There will always be a hot dog restaurant called Big Frank’s in the Montrose of my mind. It is as if Big Frank’s has defined the neighborhood for me, because I still drive by and am surprised that now it’s a Chinese restaurant… even though it hasn’t been Big Frank’s for a hundred years. Big Frank’s is a fixed point for me as the entrance to Mecca.
This is because the journey from my house to HSPVA ran thusly:
- Take Pecore until it becomes 11th St.
- Turn left on Studewood.
- Take Studewood until it turns into Studemont.
- Take Studemont until it turns into Montrose.
- Turn left on W. Alabama.
- Turn right on Stanford.
I am not the only person that marks classic Montrose by food. Baba Yega. Bibas. Niko Nikos. All the gays have their favorite, and nine times out of ten, we’ve thrown up there. All Houston gays my age will also remember going to Heaven as if it was the Second Coming (or at least, someone’s). I was so tortured and locked up as a kid- so shy and quiet- that if J.K. Rowling’s concept of a Horcrux were real, these places would contain most of mine. Of course, Heaven burned down a long time ago, but I’m sure I’d figure out something.
Some of the greatest moments of my life were walking tours of Montrose after getting out of school, because I didn’t have to have a car. It was easier to spend time alone without one, because if I walked, I didn’t have to tell my Mom where to pick me up.
The first time I made a break for it was to find Inklings, a women’s bookstore that I’d heard about from a friend. It would have been perfect, except that Inklings wasn’t exactly in the neighborhood. I walked from ‘PVA to like, Richmond and Woodhead. It probably wouldn’t be a thing to me as an adult, but I was really afraid. I think it took me two and a half hours to get there because I was walking so slow. Everything seemed alien and it was the first time that I was walking down the street as an openly gay person. Single, but openly gay. I wanted someone to notice, as if there should have been some sort of applause. Keep in mind that by “out lesbian,” I had officially told one person. But that was one more person than I was ready to tell before. I HAD COME OUT. THERE MUST BE SOME SORT OF GLOW, RIGHT? There’s no glow.
I pranced around like one of those idiot people that can’t hide the fact that they’ve just lost their virginity. You and I both know what I’m talking about- that shit-eating grin that you hate to see on the faces of your co-workers because you know exactly what that means and just, ick.
I had the same delirious happiness on my face, but not because I’d gotten laid. I’d found out who I was. I had a word. I had a title. I was walking toward a bookstore that could help me learn about my tribe. They had a great kid and young adult section, and I sat on the floor. I read Leslea Newman’s “Heather Has Two Mommies,” and then I stumbled upon “Annie on My Mind” by Nancy Garden.
I read two pages, and I knew that this was it. This was THE book. I went up to the counter and tears stung the corners of my eyes as I’d gotten my allowance out of my pocket. The clerk put my book in a brown paper sack and I left with my eyes down, the emotional equivalent of leaving the money on the dresser. I was so ashamed.
The elation was gone when I had to go to the counter to pay. I was trying to put my big girl pants on, win one for the Gipper, pick an analogy. But in the choke, I got anxious and almost cried. The strength I felt a few moments before was gone. Now I had to get a novel about lesbians into my house without anyone knowing.