Ancient Coin Identified

Before revealing the positive ID on that ancient coin I found a half-century ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which I also wrote about in Ancient American, Vol. 22, Issue 119, I really must commend that magazine as an excellent forum for dialog among independent researchers. Rather than the establishment authorities that I contacted (with no response), it was readers of Ancient American who told me what I’d found.

Among other responses with pieces of information, most explicit was the wonderful email from Steve Moore with a photograph of the same coin in fantastic shape:

Roman coin of Maximianus 298-299 AD

and an arcane collectors’ description: “Maximianus (298-299 AD) AE Follis, 9.92 grms, 28 mm,Ticinum mint; Obv.: IMP C MAXIMIANVS PF AVG, Laureate head right.Rev.: GENIO POPV-LIROMANI, Genius naked.” Steve added that the genius is holding a “pater” (plate for offerings) in his right hand. Mystery solved; probably deposited in the early 4th century AD.

A few respondents wrote about who Maximianus was, namely the co-Emperor with Diocletian. A researcher on Roman history, Richard Stross noted that “Rome’s most severe persecution of Christianity was the Great Persecution of AD 303 to 313.” He felt it reasonable that persecuted Christians or supporters of losing political rivals might well have come to this continent. So do I.

I also found Stross’ other thoughts very informative. For instance, about artifact finds, he remarked: “Perishable materials such as wood, cloth, and leather would have rotted. Iron implements generally would have become unrecognizable masses of rust. A small expedition would not build stone buildings, and Romans generally did not use stone for small implements. Gold and silver were rare and expensive, so there would be very little if any on the expedition. The artifacts we would expect to find would be items of bronze, ceramics, or glass. The bronze items, in addition to coins, would be small common articles such as buckles and pins.”

But that’s not all. Stross adds an interesting perspective: “Except for coins, the small bronze artifacts may appear similar to modern scraps of metal. Artifacts of bronze may have been found, but not reported because they were not suspected of being ancient. Roman potshards may have been found, and ignored because they appeared to be broken pieces of modern ceramics. Even an intact cup, bowl, or jug may have appeared to be modern and therefore ignored. An exception would be the small ceramic oil lamps.”

And he knew of such an exception: “It appears that at least one oil lamp may have survived in America. I read a newspaper article in the 1980s of one that was discovered in Chillicothe, Ohio. It was buried several feet deep, so it was not lost recently; it was either lost in ancient times or was intentionally buried. It was examined by an expert, and verified as a genuine antiquity.” Several others have apparently been found…

Some respondents ventured to explain how my coin might have gotten into that flower bed in Ann Arbor. One fellow proposed: “At one time someone made the grand tour of Europe and either found it or bought it as a souvenir. Or perhaps a soldier in WWII found it while on his Tour of Duty over there. Either way, it simply got lost. This would also explain that hoard ‘found’ in 1993 as well as most of the rest.”

Recognizing his facile explanation as Chapter and Verse of the academic dogma, I noted that the site had been in an agricultural field until my house was built, so he quickly revised his scenario to a farmer out plowing who loses his watch-fob. Convenient. The well-trained fellow simply ignored my other note about mineral encrustation from centuries underground.

More charming, if even less credible, was one woman’s “half-cooked, caffeine-induced theory … that early French explorers venturing down into Michigan used the coins to trade with local Native Americans.” I don’t think so. Using Occam’s razor, I’d say my coin was most likely buried in the early 4th century in a small mound on that hilltop overlooking the Huron River.

As a matter of fact, Angelina Spencer wrote that: “I too, along with my brother, found similar coins near a plowed ‘hill’ outside of Monroeville, Ohio near our Huron River.” [She added an intriguing note touching on another important ancient mystery: “Some Firelands settlers accidentally dug up native burials back in the 1800’s (all sitting, facing West), but some were tall with Red hair (whether this is true or hyperbole I do not know). Copper armbands and black pearls were found as well as coins.”]

