One day in the summer of 1971, when I was ten years old, my boyfriend Bill and I were out riding bikes near Longview Park, when we came to a big house "on the register of historic places." There was an old guy in the back yard, sitting in a lawn chair reading a newspaper.
He had his shirt off!
He was very muscular, with a thick hairy chest, big shoulders, hairy flat abs, and square hands. Balding on top. A round open face.
"Hey, I know that guy from church!" Bill exclaimed. [He was a heathen Presbyterian] "Hi, Mr. Franck!"
Frank -- like my Dad?
He looked up. "Hi, Bill. Who's your buddy?"
We went into the back yard through a little gate, and Mr. Franck stood up and shook both our hands -- not many adults did that! He told us to call him Sonny -- everybody did, even kids. He was a teacher at Rocky High, so he would see us both in his biology class in a few years.
After that, the promise of beefcake brought us past Sonny's house quite often. He was often in his back yard in mid-afternoon, giving us just enough time to gawk at his muscles and get home in time to watch Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat.
During the school year, we went on Saturday afternoons. Sometimes he wasn't there, of course, but often he was, sometimes in back yard, sometimes on the front porch, often with his shirt off, even in October. He always waved, and talked to us when we stopped.
Once he invited us in for lemonade. There were pictures of cute, muscular guys all over his parlor. Sonny must like men with muscles, too!
"Is this your friend?" I asked, pointing to a teenage bodybuilder lifting an enormous barbell.
"It's me, when I was about your age. Sports were sort of my bag, back then. You boys like football?"
"Sure!" We actually hated football, but it seemed polite to say we liked it.
Sonny told us that he was an All-American wingback at the University of Minnesota, and then he was a halfback for the New York Giants.
"They're good," Bill offered. "I like...um...."
Having to hear about football was almost a deal-breaker, but beefcake was hard to find in Rock Island, so we continued to visit Sonny. We could see his hairy chest, and maybe someday we would even get a glimpse of his shame (his beneath the belt gifts).
No sausage sighting, but the next summer, when I was 11 years old, we biked past Sonny's house, and he was sitting in the back yard, drinking lemonade with Tarzan!
Not my favorite Tarzan: too scrawny, with stupid slicked-back hair. But he had a kid sidekick, a Indian boy named Jai, which allowed for all sorts of role-playing fantasies: "Let's pretend that you're Jai, and the cannibals have tied you up, and Tarzan has to rescue you."
We biked up. 'Wow, Sonny, I didn't know you knew Tarzan!" I exclaimed.
"Come in and sit down, boys," Sonny said. "I'd like to introduce you to my old friend, Jock Mahoney."
We shook hands. Tarzan had a strong, pleasant grip.
"How do you know each other?" I asked. "Did you live in Hollywood?"
"We go way back, long before Hollywood," Sonny said. "Jocko and I went to Davenport High School together."
A famous actor grew up in Davenport, right across the Mississippi!
"Sonny was two years older than me," Jocko said. "And a Golden Boy, a track star, a football star. Way out of my league, But I eventually won him over." He leaned in close. "Always remember this, Boomer: the key is, be persistent. Show up where he is. Pretend to be interested in the things he's interested in. Eventually he'll see the light."
Wait -- this wasn't how friends talked. Were Jocko and Mr. Franck boyfriends?
They looked at each other, paused for a moment, and laughed.
At the time I didn't know what he meant. Now I do.
"Remember the night of the Harvest Dance?" Jock asked. "We both had dates, but we dropped them off early so we could go down to the Mississippi and..."
"That's a lie!" Sonny exclaimed, but he was smiling. "Sheer rumor-mongering! Nobody can prove it happened."
At the time I didn't know what he meant. Now I do.
"What about after high school, when you grew up?" Bill asked. "Did you live together? Boomer and I want to live together in a house."
"Sonny was recruited to play football for the Golden Gophers, in Minnesota" Jock said. "I went to the University of Iowa, Then during the War we both joined the Marines, but we weren't in the same unit. Then I moved to Los Angeles to become a stuntman and actor, and Sonny played for the Giants and later became a teacher."
"Like that night when your folks were out of town..." Jock began, "And I brought over a bottle of tequila..."
"Lies! All lies!" Sonny exclaimed. "Defamation of character, that's what it is!" And they both laughed.
Were Mr. Franck and Jock Mahoney Boyfriends?
George "Sonny" Franck (1918-2011) was married for 57 years, although I don't remember a wife being present when we visited. He had four daughters.
Jock Mahoney (1919-1989) was married three times, and had three children and four stepchildren. One of his stepdaughters is actress Sally Field, whose son Sam is gay.
See also: Zack Hooks Up with the Prince of Sweden; My Third Grade Boyfriend