My grandfather, Alexander Wye, was the pastor of a tiny church for “colored folks” on Lynchton Hill. He wished for my father, Alexander Wye II, to take over the church, but segregation was ending, and opportunities were supposedly opening, so my enterprising father, though he remained a god-fearing man, passed up the pastorship and started a livery van line to serve some of Lynchton’s faster-growing churches——we call them megachurches now. By the time I was a young man in the late nineteen-eighties, my pop’s little company had grown into a full-fledged motor coach fleet.
I am not so enterprising, nor am I god-fearing. Rather, I am man-fearing, though I am also man-loving——so, though I would have loved to have studied literature in some hall of higher education, I had no qualms working for my pop straight out of high school. That was how I became a megachurch bus driver, a job I held throughout my first adult life, which lasted for approximately six years.
At the time, the megachurches always requested me for their evening and night sessions. This was, perhaps, because of my height, my bulk, my right hook, my contralto voce that could quiet most crowds, my ability to maneuver around drunkly driven cars without scratching the bus or the car, and my unfailing hair and makeup advice to the young ladies looking for a man other than Jesus.
Did the megachurch brethren ever try to proselytize me? Of course. But a well-placed “Praise the lord!” or “Jesus is my savior!” was usually a strong enough defense against deeper encroachments. I do remember one young man named Peter who was particularly persistent. He was a student at Freedom University, the local bible college turned massive evangelist academy.
One Sunday evening, I picked up a busload of congregants, including Peter, at Freedom U. I dropped them at Tobias Baller Baptist Church, Lynchton’s most mega of megachurches, and proceeded to wait out the service with my usual Arby’s double decker beef sandwich deluxe meal, which included curly fries and a coke. It was a beautiful spring evening, so I stood outside, leaning on my bus, and treated myself to a cigarette for dessert.
Forty minutes later, I saw Peter walking away from church and towards me. He called out, “hello!”
“Hello, young man,” I said. I was only a few years his senior, but I’ve always been regarded as older than my years. “Aren’t you out of service a bit early?”
“I just wanted to tell you,” Peter said, enthusiastically, triumphantly, salesman-like, “that you give great rides.”
“Why, thank you kindly,” I replied, flicking ash from my smoke the same way I always saw my mother do it.
“Do you ever have a chance to attend service?” he asked.
“I wish I could, but I’m driving this bus all day,”
Peter’s eyes rounded a bit too innocently. “You don’t ever go to church?”
“My work schedule makes it rather difficult, honey,” I said, “but I go on weekdays, when I can.”
He frowned. “You know that next week is Easter.”
“Of course I do!”
“I want to invite you to next week’s service. As one of my special guests.”
“Honey, how very… thoughtful,” I said, hedging, “but I’m working.”
Peter’s frown softened. “Pastor Walker gives you special dispensation to come to Easter mass. I believe he will even reimburse you for the missed wages. “
“How kind. Did you ask your pastor for this dispensation?”
“I did,” Peter said proudly. “Easter service is an amazing experience, a time in which we are all reborn with Jesus Christ, and I don’t want you to miss it.”
I took a moment to look at Peter squarely. “You’re not just asking me because you have to fill your annual Easter recruitment quota, right honey?”
“Not at all,” he said. “You perform such an invaluable service for all of us at T.B. Church and at Freedom U., I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to taste the best of God’s sweetness. His own ‘honey,’ if you will.” Peter smiled.
I smiled back. I should mention that Peter was astonishingly attractive. A regular subject of my sexual fantasies. Hell, I’m sure he was a regular subject of many sexual fantasies throughout Lynchton. He was taller than even me, strong, clear-skinned, and blond, which I suppose is not that unusual for a Lynchton boy, but what made him gleam was his air of trajectory, his appetites, and his presumption that the pursuit of the first would always lead to the satisfaction of the second.
