Monday, May 31, 2010

Straight Jeff

After my little gay experiment I focused on work. Work, work and more work. I needed the money. I needed to stay busy, too.

Microwave ovens had arrived in stores, including McAlpin's. Giant Amanas flew off the shelf at $1200 each. Since I was the only 40-hour person in the department, most the sales were mine.

Thinking I was good at selling high ticket items, they moved me to Electronics. I didn't know squat about the finer points of televisions and sound systems. The black and white television and 8-track stereo I had at home were barely even related to the high-end pieces on the show floor.

Jeff G. also worked in electronics. We used to go out to Smuggler's Inn, the Library Lounge or 2001--that giant club way out Richmond Road--to meet chicks. That's what you do when you're 21, straight and single.

Jeff lived alone. We talked about the high cost of having our own apartments. Since we got along so well, we decided to move into a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment at The Cloisters.

Our third-floor apartment overlooked Tates Creek Golf Course. The balcony was nice, unless the golf course was open. Errant balls hit our sliding glass door at least once or twice a week.

Jeff was not happy when he found out I was going to Johnny Angel's again. He said he could not and would not live with a gay guy. I vowed to do better and insisted I was straight.

Except of course, I wasn't. Jeff started driving around Johnny Angel's to see if my car was there. One night he came all the way upstairs to find me dancing with the Elite Fleet. He walked up, made sure I saw him, then left.

When I got home the deadbolt was locked and I couldn't get in. I pounded on the door for a while. The people across the hall were laughing and making jokes about the fags across the hall having a fight.

Since they were up, I figured what the heck and knocked on the door. A blond woman a few years older than me answered. She said her name was Patricia. I explained about the deadlock and asked to use her phone to call him.

Jeff let me in and told me he would be out by the end of the month. That gave me about a week to find a roommate. Damn!

Fate intervened. Linda was looking for a place to live. We'd worked together at Saint Joseph Hospital and ran around during the Kathy era. To this day she remains the best friend I ever had.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


If you're expecting graphic details about my first night with Michael and all the banging on the wall from Mrs. P, you won't get them here. I'm saving those details for the book. I haven't written it yet, but we all know it's coming.

I'll just say Michael and I fell head over heels. He took me to Johnny Angel's for my first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Holidays were always like homecoming because everyone home for the holidays needed to get out and decompress after a stressful day with the family.

Coming out is hard. My world turned upside down. Dizzying highs and gut-wrenching lows came in rapid succession. Trying to keep one leg firmly planted on boats going in different directions was ripping me apart and keeping me from moving forward.

The emotional hurricane was driven by opposing forces. Now in full panic mode, Mom pulled out all the stops to divert me from the path I was on. We fought to the point of tears weekly, if not daily for many, many months.

My new gay friends were an island of support in an otherwise stormy sea. They understood what I was going through and stood by me. Because he liked to feel needed almost as much as he liked to hear himself talk, Jeff was particularly helpful.

Sweet, beautiful Michael was sensitive, compassionate and extremely patient. My hurricane was his hurricane, too. He never complained and was always there.

An attack of appendicitis in January landed me back at Saint Joseph Hospital. I'd quit a few months earlier to work full-time at McAlpin's. After surgery I went to my parent's house to recuperate.

Michael came to see me every day. I can only imagine the looks he got from my family in that big fur coat of his. Aside from the coat, he looked butch enough. But once he opened his mouth the gig was up.

I needed to talk to someone. Mom suggested a priest. My friends told me to do it just to shut her up. The priest told me it was OK to be gay as long as I never acted on it.

So I didn't. Michael often spent the night on the sofa so we could still spend time together. No matter how much I begged and pleaded, he held me to my word.

I couldn't do it. Being gay was just too hard. When I told Michael about my decision, we cried together.

And then he left...

Saturday, May 29, 2010


The sound of ringing woke me up early the next day. Thinking Michael wasn't one to waste any time, I grabbed the phone and said hello. It was Mom.

She wanted to know exactly what I'd been doing at "that place" downtown. Someone who worked with my Aunt Mary had seen me at Johnny Angel's the night before. Aunt Mary had to call mother to let her know.

Thinking fast first thing in the morning is not my forte. Nor am I a very good liar. I told her the truth: I'd become friends with some gay guys at McAlpin's and gone out with them after work.

OK, so maybe it wasn't the whole truth. She suspected as much but took me at my word. I'm sure she kept the phone lines hot the rest of the day discussing the issue with my aunts and her friends.

I put a stack of albums on my console stereo and proceeded to straighten things up around the apartment. Apparently, the music was too loud as Mrs. P was banging on the wall. She banged on the wall any time she heard a peep out of me. Bitch.

Michael called as I was getting ready to go to work. He asked how things had gone with Jay. I laughed and said we probably wouldn't be going out again.

We chatted. He told me he worked in construction, carrying bricks to the guys who were teaching him the trade. That explained the tan, the big arms, and the beefy chest. After he finally asked I said going out with him after work would be great.

Michael knocked on my door at exactly 10. He was wearing the biggest fur coat I'd ever seen. It was real, too. He walked me to his late-model, cherry red Corvette convertible with a vanity plate that read: CRUISIN.

We had a blast at Johnny Angel's. Michael was a perfect gentleman. He had my full attention all night. We really hit it off.

Jay acted like nothing had happened the night before. No doubt he was used to reactions like mine. He thought we made a cute couple and was glad to have introduced us.

