by women. I don't get it." So I told him at this point, "Well, I'm gay and I don't understand it either." Anthony said he never would have guessed. Heh. And went back to his point. "You're into dudes, you think you'd be into a guy like me, not a woman."

The rest of the trip was almost non-stop monologue: the first time they met, Phoenix was getting roughed up by a couple of guys (gay-bashing or plain old mugging? Not sure) and Anthony came upon them and helped Phoenix, and they've been friends ever since, and that was almost 20 years ago; Phoenix, although he's also one of those guys who talks and acts like a woman, and sometimes dresses up in women's clothing (drag queens are also something Anthony doesn't get), is also a badass who can fight, because when those guys were harassing Phoenix (or was this a different time?), when they attacked he beat the crap out of them; one time Phoenix went with Anthony to a straight bar because they went to Woody's, but he told Phoenix he had to dress in a suit, and Phoenix was still hitting on guys, and said things like "I'm better-looking than that bitch he's with;" he doesn't care if gays want to get married, and his only concern about gay couples adopting kids is that other kids will tease them for having two dads (I said that it's becoming more and more common and kids are getting used to the idea and don't really care); he hates those who say gays can't be around kids, that most pedophiles are straight, and he's had Phoenix babysit his kids a time or two and knows they're safe with him.

I think that's every topic covered before the train got to the terminal and we went our separate ways. The whole thing was kind of surreal. If you met Anthony and the subject never came up, if you'd just talked about his roofing job or whatever, you might look at him as the stereotypical macho guy who would never have a gay friend or hold any of these viewpoints. Just like he didn't think I was gay when he brought up the subject of going to Woody's with his friend. You just never really know. It also shows how straight people who know gay people personally, friends or family, are more likely to support things like same-sex marriage.

And imagine if we had gotten around to talking about sports, like the Eagles' free-agent signings or the Phillies' trade for Hunter Pence. I bet that would have really blown Anthony's mind.

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