Title: "Walking Between Worlds" 4/4
Genre: PG13, romance, coming out, 50s, postwar, San Francisco
Summary: Go back in time to the years right after the war, before B.J. and Hawkeye were Gentleman Doctors, when the boys were stepping out of their shells into all the world could offer. Part 2 of a 4 part arc.
Part of the Gentleman Doctors series
Part 2/4 of the How it Happened arc
Read: How it Happened Part 1: When the Wind Blows the Stars
"Walking Between Worlds"
Just after the New Year of 56, four months after Hawkeye shook up B.J.'s world like a snowglobe, B.J. entered a queer bar on his own for the first time.
Not that he'd kept himself completely on the shelf. He'd talked to a lot of people who he met at the Lighthouse. He read a lot of books. There was a night at the beach, that man who took him into the woods for a very hurried hand-job. . . .
B.J. reread the nickel pamphlet he'd bought so long ago (had one off to calm his nerves), put a tiny tube of slippery stuff in his pocket, and in his distraction almost left without the token. He checked his suit in the hall mirror. He started to take off the tie, and then straightened it again. He didn't like skinny ties, they looked funny on him because he was so tall, but they were the style, apparently. Would there be other men in suits? In B.J.'s world, one wore a suit nearly everywhere. His closet offered him selections on the themes of: work clothes, dinner jackets, and Saturday stuff. He wished he had Hawkeye to dress him. Or Klinger. Maybe he could call him up in Korea: "Hello, old friend, what does one wear to a homosexual drinking establishment?"
He'd probably have an answer.
B.J. sighed. Well, to approach the problem deductively: he was too old to wear dungarees outside the neighborhood, he was sure the dinner jacket look was too much, but you really couldn’t go wrong with a nice, charcoal suit.
The Black Cat was closer to home than Eureka Valley and in a sketchy neighborhood. B.J. took a cab to the general area and walked precipitously downhill from the noisy, bustling red light district on Broadway. It was stupidly less embarrassing to tell the cabbie to take him to the strip clubs than a homo club. The side streets were quieter, lined with Chinese restaurants and shared wall apartment buildings. He counted building numbers until he found it. His destiny jutted into the center of a five point intersection, one of those triangular corner buildings. Music leaked into the street. No signs or lights marked it from any other apartment building on the block, save the angry-looking bouncer the approximate size of a bull.
"Hi," B.J. said.
The bouncer looked at him like he was halfway interesting lint.
"Um, I have a token." B.J. fished it out of his pocket.
The bouncer's sudden smile turned him into the family bulldog. "You don't give that to me, sweetie, give it to the bartender." Toto held the door for him.
And he was in. He was stopped in the vestibule by a woman (not a woman) done up as a Rockette who took an expensive cover from him -- legal costs, she explained without explaining. She dismissed him as another group crowded behind him and they started a loud conversation.
The club was bigger than it looked on the outside. B.J. felt underdressed, ordinary. He kept Asa's token in his hand, waiting for someone to demand proof to legitimate his existence. Tasseled chandeliers choked the ceiling, a wide creaking stage took up at one end, there were fringed tablecloths and a dingy bandstand; the style was retro-deco, lots of cut glass and geometric mosaics. It all had a faded debutante feel. But the real decoration was the people: you come to the Black Cat to see and be seen.
Beatniks, more than B.J. had ever seen in one place. They had colonized one corner, sitting on tables and each other, talking over one another and waving papers and notebooks. The next lost generation, or so these kids imagined. On stage was a man dressed more elaborately like a woman than a woman would ever bother. S-he looked like a Vegas showgirl, with the wings and boa, and did a torch number with obscene, accurate lyrics.
Hawkeye would love this place, B.J. thought; the man was a people-vampire, he sucked up energy from a party and became a bright, shining star at the center of it. B.J. knew he was witty and no social slouch, but he didn't even know how to get a word in with such theatrical people and wasn't sure he wanted to.
"B.J.! Oh, B.J. Hunnicutt!" a creaky voice sang out.
Someone knew him here? B.J. turned. A giant bird in a sparkly dress was waving its wing at him. B.J. squinted in the shimmer off the rhinestones. Oh, my God . . .
Asa and Oscar, as women. Sort of. Curiously, wearing tags that read "We are boys" on their frighteningly fishnetted thighs. B.J. joined them out of curiosity.
"What happened to you?" B.J. said.
Oscar was 'me-me-me'ing his octaves.
"Dear boy, don't make Oscar nervous, we're about to be stars." Asa was transformed. Not a grumpy old veteran of war and life, but a saucy grandma.
"You look . . . very theatrical," B.J. said.
"We've been doing this since vaudeville," Asa said. "Of course, get up as girls now and you'll go down in the clink." He slapped the tag on his thigh. His nails were long and painted. B.J. suppressed a shudder. "They make us wear these ugly stickers to tell the coppers we're not trying to fool anyone. Just like the old days!"
