China Boat

Chapter 12

Thursday, April 15th, 1937
12:15 p.m.
Hotel Street
Honolulu, Hawaii

Back before we landed, I'd asked Mister Spivney, our cabin steward, if he knew of a store in Honolulu that might meet our needs; athletic gear for young men. He'd come back an hour later, with a name and address written on the back of a ship's business card.

"I'm told that this is a likely place to look, Mr. Williamson," he'd said. (It had taken me this long to persuade him not to call me 'sir', in every other sentence.) "It is on Hotel Street, quite close to the Iolani Palace." He'd paused, a moment. "That would be South Hotel Street — sir," he'd finished, a little lamely; with an emphasis on, 'South'.

"Thank you, very much!"

Well, it had all worked out, well enough. I'd acquired a new bathing-suit, which was slightly less stiff and scratchy than I'd expected; and then I'd helped Tom pick out a pair of running-shoes. Painfully aware, all the time, that he was spending his own family's money, not mine, and that the cost probably mattered.

Of course, we'd both been taken directly to the Children's section, as soon as we walked in. It was an indignity I hoped to grow out of, some day. Quite literally … 

So, now, we were walking on Hotel Street, our packages under our arms, spending a little time before heading back to the ship. Looking for a place to eat, too; I'd promised to treat Tom to a sandwich and a Coke, or a milkshake.

Most of the establishments seemed to offer a different type of liquid refreshment.

"Wow," from Tom; his shoe-box under his arm, looking around. "It's … busy."


North of the Territorial Capital, Hotel Street, and the surrounding neighborhood, changed character.

Oh, it still looked very much like a small town, Stateside; the buildings low and ordinary, most in brick or stone, some in wood frame, with those characteristic deep balconies and big windows on their second floors. Tin roofs were common, as were tin awnings, sheltering the sidewalks. The streets were narrow, too, in the way of small towns; cars were parked on both sides, with one lane of traffic moving between them.

But it was also a local Chinatown, of sorts; one could see it in the establishments, one could even see it in the architecture, here and there; upturned-eaves, and exotic doorways, leading into shadowy courtyards … 

The sidewalks were filled with yet more Navy sailors, their gleaming-white uniforms everywhere; happy, joking, bumping shoulders — 

And going into, and coming out from, bars, at a tremendous pace. The bars were everywhere; just from where we stood, on Hotel Street again, I could see at least four of them. The Shamrock; Dylan's; The Mint; The North Star … 

The establishments which weren't bars, reminded me of Coney Island. Right in front of us was a shop advertising 'Tattoos', in large, gilt letters, above the image of an eagle; next to that, in turn, was a pinball parlor, which emitted a cacophony of ringing bells, and the happy chatter of young men — 

Well, maybe not all of the establishments were reminiscent of Coney Island. Across the street was a smaller storefront, labelled, 'Max's Loans'; a pawn shop. As we watched, two sailors came out the door, tucking their wallets carefully into their waistbands; already intent on the bar next door.

"Umm," I started, as we stood looking, for a moment. "I'd say the Fleet is definitely in. Not much doubt about it."

"Yeah," from Tom. Gazing around; all eyes.

Silence, for a moment; then I found myself smiling, and setting down my parcel, and digging in my bag for my Leica. "I'm sorry; but I just have to have a shot of this … my friend Jack will love it."

"That's okay," from Tom. And he waited patiently, as I clumsily tried to capture just the right moment, the right surge of white uniforms, on the narrow street … 


We found a little soda fountain, and had lunch there; pork sandwiches, as it turned out — pork seemed to be the city's ubiquitous meat-of-choice. And, we were in luck; the milkshakes were thick, and delicious.

Our fellow-diners were all Navy boys, younger-looking ones, the ones obviously too young to go into the bars, presumably. They did not seem to be tremendously happy with the situation.

We finished our milkshakes; and at last, we resumed our trip back to the Hoover.


The boat was due to sail at five p.m., sharp; the stern injunction, from both of our fathers, was that we were to be back on board no later than two-thirty.

That injunction had been issued jointly, actually; we had all finally dined at the same table on Wednesday night, the night before we docked.

I'd only briefly met Tom's mother, and younger brother; they'd excused themselves to go back to their stateroom, for little Mickey's bedtime … He was round-eyed, and serious, and just barely walking; she was lighter-haired than Tom, but with the same fine bones. Not unlike my own mother, and myself; I thought.

Tom's father was — interesting.

He was younger than Father; and shorter than Father, too. But he was broader in the shoulders, and he sat very erect; and I had the impression, that underneath his suit-coat, he was holding back a restless energy … He seemed impatient; in need of movement.

