The Sheboygan Flash & My Sunshine Superman
(© 2019 by the author)
Editor: Jerry W.
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
consent. Comments are appreciated at...
Pat scared the hell out of me. He was like the tides. You didn't really notice at first and then I was up to my ears with him in my life. Intense, sensitive, and very much in love, I was overwhelmed.
Singing ‘Sunshine Superman,’ Pat rode into D. C., looking for his field of dreams. We’d have been no more than ships passing in the night had it not been for my landlord Chris, who I rented a room from. It was when Chris brought Pat to sit across from me in Leon’s Chicken Hut, perceptions of myself began to change.
Pat hid his pretty blue eyes behind thick black-rimmed glasses. He stood beside Chris as Chris made the introduction. I was unaware of any dynamic beyond his being new to town. Being in one of the three gay bars in Washington D. C. furnished a clue about who he was.
I was gay and looking to find out what that meant. I’d spent my life with people who would have dropped me like a hot rock had they known I was queer. I wasn’t thrilled with the alternative, being with people like me, who were, for the most part, indifferent to my sexuality. This gave me time to let down my guard and curb my anger with the world I was born into.
I wasn’t looking for anyone. I was with someone in the context of being with someone. It was a loose confederation established by our mutual attraction. When David and I were together, we became a single thing. It was as easy a thing as I’d ever be, part him part me.
I didn’t know that I was in love with David then, but I was. When I met Pat, I didn’t know that was important. Pat, sitting across from me, smiling, didn’t move as we both drank from our draft beer. I’d met people at Leon’s before. They were all from somewhere else.
Pat was from Sheboygan. It’s the first question in a gay bar, ‘Where you from?’
I didn’t know what love was. I’d been in love with dear darling David for a year by then. It’s a calculation that was made later, after we could talk about our friendship, using the word love without ducking. Neither David nor I was experienced with love.
David and I were friends who slept together on weekends, and we never talked about it otherwise. Love wasn’t easy to identify. Being physically close to someone was good. Holding someone in my arms was good. David wanting to be in my arms was very good. Everything else was optional.
To be in love doesn’t require the word love be said, when you can’t define it. One thing life and time have taught me, after loving four guys, I still can’t define love. It’s always different each time.
It was difficult to understand then, but as long as I was with dear darling David, everything was as good as it would ever be for me. While I managed to love four men down through the years, David was my one true love and soul-mate. Being with him made me better. Being away from him made my heart ache, and always has.
At twenty-two I was a mess and Pat Batt looked at me like I was a double ice cream sundae. What was that about? The look in his eyes, disguised by glasses, looked like what I felt when I looked at dear darling David. That’s how I perceived it.
Trouble was coming. I lacked the sophistication to recognize it or head it off. I wouldn’t be able to soften the blow, because I didn’t recognize love when I was in love. Recognizing someone else’s love was out of the question, especially when the love was for me. No one had ever loved me.
Pat’s smile was relentless. No one ever looked at me the way he did. It took a year for me to know I was in love with David. Pat fell for me between happy hour and last call, which was how long it took him to end up where I lived with a little help from Chris.
My way of handling Pat’s intensity, was to leave, bidding my new friend farewell, but does not absence make the heart grow fonder? I left him looking longingly at me as I beat a retreat out of Leon’s, forgetting I was leaving Chris behind, and he thought it was his duty to complicate my life.
I didn’t need more emotional complications entering my life. Pat was an emotional basket case, searching for the love that would give his life meaning. He was smitten and I walked away, going home.
I fixed something to eat and thought about David. It was a pleasant evening and I wasn’t ready for bed. I finished my sandwich. Dear darling David was off with his friends. David was always with his friends. It was our biggest obstacle. Every argument we ever had began and ended with David’s friends. I wanted to be with him all the time. He wanted to be with me when it suited him. How nice for him.
At a little past eleven the front door opened and in walked Chris.
