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Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 461-478
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"Take Me Home":
Location, Identity, Transnational Exchange *
Phillip Brian Harper **
Part 2: Plum Nelly: New Essays in Black Queer Studies
A funny thing happened across from Byzantium, the moderately upscale, vaguely nouvelle cuisinerie located on Toronto's Church Street corridor, at which I enjoyed a leisurely dinner with my friend and colleague, Ricardo Ortíz, during the Modern Language Association convention in December 1997. Earlier that same day I had delivered a paper in which I pondered the sociocultural significances of my exchange with a panhandler on a Manhattan sidewalk in the fall of 1996, shoehorning the presentation amid a welter of interviews with candidates for a faculty position in my home department. 1 Thus finished with the stereotypically hectic official portion of my MLA experience, I was ready and eager for the debauch of sophistication that the "Byzantium" rubric would lead one to expect. Having exited the establishment at about 11:00 with my desires in this vein reasonably well satisfied (the food was delicious though the service was poor, the drinks rather meager but the company divine), I left my dinner partner at the nearest street corner and traversed the road to use the ATM in the bank opposite the restaurant--situated squarely "in the gay section" of town, as Ricardo had so helpfully informed our cab driver when asked to provide directions to the place.
Immediately after stepping onto the curb, I was peremptorily beckoned by a man standing just before the entrance to the bank, whose cash machine, I could see from the sign in its window, did not accept the card I was carrying. Evidently in his mid-to-late thirties and thus similar to me in age, the man appeared simultaneously unlike me in a number of key respects--white and pale-skinned with a reddish-brown beard, hair hanging straight to just above his shoulders. With his lean, average-sized frame draped in a somewhat worn overcoat, he presented overall a vaguely rough aspect to which I responded with intense ambivalence, powerfully attracted to the masculinity it figured while wary of the desperateness I feared it might signal. Momentarily stymied in negotiating this quandary, I finally motioned for him to [End Page 461] come over to me, on the logic that the open expanse of the sidewalk was safer than the more obscure territory next to the building.
Taking me up on this suggestion, the man walked briskly toward me, his hands uplifted in a palms-outward gesture of benignity as though to validate the announcement he made: "I am not a panhandler," he proclaimed. "People always think I'm a panhandler, but I'm not. Can I just tell you my story?" Having gotten my assent to this request, he proceeded to explain that he did not live in Toronto but was here visiting a man whom he had met several weeks before, in his own hometown. Shortly after he arrived at the man's home, however, the two of them had a fight and he, my interlocutor, had been kicked out of the house. Now without either his money or his clothes, he was simply trying to raise enough cash to buy a drink at the bar a few doors down the block; did I have any money that I could spare?
I explained to him that I, too, was from out of town, and in fact had just over enough Canadian money to pay for the cab ride back to my hotel. "Where are you from?" he asked. "New York," I told him. "And who are you here with?" I paused for a moment, not entirely understanding the question, and finally said, "I'm here for a convention." "No," he said. "I mean, are you here with your boyfriend or lover?" "No," I answered, "my boyfriend is back in New York." "Oh," he said, without missing a beat, "then why don't you take me home with you?"
My immediate thought, as I later told not only Ricardo but anyone who would listen...