Our DogSon, Mister B


I had the name picked out decades before his pedigree was ever known by The American Kennel Club. Back in 1979, while I still lived in New York City, I began traveling to Montreal. The city charmed me from the first trip. It was an inexpensive foreign getaway, close enough for a long weekend. The Metro system was incredible, easy to maneuver, and so cheap. Each line was color-coded, with the beginning and final stops used to mark the direction in which to travel. My favorite on the map was HENRI BOURASSA.  Quietly I mumbled the musical name over and over again as a wonderful pronunciation exercise, while hanging onto the pole near the train car’s door. I would roll my R’s and practice those open vowel sounds. Turns out it was the name of a native son–a 19th Century political figure.

“Such a wonderful sounding name”, I thought to myself. “Someday I’m gonna’ have a cute little dog, and give him that incredibly long French name.”

Nearly twenty years later, (while visiting Montreal ironically), David and I came upon a guy walking a pair of small dogs late one night on the way back to our hotel. They were these unusual looking pups with short-short hair and soulful dark eyes. When we asked him the breed he told us Shih Tzu, but that he kept them nearly shaved down because he wasn’t into the grooming thing. I had always connected the breed to the dog show image–a  huge fussy topknot with a ridiculous bow, and a long silky coat brushing the ground. I never knew what cuteness lay buried underneath all that foofy-ness.

In 2008 we adopted a rescue cat. Once she became part of the family, we decided it was time to add the puppy to our household that I’d so longed for. I found an ad in the local paper for a litter of three Shih Tzus. There were two males and one female. The woman had owned the mother for about three years, I learned. She wasn’t a dog breeder. An elderly friend of hers had to move into assisted living, and couldn’t bring her male Shih Tzu with her. She took in the dog, meaning to find it a home. Both she and her female fell in love with him, so much so, that several months later…voilà…puppies!

We will never forget going to the kitchen door of the small house. We knocked on the glass and instantly watched mamma and her three balls of fluff rush to the door. The woman let us in, as David and I became engulfed in a furry commotion. The female pup was doing her best to be noticed, jumping up, yet barely reaching my shins. She and one of the males looked nearly identical to the mother, with red and white markings. The father was large, and charcoal colored. The other male looked much like him, and bigger than his siblings. His face was too dark to show off his lovely black eyes. This guy was untying David’s shoelaces as we chatted about the pups. The female’s small twin sat near my foot, cocking his head as if eavesdropping while I questioned the woman. A big calico cat even crawled out to greet us. The pups had been well-socialized, and loved momma cat too.

Although I had my heart set on a male, I still asked which of the three was the most affectionate. “Oh, this guy”, she motioned at the cutie looking up at me. “He’s a little lover”. I scooped him up, much to the chagrin of his twin sister, and totally melted at his warm softness that filled my hands. Once David finished re-tying his shoe for the umpteenth time, I handed the pup over to him. Of course we wanted to take all three, but we claimed this one. Early the following morning we returned to take tiny nine-week-old Henri Bourassa home.

We were determined to be modern pet parents. We’d studied all the current information on dog ownership in the new millennium for months before. We would crate Henri Bourassa at bedtime starting on day one–train him right from the start. On a trip to Petco the night before, we bought the best crate they offered. Our kitchen has ceramic tile, so he’d have free rein there while we were at work. We spent that entire first day playing with him, introducing Henri Bourassa to every corner of our home, until all of us were exhausted.

Coaxing him into the crate was not easy. He wanted to continue having a good time exploring his new surroundings. We got him inside, latched the little door, and left the light on in the pantry. Once we headed for the bedroom he began to yelp. He hadn’t found his voice to bark quite yet. We let this go on for maybe five minutes. Tugging at our hearts, I came out to the kitchen to attempt to quiet him.

His little rear end began feverishly wagging, happy to see me reappear. David came back minutes later. We decided to let him out of the crate, thinking he might crawl back in once we’d calmed him and left him on his own. Not so. He made it obvious that he wanted to hang with us. A wooden baby gate closed off the doorway to the tv room. When the two of us climbed over it in an attempt at a second trip to bed, he raced after us. He couldn’t jump more than a foot, so in seconds he repeated his yelping. Climbing like a monkey, Henri scaled the wooden fence, pulling his chubby body through the rungs after him. We laughed like crazy, looked at one another, and brought him to the bedroom. After about ten minutes more of puppy play time, we coaxed him to the foot of our bed where he soon passed out. There he slept every night of his life, together with us.


The following summer, a few months before his first birthday, we enrolled him in a puppy obedience class. It was very basic stuff, probably training us more than him. He was one of eighteen dogs. The class was held in a huge building also used to train dogs for agility trials. We were curious to see how Henri Bourassa would react to being with other dogs. Turned out David and I were far more interested in his classmates than he was. Their owners were another story. Henri was focused on winning over all the humans in the room, especially his teacher. Even at that first class it was easy to see he was one of her favorites.

He came to the program fairly well-behaved. Without any formalized training, he could sit, and understood down and come. My biggest concern was getting him to walk properly on a leash. Our problem, once we got further along in the class, was that our pooch was not food motivated. He wasn’t into doggie treats. The teacher had several different kinds in her many pockets. None of them seemed to work. She asked what did he like at home. I was almost afraid to tell her cheese was his snack of choice, but finally confessed. She suggested bringing tiny pieces to class. That made no difference either. But we worked with him and he learned most of his tasks.

