Category: NYC 1972-1983

Cruisin’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

 

 

The Man With the Three First Names

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My twenty-sixth summer was one of those rare times when everything in my universe came together. I was living a charmed life. I had recently landed a job as sales/office manager for a small custom furniture company on Manhattan’s upper east side. The salary was enough to pay my rent, phone and electric bill with a little extra left for eating and playing. I’d become a pioneer in Chelsea, (a just beginning to bud Manhattan gayborhood), signing a lease on my first solo NYC apartment. It was a funky studio on the sixth floor of an elevator building with functioning wood-burning fireplace, and a palladium window onto West 17th and Eighth Avenue. I was acting with an off-off Broadway theatre troupe in a church basement near Lincoln Center, plus learning guitar and writing country western tunes with my friend Janet from Kent State. I had more friends–gay and straight–than I had free time to enjoy them, and the world was my oyster.

But I didn’t have a boyfriend. I dated like a courtesan, had sex more than I often could handle, yet lacked that special someone–the final puzzle piece greedy me still hungered for. I suffered from chronic chapped lip syndrome from kissing so many prince wannabes. I was constantly on the look-out, confident he’d be found in the least obvious place at the most unexpected time. And those were the exact circumstances in which I met The Man With the Three First Names.

My wonderful apartment had only one drawback. It had no air conditioner.  Being on the top floor, once our tar-beach roof heated up, it radiated through my ceiling beginning at sundown, re-heating with the dawn. Too many nights I’d fall asleep in the swelter, only to awaken at one or two a.m. in a profusion of sweat. I took to getting up and dressing, then walking the neighborhood to 14th Street, a major cross-street. There I could seek the temporary pleasure of several air-conditioned stores which sold frozen treats, slowly devouring their cooling effects on my way back home. Luckily my neighborhood was safe any hour of the day or night, because there were always people coming or going someplace.

One hot, unsleepable night, I began my post-midnight stroll. Not halfway up the block I spied this tallish figure walking on the opposite side of the street. I assumed he saw me, because he’d now meandered over to my side. He was dressed in jeans and a pastel tank top.  He had dark curly hair and a manicured black beard. So did I at the time. So did probably one out of every five gay guys in The City. I slowed my pace and he followed suit as we approached one another. The closer he got, the more my hormones raced in rhythm with my heart, while on the outside I continued a nonchalant stroll. When we passed on the sidewalk, only a foot or so apart, I turned my head slightly toward his, and smiled–more with my eyes than my mouth, without breaking my stride. God he looked gorgeous!

Giving myself a healthy number of steps forward, I stopped at the crucial point in our gay dance. Dare I turn around in hopes he had done the same? And in one of those truly magic moments in life, he’d swung himself completely around on the pavement, grinning shamelessly. His dark, piercing eyes looked me over as though he could see me naked. “Well… good evenin’ guy”, he coolly drawled, extending his hand reaching to take mine. He shook it like we were meeting at the punchbowl of some lovely social function. The man was handsome as hell and slathered in creamy Southern charm. I was so taken by his seductive allure, that the name he gave never registered in my brain. He acted like nothing but a gentleman, and certainly not street trash as one might expect at that hour of the night, cruising the neighborhood.

He lived some blocks away, over on the East Side. He was a psychologist, working in a city social work office. Neither of us had anything to write on or with, but, it turned out he had quite a distinctive name, very southern, consisting of what in reality were three first names. He told me proudly “Ahh am thee only one in the Manhattan phone dye-rectory”. I was to call him once I got home from work much later that day. My ice cream never had a chance to melt, since I rushed home to look him up the moment I got in the door. I had to be certain this all hadn’t been a dream. There he was–all three names of him–just like he’d said. He was neither a phantom of the night nor a bull shit artist.

I began phoning every one of my friends after sunrise that day, telling them about The Man With the Three First Names, and how, where and when we’d met. My women friends were either scandalized or fearful for my safety, while most of the boys were intrigued and/or aroused. I called him before I left work. We arranged to meet for a drink in the Village. We talked together non-stop for over an hour. He asked if I was free to have something to eat in his neighborhood. Was I free? He was absolutely enthralling and the evening is memorable to this day. By the end of the following week we became steady boyfriends.

Ours was an odd relationship. Well, at least for me it was. For The Man With the Three First Names, I believe it was like any other he might have ever had. We saw each other regularly, getting together a few nights a week to eat and have sex. He was a real foodie and enjoyed an eclectic range of cuisines, as did I. He’d cook one night of the weekend at his apartment and I would do the same at my place on the alternate night. We both loved classical music. I was more opera-centric than him, but often couldn’t afford the tickets. He favored piano and orchestral music, so we would attend recitals or concerts at colleges and smaller venues. It was pure joy sitting next to him, watching the music move inside him, as though he were able to draw it up through the bottoms of his feet then register the emotions onto his face. I learned a new way to listen simply by being with him.