Jeff's reaction was lukewarm. I later found out he was pissed because Michael got to me first. Paul rolled his eyes and made some comment about me not wasting any time.

I begged to differ. Since Monday I'd been thinking about my life and come to see I had in fact always been gay. I felt like I'd wasted a lot of time.

Michael promised we'd make up for any lost time. His smile and that I was hoping he was right made me blush. We headed for the 'vette to go back to my apartment.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Teeny, Tiny, Little Jay

Johnny Angel's was more popular with straight Lexington in 1979 than at any time before or since. Disco was huge. Everything about Johnny Angel's made it THE place for clubbing among straight and gay trendanistas.

That night the place was packed. People stood four and five deep trying to catch the eye of a bartender to order a drink. As at work, Jay seemed to know everyone.

He introduced me to guys in a clique that came to be known as the Elite Fleet. We'd all attended high schools in Lexington. Lafayette and Henry Clay were very well represented. I was the only Creeker. Another guy went to Bryan Station.

The other big clique came up from Richmond. They had an equally obnoxious name I can no longer remember. The guys in both groups were a very pretty bunch of young men. Michael, from the Richmond group, was especially fine.

The biggest difference between being straight and gay, right off the bat, is that you know it when a guy thinks you're cute. Girls are subtle and coy about these things. They avoid eye contact, smile and look away quickly, or send a friend over to chat you up. Anything more direct and someone might think they're easy.

Guys don't care about being easy. In fact, that's the second big difference between being gay and being straight. If you're straight, she's supposed to say no. Without her, well, there's just nobody to say no.

Didn't take more than five minutes to feel like I was stuck with Jay. Some of the looks I was getting from Michael were enough to make me blush. He was one guy I definitely wanted to get to know better.

Jeff, a talented dancer, spent most of his time on the dance floor. He and several of the guys and girls he danced with had obviously put in some practice time. They were really good and often attracted onlookers.

Paul wasn't really into the disco scene. He was a type, and had a type. He wore skin-tight jeans, a t-shirt that was exactly too small, and boots at the bar. His type rarely appeared at bars like Johnny Angel's.

Other than Jeff and whoever he was twirling around, the rest of the Elite Fleet danced in a big group. Everyone had a cigarette in one hand, a cocktail in the other, and the ability to check themselves out as needed in one of the many mirrors on and around the dance floor. Michael danced next to me for most of the night.

Closing time came all too soon. We said our good-byes and headed back to Lamplighter. I had no idea of what lay ahead, but it was looking like me and Jay were going to make-out.

We did. Might know my first guy had the greatest need for masculine enhancement of any guy I've ever met to this day. It was tragic. I had to laugh which pretty much put an end to our date.

Just as well. Michael had my phone number. From the way he had looked at me, I was pretty sure he'd call.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


The guy I saw at Johnny Angel's worked in Fine China & Gifts at McAlpin's. We'd never worked together or run into each other after work. I didn't know his name.

Fine China & Gifts was just across from Housewares. The very next day he was also working. I waited for an opportunity to introduce myself.

He was about my height, but reed thin. He had a dark tan and brown hair with blond highlights. He smiled a lot and seemed to know everyone in the store.

I sidled over to the area of Housewares closest to where he was working. He hadn't noticed me and was paying no attention. Hmmmmmmm...what to do? Rearranging the cookware was clearly the shortest route to my goal. Banging pots and pans around definitely got his attention.

His name was Jay. After introductions I mentioned having seen him out the night before. He asked where that might have been and why I hadn't said hello.

Using what was soon to become a familiar euphemism, I told him it was "downtown." He was obviously having a great time with his friends. I couldn't possibly intrude.

Jay said he was out celebrating with his roommates. They had been classmates at Lafayette and just moved from their parents' houses to a three bedroom apartment. He invited me over to meet them after work.

They lived in the Lamplighter Apartments on Reynolds Road. I was a nervous wreck. Jay opened the door when I knocked, invited me in, and introduced me to his two roommates.

Paul looked like a Greek god. He was at least 6'4" with blond hair, gray-green eyes, and an aristocratic countenance. After a polite hello he withdrew to the dining room to continue what he was doing before my arrival.

Jeff had a great tan, sparkling green eyes, and great hair. He wore tight white terrycloth tennis shorts that barely covered his ass. He wore them to class, too. He wore them when we met for lunch at the student center a few weeks later.

We sat around the dining room table and talked. I explained about the previous night being my first visit to a gay bar and feeling like I was probably gay. Jeff proceeded to pepper me with questions about my family, my interests, and my likes and dislikes.

Jeff explained being gay wasn't really about sex. He could tell me one way or the other based on my responses to his many questions. Turns out, my affection for Broadway show tunes, Barbra Streisand, and white tennis shoes coupled with a period of fatness followed by rapid weight loss and the ability to dance meant I was, beyond any doubt, certifiably homosexual.

Jeff was sure of it. Jay was inclined to agree. Paul snorted in disgust, went to his room and closed the door.

Jay invited me to come with them to Johnny Angel's. Without hesitation I said I'd love to go. He said he'd drive and I could ride with him.

Guess you could call it my first date with a guy. I had no idea what to expect. I was excited and terrified at the same time. Turns out, both the excitement and the fear were totally unwarranted.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

That Fateful Night--Revisited

As a ward clerk my shift rotation meant I was off one weekend out of three. Lynne was a nurse assistant on another floor with the same rotation. We'd gone to high school together, had a lot of mutual friends and often got together on our days off.