The last class was an obstacle course sort of final exam. Watching some of the food-motivated dogs perform with their ‘persons’, I didn’t think Henri would make it through to the end. Not that he hadn’t learned most of what he needed to know, only that he was perfectly content to sit on the floor between the two of us and watch the other dogs entertain us. David led Henri through the course when it was our turn. I felt like a dad at his kid’s first T-Ball tournament. They managed to finish it all, certainly not in record time nor the best execution, but finished. I was so proud of both my guys that day. He was our little champ.

I can’t say when we began calling Henri Bourassa by his nicknames. We both started using “Mister B” far more than Henri. It suited him so well. He was a little Mister. And he seemed to respond to it, as though preferring Mister B to the long French version. Not too much later my special name for him was born…”Poochichi”. It naturally grew out of “Pooch”. Definitely a term of endearment, especially when he cuddled with me, because he hadn’t changed much from that precious puppy the lady  called ‘the littler lover’.


We began our morning walk routine soon after his graduation. We walked a half mile every day unless it was pouring out, or there were four inches of snow on the ground. His short legs simply couldn’t maneuver through it. He would start out at full-speed, galloping all the way to the top of our hill. Then the decision was his. He could choose to go right (up the hill further), or left, (down and a more level path). I allowed him the choice every time. It was his walk, I was only following his lead. He had this engaging, self-assured attitude that reflected in his bouncy little gait. He attracted loads of attention, and together we got to meet  neighbors I otherwise might never have known. Some of them had dogs; many were just animal lovers he charmed along the way. On weekends, if the two of us felt up for it, we’d add extra legs to our route. Our walks were super-special time that Mr. B and I shared–ours alone.

In hindsight, it was these walks he allowed me to take us on, that became the basis for our symbiotic relationship. Mr. B repaid me by becoming my shadow. He followed me everywhere. If I lounged in bed on weekends, he stayed too. If I moved from the tv room to the front porch, so did he. Saturdays were typically ours exclusively. Being in retail, David usually has to work, and so Henri trailed behind me everywhere, while I enjoyed the day at home either doing chores or relaxing. I chatted with him about everything, while he hung on to my every word–the consummate listener. He never grew tired of being around me.


Although he hated water, he even kept me company while I took one of my famous two-hour baths on the weekend. He would run into the bathroom the moment he heard me draw back the shower curtains and begin filling the tub. While I would start gathering my water-glass and iPad and phone, he would search for his favorite toy froggie, and plop it on the bath rug. Then he’d situate himself in front of the tub, and begin gnawing away on the grimy rubber thing. Once I eased myself into the warm bubbles, I’d snatch the frog and try to rub the dried drool off under the faucet. He patiently waited as I bathed froggie, but never took his eye off the toy until I handed it back to him. He spent time licking the toy from top to bottom, then usually passed out and slept till bath time was over.

As much as he enjoyed walking on the leash, he didn’t mind us picking him to carry him, especially if we were out shopping. We bought one of those doggie kangaroo carriers, but we both liked it better just tucking him into the crook of our arm. Mister B seemed to fit perfectly there. He snuggled comfortably and enjoyed the view, being eye level with all his possible admirers. He never got enough of being adored, and we loved showing him off.

I got into the habit of taking him to the office once or twice a month for an afternoon. He loved everybody there. He would make the rounds, going from desk to desk and guarding each colleagues workspace for a bit. Every time the door opened he’d rush to greet whoever it was. Once we got back to our work routine, boredom would set in, and Mister B would make this low little grumble sound at me, signaling he was now ready to get back in the car and go home. Often it would be hours before closing time. In that case I’d get him up in my lap and he’d hop onto the desk and nestle himself atop a pile of papers, watching me while I worked.

By far, his favorite place to be was the spot between David and me on the sofa in our tv room. We spend most of our time in this little room, watching tv, playing on our laptops, eating most meals or napping. If I came home first, Mr. B greeted me with squeals of delight, jumping until I picked him up to give hugs and get kisses. We’d climb onto the sofa, but after a few minutes he’d begin to stare out the window overlooking the driveway, watching for David’s car to pull up. When David got home first, he often said Mr. B had been waiting in the kitchen for me to come through the door. In any event, wedged between the two of us on the little love seat was where our pooch always wanted to be.

I could define our Henri Bourassa with one word: JOY (in all caps). I know this, especially now, because for the past six weeks all joy has been missing from my life. For eight years we had the beautiful gift of Mr. B in our little world. Selfishly, the only thing that would make me happy again, is to wake up tomorrow morning, and see him sleeping at the foot of our bed..


The beginnings of a memorial garden. It was his favorite area in the backyard to pee.






A bientôt

So I got this email from WordPress, telling me it was time to renew my domain registry to maintain my blog. That means this coming September would be four years of blogging–and lots and lots of words. Time to take stock.

I began this process to get down onto the page, those stories, faces and feelings collected through my years on this planet. Motivation is not something I have in abundance. Maybe a blog would give me deadlines to push my lazy self a little, was my rationale. Here we are.

Now I need to begin working to put my accumulation so far into some logical sequence for a memoir. Much of what has become Gay Dinosaur Tales fits well into the format I’ve envisioned. Much was fun to write and is still fun to read but won’t serve in the outline I’ve structured. And then there are those gaping holes–missing stories I still need to write.

