Kalisa’s on Cannery Row
Ford Ord, 1954
Donald was a homosexual. His family was paying for him to have psychoanalysis, no matter how many years it might take.
Martin was not attracted to women at all. He wanted to write poetry and translate from the classical Greek. His mother reassured him that he was just a late bloomer.
Billy thought he must be a homosexual because his only friends were, and he couldn’t stand the company of most other men. Was it his fault that he dreamt of Esther Williams late at night?
Gerald was the only one, the first one, who ever said he was “gay.” Billy had never heard that word before before. Gerald lit one of his continuous string of Pall Malls, took a huge exhale, and said, “Thank GOD I’m gay, that’s ALL I have to say.”
Apparently this was what Oscar Wilde said too.
All four were in basic training in Fort Ord, Monterey California. 1954. Yes, there was more to it than sand dunes and sardine canneries. But not a lot. Try to imagine 35,000 GI’s with very little to do.
All four boys could type, hence, they were spared the infantry and put into Intelligence training at the famous Defense Language Institute. "How to learn Russian in your spare time." Spasibo.
One of hip language instructors— well, there was more than one— said there was a Latvian expat in town, Kalisa, who spoke Russian. She'd fled the Nazis back in the day and was running a coffeehouse on Cannery Row, down where it used to be Ocean View Avenue.
"What’s a coffeehouse?" Donald asked. He drank Folgers and his Russian was already excellent.
Gerald snorted. Another cloud of smoke. “A coffeehouse, you dear incipient-beatnik- boy, is a gay bar for the afternoons.”
Donald looked doubtful.
Martin said, “There’s apparently bellydancers invited to the stage,” and Billy felt himself turning bright red. The others didn’t even notice.
“They’re the beards,” Gerald said. He’d lived the longest in Berkeley before they were inducted; hence, he had the last word.
They agreed to go to the coffeehouse the next night; it was easy to hitch a ride. Kalisa's was open at all hours, so showing up at 11:00 PM was ideal. The cafe served Coors, beer nuts, and some kind of boilermaker hooch that only Kalisa knew the contents of.
“It’s strained through the silken panties of our Bedouin dancers,” she told Gerald.
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