The Man With the Three First Names had no friends. If he did, he never talked about them. I continued to socialize with my close circle, but he was neither interested in meeting them nor in joining us when we got together. Rather than question this behavior, I chose to explain to my curious cronies that it was a truly adult relationship–that we shared our lives, without losing any sense of self in the process. I wasn’t deluding myself. It was working well and there was genuine caring in both directions. Besides, The City this special summer was celebrating the Bicentennial in a huge way. At times, it appeared the celebration was in honor of our wonderful coupling.

My parents typically visited every other summer since I’d moved from Ohio. Because of the huge red, white and blue crowds invading an already busy city, they moved their trip to the fall. I wasn’t certain how I would pull it off, but I did want them to meet this guy who’d become so important in my life. Up to this point, my parents knew nothing about my love life, nor the direction in which my sexuality leaned. One of the reasons I’d moved five-hundred-plus miles from home was in order to live, what I was certain my family would view as a depraved lifestyle, without them knowing anything about it. I had no plans to formally come out to them. Still, I wanted to share a morsel of the life I’d hidden from their view. Should they wonder how this handsome southern gentleman fit into my world, then all the better.

As uninterested as he was in my friends, The Man With the Three First Names was super enthused about meeting my parents. He planned their entire final Sunday which began by meeting him in Central Park for a morning walk, then brunch in an east side restaurant. The weather was perfect and brunch was a delight. My mother melted each time he called her Ma’am, even though she insisted he call her by her first name. Dad wasn’t moved one way or another, but then he seldom was.

We had a couple of hours before heading back to pick up their suitcases and leave for the airport, so he suggested stopping at The Plaza to show them how ‘the other half’ enjoyed vacationing in NYC. Mom and Dad walked through the lobby and into the Palm Court with open mouths, awed by their surroundings and the clientele. He invited my folks to enjoy a final drink at the bar in The Oak Room. Instantly he’d become number one in Dad’s book. My father came alive whenever he’d belly up to a bar and park his ass on a stool.

I sat at the end of the bar, my mother next to me, then Dad, then The Man With the Three First Names. We’d already enjoyed several cocktails each at the restaurant, so my mother’s Southern Comfort Manhattan ‘up’ quickly went to her head. She began speaking quietly to me, and her usually animated face looked as though she was struggling with something difficult she needed to get out. She told me she was worried about me. It was obvious I’d shown I could be responsible, and that I was living on my own in a very difficult place. They were proud I’d made a good home for myself, yet something was missing. I never talked about any women in my life. Then she fumbled around–something about the importance of a sex life.

I smiled and told her not to worry about my sex life. I was doing fine. It might have been my third drink kicking in too, because out of nowhere I softly announced, “You see that guy at the other end of the bar? He’s my boyfriend. I’m gay”. It was that simple. It just sort of fell out of my mouth and I couldn’t have said it better if it had been scripted by Neil Simon. She paused, looked me in the eyes and countered, “I knew it. I knew it since you were five”. She took another sip of her Manhattan, then concluded with “Don’t say anything to your father. I’ll tell him myself when we get back to Cleveland”. I quietly smirked the rest of the afternoon.

Summer turned to fall, and we carried on our life as we had from the beginning.  For my twenty-seventh birthday he cooked Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe and gave me a membership to a gym. We added workouts to our time together. He was handsome, sensitive, intelligent, passionate and caring, and I’d fallen hard for him. I traveled back to West Buttfok for Christmas. It was weird not being with him, especially amidst the holiday mania of family and friends. All I could think about was the two of us together again. I got back to my apartment loaded with holiday goodies from Ohio and a beautiful old book my mother had found for The Man With The Three First Names. It was biographies of Bach, Beethoven and the great composers with incredible steel engravings. She’d inscribed something about “taking good care of my son” and he was quite moved.

Things began to turn strange in the early new year. It was like he’d switched something off inside, and didn’t have time for us anymore. One week in late January, we hadn’t seen one another for days. After suffering too much from his estrangement, I did something I’d never done before–showed up at his apartment door, unannounced. I half expected to find a new me enjoying dinner at my place at his table.

That would have been easier to bear than the scene I was forced to play. He was alone, looking grim, but not ruffled by my unexpected presence. I asked him what was wrong, what had I done, what caused the sudden alienation. He looked at me blankly. “Who is he?”, I nearly shrieked, my voice cracking in fear.

“No one. I promise.” He calmly sat down in his chair, devoid of emotion. “We just shouldn’t see each other anymore”, he delivered flatly. He said he didn’t want to hurt me. He couldn’t find a way to tell me his reason for avoiding me lately. He knew he’d never insult me by saying we could still be friends. That wasn’t an option. He understood that.

I can still see myself falling to my knees at his feet, pleading to know why. What had changed? I was hugging his legs, sobbing into his jeans, reduced to blubbering a single word question. “Why?”

His hand cradled the back of my head, in an attempt to comfort. “You’re not cerebral enough.”

My universe stopped with his words. It was that ton of bricks you always hear about, landing squarely onto my head. First came disbelief. Then numbness set in. Finally, anger brought me to my feet. “You are so fucked up you really need a shrink. But…I don’t know a good one to recommend.”

