Saturday, February 14, 2015

Summer 1970: Roadside Beefcake

Minnesota, Summer 1970

Every year during Dad's vacation, we spent a week in a cabin on a lake somewhere in the northwoods, usually Minnesota, occasionally Wisconsin or Michigan, once Manitoba.  It was awful -- no tv, no movies, no museums or art galleries, just a lot of swimming, boating, and fishing (though once we visited Alexandria, Minnesota, site of the Kensington Runestone).  I might as well have stayed in the cub scouts.

But if you knew where to look, you could find beefcake anywhere, and not just in the shirtless man-mountains wandering the country roads, who could sometimes be persuaded to flex for you.

Many of the small towns we passed featured statues honoring local Native Americans, like Big Chief Germain in St. Germain, Wisconsin. There actually wasn't such a person; the bulging biceps came from the sculptor's imagination.

The descendants of Scandinavian immigrants have erected many statues that celebrate their Viking heritage (or to promote the theory that Vikings explored the region during the 13th century).  This one in Gimli, Manitoba, near Winnipeg, was constructed by George Barone in 1967. At the time I thought the Viking was bare-chested, but maybe he's just really, really muscular.

State and provincial capitol buildings were always good for beefcake based on Greek or Roman mythology.  When I was a kid, the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul was capped with this statue, "The Progress of the State," by Daniel Chester French and Edward Clark Potter.  The muscleman represents prosperity.  In 1995 it was moved to the southern entrance.

But the Holy Grail of Roadside Beefcake was the Golden Boy (real name: Eternal Youth), sculpted by Georges Gardet and perched atop the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg: amazingly muscular, golden, and naked.

I couldn't get close enough to see him this clearly, but as a symbol of Manitoba, his image adorned decorative plates, spoons, key chains, pin-backs, postcards, and toys.  When I spent my allowance on a few, Mom and Dad seemed happy that I was taking such an interest in my Canadian heritage.

See also: The Top 10 Public Penises of Minnesota; the Big Men of American Tall Tales.

A Naked Indian Teenager at the Pow Wow

Rock Island, September 1970

Every summer the Sauk and Fox Indians, who used to live on the site of Rock Island, returned for a Pow Wow at Black Hawk State Park.  On the Fourth of July weekend in 1970, just after fourth grade, Bill's big brother Mike and his girlfriend took us to see it.

We wandered the booths where Sauk/Fox  ladies sold beadwork, moccasins, feathered headdresses, little toy drums, fried bread, and ice cream sandwiches. For some reason, the phallic Weinermobile was there, selling hot dogs.

Mike bought me a small green-plastic statue of a Sauk with a round face, long flowing hair, and bulging muscles.

The lady at the booth said that he was Wisakeha, a beautiful youth who created all of the world's rivers.  He fell asleep on the day the White-Eyes first bridged the Mississippi, but someday he would awaken and banish war from the world forever.

Mike got quiet after that, maybe thinking of Vietnam.

The show came later: Fancy Dancers fluttering with fringed shirts and enormous feathered headdresses, Medicine Dancers in animal masks, Eagle Dancers with red and green streamers fringing from their pants. A "Wild Indian" blew cigarette smoke through his nose and scared the little kids with his tomahawk. Sauk women marched single-file across the dirt, chanting to the corn spirits.   Teenage boys wearing only buckskin pants marched across the dirt, pounding on drums and screaming. They invited the kids to scream as loud as we could to awaken Wisakeha.

When a white-haired old man in a red-beaded headdress began to screech in the old Sauk language, Bill and I decided to look for Indian arrowheads in the hickory-oak woods. We walked up a steep trail that led away from the Pow Wow until we could no longer hear the shrill song or the murmuring voices. Sometimes we caught a glimpse of the river through the foliage, glinting down past a white-brick dam.

Suddenly the woods became very quiet. We saw a figure standing a little down from the path, facing the river.  An Indian! One of the teenage performers, I thought, still in costume, except his buckskin pants were down around his ankles, leaving him naked. I saw the side of his thigh, the curve of his clenched buttocks, his thin striated belly, his massive chest painted green like the forest. He was peeing, I realized with a start -- and he had a garden hose between his legs!  It took two hands to direct the stream of urine into the undergrowth.

