Friday, September 11, 2015

The Naked Man in the Bathtub

West Hollywood, February 1990

When I started dating Lane, I slept over almost every night in his apartment.   I was home in the evening perhaps two nights a week, and Derek was never home during the daytime, so we rarely spoke.

So I didn't hear much about his dates, club activities, or visiting friends.

One Saturday Lane started coughing and feeling feverish, so I went on a chicken-soup-and-orange juice run and left him alone for the evening.  I went to the gym, browsed at Different Light, and then headed home to order Chinese delivery and watch Mr. Belvedere, Mama's Family, and The Golden Girls.  

When I walked into the apartment, I heard the water running in the bathroom -- Derek taking  a shower -- but I had to go badly, so I knocked on the door and yelled "Hey, mind if I pee?"

"No, go ahead!"

That didn't sound like Derek's voice.  But  I jumped into the bathroom, pulled up the toilet lid, and unzipped.

Only then did I notice the naked man in the bathtub, just letting the water run to fill it up.

Not Derek.

That wasn't surprising in itself.  Derek dated, he had friends from out of town visit, his friends brought boyfriends.  There were often people I didn't know wandering through the house.

But Derek was a 40-year old former fitness model (you can see him in a 1980 issue of Mandate).  His friends were all 40-year former fitness models and middle-aged gym rats.

And he only dated slim, androgynous twinks.  No one over 30.  Facial hair and chest hair were turn-offs.  No bodybuilders, bears, or chubbies.

The naked man in the bathtub was a bear: older, maybe 50, chubby, with a beard and a hairy chest.  Nose ring and nipple rings.  Average endowment.

Not one of Derek's usual friends.  Certainly not a date.

"Oh...um...excuse me."

"Not a problem," the bear said, smiling as he checked out my package.

"I'm Derek's roommate, Boomer."

"I'm Panther, his ex, visiting for the weekend."

Ex?  I finished, zipped up, and moved to the sink.  "How long ago were you together?"

"Oh, eons and eons. Where were you in '72?  He was still married to Ellen, a scared little gym boy peeking into the Gold Coast for the first time.  I took him under my wing, showed him the baths and the cruising trails in Griffith Park -- this was before AIDS, mind you -- and oh my Goddess!  Did he blossom!"  He stood, dripping wet.  "I was going to take a nice long soak, but you look like you're more fun.  Towel me!"

I handed him the guest towel.  "Where is Derek, by the way?"

"Oh, he took Tyler -- that's my boy as of last month, which is six months in twink years -- they're on a tour of West Hollywood.  They'll be back soon, and then we're all going out to dinner, and then cruising."  Minimally toweled, he approached.  "Up in San Francisco, we say hi to our brothers with a hug and grope."

I obliged.

We didn't do anything but hug and grope, of course -- we had just met, and there was no roommate or or mutual friend around.  We sat on the couch, talking and joking and looking at porn magazines, until Derek and Tyler returned, about an hour later.

Tyler was short, dark, muscular, Chinese-American.  Exactly my type!


I tagged along for dinner at the French Quarter.  Panther monopolized the conversation, telling me about L.A. in the 1970s, his relationship with Derek, and his life now -- he lived in San Francisco, where he worked as an organist in a Catholic church, of all things.  Tyler was one of the parishioners.

"I grew up Nazarene..." I began, to establish a connection.  But Panther moved on.

Tyler glanced over and smiled at me.

There was no way I would see him naked tonight -- any sharing would take place with Derek -- so when we went to Mugi, I redoubled my efforts to find someone, and ended up kissing and groping a guy from Singapore.

I glanced over and saw Tyler smiling at me.

Of course, I couldn't pick him up -- hooking up was frowned upon in West Hollywood in 1990.  But it was nice to get a little action, since I knew what would happen when we got home.

Derek, Panther, and Tyler said goodnight and disappeared into the bedroom.  I disappeared into my bedroom.  I heard shuffling and talking, then squeaking.