I hope to keep you posted somehow on my progress. It still amazes me, how one-time-strangers have found me and followed me. No longer strangers, I have made some incredible ‘cyber-friends’ who have joined me through this journey. I would hate to lose you. I’m keeping my Twitter account GayDinosaurTales for anyone who wants to stay in touch that way, (and promise to tweet more). I will also better use my Facebook page, so feel free to like GDT for updates.

Thanks again for reading. Wish me luck. Send good energy my way. Keep in touch. Stay tuned.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read Your Labels


I guess I just have one of those faces. Complete strangers share the most incredible things with me, without any encouragement on my part. Honest. This ‘gift’ has been with me most of my adult life. On certain occasions, often due to my job at the time, it happened with more frequency. Like in the late 80s when I was the proprietor of a toy shop in one of the eight rooms of the Victorian house we were living in. Once a woman walked in, looking for a doll for her ten-year old daughter. She purchased a fairly costly European beauty, then proceeded, without fanfare, to tell me the story of an illicit affair she’d been carrying on for months with her husband’s co-worker. She had never been in the store before, nor did she ever return.

For a while, in my early forties, I fantasized about going for a Master’s in social work. I thought it might be fun to spend my golden years as a therapist. I could convert the front porch into my office. I would hang a shingle outside.  Then I’d sit back and finally make a little money listening to people share all those dark secrets they so loved to dump on me for free. After some honest consideration, it didn’t seem worth the bother. Besides, then I’d be expected to tell them something to make it all better. I couldn’t bear the onus of that–not for any money.

So in this story I am in my mid-forties, probably just before I’ve met my spouse David. It’s a Sunday afternoon–my grocery shopping ritual. There is this little neighborhood supermarket I frequent, because there are fewer people, and it’s easier to maneuver. They carry almost all the things found in one of their larger stores–except they only have a few of everything.

Only recently I have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, so I am manic about sodium. Maneuvering one of my once-favorite aisles, Snack Foods–I become guilt-ridden. As I push my cart past potato chips and other verboten crispies, it’s like I have entered the bowels of a salt mine. I already know which brand of tortilla chips has the least amount of sodium. The bag already sits in my cart in that place where others lovingly tuck their toddlers. What I’m shopping for now is a good salsa to dredge them in. I pick up jar after jar to read the fine print, attempting to choose something that can please both me and my primary care physician.

Lost in the solitude of my research, a voice from the other side of the aisle, about four or five shopping cart lengths away causes me to look up.

“If my husband read the labels like you’re doing, I wouldn’t be here today pushing my own shopping cart!”

I smile, realizing this stranger is addressing me in her roundabout way. Not knowing how to answer this incredible opening line, I sort of nod and fake-giggle, in a forced acknowledgement that she is eavesdropping on my private grocery shopping. I hope she will take the hint. My eyes return to the jar in my hand.

“You certainly can’t be dieting. There isn’t an ounce of fat on you anywhere!”

“I’ve got high blood pressure,” and as the words drop out of my mouth, I want to kick myself for sharing that with this supermarket yenta. So taking it as a cue, she pushes her cart right over to me.

Suddenly she turns down the volume to an almost whisper, “Are you taking medication?”

[“I don’t want to talk to you, lady–let alone share my medical history”] is what I want to say–to scream at this nosy old bag, but of course I’ve been taught to be polite, even to a vulgarian. “Yes, I do.”

“Is it a diuretic?”

Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph, this broad has no boundaries. “I’m not really certain.” I hope this will suffice–and serve to shut her the hell up.

“A diuretic is a pill that makes you pee.” She edges her cart even closer. “My husband took them. Well, was supposed to take them.” Her entire body shrugs as she audibly sighs. “He wasn’t careful. Not a bit. So we lost him.” I thought, if she starts crying, I’m leaving the cart right here and bolting for the door.

She leans into my cart in order to see better. “So what else have you got here?”

[“Don’t you dare touch my food, you snooping bitch”] I think to myself real loudly. I am muted by the enormous pair of balls she is obviously toting under her unstylish skirt.

“Do you help with the cooking too? Or does your wife do it all?” She drops this gem coyly, like a snake.

I do not want to tell her there is no wife. I am so queer, I just assume even the blind can detect it. She is either far more naive than she is subtle, or she is so dense, she’s actually trying to pick me up. Words fail me. No matter how I choose to answer, she has won.

“There is no wife. I live alone.” So I wait in momentary silence. But only for a moment.

“Uggghhh! What a crime! I tell my daughter there are men like you out there.  All she meets are jerks. I want grandchildren to comfort me in my golden years. I should only live long enough”.

I feel I’ve got one last chance to rid myself of her–this vampire yenta who’s gotten ahold of me by the throat, and won’t let go till the last drop of blood is sucked from my carcass. “I hate kids,” I spit out like poison.

She looks at my face, waiting to see if I’m joking. “They’re not always what you hoped for,” she concedes. “So you shop here every Sunday, do you? Maybe next week I’ll have my daughter drive me.”

“Yeah, every Sunday afternoon around this time.” We parted after exchanging goodbye niceties. And from that day on, Saturday afternoons became my grocery shopping day. I never learned her name, but whoever she was, I was certain I had won. She would never shop on the Sabbath.










