Tuesday, April 12, 2005

25-Year-Old Austinites In The Seventies

Tanner Didn't Want To Know

"Get. out. of. town. We. d-don't. like. you. We. d-d-don't. want. queers. here. We. don't. like. you. We're. going. to. k-k-kill. you."

Carlton doesn't normally stutter, Tanner thought. And those words, spoken in a strangled, shaky, and scary voice, as if by some actor determined to sound like a super-villain or demon from a Hollywood movie, served one purpose—it scared the shit out of Tanner.

Tanner was in bed in the dark and his eyes popped open. He could see from the movement of shadows in the living room that his friend Carlton was pacing in circles around the room as he repeated these and other sentences as if his needle were stuck. He was talking to himself like a crazy man. Tanner didn't know if Carlton was in a fugue state or just imagining things or perhaps exercising a savage sense of humor. Carlton had done "crazy things" before, ever since Tanner met him in their first year of college. For instance, he'd boiled and eaten a pot of morning glory seeds in an effort to get high like the magazines said, then he remembered that he had an appointment with his psychiatrist. About half an hour later, Carlton's psychiatrist phoned Tanner and asked if he could come down to his office by taxi and drive Carlton home in Carlton's car. Tanner took Carlton's billfold away from him and paid the taxi driver. All the way home, Carlton had chortled gleefully and kidded around, threatening to open the car door and jump out or to roll down the window and throw the considerable amount of cash in his billfold out. Tanner wouldn't give him the billfold. Carlton's sense of humor was often heavy-handed. Maybe he would jump out of the car!

His talk about queers and killing as he paced the room that night was out of the blue to Tanner. He'd never heard Carlton talk about being homosexual or about hating any. Maybe that's just what he imagined his imagined enemies would call him as an insult. As you will see, Tanner never asked him to explain what he meant later, either. Tanner got up quietly and dressed quickly in the dark, then snuck out the back door so he would not have to deal with Carlton at all. He went to another friend's apartment and slept on his sofa that night.

It was about 1974 when Carlton turned up needing a place to stay. Tanner had offered to share his apartment with him, but only temporarily. Carlton was even paying a portion of the rent and that was nice. He'd been all right for a month or so and Tanner had no idea what had caused the eruption of this peculiar behavior. Tanner didn't want to know. It was about a day and a half before Tanner felt bold enough to go home. Carlton seemed normal enough, but Tanner had already made up his mind. He told Carlton he'd have to find another place to stay, giving him the impression it was because of a new girlfriend, a married woman, and he and she needed to have privacy. For some reason Carlton didn't resist the idea much, though he was far too inquisitive about the woman. He was even easy to convince when Tanner suggested a cheap old student flop house where he himself had lived formerly.

Carlton moved out within 2 or 3 days and Tanner never did have a frank discussion with him of the real issues involved, all the fear and loathing he now experienced at the mere sight or thought of Carlton. It could be they both preferred it that way. They then had nothing to do with one another for about 15 years. About that time, Carlton tried contacting Tanner by letter and audiotape, but Tanner declined to be drawn in. It only took a few paragraphs of the letter and a few seconds of the tape for Tanner to realize that nothing was different. Whatever that Edge was that Carlton skirted or walked on, he was still on it, crossing back and forth, and Tanner still didn't want to know about it. He liked the world to stay right side up.

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