I went to sleep.  Anyway, I turned off the light and lay there, feeling left out and miserable.

A while later, I was awakened by the sound of the door opening and closing, then the pressure of someone climbing into bed with me.  I reached over and felt Tyler's hard smooth chest!

"I didn't wake you up, did I?"  He took my hand and pushed it down past his belly.

"No, of course not."  I drew him into my arms.

A while later, the door opened again.  I saw Panther's roundish form shadowed in the light of the hallway.

"Playing musical beds, Tyler?" he said with a laugh.  "Count me in.  I saw what Boomer had to offer earlier in the bathroom, thank Goddess!"

He climbed into the bed on the other side, so I was nestled between him and Tyler.

You probably can guess what happened next.  Derek appeared, naked, in the doorway.  "So this is where everybody went.  Am I invited to the party?"

Panther raised his head.  "Well, Boomer is a little occupied, but I have a free body part or two.  Grab ahold."

In the morning,  I called Lane to see if he was feeling better.  "Sorry for blowing you off," he said.  "It must have been a pretty boring night for you."

"Just an ordinary Saturday night in West Hollywood."

See also: Threesome with a Fitness Model and a Cowboy

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Island in the Sky: My First Boyfriend

Rock Island, February 1969

Just after Christmas in 1968, when I was in the third grade, a boy named Bill, short and deeply tanned with black eyes and small hard fists, suddenly started to chase me across the schoolyard to my house every afternoon, threatening to pound me for some offense. But I proved too swift, and my house  too close by, to make pounding feasible, so Bill took to walking next to me instead, pointing out the other boys he had pounded or planned to pound.

This isn't him, of course.  This model is well over 18.  But it will give you an idea of his arms, shoulders, and smile.


The "pounding" attempts went on for a month or two.  One day in February, when we reached the chain-link fence, Bill announced, “I’m gonna go to Dewey’s and get an ice cream cone.” Dewey’s was a store in a white building on 20th Avenue, facing Denkmann to attract rich South Side kids as they walked home with allowance money bulging in their pockets.  It sold mostly kids’ treats: ice cream, candy bars, Hostess Twinkies, little bags of Lays Potato Chips.

“It’s too cold for ice cream,” I said.  "Anyway, a Mean Boy named Dick hangs out there."

“Ok.” Bill turned abruptly and walked away, his boots crunching loudly on the ice-encrusted snow. But after a few steps, he turned back. “They have other stuff, too,” he said in a low dismal voice.  "Uh. . .you know, if you want, you can come with. I got money.”

Finally I understood, and I almost laughed. Bill was asking me for a date! For all his tough-guy posturing, he was shy and nervous when it came to talking to boys. Maybe this was why he became a bully – they rarely dated anyone. They substituted pounding for hugs, pointed out faults to avoid being rejected.

“That sounds cool,” I said. Bill had muscles, and he was forceful, always in charge, so we could play adventure games and Bill could rescue me and I could exclaim “My hero!” And it would be fun to date a bully; imagine the stares and double-takes when we played together at recess!

After buying a Milky Way for me and Hostess Snowballs for himself, Bill suggested that we eat at his house instead of staying at Dewey’s, where the fat man behind the counter always glared at kids and muttered about long-haired hippie freaks. Besides, Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat would be on in a few minutes.

Bill was rich.  He lived in a gigantic house with lots of levels and an arbor out back.  He and his brother and sister all had their own rooms. There was a separate dining room, and a family room with oak panels and chairs shaped like barrels and a piano in the corner.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the family room, watching Bugs Bunny and The Three Stooges on Cartoon Showboat and drinking Squirt from thick, heavy glasses, the first I had ever seen that were actually made of glass, not plastic.