She was a rescue cat.  The adoption process was akin to what you might have to go through to bring a baby into the States from Azerbaijan. We completed a five-page questionnaire, providing two personal references plus our vet’s. It required we sign a pledge, guaranteeing that once adopted we would be responsible to provide a life-long home for our foster animal. In the event we could no longer do so, we promised to return the cat to the shelter. We waited for the phone to ring, signaling we’d been approved. When it did, we made the appointment for our visit to the no-kill shelter.

It was overwhelming. Imagine an old house, divided into four or five sunny rooms. Every room contained twenty or so cats. Each cat wore a collar with a number, corresponding to a card with its name, brief description and history. We moved from kitty to kitty and room to room. Reading all their stories was often more heart breaking than their little faces. I still remember this enormous white male cat, at least twelve years old, who had been adopted and returned three times. Seems he didn’t get along with other cats or some of his owners.

Of course we found something to love about most of them, but we could only choose one. We already had Charley. She was our seven-year-old pure bred weird cat. Her companion had been David’s cat, Baby, who’d lived to see twenty-one. She was a sweetie all of us were missing terribly.

It was the next to the last room where we saw her. The entire outside wall was windows, and there were three shelves lined with little kitty beds. We were greeted with meows coming from every level, furry ones rubbing our legs, and lots of loud purrs. There were two similar looking short-haired Torties, sharing the same shelf. As I moved closer to read the cards to see who was who, the one nearest me reached out a paw, gently petting my nose. Her name was Paint. She was approximately three to five years old. David was talking to the other Tortie. They weren’t related, as we’d originally assumed. We moved on to the last room.

Once we’d met all the kitties, we decided to go back and revisit each room again. There were several cats we wanted to reconsider. As ridiculous as it may sound, I couldn’t help but feel that Paint had already picked me. Once back in her room, we looked at the two Torties together. I was leaving the final decision to David, hoping against hope he’d pick the kitty I was now certain had chosen us. He did.

We learned she was a good eater. So much so, she had earned the shelter nickname ‘Meatball’. From the front, looking head-on, she was this elegant little cat with dainty paws and delicate thin front legs. From the back, she had this big wide behind, like many of my zaftig female family members. Both the uninspired name Paint, and that horrid nickname had to go. On the ride home, she was rechristened Elizabeth.

It didn’t take too long before we started calling her Liz. Then Lizzie. She came to any of them. David even called her Lizzie-Lou sometimes. She quickly fit into our family. Although they didn’t NOT get along, there was no great love between Charley and Liz. We adopted her because we didn’t want Charley to be alone, yet they usually chose different rooms in the house, unless it was bedtime. Their relationship was based on avoidance.

Maybe a year and a half later, Liz began having difficulty eating. As she chowed down at breakfast and dinner, she often winced while gobbling her food. This quickly escalated to shrieking mid-chew, and she would bolt suddenly away from the bowl in frightened pain. After two or three of these episodes, we ran to the vet with her.

It was an autoimmune disease, not too common (of course). Her gums became painfully inflamed by the slightest plaque build-up. She was given a prednisone injection, and we were advised to have her undergo gum cleaning. On that first procedure they removed a bad molar as well. Things cleared up. Liz was soon back to eating like a lumberjack again.  Less than a year later, it had to be repeated. This time, they removed another tooth, but while under anesthesia, she had stopped breathing. We now had new worries for our sweet Lizzie.

In the meantime we added a Shih Tzu son to our household. The family dynamic changed dramatically. Charley-weird-cat grew even weirder, spending most of her time upstairs. Rather than displaying jealousy, Elizabeth stepped up and became a wonderful surrogate Mommy. She even groomed the fuzzy little guy at times, and allowed him to bite her tail as though she were one of his frisky litter mates.  Once he’d grown as tall as Lizzie, her mother role ceased. She still allowed some occasional playtime on her own terms. They shared dry cat food and water from the same bowls.

Less than a year after came the third incident of Elizabeth’s gum disease. Both David and I had lost faith in her vet, a cat specialist. We consulted our pooch’s vet. He read her medical history and advised surgery to remove all her remaining molars, (something her original vet had hinted at as a possibility early on). “But how will she be able to eat?” we both worried aloud. He assured us she would quickly adapt. He also promised the anesthesia would be carefully monitored during the procedure. Lizzie had the operation.

The surgery took place in the morning. We both hoped she could stay at least overnight. She came through with flying colors and was ready to be picked up the same afternoon. Both of us were nervous. What if her gums started hemorrhaging? What if she stopped breathing overnight while she slept?  But when we placed her into the cat carrier she behaved just like our gal Lizzie, purring and happy to be going home. We asked when she would be able to eat. The vet said “she will when she’s ready”.

The dog was all over her when she jumped out of the carrier, sniffing her butt and going for her tail. She hissed at him and headed straight for the dry food bowl. We stood frozen, watching and waiting. She used her tongue like a little shovel, pulling in piece by piece, each morsel avoiding her missing teeth, swallowing it whole. Yes indeed, she was a good eater! She never had another gum problem.

Just before last Christmas, Lizzie began acting strangely. She spent a lot of time in her cat box, doing nothing. She began to be finicky about her food. She ate canned food twice a day. Sure, she had favorites. Some flavors she ate more quickly than others, but she never left food uneaten. Until now. She looked like she was losing weight. We went to the vet.

