Road to Elsewhere, Excerpt #2: And so, to Paris?

But first, my mom had to read her Gaydar, and warn me of the “roving bands of homosexuals” in Europe.

MY ONE-WAY TICKET TO PARIS shocked my mother, who feared (reasonably) that I might never return to the U.S. Enrollment at the language school was my father’s idea, thinking I’d be better off if I had an institutional context for my lark abroad. Funding came from a small parting gift from my grandfather, who’d died when I was ten years old. Compound interest being what it is, I was free to quit North America a decade later, with six thousand dollars to stretch as far as I could.

I required only a destination. Days after a triumphal college graduation, I wrote these words in a blank journal I received from my brother as a graduation present.

7 June 1978

What to do about my present situation? What is my present situation? I have just graduated from college and I am currently using my great potential for absolutely nothing. There, it’s in a nutshell now. Compounding the problem is the feeling that I am sponging off my parents at a time when I ought to be done sponging. My life seems, for the first time in a long time, totally without direction. I am uninvolved, unsure of the next step, and wary of stepping at all for fear of becoming committed to something I am not excited about doing. Can it be that I fear freedom the way I swore I never would? No, but I do wish to channel my potential now, succeed in something, and, by all means, leave my parents’ home and establish myself somewhere, anywhere.

Decided: Something’s wrong.

Resolved: Act to correct it.

No journal entries explain my ultimate decision on a destination, but Paris must have been premeditated. Why else would I have taken a year of introductory French as a college senior?

By the end of July, my plan seems to have solidified. Coming out of a one-day slide into depression, I set my sights forward: “The whole time that I was being foolish and self-destructive in my attack of pity for #1,” I wrote. “It is clear what spurs these summer blues…I have lost college into an all too clearly remembered past and I have no present to match it. The promise of Paris is great, but the unsatisfying now, dividing the past from the future, is difficult for an impatient idealist like me.”

IT WAS LATE AUGUST when my parents drove me from Connecticut to JFK. I had booked a random, cheap, charter deal, so the gate area was filled with scufflers and itinerants just like me. My mom, elegantly dressed for the airport, eyed my travel mates with alarm, then addressed me with a worried air.

“Peter,” she said, “keep an eye out for roving bands of homosexuals in Europe.” (While setting up my brother’s freshman dorm room, in Philadelphia, my mom urged my eldest brother to “watch out for organized crime;” he avoided Angelo Bruno, as far as I know.)

My mom needn’t have fretted. At that point in my life, I had limited (and mostly unilateral) evidence of my own sexuality, much less the roving-homosexual kind. I assured her I would keep an eye out. For what, I didn’t know. My “eye” had in fact failed me in college, when Brad, the boyfriend of my male Romantic Lit professor, planted an exploratory wet one on my lips at the end of a drunken party. I wasn’t so much offended as surprised by his bristly smooch, which sobered me enough for a stagger back to the dorm.

In any case, the bands were roving elsewhere during my six months in Europe. So I was free to self-endanger in other ways. Like when, after my all-night flight to Charles DeGaul airport, I groggily gathered my over-sized Samsonite suitcase and my 35 lb. Selectric typewriter, and caught a bus to the Gare Invalides, in the center of Paris.

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