I had only seen a few penises before, or what the grownups called "shames": my brother's, my cousin Joe's, and my Uncle Paul's.   (I didn't count the Naked Man in the Peat Bog, because I thought he was a monster.)

He couldn’t be a real Indian boy! I thought. He was too muscular, too alien, too beautiful. His chest was green, but the rest of his body was dark gold, like a statue. He must be Wisakeha, the god that the Sauk and Fox worshipped, who would soon banish war from the world. We watched in utter silence, afraid to move or breathe.

Suddenly the boy noticed that we were watching. He turned, his muscles taut, his eyes pools of black. And he screamed. It wasn’t angry, like the screams of wild Indians on tv, or the preacher at church – he was screaming with joy.  He wanted to be seen.

But we were too terrified to stick around.  We ran back to the Pow Wow as fast as we could, and collapsed yelling into Mike’s arms.

Maybe we did awaken a sleeping god that day.

See also: My First Indian Sausage Sighting

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Best Man

Indiana, June 1969

When I was a kid, I knew that a boy who liked a particular girl called her a "girlfriend."  But no one gave a name to a boy who liked a particular boy.  It wasn't "boyfriend" -- I tried that, and got corrected.  Superman called Jimmy Olsen his “boy pal."  On My Three Sons, Robbie Douglas called the boys he liked "buddies."  But I found out the real word in the summer of 1969, just after third grade, when we went to my parents' home town of Garrett, Indiana to watch my Uncle Paul get married.

Uncle Paul was my favorite uncle because he was still a teenager, in high school, and he wanted to be called "Paul," not "Uncle" anything.  When I visited, we did cool things, like going swimming or catching frogs or playing hide-and-seek in the cornfield.  He drove us to movies (my parents didn't know) and to the Blue Moon Drive-In, where he bought us milkshakes and introduced us to all his high school friends.

There was no bathroom in my grandparents' house, so you had to use the outhouse or pee into the wind.  Paul taught us how, giving me my first glimpse of an adult penis.

 But in the summer of 1969 (the same summer I saw the Naked Man in the Peat Bog), Paul was a grownup, and like all grownup men he had to go to work in the factory and get married.  He was marrying a petite girl with small hands and freckles, who said we should call her Lana, not "Aunt" anything.

At the wedding, five men and boys lined up on the little stage next to Uncle Paul, and five women and girls lined up next to Lana. My Cousin Buster, only one year older than me, got to stand up there, but not me; I had to sit in the wooden pew next to my parents and little brother and baby sister.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mom said, noting my disappointment. “Someday when you get married, you can have anybody you want standing next to you.”


“Sure. He can even be your best man.”

I beamed. When Mom said boys don’t get married, she meant they didn’t have wives, they had best men! So when I grew up, I would stand on that little stage with my best man, Bill or someone like him, and we would get married while all of our friends and relatives clapped.  Then we would go on a honeymoon trip to Hawaii to look at muscular surfers, and afterwards we would move into a house together.

Nearly a years passed before I discovered that "best man" meant something else altogether.  But I still used it as code, calling the boy I liked my "best man" through high school.

Meanwhile, my parents kept snapping those pix.

My First Date: A Hippie to the Rescue

Rock Island, Fall 1968

My first date was in October 1968, when I was in third grade.  One day a boy named Gary pushed through the recess crowds to the blacktop where we were playing army men, and asked “Wanna go to a movie Saturday? My Dad’ll drive us.”

I almost said no.  Movies, or what old people called "the show," were the main thing God hated!  But when Mom and Dad said ok, I decided to risk it. Gary had muscles, and besides, the movie was Village of the Giants (1965), starring Tommy Kirk, a cute teenager who was gay (back then all I knew was he that he seemed to like boys, not girls).

The promise of sitting next to a boy with muscles and seeing a teenager who liked boys outweighed my fear of getting God mad.