“Hi, Rick, I want you to meet our new roommate,” Chris said with an evil little grin.
Pat Batt followed Chris into the house with his oversize suitcase in hand. He was all smiles and delighted to be there. Heading off misery had just become impossible. The idea it was time to find a new place to live crossed my mind, but I wasn’t moving that night.
We’d said goodbye but it wasn’t quite so easy to let go of Pat. I don’t know if I felt sorry for him or if the feelings ran deeper, because the guy liked me so much. I had never been all that likable before. It was a little confining and made it harder to breath. The house as suddenly too small.
“How are you?” he asked, sounding sincere.
“Fine,” I said.
I knew Chris well enough to know money had crossed his palm to achieve this outcome. He wasn’t a warm hearted person. Which one of them made the suggestion, I couldn’t be sure, but it was ill-conceived.
I should have gotten up and gone to my room, closing the door behind me, keeping it closed, but I couldn’t be that unkind. Therefore I was nice, and nice was the wrong way to go. He was my roommate after all. Being nice is what you are to roommates, if you’re nice.
Nice to Pat looked a lot like I approved of his being there. My displeasure over his presence wasn’t with him; it was with Chris. Pat’s being nice made not being nice impossible. There was no way out, until I could find another place to live, but wasn’t moving out cruel?
Letting Pat down easy and not hurting him any more than necessary was a good idea. It wasn’t his fault he’d been allowed to move in with me, but Pat wasn’t going to be let down easy. Pain would be the only thing strong enough to break the spell. We were destined to create more pain for each other than we knew existed, while we were being nice to each other.
Everything was easy then, compared to how difficult it became. Liking Pat was no help. Trying to love two guys at the same time was an invitation to an asylum. I had trouble loving one guy at the same time.
An hour after we met, I stood up, shook his hand, saying, ‘It was a pleasure to meet you,’ and I walked out of his life. There was no complication, until Chris brought him home. I wasn’t prepared for Pat living with me. He was nice. I wasn’t available.
“Hello,” I said, standing up to shake Pat’s hand again. “I’m happy to meet you.”
“Me too,” he blushed and his eyes didn’t leave me.
“That looks heavy. You can put it down,” I said, as he held the big suitcase in front of him.
“I’m from Sheboygan. That’s in Wisconsin,” he said, being casual.
“I know. You told me three hours ago. I didn’t figure it moved.”
Chris laughed and Pat looked horrified. I said it nicely. I didn’t mean to insult the guy. It would take work not to hurt Pat’s feelings, but tomorrow was my day with David, and Pat wasn’t going along no matter how nice he was.
There we were, just the three of us. Chris was happy as a lark. He was the matchmaker. He’d seen David once but he didn’t know how involved we were. Chris wasn’t a guy I told about my private affairs. Now he was creating my private affairs. Maybe he was expecting a tip.
“Want to go to breakfast,” Pat asked, as I stood peeing in the bathroom the next morning. “I was about ready to shower.”
“I’ve got a date. Sorry,” I said, ignoring his forwardness.
Chris had his own bathroom. I’d have to remember to close the door now that we had a roommate.
“What time. A boy’s got to eat, you know? You aren’t going before breakfast. I don’t know anyone here but Chris, and he’s still in bed. I’m hungry now.”
I took him to a diner a mile from the house.
“What do you do?” he asked, fishing for my story.
“Dairy queen,” I said, watching his reaction.
He swallowed an awkward piece of sausage. It hung in his throat. I handed him my water to help with the coughing.
“I’m a milkman. Dairy queen at Leon’s? It’s a joke, Pat,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, happy it was. “I can’t eat all this sausage. It’s very good. Take a piece. I don’t like being wasteful.”
I ate his extra sausage. We sipped coffee. He smiled. I smiled.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
He shrugged and left it there.
Pat wasn’t handsome. He wasn’t unattractive either. He was young, but in an old sort of way. Was he old enough to have loved and lost?
