Houston and New York and Budapest
I once had a friend named Jules Dunay, and Jules was gay,
and I was a little in love with Jules Dunay.
We met at Cowgirls Love Flowers which sounds western, and one morning, did attract a man in a cowboy hat and spurs. Cowgirls was actually a florist and art gallery. I was hired by the owner and former witch, Sarah Jane, to be the bookkeeper and Girl Friday; Jules was a flower deliverer.
Jules made me giddy, he was so funny, I was a little in love with Jules Dunay.
I remember the Saturday I was inside holding the fort, doing accounts and ready to sell a flower if needed, and Jules was out at 95 degrees F where he’d stripped to his boxer shorts spreading gravel to improve the parking lot at the side of the building. An older lady drove up, stared at his pale naked body and asked, “Are you open?” He stood straight up, sweat rolling down his shiny chest, held his shovel vertically, and bowing said, “Yes, madam, we are open. Please do go in!”
The police gave him a ticket while he was driving the Cowgirls’ van delivering flowers. You should have heard his story of how he accidentally drove through three red lights on Congress Avenue. He sat stone faced—not a put on—while Sarah Jane questioned him and he repeated that he had had to do it, that he just couldn’t stop, until Sarah Jane and I had to laugh.
Another afternoon, in the Cowgirls’ van, Jules and a new delivery boy and I were dressed in the strange Cowgirls’ paper delivery jumpsuits taking flowers to the State Capitol to decorate the Legislative Chambers. The new boy, who’d immigrated from England (probably illegally) said, “Did you see that ugly n_____ we just passed.” I was shocked, and Jules, who was driving, turned on the boy in what was the only time I saw him angry. He shouted, “Nick, you can’t say that over here. We don’t say that and it’s not like that here. We don’t tolerate racism. America is different!”
I was very proud of Jules Dunay.
Jules made me giddy, talking and walking the university streets on warm nights. I remember staying up late at an eatery: he said I was charming when a little drunk and we talked with friends till 3 am analyzing our relationships. He took me to meet his boyfriend Don, to see the house they shared with a number of people. Don was a tall, dark, handsome hairdresser.
Jules was blonde and slim and prep in worn loafers, worn nice trousers, and a button-down shirt, a cigarette hanging from his lip. He had an easy smile and laugh and saw the irony first in life. He was getting an English degree like me: his stories were long and hysterical and off the cuff. He began to write a novel; I was writing a novel. We had the bond that both our fathers were sculptors. He was not really American in character, due to his Cajun mother and Hungarian father. I really liked that. I didn’t feel like I fit in either.
Some years passed, and I wasn’t surprised when Jules moved to New York City. There he worked as a gopher for a law firm, and said it was all so exciting. But one day he sat on a bench in Central Park and smelled a familiar smell, and started to weep. When he looked up, he realized the smell was freshly cut grass.
After the breakdown, he came home to Houston.
One late night at 1:45 am a knock came on my bedroom door. My housemate Linda, a Wagner-singing opera PhD student, said in her squeaky speaking-voice, “Laura, your friend Jules Dunay just rang the bell. He says you’re expecting him.” I forced opened my eyes, squinted at the dark, and said, “Yes, I’m expecting Jules.” I threw on clothes, went out and hugged him. He’d grown a man’s chest! I invited him in, and made him tea and a sandwich. He’d come from Houston on the bus, arriving in Austin at 1 am, and then walked over through the dark streets. He had had no money for a taxi. He usually walked places and he usually had little money.
That middle of the night, he told me he had been working at a bookstore in Houston and that he’d met Jesus-the-second-coming in the aisles there. “Do you believe me?” he said.
I listened to his tale of the young-normal-looking-white-man-in-jeans-and-a-t-shirt who stood in an aisle and claimed to be the second coming. I told Jules I believed him. You would have too. It was clear, he believed. A bookstore is a good place for a second coming, isn’t it?
Months later, Jules saved me.
I went to Houston to buy the new car my boyfriend had brokered the deal for. Our relationship was already in a weak state, and when I met my boyfriend to make the purchase deal, suddenly a woman rushed in. “Hi,” she said, “I’m his new girlfriend. I’ve heard so much about you.” Then, though he said they had broken up and though he asked her not to, she followed us to a restaurant afterwards, sitting and staring at me like a cat who sees a mouse. I excused myself, found a pay phone and called Jules at the bookstore. Thankfully, he invited me to stay at his parents’ house. I didn’t go back to the table but snuck out the side door, got in my new car, and drove straight over.
There I got to meet his parents and sister and try his mother’s Hungarian goulash soup. Jules told me stories of visiting his grandmother in Budapest and tried to comfort me over the trauma of seeing the new girlfriend. The next morning, I drove away very early. I fled, before my boyfriend—who’d announced he was on his way—could arrive to salvage his ruined…what should I call it? His reputation? The clod!
That was before Jules disowned his parents because they, as orthodox Catholics—a Cajun and a man escaped from he-man Tito’s Hungary—couldn’t accept a gay son. Though they were content with his sister. Jules said, “She is one of those women: who writes to a man who is in prison, a man she’s never met, and promises to marry him. Next week! I can’t get her out of it.”
Down in Houston, Jules reviewed music and art shows and became part of the buzz, and then got hired to run an alternative bookstore in West Texas. So he moved out west to a small town that had hip artists and interesting people and yes, men wearing cowboy hats regularly. Jules called and told me that, amazingly, he’d become the person to invite to parties and he ran for mayor and managed the bookstore that hosted literary readings and art shows. He wrote to tell me he’d bought a house that needed work, and he could look out the window and see wide scrub desert pastures and sheep grazing and distant mountains. He bought a truck, too. He said he was happy.
I wrote back now and then. But he stopped.
The years passed, and I searched for him.
I even called his parents, who calmly told me he had disowned them, but they sounded proud telling me he lived in West Texas and had run for mayor. I called the small town itself: I found out that the bookstore had changed ownership, and Jules stopped working there.
I got the phone number of someone who knew him. That person told me: Jules has throat cancer, does take his medicine, but he still smokes and there’s nothing we can do about it. Jules also has a machine to help him talk on the phone, but he doesn’t like to use it, and doesn’t usually answer the phone.
So I called now and then because I once had a friend named Jules Dunay, and Jules was gay, and I was a little in love with Jules Dunay.
He never answered.
But still I remember the night at 1:45 am, how he knocked after walking miles and I heard Linda’s doubtful voice, “Jules says you’re expecting him.” How I opened my sleepy eyes and smiled at the dark and said, “Yes, I am.”
To read more of my stories, click here for The Meaning of Hair in My Life.
Click here for The World Through the Hole in a Hanging Sock.
Click here to read the first story in Laura Grevel’s Texas Ranching Adventure series.
Photo credit: Free-photos from Pixabay