Blearily, I grabbed for my coat and headed towards the door. He called my name as I opened it, and I stopped. I almost turned around, but couldn’t bear to look at him knowing it would be the last time. I’d been decimated. Even without a mirror, I knew my face looked hideous and I refused to let him see the damage he had done. I have no idea how I found my way back to my apartment. I only remember he’d made the bitter January cold worse.

For days after I remained in a stupor. Nothing felt real. I sat in my apartment alone, burning Duraflame logs in my fireplace, hoping to get warm. I watched the fire in silence, because there wasn’t an album I could play whose music didn’t make me think of him. The quiet was interrupted only by the echo of his words in my head. I was ashamed I’d allowed him to make me feel like a fool. My truly adult relationship had left me a sniveling, helpless infant. After several days, fearing for my sanity, I began calling my closest friends in an attempt to jump-start the old me–before I’d ever met The Man With The Three First Names. Those people were my treasures and the medication necessary to heal a battered ego.

They helped me back onto my feet. Still, I continued to find it difficult to listen to music. It had been the glue that kept our relationship together. But the music that Janet and I wrote and played was ours alone. He’d never heard any of it. I would draft the lyrics–concerned only with the story, the rhythm, and rhyme. She had the gift of creating the tune that fit–the important piece of the puzzle. Together we’d written probably half a dozen songs. We played and sang regularly, performing our tunes at parties and get togethers with our combined Kent State and NYC friends.

Long about week three after the breakup, the oddest thing occurred. This tune came into my head. I found myself humming it, wondering where I’d heard it before. I knew maybe a dozen chords which served to satisfy the extent of my guitar strumming/picking expertise. Alone, with just me and the guitar, I figured out the chord progression. The words followed almost instantly. The process proved therapeutic. I sensed it had all come from deep inside my gut, where it still hurt badly. The song was never written down, because I had no idea what the notes were. I didn’t sing it for many people. It was very personal, in a corny, country-western, tongue in cheek way.

Just like I will never forgot The Man With The Three First Names, I will never forget the song he’d inspired, which eased an aching heart.

Six Months a’ Heaven (And Just Three Weeks of Hell) music and lyrics by Matthew Schuster

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: Ptown Bear Week 2014

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Just what I thought Bear Week was going to be, in hindsight, I cannot say. I was certainly not disappointed. That is one thing I never am in Provincetown. But when comparing my recent day trip to any other week we’ve spent during the past eighteen summers, it did not seem there were any more Bears around than usual. While enjoying a tall, cold beer with lunch at Pepe’s Warf on a shady deck, I asked two guys nearby, sporting bear t-shirts, if they thought numbers were down this year. Both of them were town residents who assured me there were tons of Bears in town, just like every other year. They told me most of them were either busy at special venues like huge pool parties and other organized events, or sunning at the beach. All the clubs were packed with the grizzly guys every night, they reported, not to mention loads of private parties all over town.

While I tooled about Ptown, traversing up and down Commercial Street stopping in favorite stores and discovering a few new ones, I kept my eyes open for unusual Bear sightings. Of course they were ubiquitous as always. A pair that I wish I’d been able to photograph were these two guys getting out of a Checker Cab who took everyone by surprise. They looked to be in their early 30s, each of them six-foot-something and definitely the musclebear type. Both of them handsome as hell and nicely groomed, what made them stand out were their outfits. Gone were the denim cutoffs and flannel shirts with the sleeves ripped short, these two might have been expected to be wearing. Instead they were clad only in speedos–plus big, floppy garden party wide-brimmed hats, AND tall platform high-heeled Joan Crawford comefuckme pumps. Needless to say, this Bear Pair stopped traffic–and many hearts I am certain. To borrow a phrase: they were simply “too tremendous”.

Never having gone to Provincetown for just a day and without a spouse before, (David had to work and I was on a bus trip with forty some students and faculty from my school), it was a strangely unique experience. There was so much I’d hoped to do, but with so little time I worried I might not spend it wisely. I had known for weeks that Armistead Maupin was in town for Bear Week again this year.  He was doing a program of conversation, and reading from his final volume of the Tales of the City saga. How I wished I could stay to hear him. He is truly one of my heroes. But our bus would be leaving at 5:00 p.m. and his program began at 8:00, presenting a scheduling impossibility. Posters of him were at the box office and in several shop windows. So close and yet so far away.

I was also shamelessly distributing a new postcard promoting the blog, to any place that would accept them:

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While making my rounds, I spotted John Waters riding his bicycle only an arm’s-length away, always a welcoming sight. He spends summers in Ptown for some years now and we enjoyed his show at the Town Hall a few years back. Call me cornball, but I still get a thrill seeing famous people in the street, especially such a clever one who made some of my favorite films–the original Hairspray, not to mention Polyester, starring Divine with Tab Hunter (filmed in Odorama–I kept my scratch-and-sniff card for years after).

