‘Handy Man,’ Summer 1977

What Music Speaks, part eight

Tracy Lynne Oliver
Gay Mag
Published in
4 min readSep 12, 2019


Illustration by Louisa Bertman

TThe song poured lazy through the radio’s single speaker, filling the hot afternoon silence with its somnolent groove and crackle. James Taylor’s voice telling me to gather round, that he was my handy man, saturated the summer air hanging stagnant on the covered porch. You sat beside me on the wooden floorboards. I lay on one of those aluminum and vinyl woven trifold lounge chairs, suddenly aware of all of my skin. I felt like a meal or an offering.

Or both.

Was it the music or the lyrics that broke the something that had been taut between us or was it the heat that had sucked the wet out of our bathing suits four songs ago? Or was it the toll of the old church’s clock — the one shrouded in trees on the hillside across the river? The ringing sent across the slick of the water to everyone who lived on the outskirts of town and along the rough-paved road that led to the lumbermill. The road we lived on. Was it the colossal thrice toll of its bells that urged you, the locked press of time urging your aim? Did you know your window of opportunity was about to expire the next time those bells would echo? Were you listening past James’ clear, calling tones for the churning of the gravel driveway under my father’s red Datsun’s truck tires? Or was it all of these things?

I do not know — or I do — whenever I hear this song.

Seventeen, golden and glowing. I couldn’t stop watching you; fixing fenceposts, digging trenches, cutting trees with my father, throwing a football with my brother, pressing yourself straight-armed out of our pool, whipping your wet hair from slicked-straight back to your long curls, the beads of water sparkling on your tan — no, it was gold…golden — skin, then lying on your back in your jean cutoffs, one arm across your eyes letting the sun have its way with you. How I wanted to be that sun on your skin. How the young girl of me bubbled with what I would find out later was the heat of a woman whenever you visited our property. Whenever you winked and called me, ‘squirt.’

“I whisper sweet things,
you tell all your friends,
and they’ll come running to me”