I arrived at the government Language School a day before Gregg and knew that he was not going to be pleased. Summer along the northern California coast can be solid fog for days on end. Occasionally there are warm enchanting fogs, at other times they can be cold, wet, damp and miserable. It was the latter and evidently had been hanging on for nearly a week. Assigned to my quarters in the building housing Russian language students, my roommate was to be Dwight, a handsome, somewhat prissy, pedantic young man whose grandparents had originally come from Yugoslavia. He had been born in Riverside, in Southern California, and lived there for much of his life. Hence it was slightly odd that he spoke with a decided British accent. It was immediately established that he enjoyed reading and liked classical music; and hence appeared that the living arrangements would be tolerable to us both.
Gregg had flown in to San Francisco from Boston and then was to take the bus down to Monterey. I knew the times of the three afternoon bus arrivals from San Francisco and was there to meet him as he arrived on the second midday bus. His first words were characteristically Gregg, "Jesus H. Fucking Christ, I'm going to die. I just know I'll catch pneumonia and croak in this climate. You told me it was beautiful here. You call this cold, miserable shit beautiful? Oh, hi handsome, how've you been?"
I thought about commenting that if he insisted on spending all his time clad only in his BVDs, then yes, he probably would catch pneumonia, but recognizing that he was not in the best mood and might not appreciate my humor decided to save my comments for some other time. We took a cab to the Presidio and got him established in his building, which was up the hill from where I was billeted. His encounter with the fellow who was to be his roommate for the next year, Jim, was his second upset in less than an hour. In fact it was closer to a major crisis.
When Gregg entered the room there was this creature flopped out on one of the beds, reading a comic book and listening to very loud rock music. Little Richard was banging on a piano and wailing as only Little Richard could wail. Clothes, most of them dirty, were scattered all over the room since Jim evidently had begun to unpack and then the call of his comic books, he had a stack of the latest, had overtaken him before he got around to putting anything away. With the exception of the first words of greeting, when Jim introduced himself, Gregg remained silent and quickly stowed his bags in his closet. Soon, he turned to me and quietly muttered, "Let's get the fuck out of here before I barf all over the place and, or, have a nervous breakdown." This behavior was not characteristic of super friendly Mr. Greggarious.
In checking with the clerk at the orderly room we discovered that security at the Presidio was almost non-existent and although we were supposed to have them, no passes were really needed for entry or exit. In fact there weren't even any guards at the various entries, except at the main gate, and they were just there for show. So we began walking down the hill and out into the surrounding community in order to find someplace to eat. At that very moment the wind seemed to shift direction and a nice warm breeze blew in from the nearby Salinas valley. The fog began to dissipate somewhat and in the space of a few minutes there was a dramatic change in the climate. Gregg made an acute observation, "Holy Mother of God, you could have your balls frozen and then thawed out at almost the same time in this fucked up place." This was obviously not one of his better days — maybe he was suffering from a minor case of travel fatigue and the painful thoughts of his roommate for the next year certainly didn't help.
There were evidently a number of roads entering the Presidio since this definitely didn't seem to be the one we had entered by taxi an hour or so ago. Almost directly across from the entry there was a bar with considerable activity for a Sunday afternoon. Gregg suggested going to the 'Tavern' there, having something to eat and getting a beer. I attempted to explain that this was California where bars served beer and booze and restaurants served food, and if the bars did serve food it usually wasn't edible. Not only that, but not all restaurants served alcohol since many didn't have liquor licenses. It seemed to be a difficult concept for him to grasp. The bar had an unusual name, The Guilded Cage, and Gregg insisted we at least go in and look around. Neither of us was really prepared for what we encountered.
Once, during my 'education' in Boston, Gregg had taken me to a gay bar, The Black Cat. Since neither of us was interested in that particular scene we had only stayed about an hour, and had never gone back. It was unmistakable that we had indeed just entered a gay bar, and it was also evident that a large number of the clientele were students from the US. Language School right across the street. All of them were in their early twenties and very clean cut. Since the Language School served all branches of the military they could have been soldiers, sailors or marines, though naturally none were in uniform since the place was undoubtedly 'off limits' to all military personnel. Gregg did an abrupt about face and said, "let's get the hell out of here before there's a raid and we wind up finishing our military careers at Levenworth Prison." I was once again presented with the sudden sobering thought that our sexual orientation and mutual love for each other was, in the eyes of the military, grounds for a dishonorable discharge if not imprisonment.
