I was ten in 1970, a shy kid growing up in a scrub-oak suburb south of San Francisco. Our house was pitched on stilts sunk in a steep hillside, looking out onto a little arroyo and into the house of two men I loved like uncles (and more deeply than some of the uncles whose DNA I shared).
But besides me and my older brother, Walter, my mom, and my dad, everybody on our street despised Pat and Lou. At a time when it was still a crime in California for one man to give another man a blowjob, the neighbors hated them because they shared the same enormous bed, draped in a regal turquoise coverlet. Hated them because Lou stayed home like moms did, trolling Safeway for steaks and stuffed potatoes to fix for Pat when he got home from the office.
(Why didn’t my parents share the general loathing for Pat and Lou, a disgust expressed through passive avoidance, active shunning, and the occasional high-pitched catcall? I discovered later that my mom, bless her, is a total fag hag. And my dad always hated bullies—it trumped his ambivalence about the gay thing.)
Pat and Lou did cocktail hour nightly from a pair of velour bucket chairs, in their beam-ceilinged, ranch-style canyon house overlooking masses of scarlet and purple irises under the oaks. They put on matching poplin jumpsuits and corduroy house moccasins to sip Gibsons, tossing nuts to Kurt, their sleek miniature schnauzer, from fingers studded with big-jeweled cocktail rings. On nights when my parents would go to the Iron Gate restaurant for shrimp scampi and saltimbocca, they dropped us boys off at Pat and Lou’s for babysitting.
On those nights, Lou would cook us crazy shit our mom never fixed, food so rich no adult should ever serve it to a ten-year-old. There were casseroles that used Monterey Jack as a suspension medium for olives, ground veal, and button mushrooms from a can. And there were Lou’s famous burgers, so rich and salty, so crusted with a mixture of caramelized onions, Roquefort crumbles, and Grey Poupon—a thick impasto gilded beneath the electric broiler element—I could only ever eat half before feeling sick. I loved every bite.
Looking back, I recognize in Lou’s burgers my first taste of food that didn’t give a fuck about nutrition or the drab strictures of home economics. They were calibrated for adult pleasure, acutely expressive of a formalized richness— exactly the type of thing James Beard taught Americans to eat (for all I know, Lou’s recipe was straight out of Beard). I see them now, those burgers, as unflinchingly, unapologetically, magnificently queer.