Some respondents were confident that other artifacts could surely be found on that Ann Arbor hilltop. One fellow, an adept at finding lost objects, virtually guaranteed that gold was to be found there. Now, I’m not particularly allured by “treasure,” but I’m just as certain that other coins are lurking in that vicinity—and maybe an entire burial complex.

All it would take is a good metal detector, appropriate permissions, and someone to wield the machine. There’s bound to be a bunch of accomplished detector folks out there. If such a “someone” wants to take on the project, I might be convinced to supply the address, maybe even convince me to go on the expedition!

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Heretical History

During my recent exhibition (entitled YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities), I gave a series of 15 lectures on the Aztec codices and Aztec mythology, culture, and history, branching out in later sessions to New World history in general. From the beginning, I stressed to my listeners that as an independent researcher and theoretical historian (a “historician”), I like to consider probable answers for puzzling questions which the academic establishment refuses even to recognize. I warned them to get ready to hear some historical heresy.

For example, in lecture 10 (Continuity of Culture and Art in Mesoamerica), I discussed the continuity of the ceremonial calendar from the Olmec through the Maya and into the cultures of central Mexico (culminating in the “Aztec calendar”). Then I proposed that the calendar may well have been invented at Chavín de Huantar in Peru.  I published the convincing circumstantial evidence in the article “Source of the Mesoamerican Ceremonial Calendar” in the magazine Ancient American (Issue No. 115) and noted probable diffusion via sea-farers sailing north up the Pacific coast to reach the early Olmec.  That was Heresy No. 1.

Then in lecture 12 (Mesoamerican Relations with Mississippi), I broke some startling news which was corroborated by the website www.peopleofonefire.com, issued by Richard Thornton, a researcher of Native American heritage.  He has discovered convincing linguistic, DNA, and archaeological evidence that populations from Meso- and South America migrated into the Southeast of North America hundreds of years before the European “discovery.”

Independently, I had previously identified a shell gorget from northwestern Alabama depicting the Mesoamerican Fifth Sun, Four Earthquake, and in my article “Mesoamerican Influences in Mississippi” in Ancient American (Issue 118), I presented ethnographic testimony that (probably under pressure from the aggressive imperialism of the Toltecs), a tribe of Totonacs from Vera Cruz had migrated into the Muscle Shoals area to become the Chikasa (Chickasaw).  Though well-documented, that was Heresy No. 2.

In lecture 14 (Mesoamerican Relations with the Anasazi), I expanded on a proposal by Frank Joseph in “Advanced Civilizations of Prehistoric America” that the Huari of Peru (likely an evolution/reincarnation of the more than three millennia-old culture of Tiwanaku from Lake Titicaca) had migrated up the Pacific coast, through the Sea of Cortez, and up the Colorado River to become the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon. So I was merely guilty of repeating Heresy No. 3.

However, in that context I uttered my own Heresy No. 4: that some populations from the west coast of Mexico may possibly have sailed up the coast and “colonized” the Pacific Northwest.  As I noted to my audience, I made this heretical proposal simply on the basis of a linguistic coincidence (something I generally don’t much appreciate in others’ arguments).

Namely, the city of Seattle was supposedly named for the “chief” of a Native American tribe on the Olympic Peninsula. Well, it just so happens that Ce Atl is the Nahuatl day-name (One Water) of the goddess of water, Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt.  She was earlier the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, likely with the same calendrical name, which may have also held for the Maya goddess of water, but deity names in that even earlier culture are rather confused.

Mesoamerican goddesses of water

As a name for the Pacific Northwest area, a people, an important “town,” or even a chief, One Water seems a legendarily appropriate name for a Mesoamerican “colony” in that area. Such a colony might have happened due to social turmoil amongst the classic Maya, to later aggression by the Toltecs on populations in western Mexico, or even as more recent Aztec (Nahua) imperial “exploration.”  In any case, my heretical suggestion was basically a frivolous “teaser.”

