Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cousin George: Only Fools Wear Pajamas

Walterboro, South Carolina, June 1971

My Cousin George, son of my father's older brother, was just my age, tall and blond, with a hard chest, a thin belly, and a Southern drawl.  He lived in Walterboro, South Carolina, a thousand miles from Rock Island, so I only saw him twice during my childhood:

1. We drove out to visit in the summer of 1967, when I was six years old.
2. Grandma Davis took me down on the train in the summer of 1971, when I was ten.

And once as a teenager, when he drove up for my Grandma Davis's funeral in October 1975.

What I remember most about my visits was the sizzling heat, the humidity,
and the beefcake.  No one in South Carolina owned a shirt. I had never seen so many sleek muscular bodies.

And the racial diversity: Cousin George had friends who were Native American and Chinese, and even black (I never saw anyone black outside of the Little Brown Koko books).

We went fishing (I used the fish to as bait to meet a cute boy), and crabbing, and  Cousin George warned me to avoid the "dead man's fingers" inside the crab shells that would turn you into "a goon."

We went swimming in the warm salty Atlantic Ocean.

At night Cousin George and I took our baths together together in scalding-hot water, and then slept naked together under thin sheets -- "only fools wear pajamas," he insisted.

 It was not erotic, like seeing my older Cousin Joe naked.  It was warm and soft and sensual, like falling asleep in the arms of my boyfriend Bill, back home in Rock Island.

We were kids; we never wrote or called each other.  Occasionally my father would tell me something about his three older sisters, but he never mentioned Cousin George.  Apparently my uncle never mentioned him. Was he dead, or disinherited, or a disappointment?

Savannah, Georgia, March 2005

When I was living in Florida,  I got a job interview at a college in South Carolina, and afterwards I thought I'd look up my relatives.  I visited my uncle and aunt, and Cousin Suzie, and then I asked about Cousin George.

They all exchanged glances.  " don't talk to him much," Cousin Suzie said. "He lives way down in Savannah."

"That's only an hour away," I pointed out.  "And it's on my way home."

"'s busy with his own affairs, is all."

What would cause such obvious discomfort?  I wondered.  Only three things:
1. My South Carolina relatives were all strict Nazarenes.  Maybe George was a backslider.
2. They were somewhat racist.  Maybe George was in an interracial relationship.
3. Maybe he was gay.

Turns out: all three!

They gave me the address in Savannah -- they didn't have a phone number -- and I drove down.  A massive African-American bodybuilder-type opened the door.  Rod, the boyfriend!  Cousin George came home from work about an hour later, a massive blond bodybuilder-type.

We went out to dinner at the Boar's Head, a gay-friendly restaurant in downtown Savannah, and talked about bodybuilding and our jobs and romances, and the difficulty of dealing with fundamentalist relatives.

"You should have known about me back when we were kids," Cousin George said.  "Why do you think I wanted to take baths together?"

"And sleep naked," Rod added.  "'Only fools wear pajamas.'"  They exchanged a glance and laughed.

Apparently he had heard a lot about my two visits.

By the way, both Rod and George still slept without pajamas.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Is My Judo Master Gay?

Rock Island, January 1971

Denkmann Elementary School didn't have any sports teams, so I was spared the "play a a a sport" litany.  Until the beginning of fifth grade, the fall of 1970, when Dad suddenly came home with a pamphlet advertising "Rock Island Parks & Recreation Kids’ Sports.”

"It’s not just ball games, Skeezix,” Dad said. “They have boxing, judo, and karate. Those will be better at teaching you to fight anyway.”

“Couldn’t I join the orchestra instead?”

“Orchestra won’t teach you how to use your fists,” Mom pointed out. “You’re going to have to learn to fight sooner or later. All boys do.”

I sighed.  I get punched by a Mean Boy one time, and they start a "learn to fight" kick, insisting that people will be challenging me to fistfights regularly for the rest of my life.

Or maybe they were responding to the incident at the A&W, when Bill and I became "a Mama and a Papa."  Or asking for an Easy Bake Oven for my birthday.

“How about we make a deal?” Dad said. “You can join the orchestra if you take one of these classes, too. Boxing, judo, karate, whichever you want.”