"Without the branding," Oscar said.
"Only if you're nice," Asa said.
B.J. didn't want to know.
"Look, honey," Asa's hands shooed him. "Go get a drink, tell Prince -- the pretty Mexican boy -- you have my token, he'll set you up right."
The two fluttered on stage to do "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" as a sensual, tottering duet.
By chance, 'Prince' the bartender -- "It's 'Luis,' sir, Asa can't hear over the bombs in his mind" -- did know B.J.'s patron and accepted the token. B.J. was introduced to the staff as they came by, asked what he was doing in the city, if he was living here or visiting, and generally welcomed as a new member of the fold. B.J., for his part, was happy to sip a beer and observe. This place was like the final days of the Roman Empire as depicted by Suetonius and the circus.
Despite the theatrics, he didn't see any same-sex dancing or kissing. No one was holding hands or standing too closely. In fact, he saw Luis stare down a couple of lesbians who were getting too handsy. The cops knew about this place, despite the token system, B.J. realized. He understood now why the cover charge went towards "legal."
Asa and Oscar finished their set and declared B.J. their new "fag adoptee." They decreed it was a crime for a handsome man to sit alone and sat him at their booth between their costumed friends. He felt like the only mammal in a tropical bird's nest. They drank hard alcohol and talked interpersonal politics -- gossip -- of their community. My community, B.J. thought. The people being evicted from their apartments and defending their businesses against obscenity charges were homosexuals, just like he was. B.J. wasn't familiar with the issues they were discussing , but he felt outraged at every topic they brought up.
To his left, another man wasn't doing much talking. He looked Italian, maybe, dressed in a pinstripe suit, crossed legs and holding a martini.
"Awfully worked up, aren't they?" B.J. said.
"Oh, honey, please."
B.J. didn't know what to say to that. Beside the Italian man sat a bald man with a goatee. He wrapped one arm around his Italian-looking friend.
"Darling, I think Mary's a virgin," said the bald man.
B.J. looked over his shoulder. "Who?"
Italian man said, "She thinks she's at the picture shows."
B.J. suddenly felt unwelcome. He started to stand. "I think I'll freshen my drink."
Asa's attention was suddenly turned to him. "Sit, sit, we'll get a waitress. Don't mind Salvatore and Gabe, someone just dropped a house on their sister."
The Italian one hissed like a cat. B.J. got it. They were another brand of Hawkeye or Leo -- jokes to establish the in-group. He understood now how mean that could be to people who weren't in on the joke.
"The one with species confusion is Salvatore," Oscar said. "The one whose hair moved south is Gabe."
"Charmed," Gabe said. He nodded his bald head. Salvatore in the pinstripe suit shook B.J.'s hand.
"In the Army, 'Mary' was a spy," B.J. hazarded conversation.
"Oh, she's a serviceman," the Italian man said.
"Formerly," B.J. said.
"Aren't we all," Salvatore said.
"Of something," Gabe finished.
B.J. shook his head. From the mouths of crazy people . . . "That's very astute."
"Come now," Salvatore said as a waitress drifted near. "Have a drink with your aunties."
"We want to know simply everything about you," Gabe said. B.J. felt like he was making friends with Tweedles Dee and Dum.
"I, well, to start, I don't know what I'm doing here," B.J. confessed.
The two men laughed. "Who does! We're all just confused, scared loners looking for someone to call home for a night."
"I was married," B.J. continued. "I have a little girl."
The two crooned at that, asked after her age and favorite color.
"But I just got divorced. I mean, it was just finalized. Today. I'm done. Free."
"Well, ring the damn bell!" Salvatore said.
"Salvatore was married," Gabe said.
"It was an affliction, like the 'flu."
B.J. shrugged at his martini. "I liked being married. I liked my wife."
"How long were you together?"
The two men looked at one another. "And how long were you in Korea?"
B.J. took a long drink. "Two. And a little."
"Uh huh," Salvatore said. "Honey, that's not a wife, that's a pen pal."
"Hey!" B.J. said.
"Delicate as a nuclear rocket, this one." Gabe rolled his eyes. "He means some of us can play pretend longer when we're far away from the thing we're avoiding, you know?"
B.J. thought. "What do you mean?"
"Well, like they say, absence makes the heart invent fondness."
"I mean," B.J. said, "do lots of homosexual men marry women?"
Gabe pulled an overdramatic face. "Oh, honey, are you living under a moonrock? Like that -- Sal, what was that movie, about the fishy aliens that lived in the moon-cave? That's what he is, he's a fish-alien."