God didn’t strike out when Gary’s Dad dropped us off at the Fort Armstrong, or when Gary bought our tickets and orange-colored popcorn.  But He revealed His anger when the lights dimmed: the opening scene showed Tommy Kirk and a girl kissing! Tight close-ups of their faces smashed together!

We covered our eyes, occasionally peeking through our fingers to see if the disgusting display was over, but we couldn’t block out the smooching sounds. The ordeal seemed to last for hours. I promised God that I would never again go to to the show, if only He would make Tommy Kirk like boys again.

The story was about a weird concoction that turned some teenagers into giants. Their clothes got shredded off, so they were naked at first, and then they made togas out of theater curtains and danced in slow motion, the camera lingering lovingly on their bulging arms and sculpted torsos. It was nice to see muscles, but our deal, I reminded God, was for Tommy Kirk to like boys, not girls.

God did provide Tommy with a cute best friend, Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman, but they obviously didn’t like each other.  They didn’t even work together to save the town. Johnny Crawford grabbed a bottle of antidote  and catapulted himself onto the bosom of one of the giant girls to shrink her. The audience cheered. I wanted to go home.

When the movie was over, we stumbled out with the crowd to the sidewalk outside, where Gary's Dad would be waiting, but somehow we found ourselves in an alley between two dark-brick buildings. We followed it to a gigantic, nearly empty parking lot.  There were deserted streets on the right and left, and on the far side, the back ends of some three-story brick buildings.

“This isn’t the right way!” Gary exclaimed.
“We must’ve went through the wrong door,” I said, struggling for a logical explanation.I had never been downtown before – I had only been in Rock Island for a few months -- but I knew it wasn't supposed to look like this. The signs on the buildings didn’t make sense. The parking meters were a weird pea-green col-or. The sky was almost black.  The wind was sharp and stinging, making us shiver in our thin autumn jackets.

This wasn’t just the wrong side of the theater. We were in a whole different town, maybe a whole different world!

“Let’s go back to the alley,” Gary suggested. “Maybe that will take us to the right door.”

But we couldn’t find the alley again. Behind us was a solid wall of buildings! We ran around the corner, past a statue of a soldier on a horse and a billboard that showed a depressed man being rained on. We saw a  marquee in the distance, and ran toward it – but instead of  “Fort Armstrong,” it had a crazy foreign word: “Ar-cade.”

Scared, exhausted, we sat down on the curb and started to cry.

Then I heard a soft calm voice: “What’s the matter, kids?”
I looked up to see a teenager standing on the side-walk behind us. A hippie -- he had blond hair and a scraggly beard, and he was wearing hippie threads: a fringed jacket, a red tie-dye t-shirt, and bell-bottom jeans with a green belt.

 “We’re lost," I said.

“Dad won’t know,” Gary added, to clarify the situation.

“Don’t sweat it. We can find your folks – we just have to work together.” The hippie sat down on the curb and squeezed between us and wrapped his arms around our shoulders. I collapsed onto his chest.

It was hard like steel! And warm, and fuzzy with little blond hairs!

I hugged the teenager, squeezed against his hard-steel chest, breathing his acrid-sweet hippie smell. He wrapped a thick arm around me and pressed me close. Suddenly I didn’t feel like crying anymore.

“Hey, little bud, it’s ok.  Where did you see your folks last? Did they drop you off at the Arcade?”
“Fort Armstrong,” Gary whimpered. Why was he still crying? Why wasn’t he gasping with joy at the hippie’s muscles?
“We went to see Tommy Kirk,”  I explained, “But Tommy Kirk liked girls, not boys, and God was mad, and then we went out the wrong door.”

The hippie laughed. “Wal, you’re durned close, pardners – the moving picture the-ater is jest a block thataway.” We giggled at his pretend cowboy talk. He stood and drew us to our feet and took our hands.  “C’mon, I’ll take you over.”

In a few moments we were reunited with Gary’s Dad, still waiting on the sidewalk as the last of the kiddie matinee crowd came blinking from the theater. He shook hands with hippie who rescued us and gave him a quarter.