Bill’s family kept rushing in, all bubbly and excited. His Mom, a squat brown smiling woman, invited me to stay for dinner. His Dad asked what I was studying in school and lent me a book on the ancient Aztecs. His older brother, a high schooler named Mike, mussed my hair and called me “Bud” and offered to drive us places.

Later I found out why everyone was so excited – Bill had never liked a boy before! This was the first time he had ever invited a boy over as an actual date!

This photo is not really of him; I only have a few photos of me and Bill together, and most of them make us look like little kids (that's really his house, though).

After that Bill invited me over to his house almost every day after school, and on weekends he always thought of something fun to do: miniature golf, hiking at Black Hawk Park, a “young people’s” concert at Augustana College, a trip to the Putnam Museum in Davenport to see Egyptian mummies and a huge Aztec calendar stone.

Sometimes Bill asked me to sleep over, and if it wasn’t a school night we got to stay up as late as we wanted, even later than his big brother. We lay propped on thick starchy pillows on Bill’s bed, eating Lay’s Potato Chips and listening to “Chicken Man” on the radio and reading comic books. I had only a few comic books of my own, donated by uncles or traded with cousins, but Bill had hundreds, of every type imaginable: Superman, Tarzan, Archie, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, Casper.

One of the Casper comics was so beautiful that I begged Bill to let me keep it. The cover showed the ghost-boy scaring a superhero. In the story inside, Casper flew an island in the sky called The Elysian Fields. There he met the gods of Greek mythology – Zeus, Apollo, Ganymede, Hyacinth – all with beautifully sculpted muscles. They lived together, eating grapes, throwing a discus, playing horseshoes on a unicorn horn, their idyll threatened only by the mischief of a green-faced trickster god.

They lived together – that was the most important part, the reason I asked for that comic book out of all of Bill’s hundreds. I had never heard the word "gay" before, but I knew that this was proof positive that grown-up men got married and lived together, and maybe when we were grown-ups, Bill and I would get married and live together  too.

The comic book reappears, when Darry and I search for it during my senior year in high school, and when I write a story about it during my freshman year in college

The Ghost Artist in the Basement

Rock Island, November 1980

I didn't like going down to the basement in our house in Rock Island, not by myself, especially at night.  The rec room was ok -- we used to invite our friends over to play pingpong or foosball or watch tv.  But off to the side there was a laundry room, and beyond an artist's studio belonging to Mr. Kint, the previous owner of the house.  He was an engineer, but his hobby was painting.

No one had touched it since the day he died, except to empty the file cabinets.  There was a calendar from 1966 on the wall, jarsful of pens, pencils, and paint brushes, and a slanted desk with a slide rule and a t-square. It looked like he was just upstairs getting a drink of water, and he would be back any minute. Sometimes I imagined his footsteps on the creaking wooden stairs.

One Saturday in early November 1980, my junior year at Augustana,  I invited Haldor from the dating competition to dinner.  I planned to cook roast beef at my parents' house, and then serve it in the dorm kitchen.

I let myself into the house around 2:00 pm.  It was deserted.

After awhile I needed an onion to slice atop the potatoes, and the only onions in the house were in a big bag in the laundry room.  I planned to rush down and up again in less than ten seconds.  But then I heard a noise coming from Mr. Kint’s studio. A chair scraping across a bare concrete floor.

My first thought was that my brother Ken had come home unexpectedly and hid in the basement to scare me.  I said “Ha-ha, big joke!” and walked briskly to the doorway.






Someone was sitting in the old swivel chair, bending over Mr. Kint’s desk, drawing furiously on an oversized pad of art paper. Pale light streamed through the basement window above him.

It must be Ken.  He liked to draw.

“Hey, Bro, what you working on?” I took two or three steps closer to him and peered over his shoulder. It was a drawing of a row of men of various ages and races, facing forward. All were naked. They seemed to be arranged by penis size, from tiny to absurdly enormous.

"Big fan of naked men, huh?  Me, too."  Ken was the family member I was out to.