I also had the distinct feeling that he approved of my encouraging Tom to come running with me. And, that that approval would extend to other athletic endeavors we might undertake. And, that such was the underlying reason for his approving of my unsupervised expedition with his son … Along, perhaps, with a general belief in the virtues of rugged self-reliance.

I tried not to think of his reaction, if he'd known of our shower-time activities, together.

For his part, Father — aside from his injunction — hadn't said anything more, about our expedition; he hadn't needed to, he'd merely given me his customary Look. Responsibility, it said, was expected of me; always, but especially here, as the elder of the two of us.

Curiously, Father had seemed … uncomfortable … at dinner.

No-one else might have noticed; Father has impeccable manners, and he spoke at length with Tom's father, politely and easily.

But I know Father, very well; and I'd sensed his unease. He'd seemed to me, guarded … and he'd skillfully turned the conversation away from himself, and the Bank, and our expectations in Shanghai, and instead towards Mister Fletcher's field; soil conservation, the terrible ongoing drought in the American Midwest, the latest scientific crop-growing techniques … Father had been uncharacteristically voluble, and opaque, all at the same time.

I'd blinked at the performance, several times.

Father is not a person who is readily put off of his ease. He is on friendly terms with Senators, and several Governors; he has been a dinner guest at the White House several times, in both the Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt Administrations; and he is actually a close friend of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the current Treasury Secretary. He had introduced me to Mister Morgenthau himself, last summer.

So, as the conversation continued on to the intricacies of rice-cultivation in Northern China, I'd wondered about it … But, I'd been grateful enough for the few hours' freedom, and the opportunity to mail my letters to Jack, that I hadn't wondered too closely.


Tom had been the one to plan the route back to the ship; using his borrowed guidebook. Of course.

"Do you want to go back the way we came, instead — ?" he asked now; looking at me, uncertainly. "You could still get some pictures of the statue — ?"

I'd had enough of the Kamehameha statue, for several reasons.

"No … no, I'll pick up a postcard of it back at the dock, or maybe along the way, here." I smiled sideways at him. "Let's just wander!"

Our plan was to head generally north on Hotel Street, and on the streets to either side, to River Street, or the Nuuanu Creek — whichever came first; the tourist map in the guidebook was far from clear on the matter — and then head west, and south, back to the Aloha Tower and the ship. We'd make our deadline with time to spare.

And so, we set out; past another bar, past a shooting gallery, of all things — the 'pop, pop' of the air rifles clearly audible, over the traffic — and then, a restaurant advertising itself as 'Harry's Lounge and Grill' … 

And always, everywhere, there were more white-clad sailors; some larger, some smaller; some rough-looking, some angelically innocent-looking, but all, almost without exception — young.

I found myself somewhat shy of them; I tried not to look at them, too closely. The expression of danger, of contempt, on the face of the tall sailor, back at the statue … 


That there were such places in Honolulu, did not come as a surprise. They are everywhere.


Jack and I had spent three, glorious weeks, last summer, exploring New York City together; from skyscrapers to tenements, from Harlem to Hell's Kitchen … When we'd gone to Hell's Kitchen, we'd dressed down and scruffily, and we'd been prepared to run for our lives, at any moment — 

We'd found a number of such places, in different neighborhoods. Places where homosexuals — like us — congregate.

Or perhaps, not so much like us; neither Jack nor I would ever loiter in mens' toilets in Grand Central Station, looking closely and meaningfully at the other customers … Particularly, at the younger ones; Jack and I had attracted a fair amount of attention, there; we'd gotten out, fast.

Neither would we wander, apparently aimlessly, in the afternoon, or at night, in Washington Square, down by Greenwich Village … 

Some boys at our school whisper stories about Washington Square; some of which might be true.

I do not condemn such people; such men; they are my tribe and kin, in a vital way. I do pity them, deeply, though, if they hate themselves, and confine themselves to satisfying their sexual urges, while denying themselves the chance to love.

Still. That could have been my fate, if I hadn't been lucky, in one specific time and place.

It could have been Jack's.


Everybody knows, that in New York, as in Honolulu, Navy sailors — and young Army enlisted men, and, especially, Marines — are favorite subjects of admiration; many of the places where we homosexuals come together, to find casual sex, are also places where young servicemen are found.

Sometimes, the enticement for the young serviceman is quick sexual relief, after weeks of abstinence; and sometimes, of course, the young man himself is also homosexual, in whole or in part, and the encounter is nearly equal, and happy … 

Sometimes, an exchange of money is involved.

And sometimes, the exchange is involuntary; through threat of blackmail, or worse, the application of fists. With, or without, any sexual contact.

I didn't know what had happened — or might have happened — between the tall sailor, and his male admirer, back at the statue … but the scene had made me deeply uncomfortable. And, as attractive as the young sailors, here on Hotel Street, were — they were boys my age, really — I didn't want to stare; for fear of revealing myself; for fear of the consequences.