Then it happened. Not five minutes later, still fresh from my brush with cinematic greatness, as I passed the Crown and Anchor Hotel, leaning in its shade HE stood alone all by HIMSELF. It was as though the heavy foot traffic in the street shuttling by HIM unnoticed, mystically parted to expose the man as I approached. For a second, staring at that face I knew so well, yet had never seen in the flesh before, we were the only two people on Commercial Street. I was looking at greatness, and it was calling to me. Hesitating for only a millisecond, I started towards HIM with my paw extended, grabbing HIS warm hand in mine. I began my feeble soliloquy:

“I knew you were in town but I never thought I’d bump into you on the street!”

I lifted my oversized and very dark sunglasses to lessen both my frightening appearance and a perhaps too enthusiastic introduction. HE looked into my eyes, while quickly searching my face. Dear lord, I prayed, he thinks I am some lunatic. I ceased pumping his arm.

“It’s so amazing to finally meet you!” I wanted to add his name to the end of that sentence, but “Mr. Maupin” just didn’t fit the man whose hand I still held tightly in mine, nor the love for HIM and his talent which has burned in my heart since 1979 when I first began reading his Tales. And I couldn’t allow myself to be so presumptuous to ever call him Armistead. What DID people call HIM I wondered? Armi?

Then HE spoke to me, (while I still clutched his hand). “Oh, for a minute there I was struggling to put a name to your face and I couldn’t place you”, he sort of chuckled as a wonderful grin took over his face. Wow, I thought to myself, he laughed. I think he likes me.

“Oh no, you don’t know me. But I feel like I know you really well.” To punctuate this, I cover our clasped hands with my left hand, making a sandwich of his between mine. “I’ve read everything you’ve ever written…except for the last book.” Plus now I am gushing, just like my mother used to. I cannot believe that at the moment I am face-to-face with one of the greatest gay icons in this world, I am also channeling my overly exuberant and very dead mother.

“I wish I could see you tonight.” I believe I released his poor hand at this point.

“There are still some seats…”

Interrupting Armistead Maupin I explain: “I’m only here another few hours. My bus is leaving at 5:00.” What the hell does he care about your schedule, asshole? Stop babbling and say something writerly fer’ crissakes.

“Thank you so much for all you’ve written.” Again he grinned, perhaps a bit broader. His blue eyes twinkled in the afternoon sun and all these wonderful laugh lines appeared around them magically at the same instant. With all the bright white hair on his head and in his bristly mustache, he looked like a gay Santa Claus masquerading in summer mufti. My thank you line became my exit cue, then I nodded almost reverently and continued up the street, not daring to turn back for even a parting glance.

Heady from the excitement of our brief encounter, I moved quickly, digesting the chance meeting the universe had just provided me. Why had I wasted the opportunity to really talk to the man–discussed something of substance–posed perhaps, at least one intelligent question?  I’d wished to come across like a well read, somewhat witty person who understood that maybe such a thing as literary criticism existed in my world too. So why was I left with the feeling that I’d just done a near-perfect Edith Bunker impersonation?

What I wanted to tell him, was how important his stories had been to the young gay man from Ohio, who just like Mary Ann Singleton, had transplanted himself into a strange and wonderful Oz-like city where being gay was nearly as normal as being straight. I wish I had thanked him for the doors he opened so that it was possible to write stories–not G-A-Y stories for G-A-Y people, but stories like Mark Twain or Charles Dickens wrote, that were about all kinds of people who any reader could identify with or fall in love with. Being gay, or straight, bi-sexual, trans–whatever, he had made it so that didn’t matter anymore. No book I’d ever read before was so richly inclusive or honestly real– funny and sad or so very human. No, I didn’t say any of that to him. But I did manage to tell him what time my bus would be leaving.

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Daddies and Twinks and Bears–OH MY!

 

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While the LGBT population world-wide struggles for acceptance and equality, at the same time we insist on separating ourselves into categories which we came up with–all on our own. The society we fight to find our place in had absolutely nothing to do with it. No wonder it’s tough to be gay. Sometimes we contribute to it by stereotyping ourselves, insisting on choosing a specific compartment that classifies us according to some physical trait or insignificant preference. It wasn’t always like that, this dinosaur is here to tell you.

Back in the last century, in the early 1970s in Ohio when I first came out, you went to a gay bar and there were two kinds of homosexuals–dykes and fags. We were so happy to be able to be out, no one thought to be anything more than simply GAY. In those clubs we could hang out together and just be ourselves, which we dared not do anywhere outside the safety of the places we frequented. It wasn’t that these gay bars were particularly fabulous or fun–they were all we had–a place to be comfortable in your own skin a few hours each week.

Moving to New York City, my gay world expanded. Actually, it damn near exploded. Unlike northeastern Ohio, where you could count the number of gay establishments on one hand, here there were dozens of places in Manhattan alone. And NYC is where I began to notice the development of gay stratification.