About a year after Sheila broke me in, Lynne and I were off work. We'd had a rough week and wanted to go dancing. But being a Monday, every club in town was dead.

Lynne suggested we go to the gay bar where the dance floor was always hopping. I absolutely did not want to go. But Lynne begged and pleaded and promised we would leave if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. I finally agreed.

That I might be gay still had not occurred to me. Gay people were either pedophiles (i.e., my scoutmaster or the manager at the movie theater), flaming queens or perverts. I was none of these things, therefore, I was not gay.

Besides, I thoroughly enjoyed sex with women. With a continuous string of girlfriends dating back to the fourth grade, how could I be gay? It just wasn't possible.

Rather than gay or bi or straight, I preferred to think of myself as honest. Surely every man in America sometimes wondered how an attractive male friend or coworker would look naked. I was just honest enough to admit it. Right?

The gay bar in Lexington had been in the same location for decades under many different names. It was Johnny Angel's then, and more popular than any time before or since. The location operates as The Bar Complex today.

We presented our IDs, paid the cover charge and started up the big spiral staircase to the disco. The thump of the base hit your ears long before the music. Through a brick arch at the top of the stairs was a huge marble bar with mirrors behind it. Reflected in the mirrors was the dance floor. My heart was in my throat.

Nothing in my life had prepared me for what I saw on the dance floor. There were a couple of drag queens, and some other straight people, but the overwhelming majority were guys around my age. More than a couple were downright cute! I was shocked, speechless, and absolutely certain I was gay.

I kept my eyes on Lynne, avoiding any possible eye contact with any of the cute boys dancing all around me and danced like I had never danced before. My mind raced as the implications of my new awareness sunk in. I was gay.

Was I ashamed or mortified or suicidal? Not at all. I was excited, curious, and oddly at peace. Everything made sense now. At long last I'd found a label that fit.

I noticed a coworker from McAlpin's across the dance floor. He was dancing in a circle with a group I believed to be the cutest guys in the bar. I didn't know his name, but vowed to meet him the next time we worked together. I did, too.

Monday, May 24, 2010


And so, at last, we come to Sheila. Chronologically we were close to the same age. I may even have been a year or two older. But in terms of life experience, Sheila was two or three times my age.

Sheila was divorced and had a kid I never met. She worked as a nurse assistant and lived at home with her mother, a little black cock-a-poo, and her younger brother in a house just off North Broadway. The brother was still in high school--Bryan Station, where Sheila had graduated.

We started going out. Turns out we had absolutely nothing in common and even less to talk about. Sheila lived in the real world with duties and responsibilities. I was footloose and fancy free. But hey, we got along and she thought I was cute.

Mom didn't care for her--at all. Dad thought Sheila was cute. They both thought she was a little trashy. I suspect the divorced thing put them off. Lord knows it couldn't have been her frosted hair, sky blue eye shadow or frosted-pink lipstick.

Dating a divorced woman really ratcheted up expectations. Faking experience would be impossible. She'd done it before...lots of times...even had a kid. I figured honesty was the best policy. I confessed to being a virgin.

She told a friend, who told another friend. Before long everyone at Saint Joseph Hospital knew. I didn't know whether to be proud or embarrassed.

Connie was an African-American nursing assistant who worked on the same floor as Sheila. Connie enjoyed few things more than teasing me about my virginity. She said she'd break me in herself but thought a white girl should do the job since I was too delicate for the likes of her.

One night Sheila invited me inside after our night out. The dog greeted us at the door. Mom and little brother apparently slept elsewhere in the house. The kid was off with baby-daddy.

We were making out on the couch when Sheila said we needed to talk. She explained that as a former married lady, she had certain needs. Our heavy petting was making it harder rather than easier to live with those needs. We needed to do

Who was I to argue? She slipped out of her clothes, laid down on the living room floor and motioned for me to join her. I heard Mom snoring in the next room.

I slid down onto the floor and into her arms. We started kissing and somehow, she got me out of my clothes. Things were getting hot when I felt the dog licking my butt. Sheila put her hand over my mouth to quieten my scream and kicked the dog away.

Two minutes later it was over. Wouldn't have lasted that long but we got distracted fighting off the dog. Sex was good, and I liked it...a lot. Three minutes later, little brother came out of his bedroom and asked if we wanted to smoke a joint. We passed.

Over the next few weeks we had sex a lot. I remember one particularly wild night in a room so dark I still don't know for sure what happened. A few weeks later Sheila dumped me. She felt like I was only interested in sex.


Sunday, May 23, 2010


Margie was an x-ray technician at Saint Joseph Hospital. Her older sister, Linda, took care of me the night I got sick at the after-hours party. As is often the case with sisters, the two were as different as night and day.

Whereas Linda was generally the center of attention, Margie was intentionally understated and reserved. She had shoulder-length hair more auburn than red and wore little to no make-up. Rather than standing out in a crowd like her sister, Margie wanted to blend in.

We hit it off the minute we met and were soon dating. Her razor-sharp wit and dry sense of humor cracked me up. I've often thought Margie was the girl I would have been happiest marrying had I been straight. If a frog had wings...

