When Harry Met Ted
by H D Thompson
Today I went to check out a gallery by recommendation of a friend, a gallery that wasn’t even on my radar that I could easily have bypassed in the fray of Pride events happening at the moment, which now is unfathomable to me considering what I encountered there.
Unlike other Pride galleries and exhibitions that seem centred around Stonewall and the events surrounding it, this one went back to the 1940s and worked its way up, breathing life into stories that can easily be overlooked or forgotten. While perusing the 1950s section of the gallery, I stood reading about a man named Ted Bloecher. On display were a self-portrait and a series of journal entries he had written at the time. One I was particularly transfixed by was an entry of a time when he had met another young man in a bar, and after realising that he was deaf and dumb, the two corresponded by scribing notes to one another. After pleasantries, they went back to his apartment and had a brief hour-long encounter together before parting. The notes they passed throughout the night Ted kept, and had written down verbatim in the entry. It was sweet to read this exchange, almost welcomingly private. As I was admiring the portrait, an older man came up to me, poked me on the shoulder and said simply, “That’s me”. Dumbfounded, I stood there mouth agape as he stood next to me staring at his painting. I introduced myself and told him it was incredible to meet him. He had to be close to 90 and simply smiled and held my hand. I told him that his journal entries were wonderful and he looked at me, then to them, and said with an air of awe that he didn’t even remember writing them. So there I stood, reading letters for the first time next to the man who sixty years ago had written them, who by the ravage of time had forgotten them and by way was almost reading them for the first time as well. My eyes welled up at this encounter as I saw him, mouth open, eyes wet, devour this memory he had lost to time. I snapped this photo of him reading the pieces because this is a moment that I will not be forgetting in all my years, and possibly if I do decades down the track, I will have this to remind me in the same way that he has these letters to remind him.
After I left the gallery, I stood on the sidewalk and lit a cigarette. A man came out after me, a handsome young man who I had previously eyed throughout the gallery and he approached me and asked for a cigarette. I told him that it was my last one, then through a sly smile, I told him we could share this one. He took it from me and we talked about the exhibit as we passed it between us in the sunlight of 10th Avenue. He asked where I was staying and I told him, with he mentioning that he was staying in an apartment not far from where we stood. Filled with fire from Ted and his personal missives, I suggested we go check it out, in his honour. He smiled and led the way. After a sweaty encounter in the midday sunshine that drenched us through the window of his 16th-floor bedroom, I said goodbye and went on my way. Back on the street, sweaty and sticky with all the good feelings that come with sex, I practically beamed in my stride of pride (‘walk of shame’ is dead, kill it, bye).
The coincidence that my time in New York coincides with World Pride is insane. In the way that salmon unconsciously know exactly which river to swim toward, it seems I was drawn here against my will to bathe in a legacy that allowed me the freedom I now have. Like salmon, swimming upstream is part of the journey we too must endure in order to reach our destination. Walking down the street covered in the remains of sex I can hold my head high in a way that Ted and others through the decades prior to now weren’t. Ted’s encounter with his young man was hushed and clandestine, not because of the speech barrier but because of the toxic atmosphere at the time, lit only by moonlight and shadows. That I could have essentially the same encounter but in broad daylight and can discuss it here is pretty fucking incredible. It took me a long time to feel proud of who I am and accept my queerness as not a blemish of shame to stamp out but my fucking core and soul, and that I guess is what Pride is all about. It’s existing in the sunlight when those before us were in the shadows. It’s holding our chins high after fucking a stranger in the midday sun and letting the pride of who we are seep out of our pores in honour of those who were denied the simple liberty of doing so themselves.
I write this now – unshowered after my encounter – over a plate of pancakes in an IHOP, an establishment favoured by a young David Sedaris, a queer icon and personal hero of mine, and this situation alone is wild to me. To be part of this city while queerness floods through the streets is exhilarating. To meet a man like Ted Bloecher by chance is unfathomable to me. In a city that’s bubbling over with so many stories, I am so happy and proud to be part of Ted’s moment of reflection. Proud that someone like Ted can see the world he in his own way helped create. I know it’s a cliché but magic seeps out of the cracks in this city, and I was lucky enough to catch some. I tell this story to you in the corner of a diner with the remains of a young man interweaving with maple syrup in the shallows of my moustache. Proud doesn’t even come close.