I went to the Fort Armstrong many times after that, and whenever I told the story, my friends insisted on trying to retrace our footsteps that day. We went through every door of the theater, even the one marked “Employees Only.” We circled the building, circled the block, peered into every alley. But we never found the deserted parking lot, the statue of a soldier on a horse, or the arcade where a hippie with muscles came to the rescue.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Glimpse of Cousin Joe's Shame

Rome City, July 1968

When I was 7 1/2 years old, we moved from Racine, Wisconsin to Rock Island, Illinois.  My parents didn't want my brother and me in the way during the move, so on July 18th, 1968, we left a fully-furnished house in Racine, and on July 28th, we returned to a fully-furnished house in Rock Island.

We spent the ten days in Rome City, Indiana, with my Aunt Nora.  She was a big, jolly woman who baked pies for a living -- we got pie every night for dessert! -- and who let us watch all the tv we wanted.  She and Uncle Henry (who died a long time ago) liked tv so much that they named her kids after popular tv stars:

1. Ed (left), 18 years old, after the star of The Ed Sullivan Show.
2. Eva Marie, 16 years old, after Eva Marie Saint, star of the The Phillco Television Showcase
3. Joe (top photo left), 14 years old, after the star of The Joey Bishop Show (she was fibbing about this: The Joey Bishop Show didn't premiere until 1961 and Cousin Joe was born in 1954.)

Their house was only two blocks from the Limberlost Library, where kids could use the main room, not just the children’s room, and Cousin Joe let us check out books on his card. It was three blocks from Sylvan Lake, where we went swimming and fishing and rode pontoon boats.

Aunt Nora's house had a living room, dining room, kitchen, and three bedrooms downstairs (for Aunt Nora, Joe, and Eva Marie).  Upstairs there was one bedroom for Grandma Davis whenever she came for a visit (Kenny and I slept there), and an attic "pad" for Ed.

One night I woke up late and had to go to the bathroom, so I climbed out of bed and pieced my way gingerly downstairs and through the unfamiliar hallway. The bathroom door was ajar.  I shoved it open.

Cousin Joe was standing in front of the sink.

I saw him only dimly, in the silvery-black moonlight and the glow of a nightlight attached to a wall outlet, and only for an instant, but 40 years later, the image is still vivid:  a nude, muscular backside. A smooth chest visible in the mirror, and a belly -- thin, no abs.  A dark patch of pubic hair.  And what the grownups called his shame

I had only seen two shames before, my brother's and my Uncle Paul's.  I would see another two years later, at the Rock Island Pow Wow, but by that time I would know the correct term. This one was huge, a monster, a garden hose.  I wondered how he could fit it into a pair of pants.

Was he peeing in the sink?  No -- that was a trickle of water from the faucet.  He was washing it!

Why didn't he do that at bathtime?

Noticing me, Joe swung around, hands dripping, shame swaying from side to side. "What the hell are you doing!" he yelled.  "Get out of here!"

But I was transfixed.  I couldn't look away.

Suddenly the light came on in Aunt Nora's room, and I heard Cousin Ed's voice from upstairs -- Kenny woke up and started crying when I wasn't there.  Grunting, Joe brushed past me, and ran to his own room to put on a bathrobe.

Before long, everybody was gathered in the kitchen, talking furiously while Aunt Nora made hot chocolate.  Eventually it was decided that, though I had embarrassed Joe by seeing his shame, it was his own fault.  You should shut the bathroom door, even late at night when you think everyone is asleep.

I don't understand why they called it a shame.  It was certainly nothing to be ashamed of -- I'll bet it would win first prize at the Gay Horsemen's Club in Amsterdam, where I would find an A+++-sized boyfriend years later  -- and it provided me with a fond childhood memory.

Besides, I got hot chocolate.

The Marvelous Dollhouse

Racine, Fall 1967

Fall 1967, second grade at Hansche School in Racine, Wisconsin.  A girl -- I think she was Pam, who officiated at my wedding to Doug last year -- asked me to come over to her house after school to play.

Boys and girls didn't usually play together.  The teachers at school didn't even like us talking to each other.  We were herded through separate doors in the morning and to separate tables in the cafeteria, and at recess the boys had to play dodge ball far off in the grass, while the girls jumped rope and played singsong games in the shadow of the school. I liked to jump rope, but the teachers often shooed me away. Once when I was just sitting on the steps nearby to avoid the glare of the recess sun, a teacher screamed wildly at me to move away, as if deadly danger lurked there, against the cool bricks.