For a couple weeks, that’s what it was for me too, simply an intriguing possibility—until I started reading “The Journals of Lewis and Clark” (edited by Bernard DeVoto). Their first mentions of the Salishan (“Flathead”) tribes in the western Rocky Mountains didn’t give me pause, but when that characteristic kept appearing amongst the tribes down the Columbia River, I had to stop and wonder.

While that exploratory expedition wintered at the mouth of the Columbia, they had much communication and commerce with the many coastal tribes. On March 19, 1805, Captain Lewis took the time (in his fairly “scientific” manner) to write:

“The Killamucks, Clatsops, Chinooks, Cathlahmahs, and Wâc-ki-a-cums resemble each other as well in their persons and dress as in their habits and manners. their complexion is not remarkable, being the usual copper brown of most of the tribes of North America.  they are low in statu[r]e, reather diminutive, and illy shapen; poss[ess]ing thick broad flat feet, thick ankles, crooked legs wide mouths thick lips, nose moderately large, fleshey, wide at the extremity with large nostrils, black eyes and black coarse hair.  their eyes are sometimes of a dark yellowish brown the puple black.  the most remarkable trait in their physiognomy is the peculiar flatness and width of forehead which they artificially obtain by compressing the head between two boards while in a state of infancy and from which it never afterwards perfectly recovers.  this is a custom among all the nations we have met with West of the Rocky mountains.  I have observed the heads of many infants, after this singular bandage has been dismissed, or about the age of 10 or eleven months, that were not more than two inches thick about the upper edge of the forehead and reather thiner still higher.  from the top of the head to the extremity of the nose is one straight line.  this is done in order to give a greater width to the forehead, which they much admire.  this process seems to be continued longer with their female than their mail children, and neither appear to suffer any pain from the operation.  it is from this peculiar form of the head that the nations East of the Rocky mountains, call all the nations on this side, except the Aliohtans or snake Indians, by the generic name of Flatheads.”

Chinook woman and child

Surely I am not the first to note that Captain Lewis has described in exquisite detail the traditional Maya practice of skull deformation. (That same practice also occurred in other parts of the world and among certain tribes of the American Southeast who—per Heresy No. 2 above—migrated there from Mesoamerica.)  With this official testimony, it seems more than probable that this widespread cultural practice in the Pacific Northwest came from a coastal colony of the Maya. The also widespread practice of nose-piercing (as in the Nez Perce tribe and others) could just as easily have disseminated from such or later Mexican settlements.

Considering this distinct possibility, I believe it’s high time someone ran a DNA study of the surviving Northwest tribes to see if they actually do have markers of Mesoamerican populations. Likewise, it would make sense for someone with the expertise to compare the languages of those tribes with those of Mesoamerican peoples. There is a distinctly Nahuatl-ish sound to the names of the Tlingit and Kwakiutl tribes…

But even without such genetic or linguistic evidence, I will now make bold to propose that there was indeed a Mesoamerican colony (or colonies) on the Pacific Northwest coast. And having uttered that blasphemy, I’ll prepare for the academic inquisition to try and burn me at the stake.

Another Rather Large Whoop!

You’re probably not interested in hearing the involved backstory of this exciting post, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Forty years ago, I was working for OPERA America, a service organization for opera companies. That was how I came by a commission from Lotfi Mansouri of the Canadian Opera Company to translate Tchaikovsky’s Russian libretto for his opera “Maid of Orleans.”  To be sung in English, their production (1978) in Toronto and Ottawa was called more simply “Joan of Arc.”  Attending its rehearsals, revelling in the performances, and lecturing about the work were the pinnacle of my academic career in Russian (which I’d abandoned some years before).

The next year (1979) David DiChiera of the Michigan Opera Theatre chose to mount another production, which I attended with greatest pleasure. And then the translation lay on my shelf for four decades. In January of this year, probably because forty years is a somehow hallowed cycle, I must have sensed that the iron was hot and decided to strike.

Out of the New Mexico blue I wrote a concise letter proposing that in view of the city’s great connection with La Pucelle de Orleans, the New Orleans Opera should do a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera. As encouragement, I added that the company would be welcome to use my English translation gratis.

