COURTESAN

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June, 1972—August, 1980

As I write this, the many stories about this persona are being told in my third gay memoir entitled “GAY GEISHA,” which I’m posting by chapters as they’re completed. We’re already up to Chapter 20, so I’ll be very summary about the early parts of this section. Meanwhile, here’s a quick preview of coming attractions.

To re-commence, in May, 1972, old friend Lee and I moved to DC. On the trip Lee changed to his middle name Charles and asked to be called Chas. He was already set up with a basement apartment for us on Capitol Hill. I soon got a job at the Library of Congress with oxymoronic defense intelligence as a ‘reader’ of the press of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

After housesitting for new friend George for a month, I moved to the lovely house of Chas’s long ago lover John, a Marine Sergeant—where I slept on an authentic Civil War iron army cot. That was when I met sweet, handsome Robert. (Insert romantic tale.)

Then my other Charles, the one from Ann Arbor, arrived in DC for a great new job with the National Register of Historic Places—with a parrot. He moved in at John’s and right into our host’s bed. After the holidays, Charles, Robert and I started 1973 in a house on Independence Avenue working on remodel for rent.

1973 mustache

By the way, my reader job gave me the run of the stacks in the Library of Congress and the glitz of regular debriefings to the CIA in McLean, but mostly it was reading about all sorts of things in several languages, looking for references to our “classified” topics. I learned all about the people and geography of like a quarter of the earth’s surface! I was proud to be a minor spook.

four bellesIn later May, Charles found us a Victorian house at Logan Circle, 1320 Rhode Island Avenue NW, a four-storey, 16-room brick house with round tower-bay and much original detail still inside.  In the Logan Circle Historic District just off 14th Street, it was right in the middle of the wrack and ruin of the 69 riots, most other houses on both sides of the street boarded up.  I often called it Desolation Row.

Soon after moving in, Charles and I met several neighbors, including an Italian beauty named Lou restoring his own house on nearby Q Street.  (Insert an unromantic tale, including a few poems.) Charles and I set to work on restoration tasks, and once the house was habitable, we found other gay guys to rent rooms—and hosted great community dinners in faded Victorian glory. I sigh to recall the parade of housemates and neighbors, the stellar cast at our dinner table, and temporary guests in our various boudoirs.

Thus began seven years of hosting this community of queers, friends, and neighbors, an odd assemblage of urban pioneers.  All around our Historic District, the major “urban renewal” areas with the old architecture were disappearing, and I salvaged fantastic architectural details ahead of the wrecking balls.  Some salvage went into our house, but much went as welcome-wagon gifts to new neighbors moving into the other wracked-out houses around Logan Circle.  (The best prize of all came from salvaging a library, a venerable tome from 1841 which inspired my first book .)

That fall I finally got back to the dissertation drudge, and after all our work together that spring (with no reply from him for so long), my chairman now thought I should “broaden the sample,” i.e. run the material through more native speakers. I dumbly agreed to write it for the fifth time, using several Russians at my job. In May of 74 I fired the fifth dissertation back at my chairman. He immediately wrote that a newly arrived Russian émigré prof had taken over as my chairman, and she felt that the scope of my work should be wider, i.e., like the second version—or was it the third?  I never responded.

Putting academia behind me, in August I quit the reader job—coincidentally walking out the exact same day and time as Nixon left the White House!

That same fall before, Ken moved to DC and bought a house down Q Street from Lou.  Chas moved into his basement apartment, and suddenly I had old friends for neighbors.  Also in August, a visiting opera-singer in town for “War and Peace” at Wolftrap got me on as an extra/super.  My operatic debut!

Frustrated in my job search, I resorted to waiting tables at Gusti’s Italian Restaurant at Rhode Island and Connecticut Avenues, apparently a Mafia joint, quickly becoming one of their best waiters for the next couple years.  We’ll leave the dalliances in those under-employed years for the memoir.

