HIPPIE POET

For photos of this period, click here.

July, 1970—May, 1972

That’s when I shifted into the next persona I call the Hippie Poet, though you could well add Slut to that title.  This brief two-year incarnation, jam-packed with romance, passion, drama, angst, and assorted idiocies, is the subject of my memoir LORD WIND, the story of my second coming out.  To get you to read the book, I’ll try to keep this account of those two years simply titillating.

Back in Brown Deer, I was a free man, and without desperation, I went out to the familiar gay hangouts.  On the fourth evening in the Ten Hundred I met a tall guy named Ken with an angel’s innocent face and curly almost-blond hair, an out-of-work teacher.  We spent the glorious summer of 70 together, without a word of my joy finding its way to Barbara in my letters, of course.

As Ken’s and my relationship was an open one (no commitments needed from either side), I didn’t refrain from getting involved on the side with a lovely guy named Len.  Yeh, I know.   Swept up in the rush of two affairs, teaching, and security cop work, I stopped my journal in mid-August but at least wrote a few poems.

After the summer term, Ken and I drove to New Orleans.  Since he was looking for teaching work, I took him to St. Paul’s Academy in Covington, where my Christian Brother cousin was in charge, and I left him there with a job.  I drove solo back to Milwaukee fully convinced that even without a lover, I couldn’t go back to the marriage.

Turning right around, I drove to New York to pick up Barbara and the girls.  On the drive away in a low-key conversation in the front seat, I told Barbara I wouldn’t be taking them back to Milwaukee—but to Ann Arbor.  I’m sure she was stunned, but maybe not surprised.  I drove back to Milwaukee alone to prepare for the divorce and the new school year.

In the whirlwind of looking for an apartment, starting classes, writing love letters with Ken, and general confusion, somehow dear Len fell by the wayside.  I found a place in the Bellevue only a few blocks from my office and enjoyed my first private space since at Little Sweden in Seattle so long ago.

Then in the golden autumn I met a beautiful ballet dancer named Kenny.  Yeh, I know.  It was the ultra-romantic affair of the professor and artiste.  For some months we loved at full speed, knowing too well that it would end in January when he’d leave for New York to go to the American Ballet Theatre School.  He was in a big production of Delibes’ “Coppelia” downtown at Uihlein Hall and got me on as an extra.

Our love caused me spasms of poesy, later collected as “Autumn Dances”.

Richard Balthazar in December, 1970

With Kenny gone at the end of January, 1971, I was lonely, and a friend set me up to meet a sweet kid (just turned 18!) named Roy, a slender youth with freckles and reddish curls.  We quickly became an item.  Right around then I drove back to New Orleans to see Ken for Mardi Gras, and Kenny flew down from New York to join us.  I was a pink and white harlequin.  Back home again, Roy and I made a spring break trip together to Daytona Beach.

When we got back to Milwaukee, Roy needed an age-appropriate lover and went back to his youthful crowd.  After all I was an older man of 28.  Do I had to content myself with love letters and calls to and from both Kenneths.

In late spring I flew to New Orleans to pick up a car promised by my new stepfather, supposedly a yellow Corvette but actually a one-ton flatbed truck with a welding rig.  With it I helped Ken move from Covington to Gretna and then drove back to Milwaukee feeling quite the chic freak.

The couple classes I taught that summer usually met outdoors under a tree on campus across the street.  One was a lit class with talk about the Russian revolution and parallels with our currently dawning “Age of Aquarius,” which of course evoked great conversations and enhanced my reputation as a hippie prof.  However, my increasingly hippie look apparently wasn’t all that attractive in the bars because I had minimal success in sexual hunting and gathering.

That summer I actually got a few poems published in a poetry chapbook called “The Bummer” (No. 4), which added to my avante garde artistic persona.  In late August, since my teaching contract was up, I hopped into the freaky welding rig and headed back to Ken in New Orleans.

We resumed our love affair, but soon it was clear that things weren’t the same.  Also, Ken had a cute blondish Cajun trick named Donnie hanging around, and a splendid triangle developed.  But then Ken decided early in September to go to grad school at LSU in library science. I didn’t go with him, but I hauled his stuff on my rig up to Baton Rouge.  We didn’t say any goodbyes because we knew our hearts were brothers.

Alone and aimless, I fell in with a curly-dark-headed kid named Scott, but after a week of carnal celebration, he correctly concluded that I was only interested in him for the sex.  After he kicked me out, I tried to get my life together again:  got a haircut, rented a sweet place on upper Canal Street, worked a couple make-shift jobs, acted a role in Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” and essentially changed my whole attitude about sex.

After that fall of getting it together again, I went back to being a cashier at Tulane’s Student Union.  After seven years away with all that had happened to me in the interim, the irony didn’t escape me.  It paid off nicely when a cute Jewish playwright named Steve came by my register.  We shared some ‘loverly’ weeks together and did Mardi Gras together.  Then at his urging, though it separated us, I went back to Ann Arbor to finish the damned dissertation.

Living with my old Tulane chum Charles and his lover Ric, I dived right into work on the dissertation, only occasionally going out at the old Flame bar for a quick Coke. At dinner one evening at the house, I met a black-haired fellow named Don, quite dear and a couple years older, and for the few weeks through my landmark 30th birthday, I taught my frequent gentleman visitor new skills.

Ultimately, my work on this fourth dissertation came to nearly naught.  When I took the final copies to my advisor, I found that he’d just left for the summer in Vienna!  (We’d seen each other regularly twice a week, agreed on the schedule, and he’d never said anything…)  Irate, I sent it off to him in Austria.

Back at Charles’ house I’d had a rare phone call from my mother.  She and stepfather Bill had come back a few days before to New Orleans from abroad and were staying with our friend Lee.  The next day Bill took a cab for an appointment in Gretna and never came back!  There Mother was with just her suitcase and her bank account emptied out.  I hopped right in the Camaro (Mother’s car) and headed south.

Back in New Orleans, I kicked out the guy subletting my Canal Street apartment, installed Mother in it, and gave her back her car.  Meanwhile, Lee was packing a U-Haul to move to Washington DC.  I thought for maybe two seconds about his invitation and agreed to go along.

A dramatic moment of transition if there ever was one.  Writing LORD WIND about this Hippie Poet persona made me understand perfectly its lessons:  You’ve simply got to take charge of your own life.  And sex isn’t all that important.  Rather than the physical, it’s the mind-connection that really matters.

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