Robert Lyall of NOO and I had phone conversations of great interest, and in May he called me to say that they had indeed decided to produce the opera in their 2019-2020 season—using my translation. I was totally delighted and offered to “polish” the translation up a bit—after forty years, I figured I might have matured a mite as a poet—especially the love duet…

So that’s my rather large whoop! JOAN OF ARC WILL RIDE AGAIN!  Exact dates TBA.

“Polishing” the translation has been a renewed joy. I can still hear the singers from forty years ago singing the lines and can easily make the words sound better!  Perversely, perhaps the most fulfilling part of re-translating is using my graphics program to set the printed language in the score.  In 1978, over white-out tape, I had hand-printed the translation on the pages, quite legible but still sloppy.  Now it looks for printed real!

I waited till July when my schedule with the YE GODS! show had normalized to start in on Joan again, and by the end of that month had completed Act I, which is one big honking act. This month I’ve been plugging along on the hefty Act II and hope to finish it in a couple weeks.  Acts III and IV are shorter, about the length of Act II, so I’ll be able to knock them off in September.  If the creek don’t rise…

For example, here is a page of the angels singing from Joan’s Aria with the Angels (the lines of which I included in my public library as an example of my translations). There were only minor language changes in this new version:

Page from Joan’s Aria with the Angels

But that’s not all! Apropos YE GODS!, I fully intend to finagle somehow doing an exhibition at New Orleans’ Delgado Museum of Art (in City Park) at the same time as the Joan production (in the Mahalia Jackson Theater).  Why not make it a double-barreled homecoming?  Prodigal New Orleans son (more or less) and Tulane grad brings a spectacular opera and an exceptional art show back home!

I insist on thinking positively!

YE GODS! There Was a Ship…

It’s been a couple (few?) months since I raised a big whoop about my show of black and white Aztec icons (for a coloring book), and that’s what mostly has occupied me lo that many moons.

Richard Balthazar at opening of YE GODS!

Actually, June and July at my show were splendid! YE GODS! opened on June 1 with a wonderful crowd.  There was delicious food (catered by my old Backstreet Bistro and spa buddy David Jacoby and his wife Melanie as our lovely “soda server”) and a marvelous group of female dancers, Danza Azteca, who blessed the icons (and me) and danced ceremonies around a big Aztec drum (the huehuetl).  They even got some in the crowd to join in a friendship dance.

Throughout the run of the show I spent a couple hours each afternoon at El Museo Cultural (de Santa Fe), just to be there and talk to visitors—but also to give the inexhaustible Maria Martinez a bit of a break from staffing the gallery to attend to her many other duties around the nearly 2-acre cultural facility. She is the peaceful animus of the Museo, and I am deeply grateful for all her help and encouragement.

Entrance of Danza Azteca: David Jacoby and Maria Martinez on left, Concha Garcia y Allen center

By the way, the above photos are to be credited to my friend Seth Roffman, who is editor of “Greenfire Times.”

Visitation at the show was steady, even without publicity during July. I greatly enjoyed meeting folks of all walks—and bending their ears about the icons, their mythology, and elements of history.  In particular, I stressed that only one icon in the show was actually a genuine Aztec deity (Huitzilopochtli).  The rest were from long before the arrival of the Mexica (Aztecs), who simply adopted the culture, mythology, and cosmology of the peoples living there already.

What I enjoyed most of all was the series of 15 lectures I slapped together and delivered off the top of my head. Half were about the Aztec codices (picture books), showing pages and discussing their mythology, iconography, and social implications.  The other half were focused on cultural and historical subjects that went from Aztec-specific through general Mesoamerican to all the Americas and then into probable interactions between those societies. I was blessed to have a corps of several interested listeners who came to most of my talks.  After the finale on Codex Vindobonensis, six of them took me out to dinner, and we had a long, leisurely chat about our lives—and of course, some follow-up questions about the whole Aztec thing.

