COURTESAN

or photos of this time, click here.

June, 1972—September, 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 23, so I’ll be very summary about the early parts of this section. 

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. I was proud to be a minor spook.

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. 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.

four bellesIn later May, Charles found us a Victorian house at Logan Circle, 1320 Rhode Island Avenue NW, a four-story, 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. 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 the faded Victorian glory of our geisha household for a parade of temporary guests in 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.  

That fall of 73 I finally got back to the dissertation, and after all my work the previous spring, I was told to “broaden the sample,” i.e., run the material through more native speakers. I dumbly agreed to write it for the fifth time, using Russians at my job. In May of 74 I fired off the fifth dissertation and was told 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, 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–with several romantic encounters outside of my geisha activities at home.

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 came to town for it, and I was his PR agent and interpreter. Then it was 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 my old lover Kenny’s apartment. 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 with several affair-ettes. 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 in afternoons between lunch and dinner shifts, went on for over a year.

In July 76, I went to work with the Ann of Wolftrap and Bolshoi connections for the national service organization for opera, OPERA America. Giovanni soon introduced me to a Vietnamese soldier named Chi, who became another regular guest in my geisha boudoir. That fall and winter of 76, I enjoyed both Chi’s and Giovanni’s affections. Then at the end October, Giovanni married a woman, and they went home to Panama. But by January 1977, they were back in town, and my geisha love affairs rolled happily along. Then in mid-May 77, Chi left me to marry a girl named Beth, and around the same time, Giovanni went off to college in Pennsylvania, leaving the courtesan to merely occasional gentleman friends.

Though devastated losing my two lovers’ company, I didn’t have time to mope. 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, it became apparent to me that Charles was, as they say, off his rocker. For the next couple years, he was in the hospital off and on and at home trying to function on uncertain doses of lithium for manic depression.  Somehow, he managed at his job, and though he was still a great hostess, soon our fabled dinners and geisha society slowly fell apart. I 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 named David, a tall dark-haired beauty. Over the next months, while revising the opera translation, I rode the train for weekends with him in Baltimore until 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” on the anniversary of our parting, and then I let him go again, thinking it was for good. But our affair eventually played out through 1979 in a long finale worthy of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

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. Back home in DC, he became a constant suitor in my boudoir 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 (wo)man.” 

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. I wasn’t 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 concluded that Tchaikovsky’s libretto was fatally flawed.

When Ann resigned in January 79, I became acting director of the organization. By late spring I got a new boss named Tom, a 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. 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. 

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 met a dark-haired youth name of Phil. 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 my later thirties.

Over the fall and winter of 79 Charles started bottoming out with more stints in the hospital, but nothing seemed to help. 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.

Also in December 1979, a wreck of his former self, Charles went to San Diego and spent a month with his folks. I coped with the Four Bells as best I could till he got back in late January 1980, saner but barely functional. That spring, I got another new boss, and work got less consuming. Then in March 80, I met a black museum curator named Guy with a lover (also named Charles), and we were constant affectionate companions for some months, with frequent lunches and dinners but little nookie. Meanwhile in April, the director of the Santa Fe Opera suggested for the fourth time that I come work with him, and considering my changing circumstances, I decided to start in October.  

Right now, I’ve gotten only this far in GAY GEISHA  with one more to go. So, here’s a synopsis of the final chapter. 

In the summer of 1980, I took a two-week driving trip with my daughters around southern Ohio exploring Indian mounds. Then as usual in August I went for work to Santa Fe and was extraordinarily promiscuous. Afterwards I made another driving trip across the West, visiting Canyon de Chelly, the Grand Canyon, and other attractions.

Splendid Guy was occasional emotional support most of the summer while I tried to sell the Four Bells, and I made do for romance with various tricks. When the house sold in September, an era ended. Guy and I said our goodbyes at my train in Union Station, and I moved to New York to become a new persona.

Okay, what’s the lesson here? I suspect it’s simply about needing to create one’s own unique identity–because that’s exactly what I did–as a GAY GEISHA. In New York I’d have to do that all over again.

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