About two blocks away we found a nice small seafood restaurant and they had a liquor license so that we could also have something to drink with our food. The place was quiet with tasteful classical music and a nice cozy atmosphere. Most important the food was excellent and while eating, and playing footsie under the table, Gregg explained that he had had a particularly bad night and day. He'd inexplicably gotten sick on the plane the night before and vomited a couple of times. At the airport he'd gotten on the wrong bus and almost went to Oakland instead of San Francisco. In San Francisco, where he had to change busses for Monterey, he had come within seconds of missing that bus. Now, as he was leisurely savoring an exquisite Lobster Newberg and was on his second glass of a delicious California Chablis, he relaxed and smiled. It was the most beautiful smile imaginable and one that I hadn't seen for nearly two weeks, which at the time had seemed to last for at least an eternity. I was filled with an incredible contentment at being with this very special person once again.
As we walked back up the hill in the deepening twilight it had taken on that magical quality that I had known would eventually occur. The moist air carried the fragrance of the sea, the mist had softened the majestic Monterey cypress and the earlier chill had been replaced by a warm caressing breeze. The colors of nature had become muted, mysterious and enchanting. I was even so bold as to reach over and momentarily take his hand in mine—I knew at this point in space and time he needed a bit of comfort. I glanced at his face, with its soft, broadening smile and noticed the moisture covering his eyes. I knew also that it was a sign of joy.
Since I had unpacked all of my gear the day before I offered to help Gregg unpack and get ready for tomorrow's first day of classes. I also somehow wanted to help him deal with the fact that it appeared he would be living with a slovenly oaf. Upon opening the door to his room the first unbelievable feature was the sound of a soft French ballad emanating from the interior. Then it was evident that there were no clothes on the floor. Gregg actually stepped back to look at the number on the door thinking that perhaps we'd entered the wrong room. No, right number, but what could account for this transformation. The open closet door had obscured the individual behind it . As it closed, out stepped a tall, blond young man, with deep blue eyes and obviously of Scandinavian or Northern European ancestry. It was certainly no surprise when he introduced himself as Sven. He briefly explained that the fellow who had been there earlier had been mistakenly put in the room. He was actually not a language student, but rather a mechanic and attached to the Motor Pool, so he had since gathered his stuff and gone to the barracks of the service personnel. My heart suddenly skipped a couple of beats when I realized that Gregg was going to spend the next year living in the same room with this young Nordic God. I felt a little pang of jealousy. Was this blond giant going to steal my handsome Mediterranean lover? Then I noticed Sven's wedding ring. Whew, I thought to myself, that was a close call.
I began to help Gregg unpack and arrange his things. Gregg asked Sven about the record he was playing. It seemed that he had brought it with him from Paris. He had been studying architecture in Paris when he received word that he was about to be drafted and would have to return to the US. He also explained that he had then decided to enlist in order to take advantage of the opportunity to study and although it would entail being in the military longer, at least the time wouldn't be wasted.
At this point Gregg and Sven began to converse in French. Since I had taken two semesters of French before entering the Army I could, for the most part, follow their conversation and Gregg knew I was not feeling completely left out. Sven, not knowing this, suddenly stopped and asked if I understood French. When I responded, in French, that I understood a little, he beamed and immediately invited both of us to dinner the coming weekend. His wife, who was living in nearby Oceanside, was French and still having difficulty with English. Then he explained that he had met his wife in a cafe in Paris where she was singing. He had fallen in love immediately and asked her to marry him the day after he met her. Gregg and I exchanged knowing glances and I knew from the broad smile on his shining face that he was beginning to change his attitude about his stay in California. I left the two new friends to continue becoming acquainted with the explanation that I still had a few things to arrange before tomorrow. As Gregg was closing the door he reverted to Greek, softly said "Bye. I love you—see you tomorrow" and I hoped that the Scandinavian hadn't spent any time in the Mediterranean.