At this point there were: jocks, leather men, daddies and elephants. The jocks were hardly the buff gym rats of today. In fact, in those days a six-pack meant only one thing–six bottles or cans of beer. These jocks were closer to preppies, in button-down shirts, loafers with or without socks, clean-shaven and well-groomed hair. Leather men were easy to spot in their chaps, vests or black leather jackets and huge, heavy belts and boots. They made facial hair fashionable again. Leather men were the first to embrace piercings–initially just ears–then they commenced to travel south–way south. In the beginning these guys intimidated me, until I smartened up and realized for many, it was simply costume, and had zero to do with how they performed under the sheets. Daddies were men forty-plus years who dressed more sophisticatedly than any of the others. Technically they could have been a twenty-something’s father. While I found most daddies tantalizing in my heyday, I hesitated to pursue their advances because the age difference made me a bit queasy. And the elephants, oh those poor elephants, were the older, grandfatherly men who most gay guys ran from, (except for the gold diggers who took full advantage of the poor old horny dudes).

There was an unnamed category that a majority of gay men fell into in this same era. I would have to call it the ‘denim crowd’. It was the strata I identified with in my single days. In fall and winter we wore flannel shirts or work shirts and jeans with a jean jacket. In summer we’d don the same jeans, wife-beater tank tops or go shirtless with a jean jacket. Some guys wore heavy boots if they leaned towards leather. Others chose sneakers or loafers if they were more jock-inspired.

I dated my first denim guy for only a month or so. He worked in the interior design industry like myself. By day his job required he wear a suit and tie. Regardless, he wore this tiny gold hoop earing which I found an odd juxtaposition, but so very hot. His name was Robb (with two B’s) and his last name (French Canadian), also began with a B. I affectionately referred to him as ‘Robb Bone-air’, frankly because that’s what he gave me whenever I caught a glimpse of that shocking earring and the dirty grin always pasted on his handsome face. Even when dressed in denim, there was something about his earring that hayseed me found so provocative in those olden days. Robb was also responsible for making me go commando…but I’m getting a bit off-track here.

Just before the end of the 70s I went off the dating market, settling down with a man who didn’t belong to any of the above-mentioned categories. He was Alejandro, and we were together for a dozen years. During my time out of the gay loop, a few new categories were formed. The biggest was the Bear Community. They surfaced somewhere in the early 1980s. Of course Bears have been around since forever, but this is when they became a huge thing, perhaps because there became so many kinds of them.

Bears, first and foremost, are guys with body hair. Bears are not into manscaping. This does not mean you have to wear a chest wig to be a Bear. There are some burly Bear dudes who are not terribly hairy. These men might compensate by cultivating hair where it does naturally grow, like on their heads. And if it doesn’t grow there, then maybe they’ll sport full, bristling beards. The Bear population has grown so large they’ve developed subclasses: younger bears are referred to as Cubs, older bears are often called Polar Bears, there are Musclebears, Panda Bears (Asians) and then, to totally confuse things, there are Bears who are hairy but thinner and extremely muscular, termed Otters (which in the animal kingdom aren’t even in the same family!).

I’ve always found Bears adorable. Although we shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations about any one group of people, I’m sticking my neck out here to say almost every Bear I’ve ever met has been a really cool guy. They’re fun-loving and playful. They don’t intimidate and for the most part are very open and accepting of non-bear types. They couldn’t be less pretentious, and typically dress totally for comfort–fashion be damned. I’ve always secretly wished to be a bear, but I’m (1) not entirely hirsute, (2) too old and never was nearly in-shape enough to dare to call myself an Otter, and (3) unfortunately, a little too overly concerned with what I wear. Perhaps they will someday bestow an Honorary Ursine membership upon me.

If the 80s introduced the Bear, the 90s was the dawn of the Twink. These guys existed even in my youth; only the name is new and their growth in numbers appears to have increased. They could be considered the other extreme of the Bear. Twinks are slender, young, boyish, typically clean-shaven, manied and pedied and always dressed to go clubbing. They have their fingers on the pulse of what is most current in fashion and anything that is of no earthly use in the real world. It would be difficult, I imagine, to be thirty-something AND still be a Twink. I never got what they were about in my day, so I am even more in the dark concerning the Twinks of today. They’re the kind of people my Grandmother would pray for daily, were she still alive and able to recognize their existence in her world.

Dating sites and apps like Grindr will no doubt create some new categories of gay men perhaps even I will get wind of, as David pushes me in my wheelchair up Commercial Street in Provincetown, should I live long enough. Who can say what will be considered cool and appealing to the next gay generation? The only wisdom I can impart at this point in my life is simply this:

Whether you are a Twink, a Cub, or an Otter, please don’t get so wrapped up in the look or the trends of the day, that you miss the now–the moment you should be living. Forget about your outfit for Tea Dance–nobody cares if your shorts are just a little too baggy, or your sneakers are last season’s. Dance your ass off, even by yourself if no one else asks you to dance. Order dessert if you want. Only you see the extra half pound the next morning. Looking back on my gay life, it is as if only three summers ago I came out at twenty-one. A year later, I was forty and single again. And just last week, AARP sent me my first invitation for membership while still in my late fifties. Life happens so goddamn fast you become a dinosaur, before you’ve even had the chance to begin to sample life.