It is our eyes, that give us away. For better, or for worse.

Tom didn't seem to have any such inhibitions.

As we walked, he looked, openly; he stared, at the groups of young sailors, with something like open hero-worship — 




I blinked, and wondered, as the thought struck me, hard; and as I remembered what had been happening between us, in the showers … 

"Tom? Let's cross the street. All right — ?"

"Huh? Oh, okay. Sure."

He looked away from the two sailors he'd been gazing at, and we crossed in front of an older Ford, a Model A, which was laboriously backing into a parking-place — 

Tom and I had shared showers, now, three times.

I don't know if I'd convinced him that masturbation — even just jacking off with a friend — wasn't actually a mortal sin; his expression, each of the last two times, had been one of a boy who thought he was going straight to hell for what he was doing … but perhaps, thought it was all worth it.

He'd been enormously hard, when we'd stripped, the last two times. Before we stripped; I could tell.

The second time we'd masturbated together, he'd sat down very close to me, on the bench; and he'd spread his legs wide, until his thigh touched mine. Deliberately, I'd thought; and I'd been glad, that he had wanted to; that he was loosening up.

The last time we'd done it, I'd tried to show him other ways of pleasing himself … by touching his own balls, by touching the insides of his legs, his nipples — for the sake of the pleasure it would give him, of course, but also in a bid to slow him down; he had a tendency to race to his climaxes — 

And at one point a little later he'd reached over, and quickly, shyly, stroked the inside of my own thigh; just once, but high up. It had made me jump, a little; but it had also felt very good … 

All three times we'd showered together, and pleased ourselves, together — his eyes had been absolutely fixed on me; huge, wide open, devouring … it was very flattering; as well as highly erotic.


It is our eyes, that give us away.


And so it struck me now, late, that just perhaps, Tom was less interested in the white Navy uniforms, and what they represented, than he was in what was underneath them … 


Speaking of which.


We were wandering up North Pauahi Street, which ran parallel to Hotel Street, heading generally towards Nuuanu Creek … 

The neighborhood had changed. In place of the Chinese establishments and honky-tonk storefronts, there were buildings that looked like run-down office blocks, but were actually hotels; I saw signs for the Rex Rooms, the Service Hotel, the Anchor — 

White-uniformed sailors seemed to be loitering, in front of the hotels. There was considerable traffic, going in and out of the Rex Rooms, more than the likely number of rooms would suggest — 

Oh. Again.

"Uhhh … " I started; coming to a halt. I looked around, again; and I paused, for a moment. "I think, maybe, we should go back, and around … "

The sailors in front of the Rex Rooms looked a little — sheepish, maybe; although it might have been my imagination. But they were also looking at us, in glances. We were very clearly out of place.

"What — ?" from Tom; uncertainly. He looked at me. "Why — ?"

"Come on," I said; and I turned, and started back to the corner. "I'll explain, in a minute." As we walked, another group of sailors, looking a little drunk — or maybe just flushed — passed us, heading for the hotels — 

I am not a prude; as I said.

By almost any standard, I am actually a sexual radical. I believe in the rightness and sanctity of love between boys, and of love between men; I think sex is normal, and healthy, and in fact necessary for good mental and emotional health; and I practice my beliefs. I am — Jack and I both are — very nearly adherents of Free Love; except that we both know that love is not free, there is always a price, which one must be prepared to gladly, and willingly, pay — 

Not that kind of price, though. Not a literal price.

It takes all kinds, to make up a world … but I confess, I found the idea of prostitution, of lovemaking entirely divorced from love or friendship or affection of any sort — I found it profoundly sad. And, I deeply wondered about the welfare of the girls and women involved; were they really free — ? Did they really have a choice, in what they did — ?

"What is it?" from Tom, at my side; walking quickly with me, now. "Why did we turn around — ?"

I thought for a second; then I shrugged.

"That was the red-light district; and those hotels, were brothels." I smiled sideways at him, a little crookedly. "I didn't think the sailors would appreciate having a couple of tourists like us around. Especially a couple of tourists, with a camera."

"Oh … " Tom looked back — we'd already turned a corner — and then, he looked down; blushing, I thought.

Another pause. Then — "How did you know?"

I shrugged, again. "I've seen places like it, before; streets like that one. We have enough of them, in New York."

A long silence from Tom.

"Have you ever been to one?" It came out of him abruptly; almost harshly.

"No!" I glanced over at him, and met his eyes full on, for a moment. "No, I haven't; and I never will. I would never want to … be with … someone, that I didn't care about, in one way, or another. For whom I didn't have some kind of feelings." I said it firmly; it is part of my nature, of who I am.

"Oh," from Tom, again. And when I glanced back over at him, his eyes were fixed on the ground; and he was blushing, more deeply than ever.

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