When I arrived at my room I discovered that Dwight, the Yugoslav, was listening to Barber's Adagio for Strings. Hauntingly beautiful and also a bit sorrowful and melancholy; yes, definitely poignant and lovely. Though not exactly party music. From the records on his bed it looked like he was about to enter a Scandinavian period. What the hell was going on, I'd just left one Scandinavian a few minutes ago? He had pulled out a number of records to play and all of them were either by the Norwegian, Grieg, or the Finnish composer Sibelius. Although I wasn't familiar with all of their music, what little I had heard seemed to be a bit somber; no, lugubrious bordering on morose would have been a more adequate description. But then it was a hell of a lot better than a steady diet of Little Richard.
Since Dwight was also from Southern California we began to exchange tidbits of information about that area. He'd never heard of Alhambra, the community where I lived, but did know the general area, the San Gabriel Valley. I in turn had never heard of the part of Riverside where he lived. And I thought to myself, 'Well this conversation's going nowhere.' He asked where I had gone to college and I replied that it was quite small and hardly anyone had ever heard of it, Mount San Antonio, near the town of Pomona. His soft gray-blue eyes opened wide in amazement, "What a coincidence, one of my best friends at UC Riverside spent a couple of years there. I've been to the campus several times and even met a number of the professors!" Then I asked if perhaps he met the French professor, Dr. Landry? He pursed his lips in an exaggerated manner, in imitation of Dr. Landry's most well known characteristic, and replied, "Mais oui - 'but of course' " His mimicry had been perfect and for the first time we laughed together. Obviously a year with Dwight would be bearable, and might even be enjoyable.
As I was drifting off to sleep I couldn't help but reflect on the day and its seemingly endless number of coincidences. There were so many connecting parts. Almost as if somehow it might fit together in some type of gigantic, universal jigsaw puzzle. About a week before leaving Fort Devins. Gregg spent part of a Sunday afternoon discussing the philosophical concept which came from India; of the cosmic web of Indra, where everything, literally everything in the universe is connected. I also thought back to a curious event that had occurred just the previous week while I was home on leave. I felt it was intimately connected with today's events and perhaps even with the sudden emphasis on the French language. I still didn't understand it and hadn't yet had the time to discuss it with Gregg.
It had been on Thursday evening that I decided that I wanted to hear Gregg's voice, even though I would be seeing him in three days. Considering the time difference it was already 10:30 pm in Boston, but I knew that Bela would still be up watching TV. The phone only rang twice when she answered and informed me that Gregg had gone to visit his aunt Gina and still hadn't returned. "No, Bela there's no problem, just had something to ask him, but it's nothing special and I can talk to him when he arrives at the Presidio on Sunday." A few more pleasantries, a promise to return as soon as possible and then she said, "Te amo, ciao." I told her that I loved her too. It was always special when she said 'I love you.' in Italian.
Later that evening still suffering the pangs of absence and yearning to be near Gregg, I was seated at my desk, almost in the dark since there was only the illumination of a small bedside lamp on the other side of the room. Actually I was exhausted from the constant round of visiting friends during this last week. Staring off into space, my mind was almost blank. Suddenly, and without warning, I was transported to a different time and place. I was seated at a small table and had been writing, quill in hand, but instead of the light of an electric lamp there was a candle in front of me. Most curious was that when I looked at a mirror on the wall in back of the table I saw a woman writing the letter. I happened to glance at my hand and the fingers was small and thin and then as I touched my head I could feel my hair and knew it was an elaborate wig. Looking down at the paper I noticed the date of 1863, the letter was in French and I knew it was to my sister. Within the episode, which probably lasted no more than a few minutes I was cognizant of the great sadness and remorse at what had been written. It was as if the entire grief and unhappiness of the universe had suddenly been mine to bear. In looking at the mirror once again, my eyes were rimmed in red and were very puffy. Then came the realization that Phillipe was dead. He and the other occupants of the carriage had been killed when it overturned and rolled down an embankment. How would it be possible to continue with life; for now there was no reason for living. That was what I had been writing. It was signed Michele. A sudden realization that I was Michele. Then as unexpectedly as it had begun it was over. I was once again seated at my own desk in my own room. The occurrence was somewhat unnerving since I had never before experienced something that seemed so real and yet was obviously a fantasy or a figment of my imagination. And I couldn't shake the all pervading sense of despair and doom; it was like a black cloud that had penetrated my being and was sucking the very life from my cells.
