Cynthia Oi Under the Sun

Cynthia Oi

The kindness of a gay
stranger in a strange city

ON first encounter, New York City was overwhelming. I'd arrived on a late afternoon when smog fired the sunset in deep reds and oranges that blazed between the hulking silhouettes of skyscrapers. Steam hissing from manholes and grates and the relentless clamor of machinery and cars and subways combined with a crush of gray people seemed a fair representation of hell as described in Sunday school. Too much for a girl fresh from Hawaii.

I fled, hopping a Greyhound bus north and east to Connecticut, where a friend of a friend had offered to put me up.

His name was Patrick and he lived in a building that edged the slummier sections of Hartford. From the outside, it looked seedy. Inside, cracked tiles littered the lobby and the elevator, one of those with a metal accordion door you had to yank shut, clanked and shuddered as it slowly ascended. The hall leading to his apartment was dingy, the walls scarred from decades of percussive human use. I wasn't expecting much when he peeked from the door before opening it wide to let me in.

But Patrick's home was lovely. It was one large corner room with tall, wide windows curving the contours of two walls. To conserve space, he had built a sleeping loft over the dining table. The kitchen was a series of shelves, a small sink, a refrigerator and a hot plate. A couch -- which was to serve as my bed -- was flanked by sling chairs recycled from old barn ladders. The place was bright and airy and as comforting as Patrick himself.

For the next few weeks, Patrick let me live there, never seeming bothered by the intrusion of a stranger. Close to running out of money, I decided I'd better find a job and through luck was hired the first day I went looking.

Patrick helped me get my own place, combing through the rental ads for apartments in neighborhoods that were safe and inexpensive. He found the only Asian store in the vicinity where I could buy necessities like fresh tofu, rice unconverted by Uncle Ben and, amazingly, real crack seed. He schooled me in the advantages of Grand Union markets over the A&P and the difference in quality of goods at G. Fox department stores and W.T. Grant's.

As I settled into a new job and environment, I made other friends. Patrick would still come over for dinner or lasso me into midnight cruising in his sister's convertible, but as time went on we saw less of each other. You see, he was gay. Back then, our realms overlapped thinly, and he did not share that part of his life. Later, he moved to Canada, following his lover to Quebec.

I think of Patrick -- his kindness, wry outlook on life and wickedly contagious laugh -- as this national quibble about gay marriage roars on. I can't see how a declaration of commitment between two humans of the same sex threatens "traditional" marriage any more than when people of opposite sexes choose to live together without a legal marriage document. Especially since half of "traditional" marriages in America end up undone.

I don't understand why mere sexual orientation makes a person a sinner, as the president implied last week. I don't grasp how allowing gay people to marry means people like Bush would have to "compromise on issues such as marriage" -- his words -- when one has nothing to do with the other. Religious conservatives claim gay marriage is immoral because the purpose of marriage is to procreate. If this is so, then heterosexual couples who don't have children -- by choice or circumstances -- should not have been allowed to marry either.

One anti-gay-rights leader recently declared that homosexuals, against all "traditional values," are no longer satisfied with being tolerated, but are demanding acceptance. Well, tolerance and acceptance have long been traditional values in America, a country whose citizens are endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at:


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