Thursday, April 9, 2015

Dating the Preacher's Son

Rock Island, Spring 1977

During my junior year at Rocky High (1976-77), most guys were obsessed with demonstrating that they were not Swishes (our word for "gay").  The best way was to become a Rock (jock), or be seen in public with one -- they hated men with muscles.

I wasn't on a team -- being an athletic trainer didn't count -- so I had no choice but the only other option: date a Rock.

But most Rocks were very busy, having sex with eight or nine girls in various combinations every night, so they had little time or energy left for boys.

One day in November, a few weeks after my date with Todd's girlfriend, I was running around the indoor track, when I saw the preacher's son Verne (not his real name) playing one-on-one basketball in the gym be-low. Verne was a senior, so our paths rarely intersected. At school, I saw him only in the locker room after football practice, when he was anxious to get to the showers.

At church, he was always encased in a shell of fawning groupies. Practically our only contact came a couple of months ago, when I helped him Pray Through to Victory at an altar call.

As I ran, Verne finished his game. He guzzled Gatorade from a plastic bottle, then ripped off his t-shirt and collapsed, shimmering with sweat, onto the lap of a girl.  He was hugely tall, with broad shoulders, hard thick biceps, short dark hair, and dark blue, almost purple eyes.  And he was a Nazarene -- no sex allowed!  He would be perfect.

It took a week for me to bolster my courage enough to call. Even then, I dialed and hung up three times. When Verne came on the line, I said, “There’s a gospel concert on Saturday. Um. . .if you’re not, like, busy or anything. . .would you like to go?”

Verne burst into raucous laughter.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said stiffly, my face burning with humiliation.

“No – it’s ok, sorry,” Verne said. “It was just funny the way you asked. I’m busy Saturday, but what about the basketball game Friday? You can do more touching at a game, anyway. I’ll get us a couple of girls.”

I spent the rest of the evening exuberantly calling all of my friends, and wondering why do we need girls?

During the game, Verne and I sat with the girls on either side, so that our thighs and knees sometimes brushed together, and whenever the Rocks scored a point, he enveloped me in a warm, sweaty hug. Next came Alfano's for Canadian bacon and sauerkraut pizza and two pitchers of soda, one for the boys and one for the girls.

We had a lot to talk about.  Verne was taking AP Spanish and French; if it hadn't been God’s Will for him to become a preacher, he would have become a linguist.

When we dropped off Verne’s girl, he walked her to her doorstep “for safety,” but returned almost immediately, complaining that her father had left the porch light on.

My girl came next; her porch light was dark.

When I returned to the car, Verne asked “Did you get any?”'

I assumed that he meant kissing, so I said “Sure. Lots.”  I had kissed her on the cheek.

Verne reached over and punched my shoulder and exclaimed “Awright!” I was disappointed that he didn’t walk me to my doorstep to “get some,” but otherwise I was elated by my success.

During the winter and spring of eleventh grade, we went to a a jazz concert, the spring musical,  an orchestra banquet, two basketball games, a baseball game, hiking, jogging, tennis, and swimming.  That was more enough for us to be “going together,” though no one at Rocky High seemed to notice, referring to us only as buddies.

 Dating Verne summarily ended any suspicion that I was That Way. Even at church, people spoke to me in a civil tone.  It also ended pressure by my Crowd to date girls -- apparently Vikings were dreamy enough.

 Maybe that's why he always insisted on girls for evening dates.  He usually provided them, but twice I brought Becky, my Just Friend, and once I acquired my own, by casually saying: “Oh, and Verne will be there, too.”

At some point Verne always disappeared with his girl for ten or fifteen minutes, and on the way home he had the annoying habit of asking “Did you get any?” But these complaints were trivial; I was dating a Rock!

In May we spent a weekend camping with his friends at Starved Rock State Park at Starved Rock State Park, about 100 miles from Rock Island.  Though we shared a tent, I avoided any repeat of the scapular incident.  I didn't want to discover that Verne was one of these guys who drops you the moment things get physical.  But I did see a few things.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Psychotherapist of Omaha

Omaha, June 1980

In the summer of 1980, during my sophomore year at Augustana, my boyfriend Fred landed a pulpit in Gretna, Nebraska, a tiny town about 20 miles south of Omaha.  So, being bright-eyed and naive, I moved with him.