I drove Pat home and I went to pick up dear darling David.
Driving headlong into disaster is usually quick. There you are and it’s over right away. With Pat it was a slow ride. He gentled his way into much of my free time. It was time I used to think about David most days.
'Can we go here? Will you take me over there? Are you hungry?’
I was spending all my free time with Pat and I didn't mind. He was nice and I was nice. I knew we were heading for trouble, even when we first became daily companions.
Whenever I came in, Pat was waiting for me. He wanted to go. I had no money to go but it didn't bother Pat at all. He had money and if I wanted to go, we'd go. I thought it was Pat that wanted to go.
“I’d love to see Ocean City before I die,” he said seriously one day. “Would you take m?”
Ocean City was the poor man’s summer getaway on the Atlantic. It was a three to four hour drive, depending on traffic. It’s on Maryland’s eastern shore. It has a little bit of everything for summer fun. There’s a boardwalk, restaurants, arcades, rides, and a million things to do.
Pat was whiter than his tighty-whities. He was intense, and when he wanted something, I gave in relatively easy. No one had ever treated me the way Pat treated me. I liked being liked. No one had ever liked me the way Pat liked me.
At least someone wanted to be with me. I wasn’t the lonely type, but David was with his friends more often than not, and Pat began to use up my free time. I wasn’t complaining.
On the four hour drive Pat sang along each time Sunshine Superman came on the radio. Each time he got to, ‘And I’m going to make you mine,’ he smiled and touched my arm.
I liked the attention. I liked the way he looked at me. I like the way he treated me. I liked that he could make me smile. I didn’t like that I was in love with one guy and seeing another guy. It’s not how I thought it should be. I didn’t think much, but I thought about that.
We came to the skee ball parlor. It’s a hand eye coordination game. You roll the ball up the lane and it can go into round slots marked 10 to 50 points, with the 50 slot being the small center slot. For those who had the touch, and I did, you could hit that tiny 50 slot fairly regularly, and when it did, tickets began cranking out by the dozen..
I scored the 50 points more than half the time and 40 a large percentage of the time. I may not have been skilled at love, but hand eye coordination was my thing, once I was focused on the target. I kept hitting the 50 points slot and the tickets kept cranking out.
Showing off for someone made it more of a challenge. While I had no interest in competing against other guys, I was deadly when it came to me against the machine. I could usually figure out a way to defeat the machine in short order, and I was on a roll that day.
Tickets popped out of the machine at a regular rate, one for each ten points you scored. Pat collected the tickets, dropping in another quarter for me to continue, as he watched with fascination. The tickets usually ended up in the ashtray in my car. Pat took an interest in the tickets, delighted by my success, and seeing the tickets as money.
He kept dropping quarters into the skee ball machine. I kept hitting the 40 and 50 slots most often, muffing it from time to time, and scoring no points. I lost my rhythm for a few balls before gaining my timing back. It was then Pat gave me his plan.
“We can get a stuffed animal if you get me one hundred and fifty more points,” Pat said, dropping another quarter in for three more balls.
He pointed at the back wall, lined with stuffed animals. A point value was under each one.
“Which do you want?” He asked as we looked at the hundred choices.
“That one,” I said, picking one I liked.
I was doing all the work. I wanted one for my effort.
“Oops! That’s another 250 points. We need more tickets. You want to roll again?” he asked, holding the quarter ready.
“Sure,” I said, and we got the tickets we needed for the animal I picked.
Pat held it fondly once it was won.
“Want to go again? There’s a burro with a Mexican blanket I like,” he said. “It’s 1500 points. Can you win that many?”
“Jesus, Pat, that’s a lot of tickets.”
“Oh, if you can’t do it. That’s okay,” he said.
“I didn’t say I couldn’t do it. I said, ‘That’s a lot of tickets,’ which is a lot of money,” I said.
“You let me worry about the money. I can afford it. The way you score on this thing, it isn’t that much. I’d like that burro. It’ll remind me of how much fun we had here.”
