For photos of this period, click here.
September, 1980—September, 1996
Once again, if you’ve come to this page thinking the title was a sexy come-on, you going to be disappointed. It’s a description of my so-called mature persona from ages 38 to 54, understandably with much less glitz and sizzle than my younger personas. Nevertheless, I believe it’s got some important gay historical relevance in the plague years.
My gentlemanly persona was hardly as lascivious as its earlier incarnations. Actually, the years up to January, 1983 were rather like a romantic prelude or overture to the next 13, which were definitely a horse of a different color. I’ve already considered the prelude period as a candidate for a fourth volume. (Darn it! I’m getting real old now, and these memoir things take a lot of time to write!) That being the case, I’ll try to keep it brief.
My new job sucked me into the weird world of Manhattan, where I lived as alone as I’ve ever been in the apartment of a conductor friend frequently out of town (an earlier guest at the Four Belles). It was on W. 72nd just off CPW, in the ritzy Oliver Cromwell, and I worked across the Park on E. 65th. Running every evening in Central Park was just icing on the cake. I loosed my artistic self and dabbled in clay. In December I made my debut appearance on Broadway as a mute Cardinal in Lalo’s “Le Roi d’Ys” (New York Lyric Opera, Beacon Theatre). Then for mad months I wrote on a play/libretto then called “Octoroon” (but after several revisions it is now “Soldier Boys.”
When the office moved to Santa Fe for the 1981 summer season of operas, within days I met a young New Mexican guy named Ernesto. He was everything that attracted me to Latino boys, just what I had always wanted–ever since my Guatemalan Rudy. Within even fewer days, we were living together in my casita in Tesuque. After the summer he went back to New York with me to the apartment in the tower.
By then I’d decided to leave the job. I couldn’t stand all the moving back and forth like a gypsy. So I (that should be we now) left in December and went to Denver for a job at the Central City Opera House Association (as assistant to the artistic director). Right away I bought a little Queen Anne house on Ogden Street for us to settle down in and started work on restoring it.
It couldn’t have been more than three months into 1982 when that company had to close down for lack of finances, and I worked for a couple more months on the closing, briefly serving as the manager of the entire Victorian town of Central City. Job search was fruitless being a male looking for an arts job in a female culture. So I did many things (like house-painting, roofing…) to pay the Ogden mortgage, as well as for restoration work needed to sell the dear place. In that difficult time, we famously took part in Denver’s Gay Freedom march and rally:
The house sold in December, 1982, and since we could go anywhere we wanted, Ernesto and I fled (through a hideous blizzard on Wolf Creek Pass) on a long driving trip to scout out possible new homes. Our route took us through Santa Fe and then New Orleans to see Mother of course, to Gainesville in January, 1983 for a visit with the family, and to Key West for a visit with my sweet Milwaukee ephebe Roy, now a mature meteorologist. That was where and when Ernesto suddenly decided to leave me and go back home to Santa Fe.
So for the first time in my gay career, for about a year and a half, I’d enjoyed a real live-together lover, and we’d lived together as openly as any legitimately married straight couple. His leaving me was an emphatic end to this first stage of my mature gay gentleman persona, essentially another divorce. That’s why I almost want to write a memoir of this tremendous love affair in the still unthreatened new era of gay freedom in the early 80s.
Horse of a Different Color
I was completely disoriented by Ernesto’s leaving me and wandered by default back to Gainesville, where I rented a comfy apartment and set to work maniacally on writing “Octoroon/Soldier Boys” again, while spending lots of time with the family. By now, Barbara had remarried and had a son by Jack, and my girls were naturally teenagers. I was now also disoriented by being over forty. Suddenly in late February Barbara and Jack’s marriage imploded.
I took another look at where my life was going as newly single, unemployed, and footloose and fled Gainesville and Barbara’s messy divorce, again basically by default going back to Santa Fe. Ernesto and I agreed to give the relationship another shot, and we rented a house along West Alameda, where we spent the next 11 years.
Finding another job wasn’t anywhere nearly as easy. After many part-time gigs, paying contracts with all kinds of arts organizations to do this and that, and volunteering for others, by later 1984 I finally landed a responsible, though not overly generous, position with a big regional arts organization, the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF). It was the main channel of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts for arts programming in the thirteen western states–including Alaska and Hawaii. I’d made it professionally for the foreseeable future.
Those years settled down with my “partner,” as we now called each other, were definitely a horse of a different color. To start with, the relationship was inherently dysfunctional. In the new partnership, to be frank, he chose to get back together again for the security I offered; I chose to be with him so as not to be alone. We were co-dependents, but at least civil to each other most of the time. Complicating the co-dependency was my getting Ernesto a job (for several years!) with WESTAF–and I was his boss. A gourmet ingredient in the recipe for connubial dysfunction.