I saw that the hand was trembling a bit. It was very pale, sprinkled with brown spots. The fingers had long crusty nails. The hand of a monster.




Was it Mr. Kint, returning to complete the drawing he’d been working on when he died?  Suddenly terrified, I screamed.

He swung around. It was Brian!

You remember Brian, the seventh grader who was trying to scrub the mysterious graffiti "Brian gives free LBJs" from the school wall in 1974?  Who I kissed under the mistletoe at Christmastime in 1977, and then asked him to call, but he didn't call?  I hadn't heard anything about him for almost three years.

"Are you from East Moline, Dork?" he said angrily.  "You almost made me ruin my drawing!"

"Well, you scared me to death!  What...what are you doing here?"  His hand was perfectly normal.

“Visiting Ken -- what do you think?  He went out to pick up a half-gallon of ice cream.  He should be back any minute.”

“I mean. . .what are you doing here in Mr. Kint's studio?"

“I have a sketch due Monday for art class, and Ken said I could work down here.  The light is perfect."

 "Why are the men all naked?"

He began to blush.  "Oh...I was just fooling around.  I'll fix it before I turn it in."  He paused.  "So what did you mean by 'me, too'?"

Now it was my turn to blush.  Struggling for a way to change the subject, I said "Hey, I'm making roast beef for my friend Haldor at Augustana.  You and Ken want to come?  Bring the ice cream."

I climbed slowly back up the stairs.  Now I was certain that Brian was gay.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Spring 1967: What's Funny About Kissing a Cute Boy?

Racine, Wisconsin, Spring 1967

When I was little, I was always being forced to hug and kiss ladies against my will, just because my parents knew them.  For an adult, that would be sexual harassment, but for a kid, it was "cute."

"Come kiss your Auntie June!  Come on, don't be shy -- give her a kiss!"

Ok, I've never seen her before in my life, she stinks of perfume and powder, she's wearing gross lipstick, and she's a girl!  Disgusting!

At least it was only on the cheek.  In the Midwest, we reserve kissing on the mouth for romantic partners.

But still, "Come kiss your Auntie Sadie!"  "Come kiss your Auntie Opal!"  "Come kiss your Grandma Davis!"  "Come kiss your Cousin Beth!"

It was like a kissing booth at a carnival.

I quickly noticed that they demanded that I kiss only women.  Men only got a handshake.

Why didn't I ever get to kiss my parents' male friends?

In Racine, Wisconsin, where I spent kindergarten, first, and second grade, we lived only a block from Lake Michigan, so Mom took me and my baby brother to the beach nearly every day (even though Nazarenes weren't allowed).

One day she started talking to a boy-girl couple, In my memory they're very young, but they were probably in their late 20s, the same age as Mom and Dad at the time.

Rory had shoulder-length curly hair, rather pale skin, and a firm, compact physique with prominent abs.  He was wearing sunglasses, which I thought were the coolest thing ever.

Ruth was wearing a bikini.

While Mom and Ruth chatted, Rory took me by the hand and led me into the surf.  We went so far in that water was lapping against the bottom of my swimsuit.

He let me put on his sunglasses.  The world turned a pale green.

I felt proud to be walking along the beach with a cute boy, like a grownup on a date.

When we returned, Ruth said "Look at the two big, strong men!"

Yeah!  Two big strong men on the beach together!


A few days later, just at dinnertime, there was a knock on the door.  It was Rory and Ruth!

Rory wasn't wearing sunglasses or a swimsuit anymore.  He was wearing a tan short-sleeved shirt with a picture of a man playing golf on it.  His biceps swelled nicely.

Ruth was wearing a tan dress, and had on red lipstick and nail polish.  She was carrying a pie.

Mom took the pie from her, and Dad ushered them into the living room.  They sat on the couch.

I stared.  Rory had his arm around the back of Ruth's shoulders!  They never touched each other at the beach.