I hated every minute of it.
1. Fred was completely closeted, so I had to be introduced as his "cousin."
2. He expected me to do all of the housework.
3. Gretna, Nebraska had an annual "Watermelon Feed."  I never go to any event called a "feed."  Do they line you up at a trough like pigs?
4. I had a job as an Assistant District Circulation Manager for the Omaha World Herald. A glorified paperboy.
5. I had a car, but I wasn't allowed to go to into Omaha to the gay bars, or even to go to the gym without Fred's permission.
6. Fred dated women, "for appearances."
7. I'm pretty sure that Fred was also tricking with the teenage boy downstairs.

Naturally, I got depressed.  Super-depressed.  Sitting-around-all-day-in-a-bathrobe depressed.

"You need psychiatric help," Fred told me one evening when he returned to see that I had spent the entire day in front of the tv.  "Every gay person should be in counseling anyway, to work through the guilt and shame."

"I don't have any guilt and shame.  I'm homesick."

 "Yes, you do.  You're just suppressing it.  Don't worry, I'll find you a therapist."

Easier said than done.  Although the American Psychiatric Association removed "homosexuality" from its list of psychoses in 1973, some therapists hadn't gotten the word, and others were just homophobic.  But the Gay Hotline of Omaha had some referrals, and in July 1980 I began seeing Dr. Corey.  I couldn't afford individual sessions, so he suggested group therapy.

Bad idea!  There were four other members in the group, two men and two women, and they spent the entire three sessions that I attended peppering me with inane questions:

"Were you gay before you met Fred?"
"How do you know you're gay, if you've never tried it with a woman?"
"Did some traumatic event turn you gay?"
"When you see a cute girl, do you think she's ugly?"
"Where do you find women's clothes in your size?"
"When are you going to have a sex change operation?"

And those were the polite questions.

Dr. Corey had a rule: you can't hit anyone in session.  If you feel like you're going to lose your temper, get up and leave the room.

A tall, muscular guy named Stan, about my age, got up and left the room a lot.  After almost every question.  We could hear him stomping around in the waiting room, saying "Goddam!  Goddam!  Goddam!"

When they asked "Do you have to be drunk or high to be able to have sex with a man?", I answered "No, I like it, so I want to be sober."

That got Stan so upset that he had to stomp around outside the building, in the parking lot.  When he returned, he had obviously been crying.

"I don't have anything against anybody," he stammered, "But when you...act, act like that, like a...woman, with your legs in the air...and then you say you like it!  You're sick!  You have a disease!"

"What makes you think I'm the one with his legs in the air?"

He stomped out of the room again.

During my third session, someone asked: "Are you the boy or the girl in your relationship with Fred?

Of course, the proper response is "We're both boys," but I was too stupid for that.  I thought of how Fred was the money-maker, how he expected me to stay home, put all of my career aspirations on hold, and spend my days doing housework and watching soap operas.  Gender-polarized female.  So I said "The girl, I guess."

Three of the four group members ran out of the room to avoid hitting me.

Which didn't make me feel better.

I never went back to group.  I thought of a better solution.

On Sunday, July 20th, I waited for Fred to go to church.  I packed while he was gone, got into my car, and drove cross country 24 hours to Los Angeles.  You can read about my trip here.

Finding the Mormon Missionary of Beaver Utah

Plains, March 2015

In the summer of 1980, I left my first boyfriend in Omaha and drove cross-country 3 days to Los Angeles, looking for a safe place, with no idea that I would one day be moving there.  One the way back to the Midwest, I spent the night in the Delano Hotel in Beaver, Utah.  I had a five-minute conversation with the night clerk, whose name I forgot.  I called him Eli.

He was about my age, handsome, muscular, with short black hair and brown eyes, on his way to Brazil to be a  Mormon missionary.