 

Epilogue

I have always longed to visit Provincetown for Bear Week, as it is one of the most popular weeks of the summer, when the town is overtaken by a Bear invasion. My job schedule has never afforded me the pleasure, but this year I will be able to at least make a day trip on Friday. I can’t wait to report on my day there in a follow-up post.

A Cavalcade of Birthday Memories

Scan10009I’ve had many, many birthdays since my earliest recollected fifth, and even many that I don’t remember at all. Like thirty. I know I was living in New York City, yet there is not a glimmer of recall at how I spent it and thirty is such a nice round number you would think there should have been some memory. And yet I see vividly my seventh, because I had my first “kid” birthday party with boys and girls from both school and the neighborhood. There was my mother, hosting over a dozen rowdy rugrats in our rec room, while being nine months morbidly pregnant, carrying my soon-to-be-baby brother.

The theme was circus, so of course it was clown everything: plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, party favors and matching cake. The only thing NOT clown was the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game which I hated playing, because already at age seven I understood the meaning of passe. Mom’s ankles were swollen like the balloons hanging from the ceiling and she was feeling miserable, (she was only months away from being forty years old), but she was smiling and cordial to all those rambunctious little bastards who were my guests.

About half-way through the fete, after traveling up and down the basement steps schlepping for the umpteenth time, I caught a glimpse of the angst and discomfort show through her own painted smile. She resembled the clown faces that surrounded us everywhere we looked, pretending to be happy for my birthday while these rotten kids were making a mess of everything and creating still more work than her poor, expectant body could ever handle. On top of all this, my father was on the verge of his first ‘nervous breakdown’, a concept we were all learning to comprehend and work into the daily routine of our simple lives. I can never look back at seven and not first flash to that seminal period of our family history when crazy took over the reins.

At sixteen a friend from high school named Gemma attempted to throw a surprise party for me. She was supposedly cooking a birthday dinner at her parents’ house at 8:00 p.m. which was tres chic for West Buttfok, Ohio where by 5:30 most everybody had already finished doing the dishes even on Saturdays. We were super-close pals and had been hanging out together for a year or so. I’d gotten ready way ahead of schedule so I decided to walk over a little early. Maybe I could help her out with the cooking. I showed up at her door a bit before 7:00. I still remember her little sister’s face at the door, totally shocked which seemed odd as she adored me and enjoyed when I  visited because I fussed over her.  Gemma came up from behind her with shower wet hair, clutching her bathrobe to her chin. She looked really pissed and before I could say a thing she announced something to the effect of “So surprise, asshole”, (she definitely used that particular term of endearment), “you just blew your own surprise party by being the first one here!”.

Twenty-five was one of those birthdays that I judged as a traumatic mile marker. I was aggravating myself for several weeks before, announcing to anyone who would listen that I would soon be celebrating my Silver Birthday. It sounded like such a pivotal number. You could be in your early twenties and still be considered just a crazy college kid. That had long been my excuse to family elders my first few years in NYC trying to land an acting job. They viewed it as having no career and absolutely no direction in life. (Forget about the fact that I was unmarried with no sign of a girlfriend.) Twenty-five I was somehow interpreting as a serious signal that my frivolous years were behind me. I took the day off from work. I spent my entire birthday alone going out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and in between meals traveled from one cinema to another, taking in three different movies. I was home in bed and asleep by nine o’clock that night, over-fed, filmed-out and now seemingly devoid of my youth.

My fortieth birthday was spent in NYC even though I was living in an eight-room Victorian on the common of a sleepy New England town with my partner Alejandro. We went into The City for the weekend to celebrate. My good friend Giuseppe took me to lunch at Le Cirque and spent a fortune on a simply amazing afternoon of food, wine and conversation. To this day I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed a more magnificent luncheon! Then it was off to the theatre to watch a college friend play Mother Superior in NUNSENSE. She was incredibly funny in the role and just seeing her ultra-Protestant self in her nun’s habit was a scream to this forty-year-old lapsed Catholic/lapsed thespian.

Turning fifty looked to be an inexorable milestone. The year was 1999. My mother had died that June, so it was official – I was now an orphan. Everywhere we turned we were being bombarded with Y2K hysteria. I refused to stuff my mattress with my meager life savings and my retirement package likewise was going to stay put, doomsday advocates be damned. Certain unnamed relatives of mine in Michigan were stockpiling dried beans and rice in the cellar to no doubt observe their End of Days final meal. What sort of last hurrah style celebration would be appropriate for my golden birthday with all these factors considered? I settled upon a trip for David and me to see our dear friends Mickey and Minnie in Orlando. My younger brother and his family flew down to meet us, as we had vowed after Mom’s funeral that we would get together before the end of the millenium to do something together that was actually fun. It was a childishly wonderful fifty we all celebrated that year.

