Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Fourteen: The Cowboy in Me" (Pt.4)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 25th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

I finally come out of the closet both at work and within the vibrant gay communities in Tucson and Phoenix, and I begin exploring slowly at first what it means to be a sensual gay male.

"Go See Gilbert"

I had come out at work at Old Tucson the prior October. Actually it was Nancy who had gotten the ball rolling. Leave it to her to steal my thunder. During the month of October at Old Tucson Studios it’s like December for normal retailers. The park gets all decorated up for Halloween and they have their big to-do called Nightfall, but they make their year during that one month. And it’s fun! And EXHAUSTING for the workers. But FUN. Normally this would be a problem for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I knew I was on my way out the door anyway, and I was gay, so what the hell! Still hadn’t done anything. But what’s one more strike. I knew by then I was leaving them in December anyway.

Everybody who works Nightfall has special assignments. I was working the Mine, of course, which was decorated up in a special pirate motif. I was all dolled up in a ghostly pirate costume as “Patch-eye Pete” with the greatest accent you ever heard. We'd made up some cockamamie story about how the mine had been invaded by pirates, I can’t recall the complete wild tale we’d invented, but it was cool, and, of course, all of this had to be dress-rehearsed a couple of nights before the public was allowed in the park. We did this before our family and friends. By this time I’d become good friends with Gilbert, the guy who was the head of the food and beverage department who was undoubtedly gay. Earlier that summer the studios had opened the park on the weekends to karaoke on Friday night, and, well, I’d never done karaoke before. Nancy and I started coming out and I fell in love. Not with Gilbert who ran the cantina where it was held, no, though we became good friends as a result. No I fell in love with karaoke, and the rest as they say is ancient history. I was hooked.

However, on this first night of the dress rehearsal I’d decided I was going to come out to Gilbert. So I was all dressed up as Patch-eye Pete looking all over the place for him, and somehow Nancy managed to locate him first, and she told him! About ten minutes later Gilbert comes up to me from behind and grabs my hand and shakes it and says, “ Hey, congratulations Man! Nancy just told me!”

“She wasn’t supposed to do that,” I complained. “I was supposed to tell you.”

“Oh well.” And we both laughed, as Nancy came wandering up behind.

Gilbert never outed me to anyone else. He let me break it to everyone on my own at my own pace. When I told some of my best friends there they were absolutely astonished. It took a couple of them the better part of a day to believe me. One of them, Sean, I had to send over to Gilbert’s office for absolute verification. “Go see Gilbert,” became the stamp of approval for any of the doubters and more than a few did, because as word spread some thought this was a back lot punk going on. Eventually everyone got used to the idea. And Nancy and I kept showing up for karaoke. And Sean and I sang more than a few songs together.

BOTOP (for the Polar Bear in Me)

After I left Jehovah’s Witnesses and about the time Nancy and I were putting the house up for sale, I decided it was time that I started getting acquainted with the community, the gay community. The only thing I knew how to do was sing, and I’d become a newly- minted karaoke singer, and they sing karaoke in bars, and there are gay bars in Tucson. And so I let my fingers do the surfing through the Internet to locate one, IBT’S, that offered karaoke on the weekends in the afternoons and evenings at a decent hour which worked better for me. Now I’ve been to bars, but never to a gay one, and never alone, but I was getting bolder in my old age, and so I told Nancy where I was going, what I was doing, what time I’d be back, and she said okay, and off I went.

I walked into IBT’S on 4th Avenue in Tucson and strode in dressed in my finest cowboy duds. (One can do this in Tucson and not look too out of place. There are times I really miss it.) The place was really buzzing, and someone was already singing. I located the catalog and some familiar songs. I don’t remember all that I sang that afternoon, but I recall the first one, Hello Again, by Neil Diamond, because when I started singing a lot of the buzz stopped. People paid attention, and for the next few years I became a fair fixture many weekends, and I made a few lifelong friends some of whom remain with me on Facebook long since I’ve moved from the area.