One night we decided to take in a midnight movie at the brand new South Park multiplex theater. Already drunk, we went through the drive-through at the liquor store for cigarettes and a pint of bourbon to take into the movie with us. As I recall, we also got cups of ice and a coke. Those were the good-old days.

We chugged stiff drinks in the parking lot, stashed the rest of the pint in my coat and headed for the packed lobby. At the ticket counter I fumbled with my wallet for several minutes without success. Margie took the wallet from me and after struggling for another couple of minutes, handed it to the cashier. Here, you do it.

With tickets in hand we retreated to a quieter corner of the lobby to regroup before hitting the concession stand. True or not, I thought everyone was looking at us and said so. Margie said we should act normal and just wave. We waved like beauty queens on a parade float. No telling what people thought.

We both still lived at home when we started dating. I don't recall the particulars but somehow we were planning to spend a night together on the upcoming weekend. Without coming out and saying it, we both knew it was going to be "the" night.

While getting ready I discovered a tiny little crawling insect on me. After I started looking I found several more. What the hell? Mom!!!!

Mom quickly determined the problem was a raging case of crab lice. Honest, I must have acquired the nasty little buggers on a toilet seat or something. When I found out how they were typically transmitted, well...I was mortified.

I called my Doctor, got the Physician's Exchange and left a message. He called me back minutes later. I told him I had a bad case of crabs. He asked if they were more on the left side or the right. I said they appeared to be evenly distributed.

His questions led me to believe crabs were a lot more harmful than I knew. He asked if I was passing a lot of gas. I said no more than usual. Was I passing blood? No.

After I answered all his questions he said there wasn't anything he could do. If it got worse I should call him back and meet him at the emergency room. Huh? Once he realized we were never talking about cramps he quickly called in a prescription.

By then I was already supposed to be picking Margie up. I called to explain something had come up and I wasn't going to make it. She said she wasn't surprised and hung up on me.

After I left the hospital we lost touch. She called me out of the blue about 9 one night several years later to see if she could come by. I said yes and told her where I lived.

She knocked on the door about 15 minutes later. When I opened the door she started kissing me. Moments later she pushed me down on the couch and laid down on top of me to kiss me some more.

We ended up making out on the couch in the living room for a good hour or longer. She never said a word, and shut me up with more demanding kisses whenever I tried to talk. I had no idea what was going on and frequently said so.

Finally, she got up, straightened her clothes and said she had to go. I told her it was good to see her. She apologized. She'd been out drinking and dancing with friends and apparently become a little horny. She said I was the only guy she knew she trusted not to take advantage of the situation.

After she left I watched her walk across the parking lot. She turned and waved before getting into her car. I never saw her again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Boys of Crossroads Twin Cinemas

Mrs. King was a sexual predator. Unfortunately, she was not the first or even the second I encountered in my youth. Since we're on the subject of sexual predators I may as well tell you about Jim.

Jim was the manager of Crossroads Twin Cinemas. I'm guessing he was 40ish if not older. He wore a sports coat all the time and drove a big yellow car with a white top. He wanted to appear successful.

I worked at Scoop's, next door to Sir Pizza in the same shopping center. Jim popped in several times a week for a cone. He was friendly and very appreciative of the always prompt and efficient service I provided. Or so I thought.

He said I should work for him and asked how much they paid me. Scoop's had hired me away from Dipper Dan where I made $1.25 an hour with a whopping dollar an hour raise. Jim said he'd give me another dollar an hour raise to work for him.

Working at the movie theater was a big step up for a junior in high school. In addition to the pay increase, I could see movies for free with a date anywhere in Lexington. Welcome to the world of fringe benefits.

Jim played favorites like a virtuoso. Pets got more hours, the most desirable shifts, the best duties and cash bonuses. At least you always knew where you stood.

Whether they were needed or not, Jim was always hiring new ushers. With each new hire the hierarchy changed. The rest of us often got our hours cut to make room on the schedule for the new guy.

Jim was also skimming. Ticket sales were tracked by reporting the starting and ending numbers on the roll of paper tickets. Jim sold his own tickets and pocketed the proceeds. To keep us quiet he gave us cash bonuses.

Unless something really important was going on, you wanted to work Friday and Saturday nights. Because of midnight movies the shift was longer and you got more hours. But that was only part of the reason weekend shifts were so popular.

Jim kept a case or two of beer in the bottom of the ice machine. We couldn't start drinking until we closed the concession stand after the last movie started. The second it did the party was on.

Once the concession stand was clean the girls were dismissed. Pets stayed with Jim to close things up. He had an 8mm projector and a diverse collection of dirty movies in his office. He and his pet(s) watched porn on the closed door to his office while they waited for the last movie to end.

Jim liked me but I never reached the highest tier. I wasn't his type. I knew about the 8mm projector and the porn but was never invited to watch. Fine by me.

Eventually he left me or another trusted employee alone at the theater while he and his current pet took the cash bag to the overnight deposit at the bank across the street. They were often gone an hour or longer.

Years later I sometimes saw him cruising the block around the gay bar. He had the same car so I know it was him. The street hustlers all waved in a friendly way as he drove by, like they knew him well.

Unlike my scoutmaster and Mrs. King, Jim was careful. I never heard a word about him touching or trying to touch anyone. Maybe he never did. Anything is possible.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Department Store Cougars

Compared with the near frantic pace of the hospital, my part-time job at McAlpin's in Turfland Mall was a walk in the park. Here, too, single women out-numbered available men by a hefty margin. Just my luck.