B.J. was still picking at this idea. He wasn't a unique kind of domestic monster, like a laundry sock demon or an under-bed child eater. He ruined his marriage, but had other guys done the same thing? Might there be an explanation for his behavior besides pure selfishness or weakness or lack or morals? If so, maybe his inner Jiminy Cricket could see fit to letting him off the hook for the destruction his wanton abandonment wrought.
"Why do they do it?" B.J. said.
"Well, why did you?" Salvatore said.
"I . . . don't know how to answer that," B.J. said. I left my family because I'm a selfish person.
"Yes you do," Salvatore said. "You reached a point that you couldn't lie to yourself anymore. Not just when you stopped wanting her, but when the idea of being with her for life scared the living shit out of you. Did you lay awake at night and feel the future sitting on your chest like a iron block?"
"You're so dramatic--" Gabe started.
But B.J. said, "Yes."
Gabe looked away from his lover to B.J., surprised.
"I did," B.J. said. "I used to walk along the bluffs because I couldn't breathe. And I think I was looking at . . . freedom. Open sky and the big, wide ocean."
In his peripheral vision, B.J. was aware that Asa and the other brightly costumed men has moved off to another table. Sal and Gabe had sacrificed their fun night to comfort him. How many people would do that for a stranger? They were drunk old men saying pretty words, but the words felt so true. B.J. could hear his old pastor give warning: the devil dresses up lies like pretty truths. But when was the last time the church's God had given him any comforting goodness? Years -- a lifetime since he became a soldier. Maybe the path he was seeking led through his own heart -- the knowledge he felt to be as true and real as the faith he felt in himself.
Gabe covered B.J.'s hand. "Do you still feel frightened at night?"
B.J. nodded. "Sometimes. Often. Almost every night."
Gabe plucked Sal's lapel. "Honey, do you have . . ."
Sal pulled a card out of his jacket. He squeezed B.J.'s hand as he passed it. "That's our psychiatrist. You can trust him."
Meaning the psychiatrist was a homosexual, B.J. understood; he didn't confine his homo patients to hospitals or force barbaric "treatment" on them; B.J. could confess his deepest-darkest without fear the doc would report back to his family, employer, or the police. B.J. glanced at the card and put it in his own pocket. Even if he didn't need another shrink, just the name was more precious than a magic amulet found in a dragon's lair.
"Thank you," B.J. said. "But I don't know if a shrink can help me."
"He's got guilt," Gabe said.
"Leave him alone," Salvatore said.
"I don't have guilt," B.J. said.
"You do so," Gabe said. "Peaches, your marriage was going to break up anyway. Or else it wouldn't have."
"Everyone deserves love and passion -- sex is a mitzvah," Sal said. "If you aren't loving and desiring your wife, then you were breaking your marriage vows the same as if you had gone to bed with someone. If you can't do that for her, then you should let her free to find a relationship where she is loved, cherished, and desired."
"Everyone deserves to get off," Gabe said.
"Daily," Salvatore said.
"At least," Sal said. "And with the person they love. If that's a man for you, then let it be a man. We are sexual creatures -- we're not homosexual or heterosexual, we're just sexual. And there's nothing wrong with exploring that."
"And a lot of things wrong with repressing it," Gabe put in.
"So!" Gabe and Sal slapped either of B.J.'s thighs at the same time. He jumped and spilled his drink.
"With whom shall we send you home tonight?" Sal and Gabe turned him around in his chair.
"Darling in the denims has been watching you," Gabe said. He unsubtly smoothed Sal's hair behind his ear and gestured to a man over Sal's shoulder -- a boy, really, a delinquent leaning against the bar with his motorcycle boot friends.
"I don't think so," B.J. said.
"What do you like?" Gabe said.
"They're all here," Sal said.
"Like a deli counter."
This was getting disturbing. B.J. didn't often pick people out of a crowd.
"I don't know . . ." B.J. scanned the crowd, or what was left of it. Nothing stood out. "Tall, I guess. Not too much smaller than me. Dark hair. . . ."
"Well, this deli is closing soon, so how about the next capicola who wanders over?" Salvatore said.
The two older men slipped out of the booth. Leaving B.J. alone with the hero type who just crossed the floor to make his spirited campaign.
"Hi, I'm Chris."
He had a slender build, a boy next door face, close cropped copper curls and wore glasses. He wasn't dressed like a woman or a cockatoo.
"Hi, I'm B.J."
"Buy you a drink?" He spoke with a New York accent and looked decently intelligent.
Though B.J.'s house was a seventy cent cab ride away, he didn't volunteer it. Chris "knew a place," took his car to a reservoir. He kissed like it was a competition and he had his clothes off faster than he wanted B.J.'s off. B.J didn't want to get fully undressed anyway, fearing cops would suddenly emerge from the dark like The Shadow.
It was awkward. It was practice sex. B.J. had enough halfway through and asked to be driven home.