Judo seemed the least horrible – no actual hitting, and you got snacks – so when the new kids’ classes began in January, I walked four blocks west to 38th Street, to the Rock Island Martial Arts Center. I changed into my stiff white judogi with the novice white belt, and learned about bowing, falling, and randori, or exercises on the mat.

I considered sneaking through the glass doors, looking at the comic books at Schneider’s for an hour or so, then going home and lying to Mom and Dad about how much fun I had. But it was too cold to go outside without a coat, and besides, most of the other students were cute junior high boys, and if I stuck around I might be able to see them take their judogis off in the locker room.

The sensei, or teacher, a Japanese guy named Sammy, was tall and broad-shouldered, with a smooth, golden chest slightly dampened with sweat (I don't have any pictures, but he looked like Japanese bodybuilder Hidetada Yamagishi). During the break, when we got to drink tea and eat almond cookies, he took me aside and wrapped a huge hard arm around my shoulders and said “Don’t worry that you are little. Some of our greatest champions are little guys. I bet in a month or two, you will be able to throw me.”

And, in a month or two, I did manage to throw Sammy (but he helped, practically leaping over my hip). I started to look forward to my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the dojo, with the tinkling Japanese samisen music, the faint smell of bleach and incense, the cute junior high boys, and Sammy’s fascinating stories.

One night during break, as we were eating almond cookies, Sammy said, “I better stock up. At home all we got is peanut butter sandwiches.”

“Why don’t you tell your wife to make pot roast?” I asked. “That’s what Uncle Charlie always makes on My Three Sons.”

“We never have that,” Sammy said with a weird half-smile. “Too complicated to make, too many ingredients.”

Why was pot roast too hard for his wife? I wondered. Weren’t all grown-up women expert cooks? But. . .boys couldn’t cook, or if we tried, it had to be something easy. When Mom was in the hospital having my baby sister, Dad made macaroni and cheese three nights in a row.

The answer was obvious: Sammy was married to a man, not a woman!

I didn't know the word "gay" yet, but I assumed that Sammy was in a same-sex relationship for almost a year.  Until the summer after fifth grade, when he invited some of his best students to his house for a cookout.

When Dad dropped me off and I walked onto the screened-in porch and knocked, the door was answered by a petite Caucasian woman in a flowered blouse and Capri shorts. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Sammy was married to a woman after all.

Where were all the men married to men?  Or were they all forced to marry women?  Maybe the litany "what girl do you like" shifted gradually, as you grew older, to "you must choose a wife!"  And if you refused, you would be forced.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Best Day of the Best Month of the Best Year

Rock Island, August 1975

I am a child of the 1970s.  I spent my formative years wearing bell bottoms, idolizing David Cassidy, and saying "Ten-four, good buddy."

My favorite year in that decade is 1975, when I was 14 years old (until November), old enough for all the fun, excitement, and freedom of adolescence, but too young for the depression, world-weariness, and angst.

My favorite month in 1975 is August.  We had just moved to a big house, bigger, with a double yard..  My brother and I had a room in the attic instead of the basement, and I had carved out a space in the storage room as a "study" where I could "read."

I had a crush on the girl next door's boyfriend.

I learned about oral sex in the church parking lot.

And I was poised to start at Rocky High, a mature, sophisticated, grown-up high school, where you could join the Swedish Club and take cool classes like Ancient History and Arthurian Legends!  I had that course catalog memorized!

My favorite day in August 1975 is Wednesday the 13th:  football tryouts.

The story continues here: The Naked Goldenboy at Football Tryouts

Monday, August 17, 2015

Marcus's Beneath-the-Belt Mystery

West Hollywood, July 1985

Even in a gay community as big as West Hollywood, the new kid in town always gets noticed.

I arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 3rd, 1985.  Before July 10th, when I started my new job at Muscle and Fitness, I was cruised many times, received six phone numbers, and went out on two dates.

Marcus was Date #2.

We met on Friday, July 5th, in the Human Resources Department at Paramount Studios; I was waiting to be interviewed for an administrative assistant job, and he was dropping something off.  We chatted, and cruised, and exchanged phone numbers.