For some more cultural spice in my life, Chas got me in with the Paul Hill Chorale as Russian coach for a performance of Kabalevsky’s “Requiem” at the Kennedy Center (on my 33rd birthday).  The famous composer, a kindly elderly man, came to town for it, and I was his PR agent and interpreter for interviews.  Then I went back to slinging pizzas.

In the summer of 75, a woman I’d met at Wolftrap named Ann recommended me for a gig in New York with the Bolshoi Opera, Lincoln Center, for six weeks and then Kennedy Center for two.  I stayed at Kenny’s apartment.  (He was away touring in “Fiddler on the Roof.”)  My duties were to coordinate scene-change work between the Russian and the American stage crews for a repertoire of several operas, including “Eugene Onegin,” “War and Peace,” “Boris Godunov,” and etc., several times each.  It was a spectacular change of pace.

Of course, going back to Gusti’s Ristorante was a bummer, but I slogged along through another fall and winter of waiting table.  There were several affair-ettes, so I was apparently rather good at meeting fellows, but pretty awful at holding on to them.  In the spring of 76 I had a customer at Gusti’s who took me by storm, a Panamanian mulatto by the surprising name of Giovanni.  Our affair, a joyous carnal frenzy that rocked my antique bedstead in afternoons between my lunch and dinner shifts, went on for several delirious months.

In July while Giovanni was courting me, I also fell into a paid career working for the national service organization for opera, OPERA America. Giovanni and I worked around the kink in our schedule as best we could.  Soon he introduced me to a new friend, a lovely Vietnamese soldier named Chi, who soon was another regular welcome guest in my jungle.  That fall and winter of 76 was lovely with Chi’s and Giovanni’s affections, though in Chi’s many visits, he rarely stayed over, and he made several trips out of town for a week at a time.  Like a proper courtesan, I tried hard to be content with whatever moments my two lovers would give me. Then at the end October, Giovanni married a woman, and they went home to Panama. By January, 1977, they were back in town, and geisha my geisha life rolled happily along, helped by a liaison with a black boy named Rene who occasionally visited from his college in Alabama..

On a mid-May night in 77, Chi and I went to see Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center.  After our loving that night, as he was leaving, Chi said he wouldn’t be coming back.  He had to marry a girl named Beth.  I didn’t ask why, obviously a cultural thing, and just said goodbye. Around the same time, Giovanni left to go to college in Pennsylvania.

Though devastated losing my two lovers’ company, I didn’t mope for too long.   I’d just started working on a commission from the Canadian Opera Company to translate Tchaikovsky’s opera “Joan of Arc,” (otherwise known as “Maid of Orleans”).  Thrilled with an artistic challenge at last, I worked madly on it from that June through December with sporadic amorous visitors. 

While I was translating away in late September, 77, I was pointedly asked to come along with Charles and a bunch of the guys on an outing to Marietta PA in the gorgeous autumn.  It soon became apparent to me that Charles was, as they say, off his rocker.  At home, I called the psychiatrist he was consulting for depression and was instructed to get him to bed and come see him in the morning. 

Well, in the morning, Charles was a blanket-draped, be-feathered shaman mumbling in some strange language. For the next couple years, Charles was in the hospital off and on and at home trying to function on uncertain doses of lithium for his manic depression.  Somehow he managed at his job, and though he was still a great hostess, soon our fabled dinners slowly fell apart.  I found it horribly disturbing to watch his disintegration, even to the point of doubting my own sanity, but simply did what I could to keep the household going.

Early in 78, I met up through work with a young fellow at the Baltimore Opera Company by the wonderful name of David, a tall dark-haired beauty.  While revising the opera translation, over the next couple months, I actually took tickets to ride the train for weekends with him in Baltimore.  The boring train trips and David’s romantic demands got to me and the affair ended.

Out of the blue, in mid-May 1978, Chi called and took me to “Madama Butterfly,” an auspicious occasion marking the anniversary of our parting–and after a loving reunion, I let him go again, this time for good. 