Mrs. King, the director of personnel, looked like a cheap version of Elizabeth Taylor--in her heavier years, with brown eyes instead of violet. She always wore mules with a 2 or 3 inch heel--what I think of today when anyone mentions F*ck-me Pumps. I thought she was pretty and very nice.

I'm guessing she was in her 40s. She had died-black, permed hair and wore make-up like you only see on those women in white coats who do make-overs in upscale department stores. She was the first person I ever knew up-close-and-personal to wear false eyelashes.

Mrs. King liked me. Rumor had it she put me in housewares because it was the closest department to her office. I do remember she stopped to talk to me a lot and that I was getting nice little raises every few weeks.

Wasn't long before she started calling me at 2 or 3 in the morning. I had to get up at 6 to be at the hospital by 7 to work my shift. She'd be so drunk it was hard to understand what she was saying.

The late night calls continued for a long time. At first she just talked about being lonely. She wanted me to come over to her apartment, for a drink--so we could talk. I always said no.

She'd cry and beg and plead in a shameless manner. I felt sorry for her. Eventually she'd get mad and hang up on me. Sleep at last.

Over time the calls came more frequently. Sometimes she called several times in the same night. She told me she loved me because I reminded her of her deceased brother.

Then she started telling me how much she needed me. She'd go on at length about what she'd like to do to me. I was in way over my head with no idea what to do.

The calls got even worse. After months of turning her down she started asking if I was gay. Turns out, her brother was gay. "You can tell me" she said. I still didn't know myself so how could I tell her?

I never brought up the calls at work and neither did Mrs. King. Raises and promotions continued to come my way. They moved me to electronics so I could increase my pay with commissions. People started talking with me about the manager training program.

Pixie took me under her wing to show me the ropes. She was a department manager and Mrs. King's much-younger best friend. She was an outrageous flirt and beautiful, with stunning green eyes, olive skin and wavy-brown hair.

One Saturday when I got off at 5 I discovered my car had a flat tire. Mrs. King and Pixie were leaving and saw me standing in the rain looking at the flat tire. They asked me to come have a drink with them until it stopped raining enough to change the tire.

We went across the street to the lounge at the Springs Hotel and ordered drinks. We sat around a small, cocktail table covered with a linen tablecloth talking and enjoying our cocktails. We had the place to ourselves.

Several rounds later I felt a hand caressing my thigh. It was Mrs. King. Uh oh.

Minutes later I feel Pixie's hand moving up my other thigh. Oh shit. This was getting awkward and uncomfortable.

I stood up abruptly and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I called Dad from a pay phone in the lobby and asked if he would pick me up. Are you in trouble? Well...

After I explained he laughed. He was still laughing when he picked me up about 15 minutes later. We changed the tire and I went home to my apartment.

The calls stopped. The next time I came in to work I had been transferred from electronics to lawn and garden--the farthest department from Mrs. King's office. I was fired on the spot a few weeks later for mouthing off to the general manager.

Over the years I ran into other guys who had similar experiences with Mrs. King. I wonder how many more there were. If I knew then what I know now...I would have sued. Pretty sure I would have either won the case or received a nice settlement.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Before we continue, I need to back up. You need to know about Vicki--the first girl I almost married. I worked at the movie theater when we met and was still dating her when Saint Joseph Hospital hired me.

Vicki graduated from Sacred Heart and still had a boyfriend back home in Louisville at Bellarmine College. From the start she was clear they planned to marry. Fine with me. Marriage was the last thing on my mind.

Petite with an almost boyish, athletic figure, Vicki had a blond Dorothy Hamil pageboy and a long, thin face. She wasn't a flashy dresser and paid no attention to what everyone else was wearing. I always blamed a lifetime of Catholic school uniforms for her lack of style.

We met through the Honor's Program at the University of Kentucky. She had a full scholarship to pharmacy school from a big drugstore chain and worked part time at stores in Louisville and Lexington while she was in school. In return, she promised to work for the company for so many years after she graduated.

Guys could come into the lobby of Donovan Hall any time, but were only allowed up in the rooms between certain hours on specific days. If you went up to the room you had to sign-in and out. Since Vicki's roommate had absolutely no social life and was always in the room, I didn't go up very often.

I still lived at home. While allegedly watching television, we made-out on the sofa in the basement once in a while. Mostly we made-out in movie theaters or in my car.

We thought we'd found the perfect place to park and climbed into the rear of my Vega hatchback to enjoy some much-anticipated privacy. We were shocked to find out we weren't the first to think of parking at Shillito Park. Who knew cops would actually sneak up and shine big flashlights in your car?

In the beginning Vicki went home every other weekend. Before long she was skipping weekends in Louisville to do stuff with me in Lexington. Then she took me to Louisville to meet her parents. Things were getting serious.

Mother loved her. So did everyone else. She was cute, outgoing, smart, ambitious and most important (at least as far as Mother was concerned), Catholic. Having a pharmacist in the family was just icing on the cake.

I knew all about Mr. Boyfriend-in-Louisville from the start. He didn't know about me for quite a while. Vicki came clean and told him all about me over Christmas break. For a while I lived in fear certain he would surely come to Lexington to beat me up or worse.