But Pam had a legendary dollhouse, so I agreed.

It was enormous, the biggest I had ever seen.  It opened up to reveal three floors, all with precisely detailed furniture. You could see plates on the dining room table, and tiny folios of sheet music on the piano

.  We spent hours exploring, hosting a music recital in the ballroom, cooking a rich kid's supper and serving it to 100 guests in the gold-draped dining room.  Then, because it was almost supper time for real, Dad arrived to pick me up.

During the five-block drive home, Dad kept turning and grinning at me. “Pam, Pam, Pam,” he repeated, as if trying to memorize the name for future reference. “Is she cute?”

I didn't understand the question.  Girls could be mean or nice, smart or dumb, brave or scaredy-cat, but how could they be cute? Only boys were cute. Maybe he was talking about her outfit? “It was ok, I guess.”

He laughed. “You guess. . .I’ll bet you guess!” He reached over to squash me on the shoulder as if I had won some prize. “Did you ask Pam to come and play with you tomorrow?”


 “Well, why not? You have to be quick. If you’re not careful, some other boy will horn in, and then where will you be?”

At home, Mom asked the same questions --  is Pam cute? Did you ask her to come and play with you? Well, why not? And my brother Kenny, a roly-poly kindergartner, burst into singsong: "Pam and Boomer-y sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!”

“Knock it off!” I exclaimed. “We weren’t kissing!”

Giggling uproariously, Kenny lay on the floor and kicked his feet in the air and continued: “First comes love, then comes mar-riage. . . .”

“Knock it off, or I’ll pound you!” I yelled. “I’m not marrying Pam!”

Kenny leapt to his feet and ran from the room. He called back: “When are you gonna kiss your girl-friend?”

“I don’t like Pam!” I yelled. “I don’t like girls!”

Mom laughed. “Then why did you go to a girl’s house, Mr. Smarty-Pants?”

But now, finally, I understood. When a boy went to a girl’s house, it always meant that they liked each other. And not just a shy, casual liking – everyone thought that they wanted to get married!

That must be why Dad had only men friends. If he made friends with a lady, Mom would think “He wants to get married to her instead of me!”

That must be why the teachers kept boys and girls from playing together.  They were too young to get married!

After that I carefully avoided playing with girls, however fun their jump ropes, jacks, and dollhouses seemed. I didn’t want anyone thinking I liked girls, not boys.

It didn't work.  To this day, my parents insist that, whatever happened later on, in second grade I was heterosexual -- after all, I had a girlfriend!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Marrying the Boy Next Door

Racine, Fall 1967

Long before I met Bill, before my first date, when we were still living in Racine, Wisconsin, I married the boy next door.

This isn't him; he would have about my age, six or seven years old, in first grade.

His name was Doug.  I remember a crew cut, a bare smooth chest, and a broad smile.

We must have sat at pale wood desks at Hansche Elementary School, we must have played army men and cartoon kits, we must run in swimsuits to the beach -- but I  remember only three incidents.

1. We have spread a blanket over the kitchen table to make a fort, and safely sequestered, we are watching My Three Sons. I think it was the episode where Robbie Douglas (Don Grady, left) falls in love with a bullfighter, so February 16, 1967.

Suddenly I say, softly,  "Someday I'm going to marry Robbie Douglas."

Doug giggles.  "You can't marry Robbie Douglas!"

"I know that!  He's not real.  I mean I'm going to marry a boy that's cute and nice, like him."

"I'm cute and nice," Doug protests.  "And I got more muscles!" For proof, he flexes his arm.  I cup his small, hard bicep in my hand.  "You should marry me!"

"You have lots of muscles," I agree.  "I want to marry you."

2. Probably the next day, after school.  Mom is frying baloney for supper.  The round fake-wood table with the seam in the middle is set with plastic plates and glasses, and paper towels for napkins. There is a bottle of ketchup, a jar of Miracle Whip, and a jar of “dull pickles.”