Now that it is over and the icons are stored in my garage, I’m intending to approach many places here in NM and around the country (and internationally?) about hanging YE GODS! It’s a fantastic educational (informational) show, after all, and I’d offer it to presenters free (charging only for the minimal shipping).  I’d also be available to do my scalable series of lectures (for expenses), and presenters could sell the separate prints for coloring.  WHAT A DEAL!

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Meanwhile, several other things transpired. Most must wait for later posts, but I’ve totally got to let you know right now about another BIG DEAL!  My cousin visited, and when she decided to read my memoir THERE WAS A SHIP, we discovered that there was no link from the web-page to the text.  Two years ago (!) I’d posted a blog (Gay Memoir Redux) with a link to it, but neglected to link it to the page.  Mortified, I corrected the situation immediately.  Now you can go to the text of my memoir from its drop-down page, just like from here.

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News about MORE BIG DEALS as soon as I can get around to announcing them!

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BIG WHOOP!

Time to make BIG WHOOPEE!  After plugging away for over four years at drawing Aztec gods and goddesses for my coloring book, I’m having an exhibition of my fifteen epiphanies!

Here’s the flyer for the show with dates, location, and all that.

The large-scale icons (3’ x 4’) are black and white drawings, but I’ve put my colorful patron god Xochipilli on the flyer, poster, and show-banner to catch the eye. And of course, the Flower Prince has been my “insignia” for a long time, including on the banner for this website.

I know you all can’t come to Santa Fe for this art event of the century, but maybe some… In any case, let all your social media know about this great opportunity to see bona fide weirdness!

Stone Age Gay History

It’s always bittersweet to gaze down the deep well of the past and spy ancient moments still fresh and vivid after many decades. That happened just now as I started reading a book by Jim Downs called “STAND BY ME, The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation,” Basic Books, 2016.

So far I’ve read only up to page 7 of the Introduction. In those first pages I was touched that a guy probably born around 1980 found it important in 2005 to research gay history from the 70’s—and amused how the author considered that decade “ancient” gay history.  Taking that view, I guess I came out in the Stone Age (1961).

In the next couple pages Downs immediately placed the libertine gay lifestyle of the 70’s in the context of the ensuing plague of the 80’s. My memories of the 70’s aren’t distorted by knowing what was to come.  I saw a future promising ever more joyful liberation.

My experience of that decade was hardly as wild—or sordid—as what the author read about, largely in New York. In DC where I lived, things were more civilized:  We lived exactly the kind of gay culture and community that Downs will probably describe in pages to come.  He wrote, “I wanted to show how the 1970s was more than a night in a bathhouse.” So I look forward to reading his view of the history I lived.

He included New Orleans in his research, which pleased me much, and after another paragraph hit me over the head with “the fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people on June 24, 1973.” I then noted that the Up Stairs Lounge is to be the subject of Chapter I:  The Largest Massacre of Gay People in American History.  Tragically, scarcely a year after his book came out, that was no longer true.  There was that horrific slaughter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

I haven’t yet read beyond that mention of the Up Stairs Lounge because I’ve found myself once again staring down that well. Living in New Orleans in 1972, I hung out in the Up Stairs Lounge, but a year before the atrocity, I moved to DC…  I’m almost afraid to read Chapter I.

Already on page two, Downs had remarked that “…gay people across the country had a responsibility to document the past and to tell our own history.” For more than 30 years I’ve taken that responsibility quite seriously in two novels.  First drafted in 1985, one was rewritten a number of times and eventually became “Bat in a Whirlwind.”  About an unconsciously gay teenager in the backwoods in the 50’s, you might say it was set in the Jurassic era of gay history.

My second novel, “Divine Debauch,” is about the gay Stone Age, that decade before Stonewall, in the fairyland of the French Quarter. There was definitely some gay history going on even then.  I’m a veteran victim of the infamous raid on the Quorum Club in June, 1964.  Just like the episode in my recent post “Got Laid,” I marginally fictionalized that raid in the novel.

Briefly, my Quorum experience happened like this: A female friend Linda and I shared a horoscope, and that day in the newspaper we were stringently warned to stay at home.  We usually went out dancing in La Casa de los Marinos but decided to do as we were told and sat around my apartment listening to records and reading.

