My new online friend Walter recently posted about his basically traumatic “coming out” experience and made me realize that I had sunken that piece of my history in my novel and memoir, which so few folks will ever read. So I’m going to follow his suit and give you the following brief narrative of my deflowering.
In the upside down year of 1961, there I was: 19 years young and a student at wonderful Tulane University in incredible New Orleans, but—to my immense regret—with my cherry still intact. In fact, my cherry was not only intact but immaculate and overly ripe. I was getting sick and tired of the whole boring condition.
During my freshman year I’d gotten to know a guy down the hall in my dorm. David was a good-looking blond kid from Houston, who let me in on the secret that he was “gay” and introduced me to his lover Paul, a florist. Once they invited me to dinner at Paul’s apartment in the Garden District along with some other gay guys. They all seemed so normal except for calling each other ‘dear’ and ‘sweetheart’ a lot.
The concept of two guys loving each other was utterly new to me, though not particularly disturbing. Telling myself to be open-minded about it, I recalled the confusing love I’d felt for my best friend in high school. After the party, reasoning it through as logically as I could, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I too must be gay. Suddenly I appreciated all the cute guys around campus with different eyes.
After some months of waiting impatiently for true love to find me, my newly awakened longings soon became torments. Soon, I told myself, soon I will meet a beautiful boy, fall in love, and kiss him. The fantasy played like a rock and roll romance. Many were the imagined scenarios I spun around naked guys in the showers and infatuations with angelic classmates, but all spring semester and into summer school, no beautiful boy ever showed up to love me.
One Wednesday evening late in sweltering June, I went with my roommate Roger and a couple other dorm guys to see Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Virgin Spring.” It was traumatic for a sensitive college student like me, and the brutal images of the rape of that young girl haunted me on the sidewalk back to our dorm. My friends were all quiet too. Riding up in the elevator with them, I finally decided emphatically that I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore.
Once back in our double dorm room, Roger immediately went about his mathematical studies, which consisted of playing solitaire. I showered, shaved, and put on my green corduroy jeans and fancy blue nylon shirt. This was as fashionable as a country boy could manage. Without looking up from his cards, Roger asked, “Got a date?”
“Maybe,” I replied mysteriously and left.
I already knew where to meet somebody. David and Paul had once taken me into the wicked French Quarter to a dark little bar on St. Peter St. called the Gaslight Inn. (One of the most marvelous things about New Orleans back then was that the legal drinking age was 18!) So I hopped on the Freret bus to Canal Street, intent on finding a guy to cure my acute virginity problem. Walking into the Quarter down noisy Bourbon Street through the jostling crowds and ignoring brief glimpses of bare, gyrating dancers in the strip joints, I felt my whole world turning upside down. I was stepping off into the unknown, and it was exhilarating.
The Gaslight Inn was nestled right next door to the bustling collegiate bar Pat O’Brien’s. When there before with David and Paul, I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be not at all intimidating. The strangest thing had been a Hawaiian boy called Pineapple, who looked and talked just like a girl. After a moment’s trepidation, I walked alone into the bar.
It was dark and full of smoke with men milling about. No Pineapple. How very dashing I felt walking right up to the bar and ordering a vodka and tonic. Without looking directly at anyone, I took my drink over to a stool along the wall under the window—with no idea of what to do next. Even though I was a nice looking kid with a good build and big blue eyes, no one seemed to be paying any attention to me.
Maybe I should just watch for someone attractive, I reasoned, and go up and introduce myself. No, that’s too forward—and too embarrassing. It’s not very easy to see anyone in the dimness anyway. By the time I’d finished my drink, my courage was definitely flagging, and I thought sadly of heading on back home to the dorm.
“Need another drink?” a voice asked from my blind side. I turned to find a young man in the shadows, smiling at me. “What was it?” the fellow asked, taking my glass.
“Vodka and tonic,” I managed to remember. He went off to the bar before I could really make out what he looked like. Probably just a waiter pushing drinks, I figured.
Soon he returned with a drink in each hand. Apparently he wasn’t a waiter. Now I could see that he was pleasantly good looking, with dark hair in a crew cut. After a polite thanks for the drink, I hadn’t a clue what to say.
In my silence, he said, “My name is Harry.”