Even so, unless one of us was working or out of town, we spent every waking moment together. She told me the boyfriend was safe, secure, familiar and predictable. She thought I was wild, exotic, totally unpredictable and for that reason, exciting but more than a little scary.

We went out to celebrate my 20th birthday. Vicki showered me with gifts, including several 8-track tapes of my favorite groups (Journey & Queen) and bought me dinner. But the big gift was announcing that she and the Mr. Boyfriend-in-Louisville had split up. She was all mine.

If they planned to marry and she was ditching him for me, could only mean one thing. Vicki was throwing caution to the wind for the first time in her life and going with unpredictable. Oh shit.

I ditched her like a hot potato then dodged her like she had a disease I didn't want. She was the reason I quit going to school after midterms. I couldn't face her. I know I broke her heart.

My heart was breaking too for reasons I didn't understand. On some level I knew it would be wrong to marry Vicki. Had I known the truth I could and would have told her. But since I didn't know myself I couldn't possibly explain it to her.

I saw her again a couple of years later. She was engaged to the old bf and about to graduate (with honors) from pharmacy school. She told me she felt bad about me dropping out of school because of her.

I told her it wasn't her fault. I wanted to tell her I'd done her a favor, but didn't. I don't think she ever found out I was gay. If she knew maybe she'd understand it wasn't about her at all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Lucy answered the phone when you called the hospital lab to order blood work or to check on results. She was a year or two older than me and nearly as tall. She had a model's figure, Farrah Fawcett hair, a dark tan, and puppy-like brown eyes. She turned heads wherever she went.

Unlike almost everyone else on second shift, her job in the lab meant she wore street clothes instead of a uniform. Being able to wear whatever she wanted was a huge advantage in a very competitive environment. And Lucy knew it.

If they weren't in backless hospital gowns, the rest of the women at the hospital wore white or light-blue polyester uniforms over several required layers to make sure nothing showed through. Hair had to stay pinned back, under an attractive nursing cap, or in some cases, in a lovely hairnet. Perfume was prohibited. Make-up was used sparingly, if at all.

Lucy stood out like a flamingo in a flock of penguins. I can still see her tossing her long, blond hair as she gracefully crossed the hospital cafeteria in 3-inch heels and a strapless red sundress with little white polka dots. You could still smell her Halston perfume a good thirty minutes after she left the room.

When I heard Lucy had a crush on me I was a little flattered and a whole lot terrified. Lucy dripped sex. She was clearly far more experienced than I was. But then, who wasn't?

Lucy and I started taking our dinner breaks together. Once Kathy found out I wasn't going to dinner with her, she'd schedule my break last and spend the entire shift pretending I didn't exist. Consequently, I didn't have plans after work and was free to do something with Lucy.

Mostly we sat in my car in the parking lot of Saint Joseph hospital smoking cigarettes and talking. Looking back, I really have to admire her persistence. She did everything but write me a note to let me know she'd make out if I just made the first move. That was exactly why the first move never came.

As you might imagine, our relationship was short-lived. I don't remember why it ended (other than the fact I was gay and didn't know it), but it did. We stopped taking dinner breaks together and avoided each other as much as possible. That's when I first heard the expression about not dipping one's pen in company ink. It was really awkward for a while.

Must not have been too bad. Wasn't long before I was going out after work and taking my dinner breaks with another coworker. Some people are slow learners.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Kathy had waist-length dark red hair and a temper to match. The hair stayed hidden beneath her pyramidal nursing cap. The temper was harder to hide.

As second shift charge nurse, Kathy was ultimately responsible for everything that happened on our 37-bed surgical unit. She couldn't have been more than 24 or 25 at the time and about as lonely as they come. Shy and reserved, she never dated anyone but talked (rarely) about an ex who had broken her heart.

Through Kathy I became friends with Linda, of broken leg fame in the Trauma Car story. Linda worked on the next unit over and had been a year or two behind Kathy in the nursing program at Eastern Kentucky University. They had a lot of mutual friends from partying in Richmond.

A month or two after I started working with her, Kathy invited me, Linda and others to her place to hang out after work. She shared a two-bedroom apartment in a four-plex off Wilson Downing Road with two indoor-only cats. We sat around listening to music, playing cards and drinking beer until the sun came up.

Going to Kathy's after work became the thing to do several nights a week. She'd stack 8 or 10 albums on the stereo (Billy Joel, Peter Brown, Seals & Crofts & Christopher Cross come immediately to mind) and bring out the playing cards. Spades was the game of choice. On nights it was just me and Kathy, we played Canasta. Whatever the game we played for blood.

Sometimes Kathy cooked. It was always chili. She'd get inspired and toss interesting and/or unusual ingredients like peanut butter and cheddar cheese into the pot. The cats, Bad-ass and Little Kitty, frequently sampled from the pot as it stewed on the stove. We didn't care.

One night the three of us went to Jefferson Davis Inn to play pinball. Pinball machines were plentiful because video games hadn't yet been invented. Kathy got trashed, which wasn't all that unusual. What was unusual was for usually shy Kathy to take a liking to a scruffy looking dude none of us had ever met before.

Linda and I nearly fainted when Kathy asked him to come back to her apartment with us. Turns out, he had only recently completed his sentence for some little thing he dismissed with the wave of a hand. Within a week he had moved in with Kathy. She stopped asking us over shortly thereafter.

I transferred to the Emergency Room for the excitement and didn't see much of Kathy for a while. She got fired a few months later...for pilfering narcotics from the unit. I heard she lost her license, too.