Getting rather bored later that evening, Linda convinced me to walk her over to the Quorum Club on Esplanade to look for our friend Gia. The club was a small, low-key coffee-house which scandalously also served black folks.  As a matter of fact, that evening a black musician named Babe Stovall was playing on his guitar.

Because of defying our horoscope, Linda and I walked in a bit apprehensively and looked around for Gia. She wasn’t there, but a (black) friend of mine mentioned that she might be upstairs at George’s party.  So we trudged up the stairs and mingled our way through those also racially mixed festivities without finding our friend.

We were standing out on the rear balcony when folks in the front room started yelling, “Police!” I made to escape by climbing down into the neighbor’s patio, but Linda was too scared.  So I gallantly stayed with her, and we nervously awaited our fate.

The cops herded us all out of the apartment (past poor George lying on the carpet with blood all over his face) and downstairs to the Club, where they separated the men and women and loaded about 75 of us into various paddy-wagons. At the jail they put the sexes and races into separate cells, whites on one side of the aisle and blacks on the other.

In my white guys’ cell I got into a bridge game with some others, including a drug dealer who was awaiting transfer to Leavenworth. Meanwhile, the girls started singing “We Shall Overcome!” and the black guys all stripped butt-naked and started swinging on the bars.

The cops kept yelling at us to shut up, to no avail, and then with a fire hose they washed us up against the bars. That ruined our bridge game and swept away most of the black guys’ clothes.  The pile of glistening black bodies was better than a wet dream.

Finally they let us each make our one phone call. I called my apartment and asked my lover Eric to get my stash of money and come bail us out.  When he got there, he said, “I can’t believe you hide your money in your bedpost!”

The next day the story was on the front page of the newspaper. It began:  “Last night the New Orleans Police raided a noted center of communist, homosexual, integrationist activity…” and reported that we were ridiculously charged with “being loud and boisterous.”  Ironically, at the time I was a student (and teacher) of Russian at Tulane, and so the cops figured me for the translator for the local communist cell.

For the next couple weeks till our hearing I lived under police surveillance as a suspected commie. They apparently didn’t care that I was a flaming faggot.  Cop cars tailed me down the streets of the Quarter, but I’d walk on the wrong-way streets to evade them.  And they didn’t dare follow me into my sailor dives on the “Wild Side” of Decatur Street.

Just before our hearing, miraculously, the Civil Rights Act passed, and the DA Jim Garrison (remember him?), quickly got the charges against us dropped. Apropos of Jim Garrison, in the summer of 1963 when my then lover Alphonse got thrown in jail, I had to call up his father’s friend Clay Shaw to spring him from the clink.  That was only about three months before the Kennedy assassination, another of my close brushes with fame, or infamy as the case may be.

While maybe not strictly gay history, this tale was definitely the historical experience of a gay boy in the Stone Age. You’ll find another, the story of my getting finessed back into the closet, in my first memoir “There Was a Ship.”  The second, set in the fabled 70’s, will be the story of my second coming-out into that newly liberated world.

I guess I’m now ready to read on in Jim Downs’ history book.

Got Laid

My new online friend Walter recently posted about his basically traumatic “coming out” experience and made me realize that I had sunken that piece of my history in my novel and memoir, which so few folks will ever read. So I’m going to follow his suit and give you the following brief narrative of my deflowering.

GOT LAID

            In the upside down year of 1961, there I was:  19 years young and a student at wonderful Tulane University in incredible New Orleans, but—to my immense regret—with my cherry still intact.  In fact, my cherry was not only intact but immaculate and overly ripe.  I was getting sick and tired of the whole boring condition.

During my freshman year I’d gotten to know a guy down the hall in my dorm.  David was a good-looking blond kid from Houston, who let me in on the secret that he was “gay” and introduced me to his lover Paul, a florist.  Once they invited me to dinner at Paul’s apartment in the Garden District along with some other gay guys.  They all seemed so normal except for calling each other ‘dear’ and ‘sweetheart’ a lot.