It was her kidneys. Some values were way too high. She had a bladder infection. Her blood work didn’t look good. All I could think of was “Please, not before Christmas. I’m not ready for this.” I know David well enough to sense he was thinking the same thing. We neither of us wanted to say the words to each other. The words, if spoken out loud, would make it real. On the Doctor’s advice, we put her into the clinic for five days of iv fluids, antibiotics for the infection and something to build up her red blood cells.

We would take turns going in to visit her after work each night. She was responding well to the treatment. Bad numbers were creeping down slowly, and good ones increasing little by little. She had lost several pounds. The fifth night we went together. We would be taking her home. The Doctor asked if we had questions. David asked through tears…”how long?”  The way ‘Miss Elizabeth’ was responding we were told…”months”. They had a cat around Lizzie’s age who’d made it over a year and was still okay. We took it as good news. The best Christmas gift we could have.

We began a regimen. We would bring her in once or twice a week. A technician would administer subcutaneous fluids while we waited. It only took a few minutes. They gave her anti-nausea drugs and something to increase her appetite. Every other week they would test her levels. Still, she was no longer the good eater she had always been before. I began preparing chicken breast, chicken livers, lean pork–anything to get her to eat. She came running at the sound as I put each dish down. She’d sniff and feign interest, but she ate next to nothing. I bought every variety of canned cat food she had once enjoyed, and watched her walk away thinner and weaker each time. She just wanted to sit in our laps, curled up and purring while we stroked her skinny body. She started spending time hiding in the attic much of the day.

We had a Saturday tech appointment. “What are we doing?”, I said through tears to David. This was like what they do to keep geriatric relatives alive. Lizzie had no more quality left to her life. Our selfishness was the only thing keeping her alive. We met with a doctor instead. Checking her over, she agreed she was in bad shape. She’d lost half her body weight. If she’d been an outdoor cat, she told us, she would have gone off alone to die. It was time, we told the doctor. Our Christmas gift had expired.

In our almost twenty years together, David and I have gone through this four times now–three cats and one dog: Tippy, Baby, Skippy and now our precious Lizzie. It never gets easier. It is pain and heartache, acute sadness and so many tears. There is nothing good about it, except the feeling that we’ve done everything we possibly could to get to this awful point in our life. Comes a time when even all your love and caring are no longer enough. Lizzie was just the best kitty ever. And she has left a huge hole in our family.







There is no way this will come off sounding anything except the height of conceit, but here goes anyway. I miss being cruised.

From The Urban Dictionary: “cruise – to search (as in public places) for a sexual partner.” It was one of my very favorite pastimes and something that, even when off the market, provided amusement and titillation beyond compare. Come on. Which of us doesn’t enjoy being looked at longingly, as a delightful object of some stranger’s lust? Alas, those days are long gone for the likes of me.

Often it served as merely a game to amplify the ego, or a means to flex my lascivious wings. In NYC it was a way of life for many guys–the ones I used to call full-time or professional fags. I learned to keep my own cruising in check, yet always on the ready in a second, should the situation present itself. One never cruised in the obvious places, like bars, saunas, or discos. There, you were already on the hunt simply by showing up. Cruising was done in those unexpected situations, while immersed in a seemingly straight world. For me it became an enticing exercise in arousal.

In my early teens I spent many a Saturday alone in downtown Cleveland playing independent grown-up me. I’d have just enough money for bus fare back and forth, plus a dollar or two for amusement. I discovered a Jewish deli right off Public Square where the bus left me off, and this wondrous thing called a bagel. The guy behind the counter was Alvie. He’d ask me if I wanted cream cheese, and taught me that just a little of it was referred to as a ‘schmeer’. As long as I asked for my schmeer, which cost an extra ten or fifteen cents, he’d tuck half a kosher pickle into a fold in the white paper wrapped around my bagel. Then I was off to the Cleveland Public Library, where my day’s entertainment was totally gratis.

It was cathedral-like, this grand edifice that took up nearly a city block. Inside everything was slathered in marble–floors, walls, staircases and railings. The city’s monument to knowledge had high, vaulted, ornate ceilings, which wore exquisite glass and lead lighting fixtures like elegant dangling earrings. It was a worship space for me, because it housed treasures that didn’t exist anywhere in my suburban world. Oh, we had our own library in West Buttfok, but it was just a place with lots of books. The Cleveland Public Library had become my temple.

Way upstairs was a room devoted to recorded literature spoken by great voices. Donning headphones like those worn by the guys who attempted to land the Hindenburg, I would spend my special Saturdays listening to the poetry of Frost and Poe read by black and white television greats. There were Shakespeare plays with unknown British voices, and classic American theatre by many of the same actors who performed them on Broadway. All the while I covertly nibbled my bagel behind the record album’s cover, making it last the whole afternoon.

Downstairs in the bowels of the building were the public restrooms. Like everything else in the library they were to scale, tall-ceilinged and grandiose. The sign M-E-N, painted on the textured glass of its heavy door was intimidating to the boy who opened it each time, just before boarding my bus for the trip back home. There were always several of THEM inside, looking for all the world as though they were taking care of business. Intuitively this boy smelled a danger not masked by the heavy scent of deodorizer.


