Pride Before the Human Hair-like Fall

Boston’s Grand Marsha, 2019

I was in New England last week to see my college chum Dale assume his position as Grand Marshal of the Boston Gay Pride Parade.

I’ve visited Boston frequently through the decades and have found it to be just the right combination of erudite and profane. The vast student population with attendant cultural activities provide adequate stimulation for intellectual masturbation. Other forms of self abuse are easily available in the anonymous back alleys and areas of urban decay that made the 20th Century so lovely.

At one point I even considered doing post graduate work at Boston’s great upholstery school, Tufts University. But there was confusion over which degree program I was pursuing and my application was rejected.

The first part of the week was spent with Marilyn in Providence. She and her husband Ron have just completed work on their new home with spectacular views of Narragansett Bay.

During the days, she and I hit the trail of summer ice cream stands that dot the area. I had many delicious flavors while she kept ordering the same one, Not Good Either.

Upon visiting one of Rhode Island’s ye olde gift shops I was overcome with the vapors from their cloying scented candles. Reeling, I thought I saw a picture of Oprah with skin that was completely non-descript. It reminded me of how Elizabeth Taylor made more money with her perfumes than she did in her entire movie career.  I decided I should come out with a line of beauty products to supplement my welfare checks.

Inspired by the Big O, my cosmetics will be called Air Brush with the tagline: They’ll never know it’s you. The first two shades that have made it out of focus groups are Beyond Recognition and, for the Autumns out there, Embalmer’s Best Friend.

As the week progressed Marilyn and I were also inspired to update Joan Crawford’s signature Come Fuck Me Pumps. Air Brush will soon be offering an exclusive line of human-like hair Fuck Me Falls and Pound Me Postiches.

There’s a goofball quality I share with my Bloomington friends over this B thing. When we need a diversion we riff on things B might do. The scary thing for them is if one of these fantasies is even remotely possible I may attempt it.

In the early 90’s I was on a work assignment in DC. Dale came down from Boston for a weekend to hang out with me.

After a taxing day of museum-hopping we sat down for a cocktail. Gaultier had just come out with his Classique perfume in the torso shaped flacon. Staring at his magazine ad we decided B should have a signature fragrance too.

Our ad campaign was to be a velvety matte black background surrounding the glistening amber-colored potion. The glass bottle would be in the shape of male genitalia.

I can’t remember the name we came up with. Possibly Golden or Alchemy or B’s Gold.

But I do remember our tagline: Let it flow.

Down to the Crossroads

Every afternoon Grandmother would take a break to “pile down.” That was her term for a short nap, her favorite part of the day. When we were young we were expected to join her.

Sometimes she would sing “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” while my brother and I stifled our giggles. Her voice was a little warbly and a song about a dead goose seemed odd.

Naps were also a time for Prime Minister’s questions, we could ask anything. Once I wanted to know why, if “darn” was such a bad word to use, did so many people do it? Without hesitating she replied, “because they can’t think of the correct word to use.” For the record, I never heard her say darn.

She didn’t take many liberties with language. When a lighthearted mood struck writing a letter or diary entry, she sometimes succumbed to giddy contractions. Phrases like ’twill be good to see you, or ’tis another beautiful day. Other than those reckless moments of abandon, there were only two slang words she used regularly.

One was dope. It must have been an elastic, catch-all expression like “stuff” that was popular when she was in her teens and twenties. Among other things it’s what she called her homemade chocolate sauce. I enjoyed my friends’  astonished looks when Grandmother served ice cream and asked if they’d “like some dope with it.”

Her other word was chum which was reserved for a select group: her college girlfriends. When she talked about them I sensed they were special people from a wonderful time in her life. The expectation set, I entered Indiana University in September 1968.

It was fun the first two and a half years on campus although I felt lonely and isolated. I was getting by in my friends’ straight world and resigned myself to accepting it as the way life was going to be. Back then here were few context clues in rural Indiana of the subculture that awaited..

In March 1971 I was stalked by a tall, lanky and creepy journalism student, Harry. Unbeknownst to me, he’d trailed me a couple of months and knew my name, address, hometown and class schedule. To quote Pete Rose on Ty Cobb, he knew everything except my cock size. He found that out too.

Attracted more to the situation than him, I closed my eyes and thought of Fire Island. Nothing much came of that relationship except that he started introducing me around the community. Friendships grew rapidly, many forming on the spot with like-minded gay-boys. I was awakened.

Jim Jordan knew Harry and witnessed the whole pursuit and aftermath. He said mine was not so much a coming out as an explosion. Probably from the relief I felt upon realizing I was the only context clue I needed.  I could just be myself.

The joy I felt was accompanied by underlying sadness. College was a temporary state. In my childhood I’d been through enough school changes, neighborhood moves, and summer camps to know tight bonds can dissipate quickly.

I was a senior after five semesters, on track to graduate in three years if I went to summer school. Then I came out and it took five more terms to finish. Separation anxiety caused me to prolong the last year as long as I could.

The fear of losing friends was unfounded. Besides the fun most college kids experience, we were bound by something that changed American culture. While Harvey Milk remained in the closet protecting his job, our generation drew a line in the sand: this is who we are, take it or leave it.

*****

Along with his partner David, my college chum Dale visited San Francisco last week. He’s Grand Marshal of this year’s Boston Gay (plus 5–it’s dizzying how many initials it’s become) Pride Parade. They came to attend the memorial for Charley Brown, the husband of another chum, Mark.

They also were here to celebrate Dale’s 70th birthday, which we did Saturday night at Che Fico.  On Sunday, dinner was at our chum Eric’s house.

Our after-dinner entertainment that evening was to be Joan Crawford’s Humoresque which we’d all seen before. Over David’s spanakopita we shared hazy memories of the film: Issac Stern’s hand double role, the incredible cocktail shaker, the breaking glass. When Joan’s signature face-slapping came up, someone mentioned turning the other cheek.

Seizing a malapropism opportunity, I offered what was really said on the Mount: don’t retaliate just spread your cheeks. The table erupted in childish laughter. Coming up for air, Dale said moments like that were why he’s tolerated me for 50 years.

My whole life I’ve searched for the correct, or incorrect, word to use.

With Grandmother, 1954.

To Love as One’s Own

When I was in college I volunteered at a hippie day care center where my favorite child was a toddler named Free. He was just learning to talk and had a limited vocabulary. Nonetheless he was an effective communicator because every other word out of his mouth was “fuck.” I loved that baby.

All of my life I’ve given back to the community: I did one of the first big fundraisers for the AIDS Foundation in 1983; I did another fundraiser for the Library’s LGBT reading room in 1995; and, for several years I was a volunteer at the Bessie Carmichael School in the City. Recently I’ve been helping out my neighbor who’s had a medical setback.

Now that Ben is getting stronger and is home from the rehab facility, reunited with my god-diggity-dog daughter Sydney, I was starting to sense a void in my daily schedule. Then a message from the Department of Public Works crossed my laptop. They have an Adopt a Drain Program and need my help.

If you’re willing to put a little elbow grease into keeping it clean before and after storms, you are granted naming rights for that drain. A win/win, what better use of my talents?

Pondering the history of adoptions I, of course, thought of Joan Crawford’s work in the 1940s. Her legendary efforts inspired the name for my adopted sewer drain at the corner of Laguna and Waller: No Wire Hangers!!!

Because I am not one of your F-A-N-S!