Kathy was the kind of nurse you wanted looking after you--smart, capable, and professional. I can't imagine what happened. We've googled her unusual last name without success. Linda and I have often wondered where she is and if she was able to turn her life back around.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Free at Last

In the late 70s the second shift at Saint Joseph Hospital was mostly female, single and under 30. Everyone knew everyone else directly or by reputation. Because of the gender imbalance all the single men were celebrities--without regard for race, socio-economic status or sexual preference.

There was never enough help. When your unit was fully staffed someone got pulled to cover an absence elsewhere. If you got caught up you were pulled to a busier unit to help them catch up. The shifts flew by, but you were too hyped up on adrenaline and caffeine to just go home, brush your teeth and go to bed.

Coming home at 3, 4, and 5 in the morning went over big with my parents. The carefully thought out explanation I'd worked out on the drive home never produced the desired result. Drunken arguments with sober parents rarely ended well either.

After a particularly ugly scene I found a roommate through an ad in the local paper and moved into a two bedroom/two bathroom apartment at the Cloisters. The arrangement didn't last long. My roommate had to get up early and complained if I made a sound when I got home. I still owe him for my part of the phone bill.

I moved to an efficiency on Lansdowne Drive on the big hill between Reynolds and Reading Roads. You could see the complex from my parents house. My first floor apartment was on the front of the building that overlooked the pool on the side closest to Lansdowne Elementary.

Drunk and hungry, one night I came home and without even taking off my coat, threw a pizza in the oven and sat down on the bed to take off my shoes. I woke up still in my coat and shoes about noon the next day. I remembered the pizza an hour or two later when I overheard neighbors talking about the horrible smell in the building the night before. The oven was still on. We used the charred black disk for a frisbee the rest of the summer.

School slipped from the priority list to the back-burner. I had a full-time job with benefits. Wasn't that the reason you went to school in the first place? I quit after midterms without bothering to withdraw to focus on my career as a hospital ward clerk.

The luxurious, bachelor lifestyle of my dreams wasn't happening. I transferred to first shift and got a second job at McAlpin's in Turfland Mall for the extra income and the discount. That's when things really started to get crazy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My First Real Job

The place I'd been working since high school--Crossroads Cinema--went out of business in January of my freshman year at UK. I was still living at home, but had a car payment and a few credit cards. I needed a

It was the height of winter during the energy crisis in 1977. The mall was only open a few hours a day. Everyone I knew was getting laid off.

After a mercifully brief stint at the original McDonald's on New Circle Road over by Eastland Parkway, I landed a full-time job with benefits as a ward clerk at Saint Joseph Hospital. This was serious stuff. Someone could die if I screwed up.

I was 20 and incredibly naive. I'd kissed a girl or two but the idea of anything else was frankly terrifying. Surely everyone else had already had sex and would laugh at me if they ever found out how little I knew about it. That I might be gay had never even crossed my mind.

No doubt that's why Jesus plopped me down in a hospital. The female to male ratio was better than 30 to 1. If I couldn't get laid there, it wasn't going to happen.

Half the second shift went to 803 South after work at least a few nights a week. The jukebox had a lot of great selections and the crowd often sang along. I swear sometimes it was like being in a Hollywood musical.

This particular night we were drinking pitchers of warm beer and eating lukewarm hotdogs. The 1:00 a.m. closing time always came too soon. Some guy invited everyone over to his apartment to keep the party going. Sure!

We ended up in a basement apartment somewhere off Reading Road with about 50 other people. I was sitting on the floor between Linda and Debbie, who sat behind me on the couch. The room was really crowded, smoke-filled and very warm.

Linda and Debbie worked at Saint Joseph. Linda was a large-but-beautiful nurse with waist-length fiery red hair and gorgeous green eyes. Debbie was some kind of supervisor in the kitchen. I ended up dating Linda's sister and later, being Debbie's roommate. But that was later.

That night I had an elbow on one of Linda's and Debbie's knees. The room started to spin. I heard someone say something about me turning green. Seconds later Linda and Debbie each had an elbow and were dragging my puking ass to the bathroom.

We were in the only bathroom in an apartment with about 50 beer-drinkers. People started knocking on the door. The guys could go outside but the girls really didn't have any other options.

I sat in just my penny loafers and tighty-whiteys on the edge of the bathtub with my head on the toilet seat. Linda was the first to break. She dropped her pants, raised my head off the toilet seat, and sat down to do her business with my head resting on her ample thigh. I vaguely recall resting my forehead on a number of thighs.

I remember Debbie washing my white izod shirt in the sink while Linda dried my sky blue pants with the hair dryer. I have no idea how they got them off of me, but was grateful. By the time I could stand up without barfing, my pants were dry enough to put back on. We left shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Best in Bloom...This Week

The last post featured groups of plants. Today I want to highlight the individual blossoms of several varieties currently blooming in the garden. As always, click on the picture for a larger view.
The amaryllis bulbs available for sale in December are conditioned to bloom around Christmas. Around here some folks plant the bulbs directly in the ground. Mine stay in pots so I can move them inside if it gets cold. Without forcing they bloom around this time of year here in Athens.
I thought roses were hard to grow. Some are, but others do surprisingly well with little or no care. A few, like Georgia's state flower the Cherokee Rose, are downright thugs in the garden. This pink rose (Town & Country, Monticello) is a well-behaved, no-maintenance variety that just gets prettier every year.
Certain Hydrangea blooms vary with the pH of the soil. In limey soil they bloom pink. In our acid soil they bloom blue. This one is a lace-cap called 'All Summer Beauty'. By summer's end the blooms will fade to tan.
Peonies are hard to beat. I got this double-pink for $4 at Walmart more than ten years ago. Even with a grow-through plant support the stems fall over from the weight of the blooms--a problem made worse by wind or rain. They make great cut flowers though I find the scent cloying after a while.