The concept of two guys loving each other was utterly new to me, though not particularly disturbing.  Telling myself to be open-minded about it, I recalled the confusing love I’d felt for my best friend in high school.  After the party, reasoning it through as logically as I could, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I too must be gay.  Suddenly I appreciated all the cute guys around campus with different eyes.

After some months of waiting impatiently for true love to find me, my newly awakened longings soon became torments. Soon, I told myself, soon I will meet a beautiful boy, fall in love, and kiss him. The fantasy played like a rock and roll romance.  Many were the imagined scenarios I spun around naked guys in the showers and infatuations with angelic classmates, but all spring semester and into summer school, no beautiful boy ever showed up to love me.

One Wednesday evening late in sweltering June, I went with my roommate Roger and a couple other dorm guys to see Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Virgin Spring.”  It was traumatic for a sensitive college student like me, and the brutal images of the rape of that young girl haunted me on the sidewalk back to our dorm.  My friends were all quiet too.  Riding up in the elevator with them, I finally decided emphatically that I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore.

Once back in our double dorm room, Roger immediately went about his mathematical studies, which consisted of playing solitaire.  I showered, shaved, and put on my green corduroy jeans and fancy blue nylon shirt.  This was as fashionable as a country boy could manage.  Without looking up from his cards, Roger asked, “Got a date?”

“Maybe,” I replied mysteriously and left.

I already knew where to meet somebody.  David and Paul had once taken me into the wicked French Quarter to a dark little bar on St. Peter St. called the Gaslight Inn.  (One of the most marvelous things about New Orleans back then was that the legal drinking age was 18!)  So I hopped on the Freret bus to Canal Street, intent on finding a guy to cure my acute virginity problem.  Walking into the Quarter down noisy Bourbon Street through the jostling crowds and ignoring brief glimpses of bare, gyrating dancers in the strip joints, I felt my whole world turning upside down.  I was stepping off into the unknown, and it was exhilarating.

The Gaslight Inn was nestled right next door to the bustling collegiate bar Pat O’Brien’s.  When there before with David and Paul, I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be not at all intimidating.  The strangest thing had been a Hawaiian boy called Pineapple, who looked and talked just like a girl.  After a moment’s trepidation, I walked alone into the bar.

It was dark and full of smoke with men milling about.  No Pineapple.  How very dashing I felt walking right up to the bar and ordering a vodka and tonic.  Without looking directly at anyone, I took my drink over to a stool along the wall under the window—with no idea of what to do next.  Even though I was a nice looking kid with a good build and big blue eyes, no one seemed to be paying any attention to me.

Maybe I should just watch for someone attractive, I reasoned, and go up and introduce myself. No, that’s too forward—and too embarrassing.  It’s not very easy to see anyone in the dimness anyway.  By the time I’d finished my drink, my courage was definitely flagging, and I thought sadly of heading on back home to the dorm.

“Need another drink?” a voice asked from my blind side.  I turned to find a young man in the shadows, smiling at me.  “What was it?” the fellow asked, taking my glass.

“Vodka and tonic,” I managed to remember.  He went off to the bar before I could really make out what he looked like. Probably just a waiter pushing drinks, I figured.

Soon he returned with a drink in each hand.  Apparently he wasn’t a waiter.  Now I could see that he was pleasantly good looking, with dark hair in a crew cut.  After a polite thanks for the drink, I hadn’t a clue what to say.

In my silence, he said, “My name is Harry.”

Actually, I hadn’t thought about having to identify myself.  Not to give out my name in a gay bar, I lied, “I’m Roger.”  Meanwhile, I looked Harry over some more:  fairly tall, grey-green eyes, older—at least in his mid-20’s.  My next lie was that I was visiting my aunt here in New Orleans and lived out in the woods in Mississippi.  With that basic adjustment, I told him about things from back when I was a kid in Arkansas.  Harry told me he worked in an insurance office and used to live in Pensacola on the beach.

