Lightning In a Bottle

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Regardless of the clues to the contrary, I always thought of myself as straight. I always had a girlfriend. I was a devoutly Catholic boy in a devoutly Catholic family in a devoutly Catholic Missouri town. This is the story of how I figured out I was gay. I was 22. It was a long journey, so be patient.

Part One

Mid-way through my first year of law school at Northwestern, I landed one of the coveted summer associate positions at St. Louis’ most prestigious firm. I was the only 1L the firm hired.

I was not quite sure how I had threaded the needle. I thought I had botched the interview. I was from a hoosier Missouri river town just outside the ring of St. Louis suburbs, and I was out of my element. I didn’t talk the talk. Even after four years of college, there were hints of small town poverty in my speech, both in grammar and in substance. I had tried but failed to purge the “ain’ts” and “don’t got no’s” and “done seen’s” from my vocabulary.

I also didn’t walk the walk. I did not have or wear the right clothes. I should have worn a blue suit, white shirt, yellow tie, and wing tips, all from Brooks Brothers. Instead, I wore a greenish double-breasted suit, a striped shirt, a tie that was too shiny, and tassled loafers, all from Men’s Wearhouse.

I didn’t know the etiquette. I didn’t stand when women left the table or when they returned. I didn’t precede them down the stairs or follow them up. I had no idea what fork to use or that I was to keep my elbows off the table. I didn’t send thank you cards. I had never owned stationary.

I also offended my last interviewer, a litigation partner. Unbeknownst to me, she had gone to Missouri for law school. So, she was unimpressed, to say the least, by my response to why I had chosen to go to law school: “I was getting a history degree, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I didn’t have a burning desire to be a lawyer. I mean, I wouldn’t have gone if I had gotten stuck somewhere like Mizzou.”

As I finished the sentence, I noticed the black and gold diploma on the wall over her head. I blushed crimson. Seeing no way out, I doubled down. “Of course, you went to Mizzou. If you have pictures of your children, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with them. I have the special gift of almost always saying the wrong thing. If you want, I can teach it to you. It comes in really handy at funerals and weddings.”

To my surprise, she laughed. I had stuck the landing.

When I got the offer, it was from her. She told me the way I had handled the incredibly awkward moment had impressed her. The Cave was betting on who I would become, not who I was.

I had not improved my walk by the time the summer program started, the Tuesday after Memorial Day. I was one of 10 summer associates, although only 9 of us started that day (the guy from the University of Chicago would be in school another three weeks, the victim of trimesters). I was the only one not dressed “the Bryan Cave way.” I did not notice, but others apparently did.

At the end of that day, my mentor – a very kind, gentleman lawyer – offered to take me for a drink at the Missouri Athletic Club. On the way, he hustled me into a Joseph A. Bank, and he bought me two suits (blue and grey), 5 shirts (all white), 5 ties (all striped), and a pair of cordovan wing tips and matching belt. I told him I’d pay him back as soon as we got our first paychecks (we were making $1,000 per week, which was more than twice what my parents earned, combined). He insisted I would not.

By the time John Frederick (or, as we referring to him, “Chicago”) started, the summer program was in full swing. I was in the library doing research when I first saw him. The recruiting coordinator – redolent very much of a praying mantis – was giving him a tour, and he raised his eyebrows at me as he passed by. Twenty years later, I remember that fleeting moment vividly, as if it were yesterday, and I was again 22. Chicago was about 6 feet tall, parted his thick brown hair on the right side, and had extraordinarily bright blue eyes behind square’ish, wire glasses. He was wearing a tan poplin suit, a heavily starched white shirt, and a blue and yellow striped tie. The blue in the tie hit his eyes hard. Other than those eyes, he was attractive, but not extraordinary. In all the years since, the best referent I have come up with is Ron Livingston, the from Office Space who, when accused missing a lot of work, responded that he hadn’t “missed it” at all.

But, there was something about that moment. It was fraught, at least for me. He moved in slow motion as he went past and raised his eyebrows at me.

We all went for drinks after work to welcome him to our group. I was uncomfortable, as I was still out of my element. Everyone else seemed from old St. Louis money. I was from no St. Charles money.

I had not known about subletting, so I was living with my parents for the summer and commuting 45 minutes each way. I was frugal, so I was not comfortable with the free spending of young people making more Lara Travesti money than they could spend and whose habits had never been shackled by a lack of money.

