Laramie, Wyoming is quiet. Calm. Cool, in both temperature and, like The Fonz, attitude. From our street I can see the Snowy Range off to the west and the brush-covered hills that border hiking trails and Curt Gowdy State Park to the east. In between is vast expanse of sky that hosts a diversity of clouds by day and a surprising density of stars at night. Houston’s lights, buildings, and air quality never afforded me either.
On my way to Denver a few days ago, I was reminded of another reason to have left Houston: the traffic. Interstate 25 was a rage of congestion, construction, unchecked bad driving spawned from the anonymity of vehicles and shared communal anger. For years I’d blamed myself for my anxiety, my high blood pressure, my imagined need to crush another driver’s skull with a crowbar, but like a bad relationship, the solution was simple.
Were it not for an invitation, my wife and I might not have made the trip to the Denver Pride activities, but our close friends from Kansas were driving in and that, along with the promise of a good party, was more than enough to convince us to make the two plus hour drive into downtown. We stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel, close to the Fifteenth-Street Mall and the Capitol grounds where thousands of the proud and colorful walked, danced, held hands, walked their dogs, or lounged in the grass. The pride flag hung above the Capitol steps; the day was gorgeous and so were the people. Colored hair floated through the crowd like cotton candy; furry animal costumes mingled with the topless and nearly denuded; bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and, I might add, political affiliations made their way through the packed tents of vendors, and everyone was gay. We laughed when a friend said, “Straight couples are welcome, but don’t flaunt it, you know?” I’d like to think that this gathering represents America, its true nature, embracing individual expression and imagination in a Pantheistic celebration of communal love, but I fear this country still has a long, long way to go.
On Saturday evening, between the Capitol gathering and the Sunday morning parade, we visited the Brown Palace’s cigar bar, an opulent leather-bar from well over a century ago. Framed prominently therein was an original painting by the Italian painter Virgilio Tojetti (1851-1901) titled Colorful Fantasia, but also known as The Sultan’s Dream. Against the backdrop of a Turkish cityscape, a dark, bearded man sits in a boat while naked, white young odalisques clamor to him like codfish to a fisherman. I couldn’t help but interpret the romanticized ‘other’ as both something barbaric and at the same time (because of its prominence in the room) admired, as if to say, “My God, look at that savage,” while secretly savoring the image as a private fantasy. Inebriant ruminations, perhaps, as I enjoyed my cigarillo. The Manhattans were superb.