It had continued to haunt me and I had wanted to talk to Gregg about it, but today just didn't seem the proper time to do so. He was having enough trouble dealing with the transition to the newness of Monterey and I didn't want to saddle him with my bizarre fantasy. Still not asleep and I had to be alert tomorrow on my first day of school. This seemed to be connected to the gigantic jigsaw puzzle; only I didn't know if it was one of the missing pieces or perhaps a separate part of the whole which had a major piece missing. Who is/was Michele? Obviously I was Michele. Does it have a connection or am I just wasting precious minutes when I should be sleeping .....Morpheus, where are you?
After a lengthy orientation session for all new students, there were approximately 30 of us, the various groups went to their respective class areas. At this particular time there were groups opening in Russian, Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Turkish. The year at the Language School would approximate actually having spent considerable time in the country of the target language. There were only 5 or 6 students per class and six different class sessions per day. Each hour long session was taught by a different teacher who was a native of the country. Each language group was billeted in a separate area and all the students of one language group ate together, went to foreign language movies together, often had food of the target country, even listened to music and radio broadcasts. In short it was almost a complete immersion in the language, extremely effective and undoubtedly also very expensive. Only the US government could afford to be so extravagant.
My particular group for the Russian language was composed of six individuals: Dwight the Yugoslav from Southern California, Peter from San Francisco whose mother was Ukrainian, Ivan from Pennsylvania whose parents were both Russian, Alexander whose grandfather was Polish, and of course my parents were from the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia. That left only Rick, who was from North Carolina and who had no Slavic background. The six of us would spend the next year together, studying, learning and spending our free time together. Also helping each other to get beyond the "burn-out" which we were warned affected every group and usually occurred during the fifth or sixth month of study.
That evening I walked up to Gregg's barracks and found him deeply entrenched in strange oriental symbols and uttering equally exotic sounds. In inquiring about his teachers he replied, "Well, in the first place they're all short, very short. They all have black hair. Decidedly oriental eyes. Most important is that I don't know what the hell they're jabbering about. I think sometimes they might even be speaking English, but I certainly couldn't swear to it."
Sven waved hello with a broad smile and twinkling eyes. With earphones firmly in place, he continued to listen and silently repeat the recorded conversations. I had already finished my homework since the first day's vocabulary was so similar to Slovak I knew it all before leaving the class. It was obvious that Gregg was going to have a much greater challenge since the oriental vocabulary and grammatical structure had absolutely no relationship to any of the western languages. When he finally finished with his homework we went to the Club on the Presidio for a couple of beers and then decided to turn in early. Although he was tired I could see the sparkle in his eyes and knew that for him any intellectual activity was pleasurable, no matter how difficult it might become.
As the first week of our Russian classes came to an end we had established a preliminary pecking order and learned a bit about each other. Ivan, due to his completely Russian parentage, was in the forefront and so far had found the entire process to be a bit of a bore. Both Dwight and I were vying for second place. Peter was still insisting on speaking Ukrainian instead of standard Russian. Alex's Polish background tinged his speech with several sounds, which the Russian instructors found a bit difficult to accept. It appeared that Rick was going to be in for a hard time; both the Russian grammar and several Slavic sounds were perplexing for him to grasp and utilize.
I almost immediately knew that Dwight was gay. No specific confirmation, but it was a suspicion based on certain tell tale features. In fact I could hardly wait to tell Gregg that 'my antenna' had picked it up. Then too there were those specific distinguishing characteristics: his precise manner of speaking, mannerisms that were....well, just different.