Nevertheless, in the nineteen-eighties south, a boy like him could easily beat the shit out of a boy like me and be applauded for it, so because of this, and because of my complete disinterest, romantic or otherwise, in Jesus Christ, I said, “I need to run this by my pop.”
“He owns the motor coach company, I’m sure you’ve seen him? He put me on this route so I would get more exposure to devout boys like yourself. I do know that he will appreciate your extremely generous invitation.”
Peter replied, smiling, “I’m sure your pop will have no problem with it. T.B. Church employs his company. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if T.B. will pay all of the drivers to take off all of Holy Weekend.” Peter spoke like he was Pastor Walker’s son. Or his special confidant. Perhaps he was.
“That’s a big assumption, honey,” I cautioned. “We know what they say about the word assume.”
“Let’s just make that assumption, for now. Do it for my sake. Can I count you in?”
I should have said yes at this point. But I somehow knew that saying yes would fuel Peter’s sharkish energy, not quiet it. And I knew that he would not expend his energy in any of the ways I imagined in my fantasies. So, I tapped my fingers on the bus’s hubcap and took a sip of Coca-Cola. I saw Peter’s gaze follow my long fingernails as they tapped, tapped, tapped, and tapped.
“Do you like my nails?” I asked him suddenly.
He looked up. There was a new tension around his eyes, and it indicated that I asked the wrong question. “Have you been baptized?” he asked slowly.
“Honey,” I drawled, just as slowly, “This is Lynchton. Show me someone in this town who hasn’t been baptized!”
“Is Jesus your lord and savior?”
I answered, “Jesus is in all living beings, the food we eat and the air we breathe, so many things are my lord and savior. Even you, honey.” Summoning up my molecule of courage, I gave him a look, the kind of look he reserves for girls he intends to grope. And for that one millisecond, I managed to grip him in that special way that muscled, masculine creatures reserve for their favorite prey.
But he stared back, hard, and I knew I couldn’t manage that kind of grip for long. “It looks like your fellow congregants have finished up,” I said, pointing to a spot behind him. As Peter, turned, distracted, to see a stream of Freedom University kids cascade down the steps of Tobias Baller Baptist Church, I bagged my trash, snuffed out my cigarette, and boarded the bus with a speed people never expect from a big fellow like me.
“Hey man!” We heard David, Peter’s housemate, call out from ten feet away. “Why’d you leave early?”
Peter said nothing, just stormed on to the bus, down the aisle, and jammed his ass on his usual back-most seat. Puzzled, David boarded as well, but took a moment to look questioningly at me.
“He’s just practicing some evangelical maneuvers,” I said lightly.
“Did he succeed?” David asked.
I gave a sidelong glance to the back of the bus, then met David’s eyes and smiled, knowingly. I couldn’t help myself. “He succeeded in quite a few ways,” I said to David, who laughed nervously before making his way to the back, sitting near Peter, but not next to him.
Peter and I both lost that day. He lost his rock-hard assuredness that life unfurls in twos: man and woman, Jesus and followers, predator and prey. As for me, I lost time: I didn’t know it then, but I had thirty-four days left. Peter sensed how barely I fit into Lynchton society, but he didn’t ignore me like everyone else did. He investigated me.
As a hunter, Peter was so effective he could have given J. Edgar Hoover a run for his money. He found out about the midnight ladyboy parties my friends held every week, and how I was one of the fairest of them all. He accosted me outside my home and threatened to tell my parents, and when I answered that they already knew, he recruited a mob to beat much of the blood from my body and, more or less, run me out of town. It was the only time I ever saw my father cry.
I certainly do not condone mobs of any sort, but looking back, it was Peter who unwittingly launched me into my second life, in which Alexander Wye III became Kachina Wye, a queen of San Puerta de Oro, that beautiful golden-gated city on our country’s west coast, a city where ladyboys like me could come out from underground, and live and love in the light.
My rebirth as Kachina was a great gift, and it gave me a strange gratitude to Peter, and a kind of sympathy for him when I found out what happened, years later.