Marcus was in his 20s, shorter than me, muscular but a little chunky, African-American with very light skin, freckles, and a hairy chest.

Sounds great, right?  Three of the five traits I find attractive.  I just needed to check on his religiousity and his beneath-the-belt gifts!

Our date was on Saturday, July 6th:

An insider tour of Paramount Studios, followed by dinner at the French Quarter and cruising at the Gold Coast.

Marcus grew up in Kalispell, Montana, a hotbed of white supremacism, machismo, and homophobia: a horrible place for a kid who was quiet, shy, artistic, African-American, and gay.  He found solace in  the Episcopal Church, the the old movies they showed in downtown Kalispell, and the drama club at Glacier High School.  Before the ink was dry on his diploma, he headed out to Los Angeles to become an actor.

Sounds great, right?  I could certainly relate to being a shy, quiet, artistic kid in a terrible small town.  And he was religious, #4 on the list of traits that I find attractive. I just needed to check on #5, his beneath-the-belt gifts.

I can't count Marcus as a celebrity friend.  He had some tv guest spots and some live theater on his resume, but mostly he made do with temp jobs.  Currently he was working as a production assistant for Gimme a Break! 

At the end of the evening, we drove up into the Hollywood Hills, to a weird, eclectic house that Marcus shared with a film producer who may or may not have been his ex-lover.  We sat on the couch by a picture window that looked down on the lights of Hollywood.

Sounds great, right?  Exactly what I thought West Hollywood would be like: gay people everywhere, and lots of connection to the film industry, and a room with a view!

That's when things went wrong.

Time for the end-of-the-date activities!  I leaned in for a kiss.

Marcus pushed me away.

"No one knows what causes AIDS," he said solemnly.

Rather an odd nonsequitor! "Sure they do.  It's the HIV virus,  transmitted in semen and blood."

"They're not sure. Could be any body fluid, like saliva. We have to be safe."

"I'm always safe!" I announced, somewhat offended.  "I always use condoms."

"Condoms for anal and oral both?" Marcus asked pointedly.

"  There's really no evidence that HIV is transmitted through oral alone."

"And what about French kissing?  If saliva doesn't do it, a tiny nick or puncture in your mouth will!"

No kissing?  "I've been tested!," I protested. " I'm HIV negative!"

"Those tests are inconclusive."  He touched my shoulder.  "Look -- I used to be out there cruising with the best of them, but when this whole thing stated, I vowed to be celibate until they find a cure."

Celibate?  Suddenly I felt very foolish. Was this supposed to be a just-friends outing?  "Does that dating?"

"Oh, no, we can date," Marcus said.  "There's a lot of fun things to do -- we can play tennis, go bowling, go to movies.  We can even spend the night together.  But no sex or kissing, until they find a cure.  Um...that's ok, isn't it?"

He was talking to the empty space left after I zoomed out of the house, leaving a me-shaped hole in the wall.

I didn't get chance to investigate his beneath-the-belt attributes.

But Marcus and I stayed friends, and he introduced me to several celebrities, including an old buddy from his acting class, Michael J. Fox.

Later he forgot the celibacy thing.

See also: My Date with Michael J. Fox; Marcus Hooks Up with One of the Hollywood Squares

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Top Dates

If you're under 30, you might not be familiar with the concept of dating.

A date is a pre-planned social activity with someone you've just met that is expected to end in the bedroom (it might not).

When you're single, the date is often used as a "job interview" to see if you are compatible enough for a relationship.

But there doesn't have to be an anticipation of a relationship.  I have dated guys when we both had permanent partners.  The date is an enjoyable event all by itself:

You get to know someone for the first time
You go to new places and try new things (or see the old places through new eyes).
And the bedroom is far more erotic, because it might or might not happen.  Far different from the sure thing of the hookup.

Since I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I've gone out on a date about once a week when I'm single, and about once a month when I'm in a relationship.  That's about 400 first dates.  Here are my favorites:


1. Fred the Ministerial Student.  Dinner at a Chinese restaurant -- almond chicken and fried rice.  Flushed with anticipation. Incredibly nervous.  In the 1970s, you didn't come out randomly, so I wasn't sure that it was a date, or even that Fred was gay, until we got back to his apartment.