We walk up to her hand in hand, and I say "Guess what?  Doug and me are getting married."
She doesn't respond.  With her back turned, I can't tell if she is happy or sad or mad.
“Did you hear me, Mom?”

Mom stiffens abruptly, and says in a strangely harsh tone, "Boys can't get married."
"I know that!  We got to wait until we're big."
"Like Robbie Douglas's Dad and Uncle Charlie," Doug adds.
On My Three Sons? They’re not married.” Mom is still distracted, still not looking. "You can only get married if you fall in love.”

“Well – me and Doug fell in love, so we can get married, ok?”
“Boys only fall in love with girls,” she said. “Now go wake up your Dad for supper.”

3. Not dissuaded, we decide to get married anyway.  We march down to the deserted February beach with three of our friends.  A big, grown-up third grader named Pam officiates.  She says "I now pronounce you man and husband," instead of "man and wife."   Someone throws rice on us, and we have a brief but exciting kiss.

 I don't remember anything about Doug after that.  Maybe he moved away.

My mother claims that she doesn't remember my marriage in the spring of 1967.  It was a trivial incident to her, childish nonsense.

Or maybe something more. She tried to hide it, but she was really upset.  Maybe the incident brought her first suspicions that boys could indeed fall in love.

The Bodybuilder on the Beach

Racine, Summer 1965

Heterosexuals are allowed to just "be," their glancing at girls or boys presumed instinctive, universal, unquestionable, as inevitable as sunrise, unworthy of comment but worthy of constant praise.  But gay people are constantly asked for a history, or an etiology, for how they Figured It Out, for When They Knew.

Maybe when I was 4 years old, and fumed with righteous indignation when Dad accused me of "liking" the hostess of The Land of Ziggy Zaggy.

Maybe when I was 3 years old, and sneaked out into the living room long past my bedtime to see two men hugging on tv .

Or when my parents gave me a Little Golden Book with a picture of a muscular, loincloth-clad Tarzan on the cover. Probably by age 2.

Or maybe when I met the Bodybuilder on the Beach.

We moved to Racine, Wisconsin just before kindergarten, and stayed through second grade (1965-68).  Our house was only a block from Lake Michigan, so we went to the beach almost every day. 

The Event happened before my sister was born, so probably in the summer of 1965, when I was four years old.  I was playing with a toy dump truck while my father swam and my mother sunbathed.  Suddenly a bodybuilder walked past our blanket (I didn't know that word yet, so I called him a Muscle Man).

He stood head and shoulders above any of the other beachgoers. He was as tall and tanned as Hercules, with broad shoulders, a thick, hairy chest, and xylophone-hard abs.

Overcome with joy, I rushed up to him.  "Can I touch you, Mister?" I asked, not at all shy.

Grinning, the Muscle Man stopped and flexed.  I patted his marble-hard stomach and hairy chest, but I couldn't reach his arms, so he got on his knees.  His bicep was enormous, so big that I couldn't cup it in two hands.  It was the most amazing thing I had ever felt.

Mom was standing beside me.  "Yes, isn't he big and strong?" she said.  "I bet all the girls like him."

Girls?  But...I was a boy, and I liked him.

"When you grow up, you'll have big muscles like that, and all the girls will like you, too!"

Girls?  But...I wanted boys to like me.

She thanked the Muscle Man for putting up with me, and he continued on his way down the beach. He hadn't said a word.

The Event taught me two things:
1. Men were incredible.
2. I wasn't supposed to think so.

I never saw the Muscle Man again.

Nearly 50 years have passed, but not much has changed.  Men are still incredible, and I still hear, every day, that I'm not supposed to think so.

Summer 1965: The Muscles of Morris Street

Indianapolis, Summer 1965

A few days ago, one of the readers of this blog told me that he grew up in Morris, Illinois, about 120 miles from Rock Island.

Reading the name instantly aroused the conmingling of joy, anxiety, and erotic energy that I associate with a "good place," a country or city where, as a child, I imagined same-sex love to be open and free.  Like Tibet, or Middle Earth, or even the Los Angeles of The Lucy Show.