On a work trip to Santa Fe in August 78 I met a sharp young man named Jim who soon started in a big position at the National Endowment for the Arts.  We first did it in his hotel room at the Inn at Loretto, and back home in DC he became a constant suitor in my flowery alcove for a year and more, also with lots of time together in meetings and on trips.  As Jim lived with his lover in Virginia, I was again the “other woman,” a true courtesan entertaining gentlemen not my own.  Fine by me.

In September 1978 the COC performed my translation of “Joan of Arc,” and I spent three weeks in Toronto at rehearsals. My daughters flew up for opening night and to attend my Guild lecture, which made me very proud. Sadly, I wasn’t very pleased with the production for several reasons. When they did it again in November for CBC broadcast, I went to see it in Ottawa but didn’t feel any more fulfilled by my artistic achievement because I’d concluded that Tchaikovsky’s libretto was fatally flawed.

Ann having resigned, in January 1979 I became acting director of the organization.  By late spring I got a new boss named Tom, a bright, cheerful, handsome young man (late 20s) from New York.  On our annual July trip to Santa Fe with Tom, I very unprofessionally let him have his way with me, the older but still attractive man.  Then back in the office, in September Tom got the boot for reasons unknown to me.  My acting director duties resumed. Then at the end of the year, my Jim moved away “out into the field” to work with an opera company. 

Right now I’ve gotten only this far in GAY GEISHA, so I’ll leave the following verbiage roughly that same as it’s been (and will condense as new chapters get posted.) So here’s a running synopsis of a galloping saga of chapters. 

After an August program of seminars at Snowbird in Utah, I took a driving trip (Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion). In the fall, while neglected by my constant admirer, I joined a gay camping group and shared a tent with a dark-haired youth name of Phil in the Shenandoah Mountains.  I should digress to mention my addiction to running which I believe started in the spring of 78.  I’d run  3-4 miles almost every day, all over the wide neighborhoods, Rock Creek Park, the Mall, and the Arboretum and often to Phil’s apartment.  It was also special on business trips to run in strange and beautiful places like New Mexico, New York, Portland, and Utah.  Jogging along in runner’s euphoria, I kept in fairly good physical shape in those later thirties.

Meanwhile, after our Annual Meeting in Miami in December, I went on an abortive vacation to St. Thomas, but left early to go back to holidays with family in Florida.

Over the fall and winter of 79 Charles started bottoming out with more stints in the hospital, but nothing seemed to help.  At the end of January 80, a wreck of his former glorious self, he moved away to San Diego to live in the care of his folks.  The loss was a horrible blow for me.  Though we’d never had physical relations, our rapport over the years was so complete and fulfilling, like kindred souls from previous lives.  Bereft of my best friend, my other half, I was left to preside alone over the fall of the House of Four Bells.

In the spring of 80, I got a new boss, and work got less consuming. Then in April 80, I met a devastating black guy named Guy, an exquisite Ethiopian type of equally exquisite physical proportions.  A soft-spoken museum administrator living with a lover (also named Charles), near DuPont Circle, Guy and this lucky courtesan were constant companions for a while after work each day, with frequent dinners at the Four Bells or out, and intense relations in my alcove.

In the summer of 1980 I took a two-week driving trip with my daughters around southern Ohio exploring Indian mounds–a new intellectual fascination obsessing me for many years to come. 

Splendid Guy was my emotional support during the spring and summer of trying to sell the Four Bells.  That summer, while we were again in Santa Fe, the director of the Opera suggested for the fourth time that I come and work as his assistant, and I finally decided like Jim to go out into the field.  In September when the house sold, an era ended.  Guy and I said our goodbyes at my train in Union Station, and I moved to New York as a new persona.

Okay, what’s the lesson here?   I suspect it has something to do with creating one’s identity because that’s exactly what I did–as a GAY GEISHA.

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