Once you have tallied these many years, birthdays seem to take on another meaning all together. You truly miss those friends and family who aren’t around any more to mail a card, make that phone call to sing an off-key version of the birthday song, or send an email. Now your refrigerator’s face is peppered with those ubiquitous little doctor’s appointment cards reminding you (sometimes seemingly into the next millenium) that you are mortal, slowly falling apart piece by piece. Yet even though I begin each new morning with an aspirin and three different pills for my blood pressure, I am still that foolish twenty-five-year old. When I pull on a pair of jeans I wonder why the tag reads W34 when I am certain my waist is the same 29 inches it has always been. Passing the medicine cabinet mirror as I stagger into the shower each a.m. without my glasses on, why do I catch a glimpse of my grandmother? The woman has been gone since 1990. I have always adored her, so why should she haunt me?

I think for my seventieth, if I am still around and still possessing all my marbles, I shall throw for myself a surprise party with a clown theme. I am betting I can pull it off without a hitch. And by then, so much time might have elapsed that Pin the Tail might have come round full circle again.

What’s the Story, Simone?

I am so ancient, such a dinosaur, that I can remember when even cable television was a novelty in New York City. I arrived there in late 1972 and according to Wikipedia, the both of us were laying down roots about the same time. Within the first six months of my life in Manhattan, I lost my television in a custody battle after being evicted in an apartment share gone bad. I learned to exist relatively TV-free for the next five years. No one I knew with a television had access to the new cable industry but from reading about its early history, it sounds as though none of us was missing very much. What was there was mostly public access fare – nothing to catch the attention of regular TV connoisseurs of the day.

Something which had quickly gained popularity on the tube in those early 1970s was a series of badly produced commercials on greater New York local TV for JGE Appliance stores. The chain was open to “union members and Civil Service workers only”. It’s owner, Jerry Rosenberg, who was also it’s only spokesman, became an overnight New York legend. Sporting a hard hat, the pot-bellied loudmouth was always perched atop a large appliance of some sort, while an off-camera voice asked “What’s the story, Jerry?” He responded with “What’s the story?” then went into reciting a list of appliances and their brand names in his gruff, unpolished Newyorkese. What’s the story caught on like wildfire and even Upper East Side elite had incorporated it into the vernacular.

In these same times I was buying my weekly copy of BACKSTAGE checking for auditions in hopes of landing the job to kick into motion my still-dreamed-of theatre career. In my quest I continually saw an ad seeking actors for a weekly entertainment show on Cable Channel “B” . They were looking for talent to perform spoofs of current media topics and the news. The ads never were specific as to age, gender or physical description and no one I knew had ever ventured to check it out. Because it had been awhile since I’d auditioned for anything, I was longing to satisfy the actor in me. Phoning the number from the ad, I chatted with a guy who was friendly and informative. He invited me to come a few days later and “hang out with us”. I asked outright if this was legit and he answered that it was non-union, but certainly not porn if that was my concern. “What harm could it do?”, I wondered, though I distinctly remember telling no one of my plans. At worst it would end up being just a little something to add to a stagnant resume.

It was a great apartment on Central Park West, filled with video equipment in an almost furniture-empty living room. There were three guys on the production team talking with two young women actors. All were seated in wooden kitchen chairs that somewhat lined the perimeter of the make shift studio. Prominent was a badly bleached blonde chick who dominated the group. She was brash with an acute Bronx accent. The guys were getting a kick out of her because she was such an air head, proving it with each sentence that fell out of her big mouth. I’d brought my portfolio of $400 worth of modeling photos that the guys were politely leafing through as they openly guffawed at the big breasted ignoramus commanding the center of attention.

After an uncomfortable fifteen minutes of feeling totally out-of-place, another two men showed up, obviously already part of the mix. With their arrival, the guy from my phone call brought out a bottle of booze, a large container of salt and some limes. “Let’s do some tequila shots and talk about what we need to get through tonight” he announced, filling the area between his left thumb and index finger with salt. I’d heard of tequila, but had never tasted it – knew what shots were, but where the limes and salt came in was way beyond my ken. I refused to not look like anything but super cool and compared to the Bronx bimbo, I had to be able to pull it off. The tequila was so medicinally foul-tasting to me that the salt and lime were a welcome relief. The bottle passed between us at least three times before we finished hearing the evening’s schedule.

One of the two late arrival actors would be doing the booth announcing for this week’s show. The only piece they would be video taping was a spoof on the JGE Appliance commercial. It was for a fictitious Simone’s S & M Warehouse, and the most likely candidate for the role of Simone, a dominatrix, was hands down the blonde bimbo. The more likable woman left. The guys thought I would be great as the voice who asked “What’s the story, Simone?”. The bottle was passed again as we went over ‘the script’.

This would definitely be Simone’s piece in which to shine. I would begin by posing the pivotal question and she would go off into reciting a litany of S & M paraphernalia featured at the warehouse. She was given a cat o’ nine tails whip to use when accentuating certain items on the list. There were things neither she (nor I for that matter) had ever heard of. She insisted knowing not only what they were, but how they were used. Our rehearsal was truly enlightening on multiple fronts. Certainly these many years later I cannot recall them all, but I distinctly remember the first two items which were tit weights and ball stretchers. There also were the basics: handcuffs, gags, restraints, and leather hoods. The poor thing couldn’t keep the items straight. We were all of us pretty well loaded now after polishing off the bottle of tequila. The production staff was adamant she recite them in the exact order written, so they ended up making cue cards to insure she remain true to their script.