And, at least in my memory, we cruised each other:
I asked about "guy-only fun."
He said, "You can get anything you want in Saint George"
I protested that Saint George was too far, and he said, "It comes to you, if you're patient.  I'll be here all night, if you get lonely and want to talk...about God and stuff."

I fell asleep before I could muster the nerve to call, and the next morning he was gone.

I've been kicking myself for the missed opportunity ever since.

Could I use my internet sleuthing skills to find him again, and determine if he was actually gay?

Clue #1: "You can get anything you want in Saint George." lists 3 cruising areas.

Clue #2: "My church is sending me to Brazil in September to be a missionary."

You had to be 19 to become a missionary, so  Eli was probably a year out of high school, a 1979 graduate of Beaver High School.

I managed to scrounge up a copy of the Beaver Utah high school yearbook.  I removed guys who didn't look anything like him (or how I remembered him, anyway), and got a list of four prospects.

Clue #3: The Beaver Kid

The Beaver Kid is an underground movie by Trent Harris, who blogs on Utah oddities.  In 1979 he met a young man named Groovin' Gary (Richard LaVonne Griffiths) in a Salt Lake City parking lot.  Awed of the boy's impressions of Sylvester Stallone and John Wayne, Trent agreed to come to his hometown of Beaver and film a local talent show at the high school -- where Gary performed in drag as Olivia Newton-John.  He's not great.

Afterwards the harassment of the conservative Mormon townsfolk forced Gary to flee Beaver for Salt Lake City, where he worked in electronics and later as a truck driver.  He died in 2009, a practicing Mormon with a wife and children.

Ok, so Gary wasn't gay, and of course he wasn't Eli -- wrong job, wrong hair, wrong age.  But Eli would probably have been in the audience. Or on stage -- the guitarist looked a lot like him!

Clue #4: A Christian Billy Joel

One of the four possible Elis from the yearbook looked like the guitarist.  His real name was Derek, and his goal in life was to"become a Christian Billy Joel."

Next,, facebook, and reverse white pages, looking for a Derek (with his distinctive last name) from Utah who was around 54 or 55 years old.

Found one!  No wife listed, a good sign. Living in Yuba City, California, not a good sign.

Of course, he looked quite different, and his facebook profile gave no indication of gayness.  Was he the guy from the hotel? Was he gay?

I shot off an email saying something like: "I happened to stumble across your profile, and you reminded me of a guy I met in Beaver, Utah in 1979.  He was a night desk clerk at the Delano Hotel, and he was planning to become a Mormon missionary.  We had a conversation that had a big impact on me."

Cool, huh?  Noncommittal -- could be about either spiritual discovery or sexual awakening, in case he turned out to be the wrong guy, or a redneck homophobe.

Derek's Response:

 "Guilty as charged!  I worked at the Delano that summer. Wow, was that a long time ago!"

Further emails revealed that Derek is indeed gay. He's now married to Rodney, his partner of 15 years.  Still hot, a white-haired muscle bear with impressive beneath-the-belt gifts.

And he remembers me!

"You were that cute college kid on his way back from California?  Wow, was I ever into you!  I wanted to come to your room, to bring you more towels or something, but I kept chickening out. I've been kicking myself for it ever since!"

I'm not the only one who missed an opportunity that night.

Derek invited me to come to Yuba City for a visit.  Maybe I'll take him up on it.

See also: The Mormon Missionary of Beaver, Utah

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Klingon and the Sword Swallower

Upstate, February 2009

When I moved to Upstate New York in the fall of 2008, my social calendar was soon crowded with invitations from members of the Gang of Twelve, guys who had known each other for years, and who shared everything, from gossip to boyfriends.
1-2. The Rich Kid and the Crying Truck Driver.
3-4. The Rapper, and the Grabby Nurse.
5. The Satyr and his roommate Chad, who I dated through the fall and winter.

A few days after Chad and I broke up in February, the Klingon emailed me for a date.

We met last fall, and saw each other occasionally at the Neptune or the Gay Men's Potluck in Utica.  But when I asked him out, he refused.  Later I figured out that the Gang of Twelve was a class-based society.

