I n the 1960s, I worked at Time-Life when everyone seemed to be named Astor or Auchincloss. I shared an office with another man for three years before he revealed he was gay. A month later, he invited me to an after-work super-WASP gay cocktail party in his mother's dilapidated town house (she was out of town). There I met a big strapping blond man of my age (26). He'd gone to Exeter and Colgate and made a considerable living as a broker and was engaged to be married. He was six-foot-three and had many, many teeth and a blond forelock and a thick neck and a chest nearly as prominent as his ass.
At the height of this preppy gay party, a cute recent grad from Harvard with a yellow bow tie sat down at the piano to play his way through some highlights from Gilbert and Sullivan; he was a member of the Blue Hill Troupe, an amateur charity organization devoted to doing a G & S operetta every spring (this year it was The Gondoliers). The crowd, however, knew H.M.S. Pinafore better, and my big blond basso broke into a zealous, strangely nonsatirical chorus of "He Is an Englishman."
His name was Bradley, and seldom had I met anyone more exuberantly self-satisfied. You could see he liked everything about himself, from his booming voice to his pointed canines to his dark blue suit and the blue-and-gold-striped suspenders that held up his trousers and that, once he removed his jacket and really got into frugging, he'd snap from time to time for rhythmic emphasis. He even closed his eyes and evinced a debutante's "Watusi overbite."
I've always been a sucker for big asses, especially big blond asses. I like it when the fabric is taut over those expansive curves. When you know those massive globes will be hairless except for a fine fuzz along the crack. When you realize you'll be able to weigh them in your hands like prize casabas. When the only "flaw" will be endearing silky marks that look like stitches and reveal where the guy used to be still fatter, much fatter, and where after serious dieting the loose skin had to crimp and shrink...
After the chipper little pianist tired of his operettas, someone put on Johnny Mathis and we all danced cheek to cheek. Bradley of course insisted on leading and he planted his size 14 hand on the small of my back and with a wink that looked like a neurological tic kept edging his long fingers down the back of my pants. He asked me if I was campaigning for Nixon.
He was an enthusiastic kisser with lots of saliva and a tongue as active as an electric eel. When my hand brushed his crotch "by accident," I discovered under the cashmere another considerable charm of his person. I was willing to ignore the Nixon comment and make a date.
He came to my shabby apartment in "Needle Park," a stumbling ground for heroin addicts on the Upper West Side. I'd shooed my roommate away, and I made what I imagined was a WASP meal—everything white, from the asparagus to the chicken breast to the mashed potatoes to the vanilla ice cream, and lots of martinis and white wine.
After dinner, we "necked" on the couch for a few minutes before I carried him—yes, all 240 pounds of him—into the adjoining bedroom, because if he was Rhett Butler in the salon, he was Scarlett O'Hara in the boudoir. Soon I was deliriously fucking my first Republican. His kitty was a bit muddy, but I've never been a stickler about that—I liked the additional display of vulnerability, the sheer amateurishness.
Later, much later, I discovered that he had a male lover and that the two of them had married sisters, heiresses, both deaf, and that they'd go on long sailing trips with them on their yacht and that when the girls were down below, out of lip-reading range, the boys were free to guffaw about their naiveté. What a great game it all was, har har! I thought it sounded like one of the most sinister scenarios imaginable.
In the '70s, I was dating a cute boy and I invited him to the ballet. In the lobby, we were accosted by the now balding but still braying Bradley. He thumped me on the back. He was apparently alone. I introduced my date. With uncharacteristic curiosity, Bradley asked my date what he did for a living.
"I'm a hairdresser."
Bradley looked stunned and then said, with a huge blinding smile, "Oh. Good. My wife has her hair done. Frequently." And then, having performed the social niceties, he rushed off and I never saw him again. What a buffoon—but what a kitty!
Edmund White is a novelist, biographer, playwright, critic, and infamous gossip. He lives in New York City and teaches at Princeton.