At his insistence, we each had another drink.  I was already feeling a buzz.  We engaged in further pleasant conversation, but it didn’t look to me like Harry was interested in me romantically.  And while I liked his company, there wasn’t that crazy kind of desire I’d felt for certain gorgeous guys at school.  I started to feel a little put out.  All this talking had kept me from watching out for a pretty boy.  I began to have more disconsolate thoughts about going home. Can’t catch a fish every time you go fishing.

Then Harry asked, “Can I take you home with me, Roger?”

Taken aback by the strange name and surprised to have come so suddenly upon this Rubicon, I forced back the fear and said, “Yeah, that would be nice.”

“Then let’s go!” Harry left his half-finished drink on the windowsill and pulled me by the hand.  I followed him out the door onto crowded St. Peter, not even checking if anybody at Pat O’Brien’s might have seen me coming out of that shady little place.

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            Amidst the slumber of the late-night city, all was quiet, candlelit amber and cool in Harry’s apartment at the Claiborne Towers.  The room was full of plants with only a low light in one corner.  I lay naked on the sheets beside Harry, by no means asleep.  He was definitely dozing, draped over my arm.  I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt I really had to go home to the dorm—it must have been 3 or 4 o’clock, but I had no desire to move.  The warmth of Harry touching my shoulder and thigh was so new and delicious.  Finally, I’d tasted a man’s body, smelled his cinnamon fragrance, and it was far better than I could ever have imagined.

It had been nothing at all like the struggle and violence in that disturbing movie.  Funny how easy everything was when I’d worried so much about what to do.  Like a bumpkin at a banquet, I’d simply done whatever Harry did—which meant a lot of incredible caresses on tender, secret places I’d never touched before.  All that symmetry naturally led to the infamous sixty-nine position.  I must have done it right because we came together, and I didn’t even choke.  Stunning, the sheer reality of sucking on a guy’s cock.

I was glad, too, that there hadn’t been any kissing. Kissing is something for being in love, I figured, and all this with Harry was simply sex.  Still, he’d been tender, and so I was too.  Now I felt so amazingly happy having this wonderful connection with another guy and holding him close.  After a bit, Harry awoke, and I said, “I’ve got to go home.  My aunt expects me back.”

Harry didn’t protest, probably used to strange boys leaving in the night.  I got up on the window side of the bed.  The man still lay there, lithe in the shadows and amber light, the plants vague, soft masses of light and dark around him.  There was a tiny glint in his eye as I stood there naked—oddly without shyness.  “Roger, you sure are hot!” he sighed.

Embarrassed by his compliment, I dressed while Harry watched me from the bed with appreciative smiles.  I wondered about telling him that this was my very first time.  Tying my second shoe, I decided not to. Better just a pleasant goodbye, I decided, and drift out into the night like all the other boys who must have been hot in his bed before me.

While Harry still lay there naked, I gave him a friendly handshake and let myself out the door.  Out in the hallway, I chortled to myself, Well, that was that—another virginity nicely disposed of in the Claiborne Towers.

After Harry’s great air-conditioning, outside on the street the New Orleans night startled me with its sultriness.  On the empty early-morning bus I dozed contentedly in the heat until my stop at school.  Only when stumbling down McAlister Drive did the full import of it strike me right between the eyes with a blow of wonder and happiness. No longer a virgin! I rejoiced.  That painful, troublesome barrier is now behind me!”

As I tiptoed into our dorm room, the real Roger rolled over on his side in his narrow bed, waking enough to mumble, “What you been doing?”

Walking out of my clothes on the way from the door, I answered, “Got laid.”  Then I crawled into the sack, and there wasn’t another peep from the miserable virgin.

I never saw Harry again, nor did I ever go back to the Gaslight Inn—largely because it closed down soon after.  Instead I went out to Dixie’s Bar of Music on the opposite corner of Bourbon and St. Peter or hung out in the Latin and Greek sailor dives on Decatur Street, where my carousing was a depraved combination of Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita” and the novels of Jean Genet.

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