Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Message of Love: Spring Break, 1982; chapter excerpt

One of the great pleasures of writing a novel set decades ago is resurrecting long gone places. I decided to let the main characters in my latest novel, Message of Love, go on an impulsive Spring Break trip at about this time of year, back in 1982. 

While most of this novel is set in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, I thought, why not let the boys get away?

The gay beach scene in Fort Lauderdale was surprisingly active, and after some research through old gay travel guides and magazines, I found a few tantalizingly retro posts about a specific place, The Marlin Beach Hotel, written about by famous gay blogger Joe Jervis, on his site JoeMyGod.

Jervis' personal recollections are mixed in with some wonderful historic visuals, which also link to some other resources. 

The vacation is completely fictional for me, but serves as a shifting point in their lives, being in the company of many older gay men. While a crash course in gay life, for Reid and Everett, some other things - and one person in particular- prove to test their love and trust. 

Here's an excerpt:

Chapter 27: March 1982 (excerpt)

Spring Break.

The paramedic.

Nick the paramedic.

Nick, the suntanned Italian feathery-chest-haired paramedic, didn’t so much hit on us as not leave our company for hours after introducing himself to us.

Everett made sly glances at the bulging green Speedo of Nick the paramedic, from Islip, who stood, his crotch hovering near Everett’s face as we sipped drinks poolside under the glare of a Fort Lauderdale sun.

Before meeting Nick, on our first day in Florida, we endured a bumpy cab ride from the airport where the driver seemed disturbed by the hassle of Everett’s chair barely fitting into his trunk, or our destination, The Marlin Beach Hotel, being a gay resort. It was probably both.

“Well, here we are,” Everett said as he eyed the nautical décor and stuffed marlins hung on the lobby wall.

As we entered the hotel, we endured a few raised eyebrows from other guests, all men, most wearing little more than swimsuits and flipflops. The desk clerk with a blond mustache offered a flirtatious smile.

“Welcome, boys!”

As Everett dealt with the reservations, I looked around. Through a glass window, I saw the pool, the source of some disco music being played.

“If there’s anything you need, just let us know,” the desk clerk smiled. “The tunnel’s right by the dance floor, but it’s got stairs, so you might want to take the street. Tea dance is just getting started, so I hope you’re ready to have fun.”

After squeezing ourselves into the tiny elevator, we finally found our room on the third floor. While I plopped our luggage onto the bed, Everett wheeled past me to pull open the drapes. Beyond the street below us, we marveled at the beautiful expanse of blue-green calm Florida water, and a wide strip of sand already filled with people.

“Wow,” Everett said.

“Wow, indeed,” I replied.

“This makes up for the tacky décor.”

“So, what first?”

“The beach!”

We changed, stocked up on towels and lotion, hats and sunglasses, and crossed the busy street to the beach.

After rolling as far as we could, he parked at a cement wall. Carrying Everett through the sand, I set him down, then placed a towel down, and left him with the small duffel bag. I retrieved his chair, lay a towel over it so it wouldn’t get too hot, and despite a generous slathering of lotion, we both tried to act natural until the various glances passed.

All around us, men lounged on towels, or further back, under cabanas.

“I never felt so pale.”

“That’ll change.”

“I never saw so many mustaches.”

“Are they all gay?” I asked as I looked around. Nearly all the men were tanned, fit in various sizes and shapes, and some even held hands as they walked along the shore.

“Pretty much,” Everett agreed. “How about we get wet?”

Since there were no waves, the warm blue water was easy enough for Everett to swim in, except for getting to and from the surf edge, where I carried him piggyback into the water. He wore a pair of old sneakers to prevent his feet from getting scraped by any underwater rocks. Once into deeper waters, we splashed about with some abandon, but I always stayed close, just in case.

“Now this,” he said as he shook water from his face, “is what I call heaven!”

I spat a volley of salt water, grinning in agreement.

We splashed about, dove around and on top of each other, frolicking like dolphins, until Everett, panting a bit, grabbed hold of me. “How ‘bout we head in?”

“Okay. Hop on.”

I guided us toward the shore, ignored the curious looks from others, then plopped down at the surf’s edge. We sat, letting the waves wash up around us.

Once we’d settled back on our towels, we rubbed lotion on each other, and tried to relax. I still felt self-conscious in nothing but a swimsuit, until Everett’s hands on me felt warm as he massaged my shoulders.

“You boys better take it easy on your first day,” a man nearby called out.

“Is it that obvious?” Everett grinned.

The man’s friend leaned forward, surveying us with a grin. “You don’t want to spend all week like a pair of lobsters.”
We shared a little more friendly chat, then relaxed and lay together for a while. I held Everett’s hand, content to feel comfortable surrounded by so many other gay men.

*  *  *

You can read more about Reid and Everett's adventures in Florida in Message of Love


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