Were they like boyfriend and girlfriend?

"Boomer, where's your manners?" Dad said.  "Say hi to your Uncle Rory and Aunt Ruth."

"Hi," I said politely.

"Hi, Squirt!" Rory said, holding out his hand to be shaken.

"Now you know what to do," Dad continued.  "Shake hands with Uncle Rory, and give your Aunt Ruth a kiss."

Ruth pressed a finger to her cheek to point out the spot where the kiss should be deposited.

Suddenly I had an idea.  I climbed onto Rory's lap, grabbed Ruth's small, many-ringed hand, and kissed Rory on the cheek!

Their eyes bulged in surprise.  Rory laughed.

"Boomer!"  Dad exclaimed, angry.  "Do it right!"

Mom had returned from the kitchen with some glasses of soda on a tray.  "Sorry about Boomer.  He likes to be funny."

"Kid's going to be a regular Jerry Lewis when he grows up," Dad told them.

I refused to budge from Rory's lap. He took his arm from Ruth and wrapped it around me.  "Looks like somebody needs a hug."

"You'll be a great father someday," Ruth said softly.

Yeah, right, father.  or boyfriend.

I remember Rory and Ruth coming to the house a few times after that, to watch tv or play Yahtzee with my parents.  I always shook hands with Ruth and kissed Rory.  They always laughed.

What was so funny about kissing a cute boy?

See also: I Marry the Boy Next Door.

What Does "Brian Gives Free LBJs" Mean?

Rock Island, June 1974

One Saturday in the summer of 1974, just after eighth grade, the sky was clear and bright, the air smelled like new lilacs, and the grass was sprinkled with dandelions. I invited my friend Craig  to ride bikes.

As we passed the back of Washington Junior High, we saw a small, strawheaded seventh-grader in a blue windbreaker standing against the red brick wall, near the windows of the gym. When we drew closer, we saw that he had a sponge and a yellow bucket sloshing with soapy water. He was scrubbing furiously at a piece of graffiti.

This model is much older, but he has Brian's sandy hair and slim physique.


I recognized him as Brian, the boy my parents used to babysit.  They stopped because he had a smart mouth.  Once when we were playing in the back yard, he offered to tell us “a dirty joke,” right in front of my Mom! It didn’t matter to her that the joke was “The boy fell in the mud!”

“Hey, Brian!” I yelled. “You’re not supposed to be writing on school property.”

“You gonna call the fuzz, big guy?” Except for the belligerent smirk, he was cute, with a tanned face, sandy blond hair, pale blue eyes with eyelashes so blond we were almost white, and thin, pinkish lips.





His hands were raw from scrubbing at a line of graffiti: Brian gives free LBJs in letters nearly a foot high.

“What’s a LBJ?” Craig asked.

“It’s the president, Gomer!  I mean the old president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” Craig said.  "You can't give away presidents!"

“So what do you give?” I asked. “Can I have one?”

“I didn’t write it, ok?  It was a Mean Boy. Now can it, before I pound you.”



I tried to restrain a laugh at the thought of this slim, slight boy trying to pound me, after years of wrestling and judo. The posturing seemed to be hiding something scared, something wounded. I thought of Bill, who also threatened to pound me, long ago.

What kind of insult did giving LBJs signify?  Brian's feverish attempt to destroy the evidence made me suspect Acting like a Girl -- but graffiti was an unlikely Mean Boy punishment.

“You can’t erase paint with soap and water.  Why don’t you just mark it out?”

“Sometimes you can  And the paint’s in the garage, and if I go through there, Emmitt will see me. Ok, Mr. Know-it-All?”  Emmitt was his Dad.

“Why would Emmitt care what a Mean Boy says about you?”

Then we heard a clumping noise inside the building: a teacher or custodian, insanely working on the weekend, coming to the window to accuse us of disfiguring the school!  Brian kicked the bucket over and started to run away, but I knew he'd never find a hiding space by running east: the schoolyard in that direction was empty scrub for hundreds of miles. So I yelled “Get on my bike!”