I was insecure, worried that my speech and manor betrayed my humble background (I was one of four children who my alcoholic parents had raised in a two bedroom duplex in our town’s dingiest neighborhood. My clothes had come from garage sales. Our food had often come from a government program. We often drank powdered milk and ate toast and gravy for dinner.).

John was none of those things. He was a blue-blood. He had gone to a snappy St. Louis high school (once St. Louis’s schools were integrated, everyone who could sent their children to private schools; the rest moved to St. Charles County, which was overwhelmingly white and not part of the desegregation plan). John went to Yale for college, using my school – Washington University – as his safety school. He was now at U of C, one of the nation’s top law schools, and the leader in the “law and economics” movement. He had already landed a clerkship on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to begin the Fall after his graduation. After that, he would be one of the select few considered for a Supreme Court clerkship.

He was certain and confident. His voice was deep and cultured. He formed words perfectly. He settled easily into the conversation at the bar, slowly moving to the center and taking it over. He had a mordant, observational sense of humor. He touched people as he spoke to them, leaning in and looking them straight in the eye. He made each person feel like they had his undivided attention, like they were special. It was a gift, and I didn’t have it.

I was the first to leave. As I said my good-bye’s, John again raised his eyebrows at me, and smiled. He smiled easily, and it was a big, broad smile that animated his face and revealed deep dimples and perfect teeth.

I did not smile easily. I had always been serious. I had always been old, even when I was young. I was set on escaping my origins, and I thought that required focus and a seriousness of purpose. I sat in the front row. I raised my hand. I followed the rules. I was hidebound, and I had wound myself so tightly around the idea of striving that I could not unwind. I was constantly competing, constantly trying to move up and out. I was tighter than two coats of paint..


My girlfriend, Ellie, was visiting for a wedding the following weekend. I had met Ellie the first day of NULS orientation, in line for lunch. She was a little shorter than me (I am only 5’7″), but fit as a fiddle before being fit was a thing. She had unruly brown hair, big brown eyes, a button nose, a big smile, and dark, ethnic skin. She was a dynamo, dominating every encounter she had.

I was the opposite. I did not work out. I was carrying about 10 extra pounds. I had thick blonde hair, which I had worn short and parted on the left side since fourth grade. I had green eyes. They had a noticeable circle of orange around the pupil, and the whites were as clear as milk. My smile was too rare, but it dimpled my cheeks when it appeared. Those dimples matched the dimple in my chin. I always looked younger than I was. I was the “cute” guy who never got the girl. I looked like a young Mark-Paul Gosselaar, when I wanted to look like Max Caulfield.

“Who are you?” she had asked me, exaggerating the “you.”

“I’m Max. Actually, Mason, but people call me Max. I’m not sure why. It doesn’t make sense. It seems like it’d be Mace, not Max. But it’s Max.” As I finished, I felt like a fool, babbling about my name like a nervous girl.

“Well . . . Mace,” she said, exaggerating the gap between the two words. “I’m Ellie. Short for Elizabeth. Which makes total sense. Because Elizabeth starts with El. Anyway, have lunch with me.”

I did. I didn’t say a word. There was no room. Ellie never stopped talking. If there was something about her I wanted to know but did not by the end of lunch, I’d have been hard-pressed to figure out what it was.

After lunch, I walked Ellie to her room, she invited me in, and – as 22 year olds are wont to do – we wound up in bed, oral sexing each other. She was live and loud as I made her come, shifting and writhing under my hands and tongue. She gave great head, deep throating me and swallowing all I had when I came. When it was time for me to go, she insisted, “Come back tonight. And, bring condoms.”

I did. Ellie liked sex. A lot. And, she liked me. And my dick. I was average in almost every way but there. Like my father and my older brother, I was swinging a nice piece of meat, disproportionately long and thick for someone my size.

We dated the whole year. I basically lived in her room. When we weren’t eating or studying, we were sexing. She hated condoms, so she got an IUD over Christmas, characterizing it as my Christmas present.

Ellie had also developed her vaginal muscles, and she had complete control of them. When she clamped them around me, I couldn’t move. When I Manavgat travesti was coming and she clamped them shut, the pleasure was so intense it made me light-headed.