There was a long bank of maybe ten or more mammoth porcelain urinals, standing like up-ended skinny bathtubs. Each was ensconced in a set of white marble pillars. They’d been designed to afford privacy to even the tallest of men. Usually stationed at the farthest point from the entrance would be a few guys whose heads would turn in unison the moment they heard the door creak. Often they shuffled their feet closer towards the drains when I entered. That echo still rings in my ears. I’d take my place at the urinal nearest the door. I felt even shorter and smaller than my scrawny five foot frame. If I positioned myself too close, there was this fear I might fall in.

As I unzipped, my eyes dropped to the floor. Even with no knowledge of the ancient monastic practice of ‘custody of the eyes’, I knew to keep my gaze downward, too intimidated to look anywhere near THEM. Learning the meaning of pee-shy firsthand here, my time inside the lavatory was interminable. On those visits when I bravely did hazard a glance, I’d shudder. And a steely look back from any one of THEM caused a shock to run down my spine. I was just a young boy, having no idea what all this meant. No, I was a young boy knowing exactly what it meant. I dared not return the secret stare for fear of being sucked into the vortex of desire.

I came to discover, a decade later, that cruising was desire incarnate–the raging sensation of lust made manifest through the eyes. It was a powerful force one learned to use on his own, without a Master’s guidance. In New York, it happened in The Village frequently, and in my Chelsea gayborhood regularly. In those upper Eastside Bloomingdale’s blocks where I worked for many years, it happened constantly. I walked the pavement up and down Third Avenue, enjoying the fabulously attractive men as though it were my own private runway show.

The percentage of the hundreds of guys I cruised who cruised back was maybe one-third. And the number of those I ended up exchanging phone numbers with was miniscule. That wasn’t the point of cruising for me. It was the recognition that somebody I found tempting felt the same about me. A man I longed to see naked, wrapped only in the sheets of my bed, had that identical image of me reflected in his returned glance. Had we only been searching for sexual partners, there were plenty of places to find that anytime of the day or night all over Manhattan. This was a delicious game of testosterone cat and mouse we were playing.

upper east side

Tucked lovingly in my cruising memory-bank is one brilliant summer afternoon in the late 1970s. My boss has sent me on a series of errands. I’m crossing Third Avenue on my way back to the office. It is pleasantly hot, and most people have long finished their light lunches, washed down with white wine spritzers. My small group of pedestrians walking west, passes our opposing group moving east. Midway, his roving eyes connect with mine. As I look deeply into his enticing stare I recognize a familiar face. Once we pass one another closely, it hits me how I know him. I walk to the other side, turning quickly to see if he’s stopped. Sure enough, he grins back at me from the opposite curb. I am numb with disbelief..

I don’t know-him, know him. He’d visited my home once a week throughout much of my adolescent and teenage life–via our TV set. In the beginning he was a cop, then either a lawyer or detective. Eventually he totally changed careers in his major starring role. That was when I secretly fell in love with his handsomeness. Sandy blonde hair and a perfectly smooth body–no matter the character he was smart, sensitive and caring. And now the WALK sign is pulsating, and he’s coming back my way, flashing his Hollywood pearly whites. I think I might pass out.

“Hey, some afternoon, huh?” His face is so close to mine I can almost see his pores. His skin is tan and perfect. His suit is designer expensive. He’s still looking into my eyes, and I can’t stop drinking-in the beautiful guy.

“You’re Blank Blank.” I say his name like I’m telling him something he doesn’t know.

He giggles in a kind of very manly way. Were he not looking me over so thoroughly, I might think he was totally straight. “Where are you off to this afternoon?” He continues to talk through his sexy smile that I can’t believe is directed at me.

I let him know I’m on my way back to work. He cannot possibly be trying to pick me up, I tell myself–the same boy he gave boners to in my West Buttfok bed all those years before. “Where are you going?”, I playfully question him back, amazed at my own coolness.

He tells me he has a meeting with some people for a film project. As a forty-something-year-old, he’s now graduated to TV movies. “I’ve got some time. Do you have a place nearby?”

HOLY SHIT I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I’M HEARING. Naturally I softly blurt out something ridiculously stupid like…”I can’t believe you’re interested in me.”

He comes back with, (the smile turning into a dirty grin)… “You better believe it”. Then he calls me ‘Buddy’. I remember this, because it almost spoils the mood–our entire encounter . It sounds so 1950s, and so dated. Suddenly he’s coming off movie-script macho. But it sort of turns me on at the same time. After all, it is Blank Blank who is coming on to me.

Taking charge I say, “My apartment’s downtown. Is your hotel nearby?”

He confesses his wife is there. I don’t feel one bit sorry for her–that her husband’s off cruising guys on Third Avenue. Especially since I’m the guy he’s looking to bed. “Sorry we couldn’t make this work”, he says. The smile is still there, though diminishing.

Now I am the one still peering into his movie-blue eyes, wishing I could make out with him right there on the sidewalk. I am so erotically charged, I would shoot my wad if he so much as loosened his impeccable shirt collar and tie. I don’t want this scene to ever end.

He extends his hand and I take it at once, clasping tightly around it. As we shake gently, he apologizes that it wasn’t going to happen for us. I would give anything to see him this close to me and totally naked. Just before I release my grip, his other hand pulls them both towards him, and momentarily I brush his tight gut. “Take care” he whispers close to my ear.

I watch him cross to the other side, but of course, he never turns around.


