Published electronically, 2020-22
Catalogue as: gay memoir
Without planning to, most of what I’ve written has followed the dictum to write about what I know about. There have been a few exceptions, like my plays SOLDIER BOYS, THE SPECIAL CASE, and SPOILS, but the rest has been about what I know best, my gay life. My innocent childhood is reflected in the biography MS. YVONNE, THE SECRET LIFE OF MY MOTHER; my unconscious adolescence is the subject of an autobiographical novella (semi-fiction), called BAT IN A WHIRLWIND; and my dissolute gay youth is covered in lurid detail in an autobiographical novel (more semi-fiction), called DIVINE DEBAUCH.
My first real memoir entitled THERE WAS A SHIP (one might call it semi-nonfiction), recalls two crucial years (1964-66) when a young gay slut fell dramatically from faerie grace and wound up climbing back into the closet. It’s a cautionary tale for young folks, gay or straight, and a fairly sobering picture of homophobic Middle America. That distant time wasn’t at all like the LGBTQIA++ ambiance of today. Read it and give thanks, ye youngsters! And ye oldsters, read it and cringe at how oppressive it was.
The second memoir LORD WIND (full-blown nonfiction) recalls another two crucial years (1970-72), when after five years of wedded fatherhood, I came back out again, this time into a new age of gay culture. Bewildered, I simply went with the lascivious flow, going whither the wind blew—to some interesting places and delightful lovers. It took me those two whole years to take charge of my life and try to become a mature gay man. Read it and be glad for me.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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INTRODUCTION 1 (see below)
Chapter 1: CHEZ CHAS 2 – in which I move to DC, discover Victorian houses, take up with a gypsy, ride out Hurricane Agnes, and land a job at the Library of Congress.
Chapter 2: CHEZ GEORGE 11 -in which I house-sit, learn Romanian and Bulgarian, send old lovers packing (or not), get (and lose) a pet to a cat, and laugh myself sick in the back yard.
Chapter 3: MY OWN PLACES 20 – in which I move in with a marine, grow a big mustache, meet a lover, reunite with Charles, paint a mural, and move to Independence Avenue.
Chapter 4: SURPRISES 29 – in which I meet a mad Pole, report to the CIA, have a dalliance on Amtrak, meet a Russian prince and bed an African one, and find a house to buy.
Chapter 5: THE NEIGHBORHOOD 38 – in which I explore Logan Circle, witness a shooting, meet other urban pioneer neighbors, get seduced by one, and wipe out at Rehoboth Beach.
Chapter 6: COURTING IN THE CASTLE 47 – in which my Ken moves to DC, I become a salvager, save a historic building, welcome a third princess, and take another stab at dissertation.
Chapter 7: FREE AT LAST 56 – in which I give private tours of Rex begonias, have adventures in salvaging, bed a shoe salesman, pick up a fourth princess, and kiss off my dissertation.
Chapter 8: CAREER MOVES 65 – in which I resign my job, enjoy being out of work, get a gig as an extra in an opera at Wolf Trap, watch my cannon catch fire, and become a waiter.
Chapter 9: ADVENTURES IN WAITING 74 – in which I get into an Italian menu, find another princess, cope with Persian barbarians, mask as the Minotaur, admire Mark, and visit my Kenny.
Chapter 10: PASSING GLORY 83 – in which I envision a restaurant, coach a chorale to sing Russian, interpret for Kabalevsky, start a garden, and get a gig with the Bolshoi Opera.
Chapter 11: A LIFE OF ART 92 – in which I do Arkansas, New Orleans, and Florida, serve an insane diner, fall for Anthony, woo a Cambodian, lay a real artist, and do family holidays.
Chapter 12: SHAMELESS 101 – in which I aspire to art, paint a mural, meet a Panamaniac, babysit for a honeymoon, tantalize an adolescent, and watch the Bicentennial fireworks.
Chapter 13: REALITY THEATER 110 – in which I take a desk job, learn to write shorthand, fall in love with a war hero, and stage some reality theater in Santa Fe.
Chapter 14: PATH TO GRACE 121 – in which I juggle two lovers with amorous guests, raise a roof, welcome a new princess, and attend a birthday party, wedding, and costume ball.