Eventually, I delved deeper into the community joining a local service group The Bears of the Old Pueblo. If one is to classify a man by physical body type (as gay men are prone to do) a large, beefy, hirsute man would be called a bear. This would be me. And because mine is all white, I would be called a polar bear. And now you know.

With BOTOP we would have weekly game nights, potlucks, sometimes we’d have a pool party, go out and play mini-golf, go to a show, picnic, whatever. Sometimes we’d just hang out at the coffee bar. But in this way I was getting to know other guys. Other men. And in this way, because I was also separated from my wife, and I was releasing myself from my marital vows (Nancy at this point had little choice even though we had not yet filed for divorce), I felt free to start experimenting though it would be very, very slowly.

What is It With Me and Guys Named Mike?

As the months wore on and the weather got hot in Tucson we could always count on at least one pool party per month for BOTOP. Several in the group had nice pools in their backyard which afforded privacy for clothing optional fun. And so many of us would kiss in the hot tub and put our hands in forbidden places. Nobody cared. Many dared. Everybody knew I was separated, and a couple of the guys were only too happy to help me learn a few things, and learn I started doing. I got over my shyness rather quickly with a little help from my friends.

I’d also met new friends on the Internet. Two of them were a couple who lived in Tempe. They were Catholic, but part of a new catholic movement, an American catholic church (a branch which accepts gays . . . yes there is a branch), and Bruce and I would have great discussions online, theologically and otherwise. To make a long story short, Nancy and I were getting rid of some of the furniture and stuff we had, because it was about the first part of May, the house hadn’t yet sold, but it would eventually, and when it did (we’d had bites) she would be moving back to Michigan to live with Karyn and Roy (her aunt and uncle), and I’d be getting my own apartment. We needed to get rid of some of this stuff, and we’d decided to give some of it to Bruce and Stephen. Over the past six months I’d become so close to Bruce online, and I just knew that they really could use it.

So we agreed on a day when I could take this stuff up to them in Tempe, May 6th, 2006. A day which shall live in infamy. I will never, ever forget it. I loaded up the backend of the Jeep with the stuff I had for the guys, and I drove up to Tempe, carefully following their directions, and I found their trailer park again. This was the second time I’d been there. It wasn’t easy to find. But I did, and we had a pleasant visit. They were really glad to receive our castoffs. They’re the greatest guys.

After I left, I decided that since I was in the Phoenix area and since this was the night before my 55th birthday and since this would be the first birthday I would have been able to celebrate since I was 22 years old (Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays), I chose to drive into central Phoenix and visit my favorite Country & Western gay bar in the whole wide world, Charlie’s. I wasn’t about to drive home drunk, nosiree. But I could make one beer last a long damn time!

Now, of course, as always, I was dressed in my finest cowboy duds. I swear I had not planned this, but for pretty much all of my Arizona years this is the way I dressed, and that’s why I’m called Kowboy Ken. So I arrived at Charlie’s and walked up to the bar, and I took a seat on one of the stools near the center. One of the bartenders took my order, and after a couple of minutes a cute younger man returned from the restroom to the half-filled mug of beer and vacant stool next to me on my left striking up a lively conversation with the same bartender who was busy filling my mug. A regular. The bartender brought me my beer while they kept up their conversation, I don’t recall now what about, but eventually they included me in it. They were the nicest pair. Eventually the handsome dude on the stool to my left and I struck up a lively conversation, and it became like we’d known each other for years. He was one of those guys. I’m one of those guys. I think there was an angel sitting somewhere on the bar near us that day. There had to have been.

Somewhere fairly early on in that conversation the subject got turned to religion, and I mentioned that I had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . for 30 years. His mouth fell open! WIDE. He’d been raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In San Diego. His mother and sister still were, and they were twisting his arm still to do something about it though he’d never been baptized into it. He told me his name was Miguel, I told him I was Ken. He was 36. I was 55 the next day. Happy Birthday! And it suddenly became Old Home Week as we told each other our hurts, our pains, and our histories for the next hour.

