My therapist says dwelling on mistakes made in the past serves no useful purpose. Learn from them and move on. But, I am a stubborn client. Since June is Gay Pride Month, I find myself thinking often about an incident that happened years ago at the corner of PCH and Cress and how I could have dealt with it better.
My wife and I had just finished drinks at the Rooftop Lounge, where once again I was the oldest person there. Can’t there be a bar in town where you have to show your AARP card to gain entry?
We were waiting for the light to change to cross the PCH when we noticed a car next to us that was also waiting for a green light. There were two men next to us, they might have been gay, who could know for sure, and more importantly, who should care. These two caught the eye of the driver who leaned out the window and, trying to affect an effeminate voice, said, “Hey, boys, which way to Woody’s?” Both men in the car laughed heartily.
A couple of things occurred to me. If he knew anything about Laguna Beach, he would have been aware that Woody’s, Laguna’s beloved gay bar, was now a Mexican restaurant just to his right. The other thing that instantly came to mind was that I have a gay son. I would not let these guys get away with this behavior.
I took my wife by the hand and stepped in front of the possibly gay couple and yelled at the car, “Hey, jerk, you’re in the wrong city. Go back San Bernardino with the rest of the rednecks!” The light changed and they sped through the crosswalk, pedestrians be damned. As they fled, they gave me the one finger salute.
In retrospect I should have done several things differently. First, calling him a ‘jerk’ could have resulted in the driver getting out of the car and pounding my 60-something body into the sidewalk. I could have also been more articulate and said, “That’s not nearly as funny as you seem to think,” or “Are you so hard up for fun that you have to insult people?”
Another thing I should not have done was insult San Bernardino. They had stereotyped Laguna Beach as full of gays. I suggested that the Inland Empire was homophobic and redneck. For all I knew, those guys could have lived in Dana Point. Even in this time of increasing tolerance, there is anti-gay sentiment in many parts of the soft underbelly of our country. It is not confined to one city, state or region.
But, my biggest regret is that I acted cowardly, even though I did take the risk of being beaten up by the Westboro Baptist Church boys, secular division. When my wife and I crossed the street she asked, “Why did you take my hand when you stepped in front of the gay guys? Since I was in heels, did you think my tall stature would intimidate them?”
We both knew the answer. I wanted to make sure the two in the car knew I was a straight guy with a good looking woman by his side. More courageous would have been to step out by myself and confront these bullies. Let them think me gay. I should not have used my wife as a heterosexual prop in confronting these ill-mannered visitors to our city. I could have even put my hand on the shoulder of one of the men next to me and said to the driver, “We don’t appreciate bigotry here in Laguna, just be on your way.”
Yes, in a way, I had acted tough, but really only semi-tough. I felt I needed my wife as my wing person, so to speak, when a braver behavior would have been to act solo.
We don’t get chances to be heroic that often. I hope I get another chance.
James Utt is a longtime resident of Laguna Beach. He wishes Woody’s and The Boom were still around.