As for Ivan, EVERYONE knew he was gay; he wore his homosexuality like a proud badge. He was tall, compactly muscular, blond, with a broad Slavic jaw line and looked completely straight. But if he moved his hand, took a step or opened his mouth, it was more than evident. He had immediately upon arriving discovered three gay bars in the surrounding area. The word was that he had already made The Gilded Cage his second place of residence. I wondered how he got into the military.
Ivan's roommate was Peter. Peter had lived in a community north of San Francisco with his mother who, though born in the US., was of Ukrainian parentage. Evidently his father had been Mexican and disappeared south of the border shortly after Peter's birth. Peter was alternately vivacious and then abnormally quiet for long periods of time.
Rick was originally from North Carolina and arrived at school in a brand new Mercury convertible. It seemed that his family was involved in the tobacco business and was one of the most prominent families in his part of the south. He had a soft southern accent, which he managed to transfer to the Russian language. It was incongruous, but amused students and teachers alike.
Rick and Alex were in the room immediately adjoining the one which Dwight and I shared. Alex was perhaps the most enigmatic of the group. Very shy and reserved, almost painfully introverted. Though friendly and with an abundant smile when approached or questioned, he volunteered little information about himself. He claimed to be 20 years old but didn't look old enough to have graduated from high school. Evidently prior to entering the military he had finished two years at the University of Chicago where he had been majoring in Art History.
Saturday evening Gregg, Dwight and I had been invited to have dinner with Sven and Marielle. She was absolutely adorable. They had found a comfortable, small house in nearby Oceanside and she was learning to adjust to life in the US. She had been in the States less than two months and hence most things were still new to her. Since Sven was required to stay at the barracks in the Presidio during the week she had to discover many things by herself. She had prepared a magnificent Cassoulet, fresh artichokes, salad, French bread and the red wine flowed. Most important, for her, was the fact that the entire evening was spent primarily speaking French. Dwight and I were certainly not as fluent as Sven and Gregg, but the wine helped to lubricate our tongues. Then Sven produced a guitar and Marielle began to sing. With the first song and her lilting, magnificent voice my eyes involuntary filled with tears from the sheer beauty of the moment, and also probably from countless glasses of wine. I had to agree with Gregg that of all the world's languages probably none lends itself so completely to music since it is musical in its inception. Their next door neighbors, Charles and Sharon, dropped by for a bit to enjoy the music. They were a pleasant couple and Charles was also studying at the language school. Since he had already passed the probationary period he was now allowed to spend every night off base.
Although Sven was spending the entire weekend with Marielle he volunteered to take us all back to the Presidio that night. Dwight wanted to visit with a friend who was studying Chinese so he was dropped off at that barracks. As he pulled away from the barracks, Sven remarked, "Well, that worked out well." I was a bit perplexed at his statement. Then he produced a paper bag and handed it Gregg with the explanation, "A little present; it's for the two of you." It was a bottle of Metaxa! He then turned to me and mentioned, "Since I'll be at the house with my wife, you're welcome to stay in the room and even use my bunk if you want to. I know you guys are good buddies and will probably want to sample the Metaxa. Just don't get caught!"
It was one of those beautiful, relatively warm summer evenings with a soft breeze coming in from the Salinas valley and naturally Gregg hardly had one foot in the door before he began his usual disrobing process. I mentioned that he should probably live in Hawaii where he wouldn't have to wear any clothes and he agreed that it was an idea worth considering. He then pulled out two small glasses which I noted were very similar to the breakfast juice glasses used in the mess hall and then he opened the Metaxa. God, that aroma was without equal. He magically produced a couple of cans of coke from his closet. Gregg grabbed me and announced that he had a surprise. More surprises? He then pulled out two records of Greek folk music and explained that he had paid a visit to the library on the Presidio and discovered that they had a large collection of phonograph records. I was beginning to suspect that this little party was too well planned to just have occurred spontaneously. And I asked, "And all this just sort of happened?"