As Miguel told me his story he looked like a Spanish version of Michael the Archangel, positively angelic. He was beautiful, spiritually and physically. I was sitting there talking to an absolute dreamboat finding myself at times getting more lost in his eyes. He looked like he could have stepped right off the cover of GQ. And this man was talking to me? But that’s all I was doing. Talking. I was keeping my hands in my lap or on my beer or on the counter. When all of a sudden . . .

The conversation stopped.

Miguel smiled. His right hand swiftly came up to my white bearded chin, grabbed my face, and he pulled me to him planting a huge kiss on my thick trembling lips. He backed up for a moment, giggled a teen-age giggle while examining the stark look of surprise on my face which quickly changed to confused glee, and then he moved back in for seconds which I hurriedly and hungrily responded to. It was several minutes before we came up for air again. What followed was a two-hour period of tonsil hockey which I seriously doubt has ever been equaled in Charlie’s by anyone since. I’m surprised they didn’t throw us out! We were a hell of a spectacle! Grandpa & Cisco. But damn if that wasn’t the best birthday present since the Abbey Road sign. Oh, yeah. It was probably the first present I could remember since the Abbey Road sign. Oh well.

He later said, after we’d composed ourselves, that he had a thing for older gentlemen, and especially ones in cowboy gear. I was in his wheelhouse. And that was the day I found out how great a kisser I could be. Damn!

What is it with me and guys named Mike?

We went home separately that evening, and though we talked a couple more times on the phone, we never saw each other again. We’ve lost track of each other. It was one magical evening, one I shall never forget.

You see I was growing up. Fifty-five and still growing up. Still learning how to fly.

It had happened only a week earlier. Just a week before my 55th birthday. One of my friends from BOTOP had alluded to the effect, Ken don’t you think it’s time you’re not a gay virgin anymore? And I’d agreed with him. So, I’d visited him at his home. We’d had lunch. And then after lunch we explored, and while I won’t go into details who did what or what exactly happened, it was beautiful. I could finally say that I was a fully functioning gay male, that I had gone all the way. And I was still 54! Not yet 55! Oh big deal!! But I eventually let Nancy know, gently so, that the deed had been done. That the marital bonds had been broken. This would be a big deal to Jehovah’s Witnesses, because only in this case could she ever remarry within their faith should she ever choose to do so after we got divorced. She received the news well, at least to me . . . on the surface. She said she was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

All Things Must Pass

Later that month,, I left my employment at Old Tucson Studios. All things must pass. My cowboy days were over. I was going to miss this job more than any other I’d ever had. However, I’d been employed there for 15 months, and I’d still received no pay raise, plus they were cutting everybody’s hours for the summer season. I was told to expect to put in no more than 10 to 12 hours per week until the fall and then they would reassess.

Nancy and I were certain that the house was about to sell, because our nibbles kept getting more solid. And when it sold we both would be moving, plus I would be needing more income, not less. Sure there would be some equity from the house, but we would be splitting that between us, and I couldn’t expect to live on that long, and because of her disability I’d already agreed in principle to pay her a little bit of alimony in our impending divorce which had yet to be filed. So I needed more income.

A couple of the folks in our security department had heard about a reputable security firm in Tucson which was looking for unarmed security guards because their business was expanding, and so I went on out to their office and talked to them. I explained my situation to them, and that at some point during that summer I would be needing a week off to move my estranged wife back to the Midwest. Not a problem. And with that we struck a deal, and I got a considerable raise in pay.

One door closes, and another door opens .

I stopped my cowboy acting career on Memorial Day 2006.

(This concludes Chapter 14. In the next installment, the separation becomes more complete as I move Nancy back to Michigan.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Coming Out, Coming Out Of The Closet, Gay, Gay Community, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
26th Oct 2013 (#)

All your stories are terrific but what would really help readers is if you would link each one to the very first part, and each part should link to the part after itself, this will help readers who want to read through the whole thing, or who want to start at the beginning. I suggest editing each one, and doing this.

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author avatar Ken Painter
26th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks Mark for the suggestion. Very good point. But how do I do that? Can I add a link at the end of each by copy and pasting?

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