Pat watched. He smiled. He held the tickets. He didn’t look like he was having fun, unless being with me was the fun. I found that hard to believe, but I was having fun. Success was fun for me. Someone talking about my success was even more fun.
We were there the entire afternoon. I kept rolling and Pat kept collecting tickets and dropping in quarters, which I began thinking about. Pat paid for everything. Where was the money coming from? We ate out several times a day. He waited for me to come in from work. By that time he knew where he wanted to eat. He invited me to go with him. I went. He paid. I couldn’t afford to eat out once a day.
I’d never had anyone pay for me before. I was flattered but it wasn’t fair, no matter how much money he had, or where he got it. I knew what he was after and I let him know how I felt about that. We were roommates, nothing more. Maybe we were friends by then. It was too soon for me to know.
David wasn’t the easiest person in the world to love, but I did love him. Pat never made me feel like David made me feel, but David never made me feel like I was the most important thing in his life. Pat did. I liked that he liked me but I didn’t like that he loved me, and by that time I was sure he did. I wasn't sure what to do about it.
We left Ocean City with a car full of stuffed animals. There were fifteen or twenty and some of them were huge. Pat didn’t want any of them. They were always all for me and ended up in my room. He’d fondle one and lay on my bed in the evening when he came in to talk. My room had come alive with the color the stuffed animals provided.
David wanted to know where I got all the stuffed animals, when he came. I told him Ocean City. He gave me a hard look and reminded me I’d never taken him to Ocean City. I reminded him he was busy with his friends. That's when we stopped reminding each other.
I made him an accomplice in my partial infidelity to him, reaching for the brown teddy bear I liked most of all, giving it to him. He hugged it and took it home with him the next day. When Pat knew David was staying over that night, he’d gone to the bar with Chris. David and I would leave in the morning before anyone was up.
I didn’t need to keep them separated, but I had no desire to bring them together either. It was always difficult explaining one boyfriend to the other. Putting off an eventual meeting was inevitable. I never knew when David would say, “I’m staying over tonight.”
Pat was a lot of laughs. We were together a lot during the week, when I wasn’t practicing my Dairy Queen profession. I left the house before four in the morning and I was home before two in the afternoon most days, except on the days I stopped to look for David.
Usually I did that the day before one of my two days off a week. When I stopped this time, David said, ‘Let’s go.’ His final words to his mother, as we went out the front door, “I’ll be back tomorrow, Mom.”
I usually found out David was staying overnight when he told his mother, ‘I’ll be back tomorrow.’ What was once a monthly sleepover came more often now. He liked being away from home and he once told me, ‘I should be dead or in jail. If it wasn’t for you I would be.’
It’s as close as David came to, ‘I love you.’ Neither one of us knew what we felt or why we felt that way. We knew we were good together. I knew I wasn’t nearly as good without him. David might have realized that by this time too.
This didn’t figure into the fun I was having with a guy that didn’t need to tell his mother anything, or make time for me when he wasn’t busy with his buds. Since I didn’t know David was staying over, I hadn’t mentioned it to Pat. Pat was my roommate. We were becoming friends. We went out together, because David wasn’t around for me. I didn’t see a lot of trouble with it, but feelings weren’t something I made any effort to understand.
“Who’s this?” David asked, when we came into the living room through the front door.
The living room was almost always empty when we came into the house. Chris was rarely home and we hardly crossed paths when he was.
“Who’s this?” Pat asked, when we came through the front door, where Pat sat faithfully waiting for my arrival.
I hadn’t told him I was going to be late and wouldn’t need his company that afternoon and evening.
“This is David. David this is Pat, my roommate,” I said, waiting to be corrected but I wasn’t.
Whatever they picked up off of one another, it was like two bulldogs arriving at the same spot at the same time, unaware of the other dog until they stood nose to nose. The fur stood up on the back of their necks.