The Upper Class -- the Rich Kid, the Male Nurse, and the Satyr -- got the first chance with all of the New Kids in town.

If no romance resulted, or if a romance began and then ended, The Middle Class got their turn. (The Truck Driver and the Rapper were middle class, but cut in line due to the special circumstances of their recent breakup).

So the Klingon had to wait until the Upper Class guys (and Chad) were finished with me.

Date #6: The Klingon

He was in his 30s, shorter than me, husky, with a round face,  a beard, and a very hairy chest, very cute.  And a science fiction fan!  I figured we would be wildly compatible, maybe even soul mates.

On our date, we saw Coraline, an animated movie about a girl who discovers a secret world, followed by gyros and a visit to the Bearded Dragon Comic Book Store, and then back to the Klingon's apartment.

In case you don't know, Klingons are an alien species on Star Trek with cranial ridges and a warlike culture, a favorite for costume play at fan conventions.  A linguist developed a complete Klingon language, which people learn and use to talk to each other.  At the San Diego Comic Con, trolley signs are posted in Klingon.

Discussing the Klingon language was lots of fun, but I got a little bored hearing about role playing games, anime, manga, and the Dark Knight.  He was like the Comic Book Guy, who I dated in Florida.

Except the Klingon's bedroom was perfectly comfortable.

On our second date, we ordered Chinese food and watched a DVD of X-Men: The Last Stand.  His bedroom was still perfectly comfortable.

On our third date, we drove 1 1/2 hours into Albany for a very boring role-playing championship at the Zombie Planet, followed by a visit to the bear bar, and then 1 1/2 hours back to Delhi, where the Klingon lived.

The 3 hour trip and 2 hour role-playing made me realize that the Klingon and I would have been soul-mates in college, or maybe in West Hollywood, but not anymore.  I hadn't played role-playing games, bought comic books, or read fantasy and science fiction for about 30 years.  I last saw a Star Trek movie in 1982, and a Star Wars movie in 1983.  It was like hanging out with my teenage self.  Time to yell "Next!"

There was only one problem: in gay communities, after the first or second date, it's perfectly acceptable to just not call him back.  But on the third date, you become a romantic couple, and you have to go through the same break-up process as couples who have been together for years.

I invited the Klingon to lunch, but before I could say anything, he gave me the "it's not you, it's me speech."  Then he sent notes to the Gang of Twelve: "Cute, but dull!  Doesn't have any hobbies or interests!"

Date #7: The Sword Swallower.  This one didn't take long.

I invented all of the other nicknames, but the Gang of Twelve really did call this guy Sword Swallower.  I assume because he liked to and things.

He was in his 40s, tall, lanky, with a long face and thick, wavy hair.  Long fingers and rings -- an immediate turn-off.  ...

On our date, we went to dinner at the Mid Town Grille in Delhi, where he talked about his rather dull job doing things with numbers, and I talked about my job teaching sociology.

Things were a little awkward, but when he invited me back to his apartment, I thought "Well...he's good at, swords and things."

We sat on the couch, talking and drinking coffee. And talking and drinking coffee.  He didn't make any moves.  He didn't even touch me.  I checked the clock. Then, suddenly, he reached over and took my hand.

"Well, it's not sword swallowing, but it's a start," I thought.

Staring intently, he brought my hand to his lips as if he intended to kiss it -- but instead he swallowed it!

 My hand was in his throat!  Saliva and mucus,and his tongue!

With a shriek I ran into the bathroom, splashed water on everything I could think of, and then said I wasn't feeling well and ran out the door.

It wasn't a lie.  I felt like I was going to be sick.

I went home and called the Satyr.  "Oh, he does that with everybody. And then the poor boy wonders why he doesn't get many second dates."

"When you have a crazy fetish, you should tell people in advance, not just dig in!"

"It's a rite of passage around here," the Rapper told me.  "Once you've been swallowed by the Sword Swallower, you know you belong."

The Sword Swallower sent notes to the rest of the Gang of Twelve: "Cute, but not into sex.  I tried my best move, but I couldn't get him interested!"


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