The mischievous twinkle in his eyes was evidence that there was more to this story than I aware of. He put on the record and with the first familiar notes of the bouzouki and a beautiful, ethereal voice that began singing Nafti Yero-nafti, one of my favorite songs, we interlocked arms and toasted. Then I waited for the story, from my absolutely favorite story teller. Like any good story teller he began at the beginning, "Well, remember Sunday night when I said good night to you in Greek?..." At that point I reminded him that he had said something before he said goodnight. "Yea, I said that I loved you and would see the next day, and then I said good night. Well, when I closed the door Sven remarked that I spoke very good Greek for an Italian. I discovered that he had spent a summer in the Mediterranean, first in Italy and then in Greece and Turkey. I assured him that I wouldn't hold it against him that he'd gone to Turkey. Next I had to go through the whole bit about my family tree. Without blinking those big blue eyes he asked me how long we'd been lovers. Needless to say I was speechless, well almost.... and for only about five seconds. So I thought to myself, I can play this little game too and replied, without blinking my big brown eyes, that we'd known each other for only a little over six months in this life, but our previous connection went back in time for centuries."
At this point I reminded him that his eyes were not brown, but as black as tar pits. He responded with, "And yours are green like a swampy algae filled pond." This friendly verbal play prompted a few minutes of poking each other and just being close, something we hadn't been able to do in over two weeks. The story teller continued, "So I was waiting for Mr. Smart Ass's next pointed question when he began telling me about a Swedish lover he had when he first lived in Paris. You know how vague English can be at times since it sort of ignores gender, so at first I thought he meant a female lover, but when he called him Niels I knew he was talking about a male."
"It seems that Sven and Niels spent their first four months together in perfect bliss and contentment as well as a considerable amount of steamy Nordic passion. But then Niels began to have roving eyes, as well as fingers and whatever else it is that roves, spent considerable time "out", but not only that he began to be insanely jealous of Sven. Sven couldn't even talk to the concierge's dog but what Niels knew that there was some ulterior motive and they had these wild, mad scenes, you know like in Lucia de Lammermour, no that's not a good analogy since she was mad because she'd gone crazy. Although it sounds like Niels was a little bonkers too. Well, anyway Sven said that after two months of that he just walked out and never returned. Niels is probably still in some French pension ranting and raving. Hopefully he's crying a little too because it would appear that he's the one who fucked the whole thing up!"
I surmised that Gregg was, as usual, adding a bit to the story, but of course knew it was the prerogative of any good story teller. Then too, the Metaxa was contributing its effect to the tale. The story continued, "Fortunately for Sven, and he really is a super human being, he met Marielle and seems to have replaced boys for girls, well at least one particular girl. The most important thing is that he is supremely content. And you know, he is also so well adjusted, and because of his own personal experience he is open and accepting; knows that we are all individuals and have the right to be who we are."
"So anyway, Sven then said that as soon as we walked in together he knew that we were a couple, not by anything that was said, or because of our appearance, we certainly didn't resemble swishy fags, but when we looked at each other it was the admiring gaze of true lovers. Isn't that nice? Very perceptive that Swede."
"And later there was that small detail when he heard me tell you that I loved you—and this is also interesting. He claims that even if he hadn't understood Greek that he would have gleaned its significance just by the tone of voice that I used. Now all of this was Tuesday night, no Monday night, and I just met this guy. Then he immediately suggested that perhaps you would like to stay here on the weekends when he's with Marielle. He says that everyone deserves to be happy and be with the person they love. Isn't he incredible?" I suggested that since it was nearing 3:00 am that perhaps it was time to go to bed and 'be happy'. Gregg was in complete agreement.
The weeks and then months passed. Sven, Marielle, Gregg and I were together as much as possible. Frequently the four of us would go on explorations to nearby areas, north to the Bay Area—south to Big Sur and even once down to Santa Barbara. But not to L.A. since Gregg had avowed to never again enter that oasis of non-culture. We spent an entire weekend in San Francisco and were thrilled at its crystalline beauty. We rode the Cable cars, went to Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown and of course the Italian North Beach area and for a few moments Gregg thought he was back in Boston. The highlight of the trip was when he stood in front of the Opera House gazing at its elaborate architecture, vowed to come back when the opera season opened later that year, but most significant thing was when he said, "Yes, I think we could definitely live here".