The name brought back the memories of:
1. A very, very old man sitting in a rocking chair with a collie next to him.
2. The collie whining softly like Lassie.

3. Muscles!  Hundreds of men and boys, maybe thousands, more than I had ever seen before, shirtless, in swimsuits, their bodies gleaming in bright sunlight, flexing their biceps, adjusting themselves, running, jumping, hugging.

Could that beefcake paradise have been Morris, Illinois?  But I didn't remember ever visiting.

We passed often.  At least once a year, often two or three times, we took Interstate 80 from Rock Island across the Illinois prairie on the way to visit my relatives in Indiana.  I got to know the route intimately, feeling perfectly at home on the endless gray highway banded by white lines.  I can still list the towns along the way: Geneseo, Kewanee, Princeton, Lasalle, Peru, Ottawa, Morris, Joliet, Chicago Heights.

Sensitive to the problem of kids getting bored on car trips, and probably getting bored themselves, Mom and Dad always found new, interesting places to stop: Starved Rock State Park, Culver's Frozen Custard; a haunted theater in Chicago Heights; the glass octagon of Valparaiso University.

Could we have stopped in Morris?

I got a map and checked the possibilities: Norwegian Settlers Memorial, Gebhart Woods State Park, Morris Diner & Pancake House, Boz Hot Dogs.  Nothing seemed particularly homoerotic.

Anyway, the old, old man didn't seem like a random encounter.  We visited his house.  We knew him.

He was too old to be one of my parents' friends.  He must be a relative.

I emailed my mother and asked if we ever visited any relatives in Morris, Illinois.

"No," she wrote back. "All of your Dad's family are in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, except for your Cousin George in South Carolina.  And my family is in Kentucky."

Maybe I had the wrong Morris?  There's a Morris in Indiana, a Morris Township in Ohio, and a Mount Morris in Michigan.

Eva Marie, my Cousin Joe's sister, is big on family genealogy. She helped me track down the gay connections of our biological grandfather, and she has gedcoms that trace our ancestry through a dozen different lines back to Canada, England, Ireland, and France, all the way back to Charlemagne.  I emailed her and asked if anyone in our family lived in a town called Morris between 1960 and 1970.

"No," she wrote back.  "You had a second-cousin on a Morris Street.  Does that help?"


Daniel Scholle, son of Grandpa Davis's older sister, lived on Morris Street in Indianapolis in the early 1960s.  But he was too young to be the old man of my memory.

"What about his father?" Eva wrote.  "Otto Scholle, your great-uncle.  He turned 75 in July 1965, and we all went down for his birthday party. Mom, Dad, your parents, Grandma Davis.  Maybe that's what you remember."

Back to Google Maps.  I didn't recognize the house Eva mentioned.  But two blocks north was Rhodius Park, which has a softball field and a swimming pool.

Now I can figure out what happened:

A hot day in July, before we moved away from Indiana.

  A birthday party for an old, old man on "Morris Street."  A house full of strangers.  After the cake, Eva, Joe, and Larry get bored.  Their parents suggests that they go to the park, and take their 4 1/2-year old cousin Boomer.

They walk past the crowded swimming pool.  Through the chain link fence, Boomer sees dozens of half-naked men and boys,splashing, flexing, hugging, adjusting themselves, a stunning homoerotic spectacle that stays with him forever, even after he forgets everything else about the day.

Except for the old, old man, the collie whining, and the name "Morris."

See also: A Boy Named Twilight.; Was My Grandfather Gay?

Spring 1965: The Book of Cute Boys

Indiana, Spring 1965

I love books.  Who cares about Kindles and Scribds and .pdfs?  I love browsing through used bookstores, driving home from the mall with a Barnes and Noble bag beside me, checking my recommendations on Amazon.

And reading every night before turning out the light.

Whenever I'm depressed, I rearrange my books.

I have a lot of them.  I've been buying at least 2 per week since I moved out of my parents' house in 1985.  That adds up to over 3,000, but actually I have only about 1,000.  Every time I move, I pare down my collection to 30 boxes.