Fifteen years after I was expelled from Lynchton, my father told me, in one of our bi-weekly calls, that Peter became the pastor of Tobias Baller Baptist Church. Peter grew the megachurch by a thousand or two in only a few years, an unprecedented achievement. But his pastorship was short-lived when news broke about his relations with several underage girls.
“And boys,” my pop added.
I sighed. ”How sad,” I said. I meant it, even if it was a vindication of Peter’s craziness, evidence of the self-hate, wrapped in delusion, that often fuels the onerous actions of the overprivileged.
I had entered a sad time myself. San Puerta could no longer support Kachina like it used to. In the past centuries, our golden-gated city slowly pushed the missionaries out
and slowly pushed the miners out.
Now it’s slowly pushing the misfits out
we barely hang on to our SROs and rent controls
Our landlords are finding new loopholes to turn our dingy, colorful rooms
into sleek lofts for the new seekers
Of the new gold.
So back Kachina goes into the closet, at least during business hours, Monday to Friday from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. Thanks to my father’s countrywide connections, I’ve fallen back on bus driving for most of the week. And in a return to my first life, Alexander Wye III enters his third.
“In the 21st century, community transit can be so much more than a crowded ride from A to B.”
That’s what the voiceover said, glamorously, sonorously, salesman-like, in the orientation video that was played on the first day of my new job. I now work for a startup called Prance, which provides daily, high end service from San Puerta to the technology-drenched Valley an hour southward. Prance is venture-funded, which I have come to learn usually means trendy, overly valued, male, and white.
Every morning, I make twelve stops in the city, twelve lines of mostly men. I’ve seen many lines of men, lines of men looking for god, a chemical high, a daily wage, sex. But these passengers are different: they are princes. Kings-in-waiting.
They spread out on the bus with their tablets, their tech and business feeds, their last minute code pushes, all tasks to pass the hourlong ride to one of the “most amazing tech campuses in the world.” A regular rider, Paul, says that they are “inventing the future.”
“That’s a fucking queen if I ever saw one,” I heard one of Paul’s boys say.
“You think?” he said.
“I hear he does a show every weekend In this dive bar in the worst part of town. It’s like covered in roaches and AIDS.”
“Is that still a thing?” Paul asked. “I thought all that shit moved to Oaktown.”
Paul always ran with or after his boys, all engineers of some sort who were confident in their collective brilliance, but being former (and in some cases, current) nerds, they were all uncertain about their individual masculine worth. They lived near each other and boarded the bus together. Together, they could categorize the three girls who rode the bus (there were never more than three): the one who was the most harassable, the one who was the most fuckable, and the one who was the most ignorable. The nerdier boys would do the harassing and the sexier boys would do the flirting.
Paul would do both, but only halfheartedly. Watching him in my rearview mirror, I realized that he spent most of his time staring at me. Staring at me with that hungry, hunter’s look I am well familiar with by now. Peter had it. I didn’t think it was sexual at the time, but now, twenty years after getting kicked out of my hometown, I know that it’s always sexual.
On a recent afternoon, as I took my lunch break and munched on my usual Carl’s Jr. bacon cheeseburger deluxe value meal with a diet coke and curly fries, I saw Paul approaching the bus, far earlier than usual. It was 3:30 P.M., well ahead of quitting time.
“Hey there,” Paul said, coming to stand near me as I used the bus’s hubcap as my lunch table. “I wanted to tell you that you’re an awesome driver.”
“Well,” I said. “I appreciate your appreciation.”
“I work in the autonomous vehicle lab here on campus. I’m actually working,” Paul said, pausing for dramatic effect,”on an autonomous bus.”
“You don’t say,” I said.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on a quarter-sized model and giving a presentation on it next week. I want to invite you to be on a panel discussion of bus people to follow the presentation.”
I raised a brow. “Bus people?”
“Yeah, you know, transit workers, planners, drivers. I think the mayor might be there. It’s gonna be really cool.”
