1977—I hated my first job. I was spending long hours in a rigorous bank training program in Manhattan and, besides infrequent and random pick-ups in gay bars, I had little social life except with a few college fraternity brothers and their girlfriends and my fellow trainees. Frustrated with my situation, I decided one day to place an ad in the personals section of the Advocate national gay magazine:
“ALL-AMERICAN AND GAY – Honest, good-looking, athletic, educated, and very muscular ‘normal’ American male wishes to meet same. Object: friendship. Just coming out; at ease with being gay, but uncomfortable in the gay world. Send informative letter with photo to…”
It ran nationally and received over one hundred replies. I hadn’t realized how demanding my training program would be, or how little time I’d have to devote to answering respondents. So, most who replied flaked out or lost patience with me. Eric Alan Jones was one who replied and stuck with me. He lived in Boston and, like me, had attended an Ivy League college (Dartmouth) and belonged to a fraternity. From his photo and description, he seemed like he might be my type. We struck up a friendship and spoke regularly by phone. It took several months, but, once my program ended, I was finally able to schedule a trip to Boston to meet him.
The moment I walked into Eric’s apartment at 11 Bay State Road, I knew I wasn’t physically attracted to him. He wasn’t what I had expected, but he was outgoing, open, and interested in friendship. He became my first gay friend and introduced me to his network in Boston, which became my first gay social life, even though I lived in Manhattan, one of the gayest cities in America.
Not long after I met Eric, we decided to take a vacation together. A travel agent, he booked us for several nights into a Sheraton in Fort Lauderdale, next door to the Marlin Beach Hotel, a popular beachfront destination. It was the scene of a daily tea dance that was packed with the most gorgeous gay men, both locals and tourists, I’d ever seen. I found it both intimidating and exhilarating. After that, we caught a flight from Miami to St. Martin in the Caribbean, where my parents had just purchased a modest vacation home.
On the flight, we noticed two good looking guys in the back of the plane. While waiting for our luggage in the airport in St. Martin, Eric struck up a conversation with them. They were backpackers from Vancouver who asked if we knew of a beach on the island where they could camp for free. We didn’t. Eric and I looked back and forth at each other, as if using a secret gay Morse Code, then I boldly invited them to stay with us. They accepted our offer. Eric and I smiled and silently rejoiced.
We reached the house slightly after dark, entered, and dropped our bags in the doorway. We had no clue who was going to sleep where (it was only a two-bedroom bungalow), if the guys were gay, or if they were aware of our interest in them. But, we plowed on, mixing pina coladas, rolling joints and blasting disco tunes on the stereo. We got pretty looped.Eric was enamored of the taller, more muscular guy, Maurice, a bearded Paul Bunyon type. I didn’t think either was likely to be gay, so I was fine focusing my attention on the other guy, Gary, less stunning, but still sexy, with a scruffy blond beard.
Around 2 or 3 a.m., Gary and I decided we wanted to go for a swim. It was quite a hike in the dim moonlight, through brambles, down to the sea. We eventually got there, still drunk and high. We shed our clothes and raced into the cool dark water. Swimming and bumping into each other, as we floated in the surf, I was getting turned on, but I knew I had to keep myself in check. After all, he might be straight and knock my block off, if I pushed too hard.
We headed back to the beach and collapsed on the sand. After sitting quietly next to each other for a few minutes, in a move I’ve never successfully replicated, I reached over, slid my arm around his neck and pulled my face close to his, hungry for a kiss. At first, he resisted, but, before long, hands and tongues were moving everywhere and we were engaged in full-on sex under a starry Caribbean sky.
As the sun rose, we made our way back to the cottage where Eric and Maurice were stirring, unaware of our shenanigans. Gary and I naturally wanted to continue our romance. Maurice had no idea his best friend had “gay tendencies”, so Gary took him aside, explained the situation, and made clear he and I wanted to share a room together. This left Maurice rooming with Eric, who had a massive crush on him. Maurice was overwhelmed by this new arrangement and Eric’s hard-to-stifle attention, so he protectively attached himself to a Jewish couple and their sixteen-year-old daughter at the beach and spent most of his time with them. Eric fluttered around, drinking and trying to make the best of it all. Meanwhile, Gary and I spent an idyllic five days together.
Two weeks later, back in Manhattan, I decided to blow my remaining vacation days and fly back to St. Martin on standby, joining my family there for Christmas, hoping to see Gary again. It took the better part of the weekend to find him and Maurice at the hostel they’d moved into. I dragged Gary back to the bungalow, and, after kicking my sister out of one of the two bedrooms in the cottage, we shared another few days in connubial bliss.
The following year, I visited Gary at his home in Vancouver. We took his jeep and spent a fun week ferrying between the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula. I remained in touch with him for a decade after that and occasionally received calls from him out of the blue. Maurice, as straight as ever, came to visit me once in New York City. And as my gay life in New York City began to blossom, my connection to Eric remained strong, but less necessary.
Eventually, I lost touch with the Canadians, while Eric developed (non-HIV-related) medical complications and passed away in his early 60’s. They’re all now just a part of my trove of fond memories.—Mike Balaban