Actually, I hadn’t thought about having to identify myself. Not to give out my name in a gay bar, I lied, “I’m Roger.” Meanwhile, I looked Harry over some more: fairly tall, grey-green eyes, older—at least in his mid-20’s. My next lie was that I was visiting my aunt here in New Orleans and lived out in the woods in Mississippi. With that basic adjustment, I told him about things from back when I was a kid in Arkansas. Harry told me he worked in an insurance office and used to live in Pensacola on the beach.
At his insistence, we each had another drink. I was already feeling a buzz. We engaged in further pleasant conversation, but it didn’t look to me like Harry was interested in me romantically. And while I liked his company, there wasn’t that crazy kind of desire I’d felt for certain gorgeous guys at school. I started to feel a little put out. All this talking had kept me from watching out for a pretty boy. I began to have more disconsolate thoughts about going home. Can’t catch a fish every time you go fishing.
Then Harry asked, “Can I take you home with me, Roger?”
Taken aback by the strange name and surprised to have come so suddenly upon this Rubicon, I forced back the fear and said, “Yeah, that would be nice.”
“Then let’s go!” Harry left his half-finished drink on the windowsill and pulled me by the hand. I followed him out the door onto crowded St. Peter, not even checking if anybody at Pat O’Brien’s might have seen me coming out of that shady little place.
Amidst the slumber of the late-night city, all was quiet, candlelit amber and cool in Harry’s apartment at the Claiborne Towers. The room was full of plants with only a low light in one corner. I lay naked on the sheets beside Harry, by no means asleep. He was definitely dozing, draped over my arm. I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt I really had to go home to the dorm—it must have been 3 or 4 o’clock, but I had no desire to move. The warmth of Harry touching my shoulder and thigh was so new and delicious. Finally, I’d tasted a man’s body, smelled his cinnamon fragrance, and it was far better than I could ever have imagined.
It had been nothing at all like the struggle and violence in that disturbing movie. Funny how easy everything was when I’d worried so much about what to do. Like a bumpkin at a banquet, I’d simply done whatever Harry did—which meant a lot of incredible caresses on tender, secret places I’d never touched before. All that symmetry naturally led to the infamous sixty-nine position. I must have done it right because we came together, and I didn’t even choke. Stunning, the sheer reality of sucking on a guy’s cock.
I was glad, too, that there hadn’t been any kissing. Kissing is something for being in love, I figured, and all this with Harry was simply sex. Still, he’d been tender, and so I was too. Now I felt so amazingly happy having this wonderful connection with another guy and holding him close. After a bit, Harry awoke, and I said, “I’ve got to go home. My aunt expects me back.”
Harry didn’t protest, probably used to strange boys leaving in the night. I got up on the window side of the bed. The man still lay there, lithe in the shadows and amber light, the plants vague, soft masses of light and dark around him. There was a tiny glint in his eye as I stood there naked—oddly without shyness. “Roger, you sure are hot!” he sighed.
Embarrassed by his compliment, I dressed while Harry watched me from the bed with appreciative smiles. I wondered about telling him that this was my very first time. Tying my second shoe, I decided not to. Better just a pleasant goodbye, I decided, and drift out into the night like all the other boys who must have been hot in his bed before me.
While Harry still lay there naked, I gave him a friendly handshake and let myself out the door. Out in the hallway, I chortled to myself, Well, that was that—another virginity nicely disposed of in the Claiborne Towers.
After Harry’s great air-conditioning, outside on the street the New Orleans night startled me with its sultriness. On the empty early-morning bus I dozed contentedly in the heat until my stop at school. Only when stumbling down McAlister Drive did the full import of it strike me right between the eyes with a blow of wonder and happiness. No longer a virgin! I rejoiced. That painful, troublesome barrier is now behind me!”
As I tiptoed into our dorm room, the real Roger rolled over on his side in his narrow bed, waking enough to mumble, “What you been doing?”
Walking out of my clothes on the way from the door, I answered, “Got laid.” Then I crawled into the sack, and there wasn’t another peep from the miserable virgin.
I never saw Harry again, nor did I ever go back to the Gaslight Inn—largely because it closed down soon after. Instead I went out to Dixie’s Bar of Music on the opposite corner of Bourbon and St. Peter or hung out in the Latin and Greek sailor dives on Decatur Street, where my carousing was a depraved combination of Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita” and the novels of Jean Genet.