West Hollywood
2. Dr. Bertan, the most conservative professor on campus.  It was just dinner at the Cafe Etoille, browsing at the Different Light, and a stroll through West Hollywood, but after spending all year trying to land him, it was quite a triumphant moment.

3. T, the Thug on My Sausage List.  A drive to the south side of Los Angeles, which wasn't nearly the war zone the media depicted. I met his mother.  He cooked dinner.  We watched tv.  Cozy, homey, domestic.  And he had a Mortadella+.

4. My second date with Raul.  I invited him over for dinner with Alan, who monopolized the conversation and cruised him extensively.  I thought he he had gone to the Dark Side and went to bed alone.  Then he climbed into bed with me:

"Man, that, talk, talk,  I mean, it was interesting, but come on, man! I'm on a date!"

5. My first date with my Celebrity Boyfriend.  I had lived in West Hollywood for 1 1/2 years and met several celebrities.  I had lunch with Michael J. Fox.  But here was a guy I had watched on tv and read about in teen magazines, inviting me home!  I tried my best to play it cool, but inside I was a screaming fanboy.

6, Ryan: The Worst Date in West Hollywood History.  Everything went wrong, from rain to missed connections to a towed car.  At the time it was awful, but I enjoy telling the story.

New York
6. Troy, the nastiest guy in the world.  He tricked me into the date, which was just dinner at an Indian restaurant and watching tv.  But it was memorable because of the sharp contrast between his nice "real self" and his snarky online persona.

7. Victor, the slim, smiling twink from Brazil.  Dinner at a Brazilian restaurant, a walk along the beach, then back to his place for dessert, where he turned out to be the drag queen Miss Chita Taboo

Well, I couldn't back out when he was already naked.  Besides, he was very nice, very eager to please, and a Bratwurst+.

8. Tom, the Log Cabin Republican twink. Going undercover at his country club was a riot.  I got to meet his parents and his high-society friends while spinning tales about "my wife" not feeling well.  Unfortunately, the closeted act started wearing a little thin by the second date.

9. Sam, the son of Mr. Blowfish, my old high school speech teacher.  We spent the day together, touring Mount Vernon, Iowa, where he was a professor in the heart of the straight world.  He was very lonely, and very attentive.  First and only time I did anything in a professor's office.

10. Ari, the linguist who wouldn't shut up.  Dinner at an upscale hot dog place, shopping at a gay clothing store, cruising, and then back to his apartment.  Memorable because we supposedly had everything in common, but he was actually intensely boring, talking nonstop about obscure grammatical structures of obscure languages. Nice in bed, though. #6 on my Sausage List.

11. Austin, the high school boy who cruised me while I was jogging.  He said he was a sophomore.  In college, I assumed.  So I made a date with him.  Then internet sleuthing revealed that he was actually a high school sophomore, 14 or 15 years old!  

Of course, I didn't go through with the romantic part of the date. But I did take him to dinner.  Then I dropped him off at the Zone, a LGBT youth space, where he met a guy his own age. I'm proud of the way I handled the situation.

12. The Rich Kid, leader of the Gang of Twelve, who had all known each other forever and dated each other on and off.  Dinner at a very expensive restaurant, then to his family's summer house.  Used to being in charge, and it was fun hearing about the Gang of Twelve.

13. The Satyr, a chubby bear in his 60s, who knew everybody and had done everything, and had a gigantic Kovbasa+.  But what made the date memorable was meeting his roommate/ assistant/houseboy Chad, a cute Asian twink.  We dated for several months.


The Prairie
14. My second date with Scott, the youngest guy I've ever dated, a 22-year old theater major with a professor fetish (I had just turned 54).  Dinner at an Indian restaurant, Chicago on DVD, and a lot of "Take me, Professor!"  Good for the ego.  Except my name isn't "Professor."

15. Andy, who had cerebral palsy, my "penance" for chickening out on the Gay Psychic Angel.  I thought I was doing him a favor for dating a disabled person, and he thought he was doing me a favor by dating an "old guy."


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