There’s this guy I know in Manhattan. Call him Jim. Jim Watson. We’re friends, I guess. We used to be friends, anyway–grabbing a hamburger together near Gramercy Park, from time to time, or meeting out on the Stuyvesant Town Oval on a summer afternoon to play some folk and bluegrass with the guitar strummers, mandolin pickers, autoharpers, and amateur banjo players who’d drift by. None of us any good, but fun, you know? Old-timey Americana like “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Pretty Saro,” and “The Orphan Girl.” A version of “Shady Grove,” I remember, was one of his specialties: When I was just a little boy, / all I wanted was a Barlow knife. / But now I am a great big boy, / I’m lookin’ for a wife.
A few years ago, his friendship began to cool, bit by bit. You understand how it is: a little here, a little there, and last time I was through New York he didn’t even bother to answer my note suggesting we put together one of our low-rent urban hootenannies. The problem, our conversations had made pretty clear along the way, was that I am a Catholic, and Jim is gay.
Well, actually, gay isn’t the word he would use. I have what might be the worst ability to recognize sexual orientation on the planet, but no one needed sensitivity to guess Jim’s views. Not that he was campy or anything when I knew him, but he was always vocal about his sexuality, naming himself loudly to anyone nearby with words that polite society allows only in ironic use by gay men themselves.