They didn't speak on the drive to North Beach. He wasn't upset. He didn't expect a stranger who approached him in a club to rock his world off its axis; that hadn't been the point. Chris reinforced his belief that intimacy was more important than sex -- that friendship meant more than making it. The point was, there were other homos out there and he could be a part of that community and not die. He could have a sex life without Peggy or even Hawkeye and enjoy it. He wasn't doomed to alcoholism and suicide. He could have a good life.
It was in that mood that he found Hawkeye Pierce washed up on his doorstep.
Dec. 25, 1955
Dear B.J. --
First of all, I'm sorry. I told myself bringing you to that dodgy bar was helping you, but I think I was doing something self-serving and cruel. I'm sorry. You weren't ready for all that homo noise and I pushed myself on you and probably ruined our friendship. I wasn't myself, I was going through something. I haven't written because I was so angry and ashamed of myself and, well, cards on the table -- I may appear the confident Lothario, but I was just as scared as you said I was.
I just want you to know that's the real reason I haven't written and how sorry I am. I hope you can forgive me. I guess that's all I have to say. If still taking applications for friendship, I'm applying. I hope you answer this but I understand if you can't.
How are you? You don't know how many nights I counted ceiling tiles and wondered about you. Erin must be starting kindergarten now. Did you work it out with Peg?
a. m. l.,
While B.J. stood in his Spartan living room reading the letter, Hawkeye fidgeted in the center of his pile of luggage. He looked like a witch about to be burned at the stake, his mess the kindling. Hawkeye always traveled heavy.
B.J. closed the letter. "It didn't work out with Peg. Didn't you get my postcard?"
Hawkeye shook his head. "I've been a little out of it."
B.J. studied him. "Are you okay?"
Hawkeye shrugged. "I'm much better now."
"What happened?" B.J. sunk down onto the sagging couch, his only living room furniture. There wasn't a lot of extra money for filling up a new house.
Hawkeye looked away, nervous. Before he could start babbling, B.J. said, "Hawkeye, it's late, if you're not going to give me a straight answer, I'd like to just got to bed."
Hawkeye moved fast for a man weighed down by his belongings. "No, wait! Beej, look, I just need a place to stay, okay? That's all."
"Why? What is this, Hawk? Did you think you could put a bookmark in me and we'd be at the same place when you picked me up again? Do you have any idea what I've been going through out here? Obviously not, if you haven't been reading my letters."
B.J. shoved off the couch, past Hawkeye.
"Of course not!" Hawkeye said. "I'm not asking for anything -- except, obviously, room and board."
B.J. turned around, squinting in the bright hallway light. "You want board, too?"
Hawkeye affected that stance B.J. now knew to recognize as 'camp.' "Just a little board. A toothpick. You can't spare a toothpick for the guy who kept you blind and insensate the entire Korean war?"
B.J. folded his arms, stared at the scuffed toes of his brown leather shoes. "Pick up your gear." He walked upstairs, not bothering to see if Hawkeye followed. He was too goddamned tired for hostessing.
"I can stay?"
"I've got a spare room."
"Expect a chore list with your breakfast in the morning. In fact, make me breakfast, I'm feeling peckish in six hours."
Hawkeye followed B.J. up the stairs. On the landing, B.J. turned, nearly bumping into the overloaded, skinny man.
Hawkeye gazed up at him, wide, sleepy eyes unfocused. "I told my dad everything. I was such an idiot."
"For telling him?" B.J. said.
Hawkeye's grin broke across his face. "No. For not telling him sooner."
End How it Happened pt 2.
To be continued.
a/n: Thanks to the William Way Center in Philadelphia for the research.
Read more of my fic at ficbyaura218
DVD Extras: This is the first BJ/Hawk fic I wrote, it's been sitting on my hard drive for almost a year. I wrote it in narrative -- like a fairy tale -- first, and then just let it sit. I felt like it wasn't sophisticated enough to be 'real.' I had to get to know postwar BJ and Hawk by writing all those other stores (and more you haven't seen) before I could go back to the beginning. Like flying a plane, the hardest part of a fictional romance is getting it off the ground.
What you've seen of the Gentleman Doctors universe is like 15% of what I've posted, planned, and scribbled. I knew how things happened before they were solid and ready to be read by you all, but I always intended to keep the details I'd planned as my personal canon. So, this is how BJ met and befriended the Bette and Jo that Hawkeye suggests as surrogates in "Maybe Baby." Renting the Stinson Beach house is why BJ is financially solvable enough to afford the Yellow Victorian plus a divorce and child support.
An upcoming section of the How it Happened arc brings back an old friend. This was pulled out of the second epic Gentleman Doctors fic I wrote which frankly got ahead of itself, so I'm pulling out subplots as their own plots.
Let me put it this way: who left the 4077th with as little personal growth possible? Just sayin, that's fanfic gold, that is.