Then there were the costumes. Simone wore a black leather bra and panties, fish nets and 5″ spiked high-heeled patent leather boots. She was only 5’2″ or thereabouts, weighing perhaps a hundred pounds, but the girl was all breast – easily 40 D or better. She spilled over the cups of her bra. She loved it. Her concern was she wouldn’t know what to do with her hands. They added to her whip a black double-headed dildo, at  least a foot long, which she would brandish in her other hand. Oh yes, and I had a costume as well. I would not be just an off-camera voice like in the commercial we were spoofing. There was a full harness with black leather pouch and a leather hood with zippered mouth opening for me. At the time I was just a hair under six-foot tipping the scales at a hundred forty pounds with a 29 inch waist. The chest portion of the harness could be adjusted to sort of fit, but the waist was fashioned for a much beefier dude. We made it stay on, but the pouch was loose, only remaining in place if I stood perfectly straight and didn’t move.

Problem was, as the scene begins, I am on all fours, ass to camera with masked head turned to deliver my line “What’s the story, Simone?”. There I remain the entire time. Simone is perched on my lower back, straddling me backwards, my naked ass framed between her thighs and knee-high boots. The firm leather pouch holds my penis in place, but my scrotum dangles visibly somewhere below. The production guys are roaring with a visual even they could not believe we’d created. I am so buzzed from my tequila christening that even I think my pendulous balls are funny. Our actress Simone is the only one not laughing, worrying about reciting her list of sadistic accoutrement in the right order.

The camera rolls.

ME: What’s the story, Simone?

SIMONE: What’s the stawh-ree? We got tit weights! We got boo-awl stretchas. (she cracks the whip).

Simone is supposed to get up at this point and walk to the right to continue. She walks totally out of camera range.

SIMONE: Here at Simone’s S and M Warehouse….

CREW: Cut!

They explain to her she must stay in camera range. She nods, thinking she’s got it now. We begin again and this time, a bit further on her list, she walks too far to the left. We have done at least four takes and she has barely gotten half-way through her list. I marvel at her stupidity. Even the guys aren’t finding her as funny as they had before the tequila. Deciding to make it easier for her, she will now stay put on my back and simply alternate the appointed whip cracking to either side of us. This works well except when she needs to whip to her left. She gets confused “becawze I got da’ dildo in dis’ hee-and”. A few times she smacks my ass with the big dildo instead of whipping and once again the guys are hysterical, like this chick is Lily Tomlin.

After what feels like umpteen takes, all of which we’ve stopped to review together, we agree we will do it only one more time. I don’t believe in these days video equipment of the more ‘affordable’ variety has the capacity for editing. Simone feels confident she can get through it. I had come down from my tequila high long about take number three. Now I just want to go home. Production is ready to buy another bottle. Instead we begin our final take.

Miraculously, Simone is performing flawlessly. She hasn’t failed even at the complex left-sided whipping. She is actually funny. Each whip crack is expertly crafted and stronger and more deliberate than the preceding one. She senses things are going so well that at one point, she gets up and moves left. We all hold our collective breath. She realizes she’s erred just prior to her whip crack and tries to self-correct by quickly sitting back down on me. She strikes my bare ass in the process. I flinch slightly in pain, muffling an audible “aaahhhh”. The crew cannot stifle their laughter. We actually have made it to the near finish. Simone reaches the last item on her list, delivering it spot on. Then comes our ending.

ME: So, that’s the story, Simone?

SIMONE: That’s the stawh-ree!

(FINAL WHIP CRACK)

Which she delivers, unrehearsed, between her own legs, flagellating my dangling, unprotected ball sack, dead on. Instantly I collapse in beyond-excruciating pain, wailing. Simone slides off me, falling ass over tit, hitting the floor. The crew is howling, so hard in fact, that no one can call “Cut”. Now Simone, the accomplished cable TV star out flat on her butt, sits up and screams “Cut!” Again, “Cut” (with a seated whip crack) “Cut gawd-dammit”.

Of course it was better than anyone could have hoped for. They retained every moment of Simone’s brilliant improvised ending. Although my testicles were still aching, even I laughed like a fool when we watched the play back. You couldn’t have planned something so hysterical. It was like a trained stage animal shitting on the floor in the middle of an important scene. They decided to use the piece regularly on their show. They invited me to come back and to please keep in touch.

I did neither. At first I worried it had truly been a bad decision to sign the release form after making such a naked fool of myself for absolutely nothing but a few slugs of awful tasting booze. Knowing my ridiculous behavior had been captured FOREVER on video tape continued to gnaw at me for weeks. But how many people even had Cable Channel B at the time? And of that miniscule percentage of the eight million people in the city who did, what were the chances they were so bored they were actually watching anytime it might have aired? Besides, anyone who could recognize leather-hooded me from those three minutes of video, certainly had to be an extremely familiar intimate. It did become a NYC credit on my resume plus a great anecdote to pull out at cocktail parties.