I’m From Johnstown, PA.

by Chuck Zito

Satellite overhead image of Pennsylvania from Google Earth 2022

“I’d like to audition, please.”

It was his voice that did it; the sound of it, setting a pattern for a lifetime’s infatuation with pitch and timber. It was deep and resonant – the smoothest sound I’d ever heard. Even before I looked up into the cooper hair and blue eyes, the moment had “Inevitable” written all over it. Inevitable that someone would come along and be first. Inevitable that it would now be him.

It was 1976. Until then I really hadn’t wanted to deal. I was already out of high school, spending a year in the home town before leaving for college. I was 17 (18 in four months). I was still a virgin; still hadn’t said a word to anyone about the big secret; and still sometimes cried myself to sleep.

I hadn’t seen him approach. My head was down, my eyes looking over a list of names, double checking to see who had signed in already, how many slots were left. My list was on a dark brown pressed wood clipboard. It was winter. I was chilly. There was a scarf wrapped around my neck; an overly long red scarf hand knitted by my mother. I was sitting in a metal folding chair at a long wooden folding table. Karen, the stage manager, was sitting next to me. Overhead there were long strips of fluorescent lights.

“I’d like to audition, please.”

I just looked up at him without saying anything. I just starred at him. He was taller than me and generally bigger – not at all fat, just full grown (he was 7 years older than me). He was wearing bluish-green work garb, a cross between janitor and nurses scrubs. I thought it made him look like a real “guy kinda guy.”

“Here.” Karen handed him a sign-in form.

When he handed the form back, he gave it to me, not to Karen.

“I’m Gary,” he said.

“I’m Chuck.”

Inevitable didn’t mean immediate. That moment in the little room outside the old rundown auditorium where our community theater was preparing to cast “The Man Of LaMancha” started a tick-tick to the day I first had sex (six months later on his birthday) and the longer tick-tick until I said the words out loud: “Mom, Dad, I’m….” (almost 18 months later).

Inevitable didn’t mean easy. There were more tears to come. I had no idea how to be in love and he was very reluctant. I took inspiration from the sound of his voice and chased him down: late nights after rehearsals, bonfires, picnics, movies. I wore him out until he said yes the night of his birthday party.

Inevitable certainly didn’t mean permanent. The entire affair was over and done with in a very few months, mostly for reasons that had to do with both of us being afraid.

A year later we were working together again for three months at a summer theater. I was managing the theater, he was the associate artistic director. There was no affair, just a friendship that proved even more valuable. Though I do remember telling one of the actresses that, if I had the chance, I’d get involved with him again.

The last time I saw him he was on his way to Texas. He stopped overnight at my brother’s in Pittsburgh where I was a permanent house guest. That night we slept together (no sex) and in the morning he left.

I have not spoken with him since, but I can still hear his voice.

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