Trajectories

“Bill, wake up, we’re going to watch a man walk on the moon!” There was excitement in my parent’s voice, which they expected me to share. But this was not how we did things in this house. Even at the tender age of six, I understood this and respected the rules that my parents were cavalierly disregarding. Their disregard of rules made me fearful that overnight they had become hippies. By dragging their six year old out of bed in the middle of the night to watch TV they may as well have been saying “Watch TV little man, no rules only love!”


I sat in front of a grainy black and white image so blurry that it might as well have been static. If there was any significance to the moment, it was lost on me. All I knew was this was not “Wacky Races.” No Penelope Pitstop or Dastardly Doolittle. I sat crossed legged on the floor in front of the TV. Eyes narrowed, afraid that my mother would suddenly pull a tambourine out of her purse and start dancing, while my father played “Lucy in the sky with Diamonds” on a guitar.

It was July of 1969. This is when my memories started to form. Subsequent newscasts would cement the importance of this moment into my impressionable mind. “That’s one small step for man; One giant leap for mankind.”

One month earlier in a city as distant as the moon another object was propelled across the night time sky. While it's trajectory was barely fifteen feet, its impact would not hit my life for another thirty seven years. There were no widely broadcasted news reports or school lessons to plant that moment into my young mind.

The night was still and heavy. The city held the air so close that the heat from the pavement could not escape. In this bar, The Stonewall Inn, a group of people sought out one of the only places that they could feel safe. Outside of the bar, they were criminals and deviants: arrested and beaten.

Suddenly: bright lights, Confusion. Shit, it’s a raid again. Nowhere to run. Seven policemen entered the bar and took the “till”. They locked the first group in a paddy wagon. Their crime: touching another man, or not wearing three articles of clothing pertaining to their gender. But then unbelievably, someone threw pennies and then a bottle at the policemen. One individual became a group and the group fought back. The policmen returned the next night and the next. But the opposing group became hundreds, then thousands.

My parents never became hippies: although there is a picture of them at a mountaintop wedding where their dress is questionable. The rules of the house were left intact. While the Stonewall riots had set into motion a period of change, the ripples were slow to intersect with my life.

On a recent trip to New York, Paul and I walked to Christopher Street and stopped in front of the bar. Its appearance was unremarkable: A hole in the wall. We entered the darkened bar and ordered a five dollar special martini. There was no special code word to enter and no threat of a police raid. At the other end of the bar sat a man in his late fifties, old enough to have been there that night. Could he have been the one man that threw the first bottle and changed the lives of millions?

June 24th, 2011, almost 42 years after the riot:  a Republican controlled senate voted to make marriage equality in New York a reality. Paul, I and the kids huddled around the tiny laptop screen and watched the vote take place. The hurled bottle landed in my life. “That’s one small step for man; One giant leap for mankind.”

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