The Gay '40s

A man named Flaming Youth cruised the tearooms, drag weddings hit Lake Minnetonka--and everyone remained cloistered in the closet: An excerpt from Ricardo J. Brown's memoir of gay life in old St. Paul

"Petah!" he kept screaming at people, mimicking a greeting Bette Davis had used so effectively in one of her movies. "Petah!" he screamed out over the lake as he ran down to the shore, clutching his breast and scanning the horizon as if searching for a lost ship.

He stood dramatically on the beach, a pink figure of great tragedy, until his exasperated host finally coaxed him back inside. He kept smoking cigarettes, making jerky movements with his arm and spitting out little clouds of smoke, just like Bette Davis. There were brown stains on the fingers of one of the long, white gloves he was wearing. Sometimes he tucked his bouquet of red roses under one armpit while he lit up another cigarette.

The bride and groom, perfect little wedding-cake figures, were cute, the bride in an enormous white dress and veil crowned with seed pearls, and the groom in a formal cutaway. Yet they and the two other bridesmaids were upstaged all afternoon by Bette Davis, who came down the aisle with one hand on his hip, twitching his hips and shoulders, and rolling his eyes. He stopped in mid-aisle and announced that due to the seriousness of the occasion he would not smoke during the actual ceremony. We shrieked with laughter.

Tim Lane

The fellow who acted as the minister, in borrowed white collar and black suit, listed an uncle who was a priest as his reflected credentials to perform the ceremony.

There was champagne, a white, three-tiered wedding cake with pink roses, and little silver dishes filled with pastel-colored mints and mixed nuts.

The guests all kissed the bride and groom, and in all the commotion, the screaming, the hugging, the laughter, the loud music on the record player, only the groom looked subdued. He looked wistful, even rather tragic, anxious for his bride and bravely determined to make the best of things.

I was unsure about the whole performance, sympathizing with the dilemma of the groom and slightly shocked at this sacrilege of a wedding although I laughed as hard as everyone else. I made the mistake of mentioning my doubts when I was talking to a slim, good-looking blonde from Minneapolis, who dismissed my provincialism with an arch, "Well, of course, you're from St. Paul."

Lucky was also irritated with me when I tried to explain my feelings on the way home.

"Why do you want to make a big thing out of it?" he demanded. "I thought it was kicky."

The glow was obviously off our romance. I had seen a side of Lucky that had shocked and angered me, and he, in turn, had discovered a flaw in my character; I was a liar with imperfect teeth. Yet we still felt a commitment to one another, we were a couple, we were partners, lovebirds, as Dickie Grant would say. We were one of the steady couples in Kirmser's. We were glued together by what other people expected. And, of course, we still had sex, carefully and without conversation, in that little bedroom across the hall from his mother's room.

by Ricardo J. Brown

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