Chapter 15: BRUSHES WITH FAME 130 – in which I learn demolition, visit King Tut, overlook obesity, cure a virginity, visit my Kenny again, overlook age, and entertain gay celebrities.
Chapter 16: NO WARNINGS 139 – in which I decline a job, flog artistic inspirations, get a commission, suffer car trauma, go into the plant business, and watch a fire next door.
Chapter 17: BUSHY-TAILED 148 – in which I translate an opera, lose a lover, go to Santa Fe, misbehave with a cellist, pick up a traveler, and witness Charles lose his grip on reality.
Chapter 18: WELCOME BED-FELLOWS 158 – in which I suffer a psychic attack, see a ghost, connect with a new lover, put a crown on the house, and enjoy a reprise of lost love.
Chapter 19: THE JUNGLE QUEEN 167 – in which I help a boy be a girl, return to Santa Fe, meet yet another new lover, and find fame and sex in Toronto but only fame in Ottawa.
Chapter 20: IN THE SWEET SUMMER 178 – in which I play boss, am a big shot’s mistress, do Santa Fe again (and Utah), entertain family, and hear an echo of fame in Detroit.
Chapter 21: FLOWER-FRIENDS 187 – in which a love affair staggers through a long finale, and I enjoy a great western vacation, a long hike, and a rainy camping trip.
Chapter 22: COMING UP ON A CUSP 198 – in which a new affair blossoms, Charles finally falls apart, and I disagree with the Pope, flee from Bali Hai, and appreciate the permanence of family.
Chapter 23: REAL LOVING 207 – in which I go often to the Big Apple, decide to change jobs and sell the Four Bells, and meet a guy with a problem of some magnitude.
Chapter 24: WITHOUT LOOKING BACK 216 – in which I explore Ohio, see Charles off to CA, do brisk geisha business in Santa Fe, hike in the Grand Canyon again, and move to New York.
Chapter 25: EPILOGUE 226 – in which I comment on the few characters still alive and on the fates of the myriad actors in this memoir who left the stage.
This, my third memoir, again purely nonfiction, is in fact the sixth volume about temps perdus in my blessedly long life. Covering what I call the Golden Age of Gay Liberation in the 1970s in Washington DC, its subject is very important for gay history, but I sorely regret that the vast majority of the beloved personalities in its dramas have now left the stage. Many have been snatched away by the AIDS plague, and other lives have been cut short by wicked diseases, tragic accidents or implacable old age.
I’m apparently one of the very few characters left standing onstage, and I feel it my elder’s duty to recall that gilded age of gay life. My grandchildren’s and children’s generations are too young to remember that glorious time. If no one remembers it, history might as well have never even happened.
This third memoir will relate eight years (1972-80) of the gay efflorescence in Washington DC when we gays enjoyed both a vibrant culture and an open and exhilarating society, albeit still second-class, on the national stage. This will mostly be about me, of course, but in large part also about my closest friend and associate Charles—who sadly can’t tell his story anymore. It will be about our building a stylish and notorious gay household—then in the 70s an up-and-coming social phenomenon in urban gay life.
My main concern is to portray the many wonderful characters as sharply and truly as I can, which will challenge me to be a lot more objective than I’ve often been. Since those dear people can’t tell their stories either, I’ll try to narrate the remarkable history we shared. I hope my performance won’t be to an empty house.
Wondering how to start, I dug into my archives of materials filed away nearly fifty years ago. I hoped to get a handle at least on the timeline and immediately discovered that my old brain had filed a memorable (though brief) love affair in a totally wrong timeslot. Also, I saw that the final events in my second memoir LORD WIND had really been more complex than I’d written. No matter.
Given the subjective nature of memory, whatever we remember is naturally going to be fiction to one degree or another. Maybe my massive files of objective evidence will help me figure out more of who I really was back then, rather than the idealized image I’ve been clinging to all these years. It’s hard to believe in my being as beautiful, intelligent, talented, charming, and seductive as I recall, but then maybe I actually was.
Leaving New Orleans in late May 1972 with friend Lee in his U-Haul truck, I may indeed have been all those neat things, but mostly I was a long-haired refugee from a failed teaching career and love affairs that lasted only as long as they could. In Washington DC I was going to start life anew, a brave and ultimately reasonable move for a gay guy just turned thirty.