Where did this bibliomania start?  Maybe with my parents, who disapproved of books.  They were at best a waste of time, and more likely sinful.  The only way I could get away with reading was to claim that it was a school assignment (evidently my teachers assigned a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels).

Or maybe it's all due to a traumatic incident that happened when I was about four years old, when we were still living on Randolph Street in Garrett,  Indiana.

 I had a Little Golden Book  I couldn't read most of the words yet, but the front cover showed two boys hugging and waving.  So I called it my Book of Cute Boys.

I think it was this adaptation of the Disney movie The Swiss Family Robinson, about a family shipwrecked on a desert island.  The publication date is right.

One day in the spring of 1965,  we were driving somewhere on a scary country road, and I was reading in the back seat (this was before car seats, or even seatbelts).  Dad yelled back, "Don't read in the car!"

But the book was too beautiful to look away.  Look at this man hugging a muscular blond boy.  He's wearing girls' shoes. They have v's of skin visible where their shirts are unbuttoned to their chests.

I said something like "I wanna see the cute boys."

"Dammit, Skeezix, do you want to get sick?"

I kept reading...

Look at blond boy now: he's much bigger and taller. The elephant is trying to unbutton his shirt, while the boy in purple pants looks on, his hand jauntily on his hip.

Dad always got mad easily while driving.  He may have warned me a few more times.  Then, sucking his lower lip  in his look of pure fury, he reached back, grabbed The Book of Cute Boys from my hands, and threw it out the car window.

It was lost forever!

There's a lot of gay symbolism in that distant memory:

Was Dad worried that I would get motion sickness from reading in the car, or that I would get sick from looking at cute boys?

When he threw away the book, was he trying to expel my same-sex desire in a sort of exorcism?

From that day on, my same-sex desire would be denied, suppressed, challenged, explained as something else, criticized, excoriated, qualified, discussed, or tolerated.

It would never again be allowed to just exist.

I've spent my life buying that book over and over again, but nothing will bring that innocence back.

Spring 1965: Chasing the Boy with the Guitar

Garrett, Indiana, Spring 1965

One of my earliest memories:

It's a warm night in the springtime.  We're  living on Randolph Street in Garrett, Indiana, so I must be about four years old.  My bedroom window looks out on the alley and then the back yard of the house in the next block, where there's a little grey-stone patio.

It's late, long after bedtime, but I'm still awake.  I go to the window.  Across the alley, some teenagers are sitting in green-striped lawn chairs on the patio, in kind of a circle, listening to a boy play the guitar and sing.

Mrs. Brown, you've got a lovely daughter.
Girls as sharp as her are something rare.

He is facing my direction.  Maybe he is singing to me!

I know I'm not anybody's daughter, but he said "lovely."  That means he loves me!

I push against the wire screen.  It must be broken -- it comes off easily.  I push myself out of the window, and land on the hard, warm grass.  The teenage boy keeps singing, looking in my direction. 

Our house on Randolph Street

Walkin' about, even in a crowd, well
You'll pick her out, makes a bloke feel so proud

He's seen me walking around!

I walk across the back yard.  My new boyfriend is cute!   He is wearing a pale orange shirt and short pants, and sandals.

Don't let on, don't say she's broke my heart
I'd go down on my knees but it's no good to pine

Next comes the alley, all gravel, hard and sharp against my bare feet.  But I'm willing to endure it to let him know that it's ok, I won't break his heart again. .

Then suddenly the music stops.  The teenagers are all staring at me.  I hear murmuring "Look, it's a kid!" "Where'd he come from?"  "Is he lost?"

They are interrogating me, accusing me.  Scared, embarrassed, I start to cry.

Herman's Hermits
 A teenage girl wearing sandals crosses the alley and sweeps me into her arms.  My boyfriend follows her. I get a glimpse of his smooth tanned chest, smell his Aqua Velva cologne.  They take me around to the front of the house, knock on the door, and deliver me to my parents, who yell a lot.

The screen in the window is fixed the next day.

I don't remember ever seeing my "boyfriend" again.

I've always thought of  "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" as a gay song, though I can't really find any gay subtexts in it, and Herman's Hermits is my least favorite boy band.


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