I started out making a point, before becoming lost in my foolish reverie–that being–my cruising days are over. It’s easy to pass it off as simply another facet of the aging process, or a byproduct of a diminishing libido. That’s just too facile. I still look at guys everyday. Perhaps the rather lackluster area in which I live doesn’t afford those same opportunities I once enjoyed. All the same, cruising had served to wake up something inside me that affirmed I was alive and connected to a life-force. It supplied me with a source of energy and a sense that I was part of something greater. That’s what I miss, I guess. That, and being cruised.









Who the F#@k is The Divine Miss M?


After releasing album #25, Bette Midler is touring again, forty-some years after her first Grammy nominated masterpiece. All those many decades ago there were these things people called records, or LPs, and stores that sold only those magic spinning discs. I arrived in New York City in 1972, and during my first few months, absolutely haunted the Theatre District day and night. It was the reason I’d moved there in the first place. On 49th Street, just off Broadway was this humongous place called Sam Goody’s, filled to the rafters with every kind of music genre imaginable. Late one dark night, I passed the closed store, gazing into its well-lit windows. Hanging from transparent strings at all different levels were dozens of the same album cover, repeating an image which looked curiously strange to me at the time.

I studied the multiple faces on the record jackets while meandering the pavement. All that orange hair, those myriad crimson cheeks and overly shadowed blue eyes wowed my senses. I questioned out loud to the uncaring sidewalk traffic still milling about at that hour: “Who the f@#k is The Divine Miss M?”. Soon enough I would learn the answer to my query. And I would never ever be quite the same again.

Cut to a little over three months later, the day of my first Manhattan house-warming party. Actually it wasn’t my party, but rather a very silly eighteen-year-old roommate’s, who was throwing it for himself. We barely had money to pay rent and utilities. Jacob and I owed a mutual older friend $550 for the security deposit and first month’s rent. This translates into today’s dollars as roughly The National Debt. We couldn’t fathom how we’d ever find a way to pay him back. Yet foolish Jacob insisted we needed this party. He had even more-foolish friends who were donating most of the food and drink for his soiree. A major contributor was his best friend Benny, who volunteered to provide fried chicken. This man was a singer/piano player, multi-talented and a very fun guy. He was the only acquaintance of my roommate I could genuinely enjoy. Jacob had traveled to New Jersey that morning to borrow folding chairs from yet another in his stable of chums. I was tasked with picking up the chicken at Benny’s. I took along Elizabeth, a woman from my Kent State past who’d recently moved to The City.

It was late in the afternoon on a damp, grey Saturday. Elizabeth saw his piano and was thrilled when he asked if she wanted to sing. There was a great nostalgia for the 1930s at the time, with theatre people singing songs from the musical Dames at Sea. Elizabeth sang brightly, while Benny played and passed a joint, (I told you he was multi-talented), with neither of them ever missing a note. Then he asked if we wanted to do some poppers–amyl nitrite–which was all the rage among gay men, though typically only during sex. I’d heard about poppers, but never tried them, because frankly I was a wuss. It revived half-dead heart attack victims, fer’ chrissakes! Yet I did not want to look uncool, so I said “Sure!”.

Benny opens the screw top of the ubiquitous tiny brown glass bottle, holds it right below one of his nostrils, while blocking the other with his finger, and inhales deeply. An enormous grin overtakes his handsome face as he dreamily passes it to me. I repeat the process. I was prepared for the weird stench of the stuff, (one brand was actually called LOCKER ROOM), but not its effect. I parroted his technique like a popper pro.

At first you think you’re gonna pass out, until the roar of your heart pounding assures you if you do fall, you won’t hit the ground because you’re gonna float away anyway, ’cause your head just inflated with helium and you can only giggle because you’re feeling so silly and instantly high, and you swear you can hear every one of your organs pulsating inside your body, but before anything really bad happens to you, your head starts to throb a little at the temples while your eyes come back into focus…ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

As I regain my composure I hear Benny telling Elizabeth “You’re gonna’ love this woman. She’s the Divine Miss M”, and with that the now too-familiar trumpet intro to Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy invades my very being.  So tell me, how could anyone ever be the same after exposure to all that wonderfulness within maybe a window of three minutes? People in piano bars all around The City had added her song Friends to their show tunes repertoire.

About a year later I inherited somebody’s old stereo, so I could play that first album and buy the new one which was called simply BETTE MIDLER. The needle was worn and it scraped the daylights out of those records, but I played them both to death. A waiter from a bar I frequented at the time told me Miss M had an apartment in the West Village. I recall many a late night, standing on the sidewalk outside the presumed address he’d given me, waiting for a sighting. I had become obsessed with The Divine Miss M and would have killed to see her–even only her shadow, from the window I prayed was really hers.

Once I moved into my first solo Manhattan apartment, Bette came out with her first double-album: Live At Last. It was a concert recorded in Cleveland of all places, the town I’d fled four years prior. Before I had a chance to purchase my own copy, my turntable actually caught fire, melting some old, college era LP, (luckily neither of my Miss M favorites). This was the beginning of the pre-recorded cassette era, so I invested in a decent player and that first tape.

I memorized, word for word and note for note, that entire double album. Together we performed the show tirelessly, like a duet, for months on end. Saturday was my day to clean the apartment. I would get a buzz on, just as my morning caffeine fix began to fade. I’d roll a joint, pop in that cassette, then wail along with Bette, breathing when she did, mirroring even each little giggle, pausing only for laughs and applause.