Another weekend was spent with Sven and Marielle exploring the northern counties of Sonoma and Napa, wandering from winery to winery sampling their wares. Everyone agreed that it would be enjoyable doing that every weekend if possible. An especially thrilling moment on that trip was going to the Valley of the Moon and actually seeing the home and work area of Jack London. Gregg appreciated and loved reading American writers even though his special interest was the literature of England and Europe. He often complained that few universities offered courses relating to European literature and as far as the inconceivably vast amount of literature of the Middle and Far East it was almost as if it didn't exist, or wasn't worth considering.
Gregg, due to his continuing study of Korean, had become aware of the previously unknown world of Oriental literature stretching back thousands of years and comprising masterpieces which had been almost completely ignored by the West. Sven confided to me one day, that the Korean instructors had commented that Gregg was not only the best in his particular class, many felt that he was perhaps the best student of the Korean language that the school had ever had. For a couple of months now I had listened to Gregg read and translate, as best he could, works such as 'Kye-won p'il diong' ('Literary Jewels from the Treasure Garden') which he mentioned was written approximately the same time as the Troubadour literature of France.
Since much of Korean literature had been influenced by neighboring China and Japan, his interest branched out to these countries also. In fact he had decided that his next field of study, when school was finally over, would definitely be the Japanese language. He had discovered Japanese poetry and was completely fascinated by the various forms which they used, especially Tanka and Haiku. He loved reading them in translation but wanted to experience them in their original beauty. I had begun to think of him as a gigantic sponge, intent on absorbing as much as his mind could possibly contain. He had once remarked that current psychological theory claimed that humans use no more that three percent of their brain. He was obviously intent on proving them wrong.
I was, of course, being inundated with Russian literature and insisted on sharing my interest and budding passion. From me Gregg learned about Pushkin, Lermontov and dozens of other authors of classical Russian literature. I was also enthusiastic about some of the Revolutionary writers and poets such as Mayakovskii and the new contemporary poet Evgenii Yevtushenko. Upon occasion I would go to San Francisco to the Russian section of town with some of the other Russian language students, where we spent the time visiting the book and record stores, and eating at several of the excellent restaurants. We weren't just studying the language, we were utilizing and living it—making it a part of our being.
After my dramatic little scene at Fort Devins several months before, I had learned to give Gregg space to be himself. I occasionally spent weekends with other friends or just being by myself. He did the same. For me it had added a new aspect to our relationship, that of trust and acceptance of the fact that although we might be lovers, we were also individuals.
Most of the teachers in the Russian department were from pre-revolutionary Russia and hence were somewhat reluctant to wholeheartedly accept contemporary Soviet authors. In fact, some of the them seemed to be trapped in a world of the past. I discovered a book of poems by Yevtusheno and it opened up a world of incredible beauty. The images, and the power within his poems, were magnificent. I went around reciting his poems at the drop of a hat. And the air was filled the music and with those hauntingly beautiful Russian voices. It was as natural to wander around humming 'Polushkye Polye' (Summer Fields) as any of the popular hits on the radio.
Alex was perhaps the most enigmatic student in our six member Russian group. Though exceedingly pleasant with an ever ready smile he continued to be shy and somewhat introverted. One weekend Gregg was expected to attend a Saturday evening 'Korean Night' of food and entertainment presented by the teachers for the students of that department. I asked Alex if he would like to spend the day with me in San Francisco since I wanted to visit one of the Russian bookstores there. I had half expected him to decline, but he immediately agreed. We managed to get a ride north with Rick since his girl friend and her parents were arriving in San Francisco to spend a two week vacation and he was going spend the weekend with them.