As the year wore on and the Chicago weather turned brutal, we got experimental, buying books and toys and using both to pleasure each other and ourselves as much as we could. By the time I headed to St. Louis and she headed to New York for the summer, there was almost nothing we had not done to each other. I had fucked and been fucked. I had eaten ass, and had my ass eaten. I had eaten cum and had my cum eaten. We had worked our way through myriad positions. It had been an awesome year, and I couldn’t wait to see her.

I got a downtown hotel room for the weekend of her visit (we obviously were not going to stay at my parents’). We checked in, and we picked up where we had left off. Masturbation is no substitute for sex, I had gotten a late start (I had gone to college a virgin and had gotten laid less than ten times in those four years), and I had some making up to do.

We fucked through the rehearsal dinner, which – as a groomsman – was a douche move on my part. But, I was pretty sure Todd would understand, once he knew why.

We fucked the next day until we had to leave for the wedding. It was mid-June, and hot even for St. Louis. So, we got chocolate and whipped cream delivered with our breakfast and spent the morning and early afternoon in bed covering each other with both, and then fucking and licking each other clean.

By the time we had to check out on Sunday, I could not get hard, and Ellie was raw. It had been a great, sexy weekend.

I drove Ellie to the airpot. As we parted, Ellie said “When I come back, I want to meet the John you talked about all weekend.”

All weekend? I hadn’t realized.

Part Two

I was happy the next day when John visited my office. His girlfriend had visited that weekend as well, and we compared notes. I was surprised by his casual attitude toward sex, as he was an observant Catholic who had skipped lunches to go to the Cathedral for mass.

As we talked, he noticed a particularly strong review I had received on a recent project.

“Well done, Mr. Davis” he said. “You must be smarter than I thought.”

It was a reverse accolade. It sounded like a compliment, but it wasn’t one, once you thought about it. I decided to chide him.

“Nope, I’m just a dumb hoosier from Chucktown who gets lucky every once and again. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

Chastened, John apologized for the unintended slight.

“I did not mean to suggest I did not think you were smart. It is just that, you do not come across as a law geek. I was surprised you are at Northwestern. I thought you were somewhere like Mizzou. You just seem . . . remarkably normal.”

I had no idea what he was talking about or how to respond. But, I did not think I should say “thank you” to “remarkably normal.” I thought maybe I should use two words, one of which was “you” and the other of which ended in a K, but was only four letters and did not rhyme with spank. Instead, I said nothing.

Later that day, all of the summer associates received a memorandum from John through interoffice mail (there was no such thing as email, much less texting, in 1990). It read “Mason Davis has become the carrot. Please react accordingly.”

I ran into John later in the library. “The carrot?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “The mule chases the carrot. With that review, we are the mules, chasing you, the carrot.”

From that moment on, he called me “Carrot.” It stuck, and soon the rest of the summer class followed his lead.


Two days later, I received another interoffice memorandum from John. It read:

To:The Carrot

From:John C. Frederick III


Date: June 20, 1990

Vi is not visiting this weekend. So, here is an alternative plan for your consideration/participation: Leave work at 5:30. Travel to my apartment to change into casual clothing. Travel to the Delmar Loop to meet Mark and Jennifer (friends from CODASCO) at Blueberry Hill. Eat greasy burgers. Drink Bud Dry. Play darts and pool.

“Vi” was short for Vivian, his girlfriend of four years from Yale. Vi had stayed in Chicago for the summer, where she was getting her Ph.D. in Psychology from Loyola of Chicago. CODASCO was short-hand for The Country Day School, St. Louis’ most exclusive college preparatory academy that prided itself on feeding students to the Ivy League. Like I said, it was snappy.

Rather than respond by memorandum, I used the switchboard to telephone John’s office.

“John Frederick,” he answered.

“Not John C. Frederick the Third?” I asked.

“No. That seems haughty.”

“And, John Frederick doesn’t?”


“Well, John Frederick, this is Mason Davis,” I said, adopting the most formal tone I could. “Regarding your memorandum, I have considered it and am willing to participate in your alternative plan.”

“Excellent, Side travesti Carrot,” he said. “If I do not see you beforehand, I will meet you in the lobby at 5:30 on Friday, two days hence.”