“I’m tired. Let’s go to bed,” David said, looking at Pat when he said it, wanting to claim his territory. “He lives here?”
David was putting two and two together as Pat nodded.
I didn’t introduce David as dear darling David, because I didn’t want to get punched in the mouth. David came from a tough neighborhood. He was a tough guy, who was keeping company with the milkman. When we did go out, he didn’t seem worried about what anyone said.
“Who is he and why was he waiting for you?” David asked, once the bedroom door was closed.
He wasn’t letting it slide and the stuffed animals might have had something to do with it.
“Waiting for me? What makes you say that? He lives here. He gets to sit in the living room if he wants. He’s a nice guy,” I said.
“I bet he is,” David said, not believing it. “Let’s go to bed. Where does he sleep?”
This was the kiss of death after Pat and me. We’d been friends for a couple of weeks, but we both knew Pat wanted much more. Out of sight out of mind worked, until David materialized. Pat was heartbroken. He realized that loving me was futile.
I was stunned by Pat’s reaction to David. We were just having fun.
I felt guilty about hurting Pat. I didn’t ask him to move into the house with me. I tried to be nice but nice was the meanest thing I could be.
I wasn’t giving up David, because I was in love with him. I didn’t know much about love. I knew love was more than being friends.
When I next saw Pat, he cried. The fun was over and Pat realized the dream of winning my heart was over. He wasn't going to make me his. Pat was miserable. I was miserable.
I liked Pat. He was nice. Couldn't we just be friends?
The fun was over and I felt terrible. How could it end up like this? I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. Pat and I were having fun. We were friends but that was only enough for one of us.
I was in love with David and if asked, I wouldn’t lie about it.
“Are you in love with him?” Pat asked.
“Yes,” I said, and he cried.
“Do you want me to go back to Sheboygan?” he asked, when I came in from work two days later.
This time I had to do the responsible thing. I couldn't watch Pat's misery keep growing. Being around me was painful, but he'd endure that pain if I let him. He was in love with me. I wasn't in love with Pat. He was like the tide and I couldn't let him wash me out to sea.
“Yes, I think you should go back to Sheboygan. It’s not fun any more, Pat. You’re miserable. I’m miserable. We can only be friends. This isn’t any fun. It’s not doing you any good.”
He cried harder. I tried to comfort him but only and made it worse. We couldn’t be around each other.
There was a bedroom full of stuffed animals to make sure I didn’t forget him. David hadn’t demanded I dispose of the stuffed animals, but he figured out where they came from. He knew I didn’t buy them.
A dozen roses arrived.
The card read, ‘Love, Pat.’
The flowers made me feel worse. I knew he loved me. I didn’t know what to do about it. He wouldn’t stop crying and it scared the hell out of me. How could I be so stupid to encourage him and then lower the boom on him like that? I was having fun. I couldn’t see any harm in that. It was so easy being nice to him.
He wasn’t going to make it easy. No one sent me flowers before. No one had ever treated me like Pat did. I wanted him to stay and he had to go if we were going to survive our friendship. I wouldn’t leave David. I spent twenty-one years being alone, and having two guys love me was no fun. I wanted my pain to go away.
The Greyhound bus station was no place to say goodbye. The front of the bus said, ‘Chicago.’ I felt like the guy who escorted the condemned man to the electric chair. I wanted to comfort Pat, but I didn’t dare show him any affection.
Pat was silent and solemn. He went through the motions of getting his ticket and putting his bag where it needed to go. Chris, Pat, and I stood beside the bus as it loaded.
“I’ll miss you,” he said, not looking at me.
“I’ll miss you,” I said. “You are a very nice guy.”
This got a sardonic smile out of him.
“That’s me all right, Mr. Nice Guy.”
At the final second he grabbed me and hugged me like he wasn’t going to let go. When it was time for him to go, he shook and cried and held me tight.
“I love you,” he said, kissing my cheek, darting up the steps.
