Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kicking Out Ronald Reagan's Lover

West Hollywood, September 1988

For gay people, West Hollywood is a sacred site, a Mecca free from the homophobia and other injustices of the straight-dominated world.  Everyone visits at least once, often for an extended period as they try to find some way to stay.

When you are lucky enough to live in West Hollywood, your phone keeps ringing, as gay men you haven't talked to for ten years suddenly remember that you're close friends.

Still, it was a surprise, in August 1988, to answer the telephone and hear "Boomer, darling!  How are you!"

It was Oscar, the retired set designer from Des Moines.  My first boyfriend Fred and I spent a couple of hours with him back in 1980 -- a very tenuous connection!

"Darling, I'm making the plunge -- I'm finally going to come out and visit West Hollywood.  And I want to see you in particular!"

"Um...what about Fred?"  He had just moved to Pomona, in the San Gabriel Valley, with his boyfriend Matt.

"Oh, I'll be visiting him, too, but he lives so far away, and he has such a tiny apartment, whereas you have such a big house."

How did he know that?  "I'm just renting a room from Derek...."

"Whatever.  Would it be ok if I stay with you?  Just for a few days.  Or a week.  Two or three weeks, tops."

I couldn't think of any reason why not.  I tried.

Derek said it was ok, but he needed the guest room for another visitor, so Oscar would have to stay in my room.  In my bed.

Which means he would know.  In fact, in West Hollywood culture, it would be impolite to refuse. Particularly when you were sharing a bed.

As you know, I am attracted to guys who are dark-skinned, shorter than me, and muscular or husky.  Oscar was tall, thin, and pale.

1. Feminine.  Lots of guys in West Hollywood were attracted to guys with feminine traits.  But I wasn't. Rings, ascots, perfume, overmodulated voices, undulating limbs -- instant turn-offs.

2.  And 73.  I was often attracted to older guys.  When I was 20, I dated a 40-ish college professor.  But an age difference of 46 years?  A little much!

One Friday in early September, Fred, Matt, and I picked Oscar up at LAX, carried his dozen suitcases to my house, and took him out to dinner.  Then they scrammed back to the San Gabriel Valley, leaving Oscar gazing at me in expectation.

"I'm just getting over a cold," I told him, "So it wouldn't be a good idea to do anything tonight."

The "gettinv over a cold" ploy lasted for about three days.  Then I devoted about a week to a whirlwind of sightseeing, everywhere from the LaBrea Tar Pits to the Toy Tiger, a Silverlake bar for older guys.  I didn't enjoy being mistaken for Oscar's grandson or hustler all the time, but the ploy worked: every night, Oscar was so exhausted that the moment we got into bed, he fell asleep.

But sooner or later, he would be wide awake and ready know.

"How long do you think you'll be able to stay?" I asked one day over breakfast.

"Oh, darling, I'm as free as a bird.  I can stay until spring!"

Great! I went out and applied for a job in Turkey.

Maybe I could find him a boyfriend to move in with?  Or claim to have a kinky fetish, or to be a racist, or to have a secret boyfriend?

Then I remembered Oscar's story of dating future president Ronald Reagan, when they were both working for WHO Radio in Des Moines, back in 1936.

I knew Attorney General John Van De Camp, a long-time gay rights advocate.

He told me that Reagan was in town, spending most evenings socializing with friends from his Hollywood days, and he might be able to get Oscar and me invited, if we didn't tell anyone that we were gay.

I ran into the living room, where Oscar was reading Frontiers.  "Guess what!  You might be getting a reunion with your old boyfriend, Ronald Reagan!  The Attorney General is arranging it!"

He turned pale, and his jaw dropped.  "Ronald Reagan? How did you...."

"We just have to pretend to be straight.  You know, Reagan's a big homophobe."

He exhaled sharply.  "Oh, no, my dear, it would be too painful after all these years. Pretending that we didn't mean anything to each other.  Oh, no, it would be dreadful.  I couldn't abide it."

"Are you sure?  I mean, dinner with the President..."

That afternoon he packed his suitcases and called Fred to pick him up.  He spent the rest of his vacation in the San Gabriel Valley.

I'm still not sure if Oscar really dated Ronald Reagan or not.

Reagan was out of office a few months later, but for years I got rid of unwanted houseguests by offering to introduce them to the ex-President.   He wasn't very popular among gay people.

See also: Fred Hooks Up with Ronnie Reagan

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