Small wonder, although we slept in the same bed, that our sexual relationship soon went south. I kept hoping he would find someone else–not even thinking about maybe doing that myself, now in my mid-forties. But we were both terribly constrained from even considering such endeavors by the new gay plague afoot–AIDS. Our chaste and mostly civil partnership was a splendid port in the storm, mercifully sparing our lives when all around us… Not only were we a dysfunctional couple, but we were literally imprisoned in our dysfunction by the dire epidemic.
Those years of steady job and mostly civil partner either prompted or allowed me to get creative. It was probably the acute dysfunction that goosed my Muse. Early on, I got some game ideas that went nowhere and by 1985 started writing about my childhood. Many years later that came together as my novel BAT IN A WHIRLWIND (2015). My exotic research on Indian mounds had started back in the late 70s, and by the later 80s was coming together for my first book, REMEMBER NATIVE AMERICA! (1992), including a couple years of doing artifact drawings for it. Before I’d even gotten the mounds out of my system, I discovered the fascinating Aztecs and put in more years of drawing my own version of their ceremonial calendar for my second book, CELEBRATE NATIVE AMERICA! (1993).
In addition my art projects, I found many artsy involvements around town, including arranging a series of artist workshops for the Chamber of Commerce and putting together the 1984 “New Discoveries” visual arts show for the now long-defunct Santa Fe Festival of the Arts. The next year I devoted several volunteer weeks to organizing the first AACT-Fest for community theaters around the state, three days of events at the Santa Fe Community Theatre.
With that entre to the Community Theatre, I served on their board and for several years in the later 80s and managed all their production print materials, which took an inordinate amount of time when all we had was what they called “desk-top publishing.” They were nice enough to give a staged reading of an early version of “Octoroon” in 1989 and produce two of my plays, the one-act “Special Case” and the short scene “Square Knot” in 1990.
In the early 90s I also piddled at some sculptures. One was a scandalous but no longer extant piece, “The Virgin Renewed”–with a nude photo of yours truly–for a shrine show coincidentally in the Aztec coffee house. Another I still have, a found object assemblage called “Bull of the Sun,” which showed at a Gay Pride exhibition. (I was to resume my sculpturing seriously later in my next persona.)
Life rolled along smoothly in its productive ruts until later ’94 when Ernesto and I split for good. Blessedly single again, I threw myself into the job and interests, definitely not looking for any new romance. In the midst of all this professional and artistic activity as I wrapped up my fifties, I managed to keep in (actually beautiful) physical shape, nearly as fine as in my thirties when I ran so much. When I’d come to Santa Fe at 40, unfortunately, my knees gave out, and I signed up at the Santa Fe Spa. All through my mature gentlemanly years I went there daily for a workout and sauna. If little else, I certainly have an addictive personality.
The Spa has stood me in good stead making me into a “buff stud,” if I do say so myself. Not that it made any difference either in my co-dependent partnership with Ernesto or in my own libido, which in spite of all the locker room nudity I thoroughly sublimated in my many creative interests. Of course, the locker room atmosphere was already tremendously low-key sexually in the face of the plague.
It was easy not to think about sex–except when some bare-bottomed archangel might momentarily light my fire. Between the troubling partnership, profession, creative interests, and the plague, I soon got used to, even comfortable with, being a non-sexual person. Sex ceased meaning much in my life–except to occasionally check that my equipment was still in working order. Maybe I was experiencing male menopause?
In my early sixties (’95 to be exact–on a newly single trip with some Spa buddies to Key West), I discovered that one no longer had to dance with a partner. Solo jigs like my beloved Greek dancing were now perfectly comme il faut. In my married years, the gay life in DC, and all my partnered years, I’d never known that. After so long making do with running and working out, I began dancing again, free-form disco cadenzas for a couple hours at a time in a series of dance bars. (Note the motto in the page-banner above.) Since that epiphany I’ve kept on dancing and stayed nearly beautiful as twenty years before–as shown in this almost revealing photo:
1996 at Caja de CundiyoThen in the spring of ’96 as a direct hit by Newt Gingrich’s Contract on America, my arts organization decided for financial reasons to fire all 21 of us professional staff members and move away to Denver. I kept working through that transition until September, when, unemployed once more at the tender age of 54, I waved goodbye to the moving truck.
So now I guess you want me to come up with a lesson I learned in this persona. That’s a big order. Maybe: Be careful what you ask for because you may get it. No, too cynical. Let’s say: If you’re doing something that doesn’t matter, find something else that does. As I’ve said before, we are what we do.