Apparently we don't always know what we look like to others, even if we try to live two lives.
Warren Allen Smith, 80, sat at the corner table looking clean and gray, dressed in dark corduroys, a sweater, an orange oxford shirt, specs, a conservative part in his hair. Above him there were cheap chandeliers, and the place was done up with false flowers and dancing cherubs.
"Nobody wants you when you're old and gray," a drag queen sang.
After cordialities, the old man turned to his former student and asked, "Did you know I was gay?"
"I don't think it was any big secret," his former student said, his eyes large and amused by the question and the atmosphere. No one had tastes and style like Mr. Smith.
"Oh, really?" He seemed disappointed. For 37 years he had lived a dual existence. Half the year he lived in Connecticut as a closeted man, dedicating himself as the model high school teacher. The other half of the year he spent in New York living his secret life, his captain's paradise, he called it. He even threw burning garbage cans at police cars during the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
"I thought nobody knew."
They stood at the bar for a cigarette, and William Allen Smith, editor of "Who's Who in Hell," detective of the paranormal, inspector of the male form and beloved educator, attracted the misfits and fatties, and they poured out their hearts and histories to the aged oracle.
Do you know what it's like growing up gay in Long Island? asked one.
Am I too fat to find a man? asked another.
The teacher listened attentively before offering a hopeful quotation from Truman Capote's English teacher: "The football boys might hate you now, but they'll love you later."