Brian jumped on without protest and wrapped his arms tightly around my waist, and we sped away past the back of the school. We hid in the alley for awhile, panting and laughing. Then we went back to pick Brian’s bucket and sponge, and rode him home.

We became friends, of a sort, after that, but Brian didn't tell me what LBJ meant, or who wrote it, until many years later, when we were both in college.  By that time, I had already figured it out (You probably think it has something to do with sex, but it doesn't.)

Season after season, year after year, Brian gives free LBJs remained on the wall, faded but still faintly legible, stubbornly resistant to the generations of custodians who attempted to erase it.  It was the biggest riddle of my childhood, and not mine alone.  Generations of junior high students have wondered who this Brian is, and what LBJs are, and if they find out, how such things can exist on 20th Avenue in Rock Island, Illinois, in the world of everyday experience.

As far as I know, it's still there today.

See also: The Secret Message Behind "Brian Gives Free LBJs"

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cruising the Dwarf in West Hollywood



West Hollywood, March 1992

I have always been attracted to guys who are short, the shorter the better.  Under 5'8" is good, under 5'4" is great.

Dwarf/Little Person (defined as under 4'10") -- whoa, here's my number!

But only about 30,000 people in the U.S. are Dwarfs/Little People (according to activist Danny Woodburn, either term is correct).  That means about 1,000 adult gay men.  And since people with atypical bodies often have fewer hangups about their partners' gender, maybe another 3,000 who are bisexual, or straight but "bent around the edges."

4,000 in a country with a population of 300,000,000 The odds against of meeting one are astronomical!

In Los Angeles, the odds increase a bit: due to wide-ranging discrimination, many LP are drawn to show business.  So I occasionally saw a LP at a Hollywood event, or on the street in Century City.  But never in a gay context.


Except one night in the spring of 1992, when my partner Lane and I were at the Faultline on Melrose.

It was always packed with bears, bikers, leathermen, and their Cute Young Thing admirers, but never before or after had I seen Ryan (not his real name) -- about 4'0", shirtless, muscular, with a broad oval face and a quick smile.  He was a little drunk, and heavily cruising a Cute Young Thing (who was trying hard to ignore him).

I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass!  Lane and I had an open relationship, so he agreed to be my wingman.  We sidled up to the spot next to Ryan, and Lane asked, "How's the filming going?"

In West Hollywood, any hint that you worked in show business immediately netted you some fans.  But Ryan glanced over with cool, crisp Attitude, and redoubled his efforts to land the Cute Young Thing.


"Um...filming is going great," I said.  "Next week we're having a wrap-up party on the yacht."

"Are you bringing the Maserati?"

"No, that's still down in my place in Cabo."

 Of course, I didn't have a yacht, a Maserati, or a place in Cabo, but cruising is all about the illusion.  But Ryan remained unimpressed.

Lane and I exchanged panicked glances.  None of my good material was working!  Think, think, think...what did West Hollywood guys like more than showbiz contacts and bank accounts?  

"But you know, I really miss my modeling days." (This was true; I did do some modeling)

"Yeah, I loved your spread in Inches. Didn't you win the Spectacular Pecs award?"

"No, I got runner-up."

An appearance in a beefcake magazine.  Who could resist checking that out?

But Ryan was gazing wistfully as the Cute Young Thing wafted off to cruise a leatherman.  He drained his beer and started walking away.

What did West Hollywood guys like more than showbiz contacts, bank accounts, and pecs?

I walked over, stood directly in front of Ryan, blocking his way, and said "Hi."

He was exactly 2 feet shorter than me, so he was looking directly at my crotch.  His eyes widened.

Penises trump pecs, bank accounts, and showbiz contacts. I got his number.

Next: The Worst Date in West Hollywood History.