“I know,” I said softly.
We stood beside the Greyhound until it began backing off the curb of the 9th Avenue bus station.
Pat sat beside an open window, looking down at his feet with tears running down his face. He couldn’t look at me any longer. I wanted to tell him not to go, but his staying scared me a lot more than his leaving, and I had to let go.
Love is strange. Liking isn’t loving, but sometimes being liked is better than being loved. It was better the year Pat came to town. It was nice being liked as much as Pat liked me, but feelings were as foreign to me as a stranger from Sheboygan. That’s in Wisconsin.
Pat and I wrote to each other for years and six years later he came back to D. C., inviting me to go on an antique buying trip with him to Provincetown. Pat had a business partner who was his lover, but nothing had changed, except David had come and gone from my life by then. Pat had matured but he looked just the same.
I understood his feelings for me hadn’t changed, and I no longer had a lover, but he had one. He had a business and a life in Sheboygan. I liked hearing he was successful and I told him I’d go on his buying trip with him as his friend, after he let me know that he would like more.
I was way smarter now and Pat's intensity still scared me. He moved way too fast for me and our timing simply sucked. We both had our own lives and neither of us was leaving his life for the other and there wasn't going to be enough time to change that.
Memories of our first time around made me cautious with his feelings. I wasn’t going down the too nice road again, but being with Pat was fun and he still treated me like a prince, even after he knew we were destined to only be friends.
This time we were together all the time. It didn’t last long but Pat was still fun to be around.
If only there hadn’t been no first time around. If only he didn’t have a lover. A lot of time wasn’t something Pat and I were ever going to have, but we made the best of the time we had. It was a good time. He was a nice guy.
I’d never had a better time with anyone. Provincetown was incredible. We laughed, visited, ate good food. We went through all the antique shops in eastern Massachusetts. It was beautiful rustic territory. You couldn’t help but feel the history.
We didn’t talk about the past. If we had, Pat would have said, ‘I did love you so.’
I knew that. I still didn’t know what it meant or how to answer him. I feared I'd hurt him all over again and I didn't want that.
While I loved several guys after David, I was never in love with anyone but David. He was the one. He was my soul-mate. As Pat and I were from different worlds, it was true of David and me. No matter how much we loved each other, we couldn’t overcome who we were, or the society that hated our love.
After living together for two years, David left me to ‘be with my friends.’ He was always with his friends. I took him home and let go of him, never attempting to pick him up again.
This time it was up to him to contact me. If he was lonely or missed me, and wanted to give it another try, he’d have to find me and tell me. He never did.
David married a few years later. It took him longer than I thought it would. Society could be proud that one of us got straight, maybe, and the world had a little less love in it.
I learned a lot from Pat. I’d never be so deeply in love that I couldn’t face reality. Had I stayed with David, had he come home one day and said, ‘I’m moving out. I met a girl. We’re getting married.’ It would have killed me. That wasn’t happening. Pat may well have saved my life. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Not a day has gone by that I don’t think about David. Making sense of what we were to each other isn’t easy, and writing about it is twice as hard. It’s impossible to write through the tears.
A few years after our trip to Provincetown, as a cross country trucker, I frequently was in Sheboygan at a North American Depot on the south side of town. I looked for Pat in the phone book(An ancient book that listed everyone’s phone number). I went into antique shops I passed, asking for him, but he was no longer the Sheboygan Flash.
In fact, Pat was well known in Milwaukee in the years after our trip to Provincetown. According to the Internet, he led some of the battles for civil rights for people like us. Once those battles were won, Pat went west to open a business in California. I was sure Pat would do good. He had that kind of intensity.
I became a writer, and I've just written about the times we shared.
Those were the days, my friend.
No one else has ever made me feel like a prince.
PS I do remember Depression Glass. I keep a pink glass in my cupboard. I bought it at a thrift shop for a quarter. Each time I pick it up, I remember you and our trip to Provincetown. Thanks.