I was excited all day on Friday. So far, I had spent summer weekends at home. I did not want to hang out with people from high school, and my college friends had scattered after graduation to careers or graduate schools.

When we got to John’s University City apartment that night, he made two gins and tonic, announced he was going to shower before changing, and suggested I put music on. I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and started combing through the CDs stacked on the floor next to the stereo. I settled on “You and Me Both” from Yaz, skipping to the “Mr. Blue” track.

As Allison Moyet sang about the winter sounds crying and an old man slowly dying, John stepped out of the bathroom in white boxers, toweling his hair.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Know what?” I asked back.

“This was my favorite song in college?”

“I didn’t. But, it was mine, too.”

“Well, that is quite a coincidence, indeed” he suggested, stepping back into the bathroom.

It was. Actually, it was quite a coincidence that we were together, planning a night out. Nothing in our backgrounds suggested our paths would cross. The 25 miles between his childhood home and mine were, in reality, a chasm.

John looked much younger without his glasses. And, he was thicker and more muscled than I expected. He was carrying a little extra weight around his mid-section, but his arms, back, and chest were more muscled than they appeared when he was suited up for work.

John was also hairier than I expected, his chest covered with the same straight brown hair that covered his head. The hair was especially thick in the middle of his chest, where it formed a trail that traced his stomach and disappeared into his boxers.

“Talk with me while I dress,” John said. I followed him through the apartment, which consisted of a series of rooms you had to walk through to get to the next. It went living room, kitchen, bedroom, bedroom. The first bedroom was empty. John slept in the second bedroom, on a mattress and box springs directly on the floor. The second bedroom was an add-on above a porch. It had no windows, but plenty of wood panelling.

“This seems pretty grim,” I offered.

“Not at all. I love to sleep, and this room is like a tomb. I started in the first bedroom, but it was too bright. I do not even know what time it is back here.”

“What does the C stand for?” I asked.

“It is a bit much.”


“No, Carrot, my middle name is not coitus.”


“Yes, you guessed it. My mother loved oral sex so much, she put it in my name.”

“Good for her. Very avant guard. But, it doesn’t seem very blue blooded to me. It seems a bit base.”

“My middle name, Carrot, which you are not share with anyone at work, is ‘Chester.'”

“As in ‘the child molester?” I asked, laughing.

“No, as in Vera Winfield Chester, my mother’s maiden name.”

“I guess it’s better than ‘Winfield,'” I said. “Still, ‘John Chester Frederick the Third’ seems like a lot of name for a little boy to carry around and up to which to live.” John was a grammarian, so I was working on mine. Hard.

“It is.”

“Does your family call you Trip or Trey?” I asked.

“No, they call me Jo. My dad is John, so I am Jo.”

“You call yourself John at work,” I observed.

“I like it better. Only my family calls me Jo. J-O Jo seems like a woman, to me.”

I decided then and there that I would call him Jo. As I thought about it a bit, “Jo” became “Jo C,” which then became “Josie.”

We took John’s blue Cherokee to Blueberry Hill. As he drove, I explained that I would call him Josie going forward.

“As in Josie and the Pussycats?” he asked.

“No, as in Jo C. Frederick the Third.”

“I am not sure I like it.”

“Well, I’m not sure I like being called Carrot,” I reminded him.

“Touche . . . Carrot.”

Mark and Jennifer were already at the Hill, playing darts. They were lovers. John had dated Jennifer in high school, and she had taken his cherry. But, they had broken up when he went to Yale, and Mark had stepped in to fill the void. They had been together since.

John eschewed his glasses for contacts that night. With John’s eyes no longer obscured by his silver, wired frames, I noticed two things. One, while his eyes were bright blue, they were flecked with silver. Two, he had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen. They looked fake.

We drank way too much for way too long. Somehow, we made it across town safely. We stumbled drunk up the stairs to John’s apartment, which was on the third floor of a house.

“You are welcome to stay,” John offered.

“I don’t think I have a choice, Josie,” I slurred. “I don’t think I could find my car, much less drive it.”

As John fumbled around in the bathroom, I stepped out of my shorts, pulled off my shirt, settled onto the couch, and pulled the throw over me. I was nearly asleep when John shook me.

“This will not do,” he said. “It will be too bright come morning. Stay with me. There is plenty of room.”

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