I went to see The Rose the very first weekend it opened. I couldn’t wait to see her on the big screen. I had befriended an actor when I first came to The City who was in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway in the mid 1960s, the same time Bette played one of the daughters. I asked him what she was like as an actress onstage. He told me “just like you’d imagine–a consummate performer”. I don’t believe I ever sat back in my seat during the entire movie. She had me entranced. Consummate for sure.

Not long after her movie debut, I learned Her Divinity was doing a benefit (for OXFAM America maybe?) in NYC at the Beacon Theatre. It must have been last minute, because I remember the posters and programs looked thrown-together, and I was able to get a terrific seat close to the stage. I was into photography big time in those days, wearing my Nikon FM around my neck like a fashion accessory. When Bette began singing The Rose, instantly everyone was on their feet.

I had some high-speed film in the camera and started shooting pictures. I moved down the aisle as I clicked the shutter, creeping slowly towards the stage, expecting someone would eventually stop me. No one ever did. I ended up standing inches from her. Through the lens, now angled up, I watched the tiny diva perform the song. She was bathed in pink light, and although she sang out to the house, it was as if she were singing only to me. I stopped shooting pictures, lowered the camera, transfixed on her image through my own naked eyes. The Divine Miss M, singing in the flesh–Heaven.

I would see her onstage three more times. Once from a front-row seat on a Broadway stage –a birthday gift from Alejandro in the early 80s. A few years later she performed De Tour outdoors in the Louis Armstrong Stadium. We got rained out the previous night, drenched to the bone waiting for the show. She returned the following night, and was gang-busters, well worth the downpour. The last time was a concert at Radio City in 1993. I was already living in New England then and dating this guy for some years. He was staid and squeaky-clean, yet crazier about Miss Midler than I was. In fact, if he’d loved me half as much as he did Bette, well, who knows how things might have turned out for us. She was divine–each and every time I saw her perform live. It was then, while dating Bette’s number one fan, that my recurring dream began.

In the dream, I’m in this apartment that is supposedly mine. Of course it looks more like a movie set than any place I’ve ever seen or been. I’m in the kitchen, and I am either preparing some food or just futzing around, chatting with someone behind me. I turn around and Bette is either thumbing through a magazine, or just draped in a chair looking every bit as though she belongs there. The dialogue goes something like…

Me: Bette Midler! What are you doing here?

Bette: (giggling) Just hanging out with you. What-d-ya think I’m doin’?

Me: But you’re here… in my apartment. Why? You don’t even know me.

Bette: Of course I do, honey. (She gets up and moves towards me.) We’re friends.

Me: Really? Bette? You’re really my friend?

And before she has time to break into a chorus of Friends, I wake up, with that happy/sad sensation all over my body, realizing this was only another silly dream. I haven’t dreamed it for some years now.

I adored Bette’s comedy films. I gotta’ admit, she lost me for a while, somewhere around Hocus Pocus, which I have yet to see from start to finish. And it was with great trepidation that I watched the first few episodes of her TV sitcom, later wondering which of us was more relieved that it was canceled. I read both her books, and treasure her goodbye to Johnny Carson as one of the best TV performances ever given.

It has always been her music though, which keeps me wrapped around her little finger. When I first moved out of The City and into the boonies of New England, I drove this cute little red pick-up truck with the worst, cheapest sound system imaginable. Maybe not so much a sound system, as just a truly shitty AM/FM radio. After twelve monogamous years in my first relationship, I found myself driving to rendezvous with this guy in Montpelier, Vermont which was halfway between my home and his (Montreal).

I was prepared to begin an affair with him, feeling guilty as all hell inside. It was a Sunday morning, and I was somewhere in the New Hampshire mountains. The only radio reception I could get were these bible-thumping stations with preachers yelling at me about damnation. I needed some music to lift my spirits, to make me feel like I was not the sleaziest bastard in the western hemisphere. I landed on a station that seemed to be playing pop tunes, which slowly made things a bit brighter. All of a sudden I hear this woman, who sounds remarkably like The Divine Miss M, singing. Only it can’t be her, because she’s singing about god watching us. “Oh shit! Even Bette’s gone holy roller on me now!” It was enough to make me drive the little red pick-up off the mountain, or at least turn around and head back home.

But it was only From a Distance, and the first Bette CD I would ever own. If you’re at all curious, I did not turn around and go back. I drove to Montpelier and we met for lunch. That afternoon we decided it wouldn’t be prudent for either of us to begin a long-distance romance with the 45th parallel and many other obstacles between us. I heard the song several more times on my return trip, and was able to join her in the chorus by the time I got home.

For the Girls, her latest album, was an iTunes download I pre-ordered, that went directly to my iPhone. How things change–and stay the same. It’s an incredible mix of songs–everything from an Andrews Sisters favorite to TLC. In between are loads of early 1960s girls’ group tunes–the music danced to in basement ‘recreation rooms’ and at every junior high dance and sock-hop by this confused and pimply faced nerd. Bette has been blessed with a gift to deliver these songs, making each sound brand new in a uniquely old-fashioned way. At least that’s what makes her divine to me. What else can you call the woman who nearly single-handedly supplied the soundtrack of your life?