For photos of this period, click here.
July, 1970—May, 1972
That’s when I shifted into the next persona called the Hippie Poet, though you could well add Slut to that title. In line for its own memoir, this brief two-year incarnation was jam-packed with romance, passion, drama, angst, and assorted idiocies. I’ll try to say just enough about it to whet your appetite for the eventual book. My apologies if it reads like a list of conquests.
Back in Brown Deer with silly Walter, I was a free man, and without desperation, I went out the next few evenings 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, security cop work, and walking Walter, 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 so I could show it off. Since Ken 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. We didn’t descend to accusations or imprecations, both apparently accepting the inevitable step. 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 Belleview only a few blocks from my office and enjoyed my first private space since Little Sweden 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. In my ballet debut, I stood around dressed as a villager and watched my beloved dance. I particularly swooned in the czardas.
An absolutely “Elvira Madigan” scenario (a movie then afoot), our love caused me spasms of poesy, later collected as “Autumn Dances”.
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. So I abandoned myself to a futile passion for an exquisite ecology student named Jim, quite the hippie with long hair. Totally smitten, I emulated him by wearing headbands too on my own way too long locks. In the meantime, I contented myself with love letters and calls to and from both Kenneths.
Among the amorous adventures you may have noticed precious little about the teaching, and much less about the dissertation. There isn’t a lot to say about the former, except that in a Comp Lit course (Russian Literature in Translation), I had around 90 students! On the dissertation I wasted no thought all that summer and school year.
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.
At the end of the term I went with Ken’s brother Gary to Florida for beach again, this time to Fort Lauderdale. At a bar one night a boy with dark hair and shining eyes nabbed me, and we danced to Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee.” I once remembered his name. We spent the night together in the station wagon out into the Everglades under black, feathery evergreens beside an even blacker tarn. We lay together in the back and talked about our poetry. He could recite his.
For the summer I moved in with a fun guy named Herman, a theater designer, in an apartment just across the street from my building at school. The other apartment mate was Maryann, a stylish blond lesbian I’d met in the bars. They had frequent loud parties full of straights and gays. I’d never experienced new-age debauchery before, and the ‘mixed’ crowd was a pleasure.
The couple classes I taught 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 hippie appearance 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 “One Day,” I wrote about “sitting on the lawn supposedly teaching,” commenting that I was ready to “truck it out of here.” In late August, since my teaching contract was up, I hopped in the welding rig and headed back to Ken in New Orleans.
We resumed our amorous relationship briefly, but soon it was clear that things weren’t the same. Part of it may have been that he didn’t appreciate my ‘hippie-ness’ very much, part perhaps my fickleness. Anyway, Ken had a cute blondish Cajun trick named Mike hanging around. Our symmetrical fellatio on the kitchen floor was something to behold. But Ken didn’t mind sharing.
He decided early in September to go to grad school at LSU in library science, not even asking if I’d come along. It never crossed my mind to do so. Instead, I hauled his stuff on my rig up to Baton Rouge. We didn’t say any goodbyes because we knew our hearts were brothers. (That tie remained over four decades until Ken’s death in 2012.)
Alone and aimless, I fell in with a curly-dark-headed kid named Scott, but after a week of carnal collaboration, he correctly concluded that I was only interested in him for the sex. When we parted ways, I started getting my life together again: got a haircut, rented a sweet place on upper Canal Street, enrolled in a business college to learn drafting, took a job as a credit card authorizer, left both drafting and authorizing within a month, and went back to being a cashier at Tulane’s Student Union. After seven years away, the irony didn’t escape me.
That fall and winter I hung around with a friend from college days named Lee. In November he got a role in a production of Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” and I landed one as the minor nobleman, Adrian. It was huge with all the minor roles rolled up into me, a hodge-podge, and quite comic.
I actually loved being a cashier again in my catbird seat among all the succulent students. It paid off one day in January when a cute Jewish kid named Steve came by my register. A senior and aspiring playwright, he had a piece to be staged in late March on campus. It was on a gay theme. I pounced. We shared ‘loverly’ weeks together and did Mardi Gras as Geoffrey Chaucer (Steve) and Cesare Borgia (me, though I was mistaken for Prince Charming).
At Steve’s urging, I made a call to my chairman and was encouraged strongly to get back to the dissertation. It wouldn’t be much more than the usual doctoral pernicious minutia. So I decided to be virtuous and go back to Michigan—after Mardi Gras. It should only take a couple months working with the committee. (Peripherally, a Tulane chum named Charles was moving to Ann Arbor for grad study in art history, and I could stay at his place.)
After Mardi Gras, I sublet my place, had a poetic parting with Steve, and took off in the Camaro for Ann Arbor, completing another circle in my life journey. The town was very different this time. Papa and Nana had moved to Durham, Barbara and everyone else were in Gainesville, and I was living in the gay household with Charles and his lover Ric.
Diving right into work on the dissertation, I occasionally went out at the old Flame bar but brought no one home. My romantic needs were largely fed by long calls with my dramaturge and heavy-duty romantic letters. On his spring break, Steve flew up to visit me, and we took off in the Camaro for Stony Brook in New York where he’d been accepted for grad school (as well as by Chapel Hill). He hoped I’d move with him, but I wouldn’t commit.
At a dinner at the house, I met a black-haired fellow named Don, who worked in development for the university, a couple years older, and quite attractive (in spite of the fact that he looked uncannily like my father as a young man). For the few weeks through my landmark 30th birthday, I helped my paramour develop new skills. Around the same time, needing to make a little money, I briefly worked as a cook in a nursing home. I don’t talk about that much.
I drove myself to finish this fourth dissertation by early May and took it in to my advisor—who wasn’t there—he’d left a couple days before for the summer in Vienna! (We’d been seeing each other regularly twice a week, and he’d never breathed a word about…) Irate, all I could do was send it to him and accept that there’d be no degree this term either.
Back at Charles’ house from the Post Office, the phone rang—it was Mother! She and Bill had gotten back to New Orleans from Spain a few days ago and were staying with friend Lee. The next day Bill took a cab for an appointment in Gretna—and never came back! Mother was there with just her suitcase and had found her bank account was empty. The next morning I hopped back in the Camaro and took off south. Rather a lot to happen in less than 24 hours.
Home again in New Orleans, I kicked the guy out of my Canal Street apartment, installed Mother in it, and gave her back the Camaro. 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.