“Ah, no thanks honey,” I replied, “I don’t think I can get off work.”
“Oh, I can have my manager call your manager,” Paul said. “This is a really important event, it’s going to change the face of transportation as we know it. I’m sure your manager will say yes.”
“There’s no need to bother,” I said.
“Really? There’ll be a lot of great swag. I think we might even be giving away new phones.”
“I already have a phone,” I said.
“Can I see it?” Paul asked.
“I just want to verify a theory I have,” Paul said.
I replied, “I don’t think you need to see it.”
“C’mon, I’ll show you mine.” Paul whipped out his phone. “See, it’s one of the best phones out there right now. You can hold it if you want. It’s on the 7G network and has a 2 terrapixel camera. It weighs only a gram and is less than a millimeter thick. This is the kind of phone we’ll be giving away!” Paul held out his phone to me, beckoning.
I took it, ran my finger around its sharply smooth edge. “You are quite the evangelist,” I said.
Paul smiled. “It’s funny you mention that,” he said, more softly, “Don’t tell, but at this event next week, we are releasing the first ever autonomous vehicle software development kit——and I’ve just been promoted to the position of tech evangelist.”
“Wow,” I said, “congratulations, honey.”
“So you can see, it’s going to be a huge event. Bigger than you even imagined. We’re inventing the future.”
I place Paul’s phone back in his hands. “I don’t think I have much place in that kind of future.” I finally pull out my phone. It’s an old, heavy model that I can tell Paul doesn’t recognize. “See, I like old things. I don’t want a new phone. But thanks for the invitation. It’s kind of you. And good luck with the new job.”
Paul grabbed the phone out of my hands before I can put it away. “You shouldn’t feel bad for being old,” he said. He seemed to be saying this to the phone. “Old can be sexy.” He held the phone in his right hand, and his left hand——just the tips of his fingers——brush inside his waistband. Then they go deeper.
“What are you doing?” I said sharply.
He finally looked up, his eyelids heavy with suggestion. “I like your phone,” he said.
I almost laughed. After twenty-odd years of playing the game, I felt too old for this. And fortunately, twenty-first century San Puerta had given me the freedom to challenge the delusional. “Give me my phone back,” I enunciated, spacing every word very clearly, “and keep your hands where I can see them.”
His eyes rounded, turned alarmed. He handed me the phone. “I have a girlfriend,” he said. Not that I was asking.
“Do you come on to her by putting your hands down your pants in public?”
He stared back stonily, refusing to answer.
Finally, I sighed and said, “you’d better get on the bus.”
In many of these kings-in-waiting, I see traces of Peter.
It’s not that I foresee any of them becoming megachurch pastors, or mega-millionaire CEOs for that matter, or even closet pedophiles, but they all move in a certain pantheon, they all fiercely follow a similar power that grants them the license to take, both openly and covertly, without the responsibility to give.
Sure, many of our princes claim progressiveness, especially in San Puerta de Oro. “We support lifestyle equality!” they say.
But for misfits like me, dark queens who never managed to assimilate into the two-parent, two-car, two-dog, two-and-a-half-child American Dream, or to commodify our eccentricities into a rat-race or drag-race-ready package, even the beautiful San Puerta, which was always a small city, cannot help but push us to the margins in the wake of the gentry’s entry.
“You’ve opened eyes. You’ve opened minds. You’ve been my teacher,” my amazing father told me some years ago, before he retired, and well before he recently showed early signs of dementia. Though maybe this was his first sign of it.
I really have tried to believe that what my father said is true, and it has kept me going in San Puerta through these dwindling times. But now I am beginning I think that, especially with an declining parent, it’s time to wrap up and head back east, perhaps north east. Hopefully this old dog isn’t too old to learn a new trick. I always thought that New York was too grimy and cold, but in this gilded age, maybe it won’t be so bad.
At the very least, New York has a bigger bus system.