It was one of those crystal clear days in that magical city. The sun was brilliant and yet the ever present, cool, ocean breezes regulated the temperature. It was fresh and invigorating, great for walking and exploration. Alex had never visited the Russian section of San Francisco and was obviously captivated by its size as well as semblance to his own ethnic background. After visiting and purchasing books in two different bookstores we decided to have lunch in one of the many Russian restaurants. As we were finishing our meat and mushroom piroshki, I realized that I had never seen Alex so relaxed, nor so talkative. I had also never experienced the intensity of his probing, unnaturally deep, blue eyes.
He began questioning me about my friendship with Gregg. I knew that every one had no doubt noted the amount of time we spent together. I suspected that he was fishing for information, but why? Mere curiosity or was there some other reason? I hesitated in my response to his questions. Hesitated between being completely open and honest, which is what I wanted to do. But I also recognized that it could be dangerous to be too candid. Hence I simply explained that we had been roommates at Fort Devins and had many similar interests; how I had met his family and how much I had enjoyed being with them. It seemed to satisfy his curiosity and he changed the subject. More than two years would pass before I knew the real reason for his questions.
One of the notable features of being a student at this unique school was the fact that in the dining hall one could hear dozens of languages being spoken at the same time. Everyone had friends who were studying different languages and naturally there was lots of interchange of information. It was like a mini-United Nations. Most important it helped to break down the barriers of fanatical ethnocentrism, one could appreciate the uniqueness and magnificence of the cultural differences of all of humanity.
From nearly the first week in Monterey Gregg and I had searched out good restaurants and some of our favorites, due to California's history and ethnic makeup, were those that served Mexican food. This was a new experience for Gregg and he never failed to relish every dish he tried. We were both partial to a small family restaurant "La Cocina", 'The Kitchen', run by Consuela and her daughter Lupita. The food would perhaps not have been considered 'gourmet' by some, but it was consistently delicious. We had gone there so often that we were known as 'clientes' and were often offered special treats that were not on the menu and had been prepared specifically for the family. There was no jukebox, but they always had a Spanish language radio station playing local favorites. Occasionally during the weekend they invited friends of the family to bring their guitars and sing. One Friday evening we had just finished eating some exquisite chicken enchiladas, smothered in a green sauce made of tomatillos, a tart, husked relative of the tomato, mild chiles and served with sour cream and slices of avocado. We had also been drinking a considerable amount of delicious imported Mexican beer. A trio arrived and began playing and singing. It was one of those perfect moments in life when all parts complement the whole. An exquisite evening.
Gregg commented that he had always loved Mexican music since it seemed to touch a very special part of his being. "At times it's almost as if it's a memory, something deep inside my soul wanting to find release; its much more intense than just something which I enjoy. Somehow I know it is a part of my being, much the same as I know that I am part Italian and part Greek. And I feel the same about my deep connection with the French culture."
I remembered having had that very same feeling, many times and with the same fervor. It would be many years before the true, and complete, significance of those thoughts and feelings would finally be revealed.
Gregg pensively continued, "I love some of the German authors and have read a lot of history about Germany but it has never triggered a special feeling of identification. It's interesting, but I have never felt that deep, almost soul touching connection. Switzerland, Poland, or the Scandinavian countries for example, are nice to read and know about, but they just don't carry that same impact. By the way, even though I am learning to speak Korean and appreciate their culture, it is almost totally intellectual. But on the other hand, when I encounter something about Japan it also touches some sort of interior emotional identification. Do you have any idea what I'm trying to express?" Having felt that same type of emotional impact about the cultures of France, Mexico, and Greece I knew exactly what he was saying. I too had been somewhat interested in Japan, but at that point it seemed to be more casual and intellectual. I thought back to my grammar school friend, Kobuko, he was probably as much Hawaiian as he was Japanese. And yet in knowing him perhaps I had allowed the possibility of the orient to become a part of my life.
As we walked back to the Presidio the fog was beginning to drift inland off the ocean. The cypress overhead were becoming enveloped in its protective, misty shroud. Then suddenly the fog was so thick we could hardly see more than a couple of feet in front of us. The perfect time to stop for a nice long embrace; I could feel and taste the fog on his face and lips.