Until next time...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, May 10, 2010

Best Combos in the Garden...This Week

I love browsing through garden centers and seed catalogs. Plants I like end up in my shopping cart with little or no thought to where they will go in the garden. I buy a particular plant because I like it and hence, must have it.

New arrivals get stuck in the ground where I believe they are most likely to survive. Color or texture or other design elements never enter the picture. Beautiful combinations are entirely accidental. Here are some of my favorite combos from this weekend.
In the picture above, Small's Penstemon 'Violet Dusk' and Valerian 'Anthos' rise above day lilies, mums, begonias and dianthus. The grass in the background is Miscanthus 'Strictus'.
Yellow and orange California Poppies bloom with Painted Daisies, purple spikes of Larkspur, and in the background, pink Catchfly (Silene). The bronze fennel is hard to beat as a foliage plant. You can barely see the butterfly weeds about to bloom behind the larkspur. Most of the tall foliage comes from several varieties of butterfly bush.
The Catchfly and bronze fennel turn up again in this photo. The peony ('Karl Rosenfield') just gets more beautiful every year even when wind and rain take their toll. The daisies and day lilies in the foreground take over later in the summer.

Finally, Valerian (aka Centranthus ruber) blooms with Miscanthus in the background. I grew the grasses from seed (easily done) and use them as a hedge along the street. The Valerian was planted last year and appears to have settled in nicely.

More to come. Thanks for following along!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Steve called out of the blue to tell me he'd moved to Atlanta. The Fourth of July was coming up. He wanted to know if I'd come down to visit--just for old times sake. Translation: Steve was having a hard time making new friends and didn't want to spend the holiday weekend alone.

We ended up having a nice visit. We floated on inflatable rafts on Lake Lanier, hung out around his new apartment, and took in some of the area attractions. He wanted me to move to Atlanta. Nice idea, but I was back in school and wise to his ways. I said no and cried all the way back to Lexington.

He had dinner with me and my first live-in partner at our duplex in Lexington a few years later. We laughed about our adventures but it was clear our time together was over. I never saw him again.

Fast forward to 2003. I was browsing through the profiles of guys chatting in the Atlanta room of when I found him. His screen name was Penis Inspector. I knew it was him because of several profile pictures from the early 1980s.

It was a joyous reunion. He tried to come to Athens to visit but got lost. We had a huge fight about the directions I'd provided. He got pissed then turned around and drove back to Atlanta. Some things never change.

Over the next few months we chatted online a lot. We discovered we had a mutual friend--someone he had dated that lived here in Athens. We talked about Sara and Ronnie, Rhonda, and the crazy things we did together. We became something we'd never been before: friends.

Last I heard he had fallen in love yet again and was moving to San Francisco. I told him I was happy for him, and hoped this one would be Mr. Right. He was absolutely certain this was "the one". I guess he was right.

A few months later, our mutual friend asked if I'd heard the news. Steve passed away--of liver failure. He was just 48 years old.

I was never able to confirm it from another source, but I know it's true. There was no obituary, no funeral, and no visitation. It's like he never even existed.

Stevie, it's not right for you to pass without notice. These ten chapters are for you. I can say now what I could never say 30 years ago. I love you just the way you are. Thanks for giving me so many great memories.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vacationing at the Cabin on the Lake

Eventually Steve started working as a teller at his mother's bank. He was working the day Rhonda walked in with a ski-mask and a shotgun. He had to have known it was her. I suspect that's why the robbery was news to me when Steve's mom called about Rhonda's arrest.

Anyway, having joined the world of work Steve wanted us to take a vacation together. Of course I agreed. We decided a cabin on a lake somewhere fairly close would be nice and started our research.

We ended up selecting a fishing camp on Lake Cumberland. I don't remember how we found it but recall the price was something like $100, in advance, for the entire week. Perfect!

The cabin was rustic if not downright primitive. It featured a screened-in porch, a living room/kitchen combo, a bathroom with no tub or shower, and two sleeping rooms. There was a small refrigerator/freezer, a gas stove, and a giant sink in the kitchen. Fancy.

We brought our swim suits, inflatable rafts for the lake, a couple of decks of cards for Canasta, an early version of a boom box, a refrigerator full of booze, and no fishing gear. I don't remember what we did for food.

To get to the lake you hiked to the end of the gravel road the cabins were on, down a rocky trail to long, steep, stairs descending to a small wooden dock. It wasn't a hike you wanted to make any more often than absolutely necessary.

The distance and the climb made carrying anything a challenge, especially on the return trip. We didn't even try to take the cooler. Wrestling with the rafts was hard enough. By the third day, between too much sun and the effort involved, we quit going to the lake at all.

We sat on the screened-in porch listening to the radio, playing Canasta, and drinking...all day. I kicked his butt over and over because he was just learning a game I'd played for years. Steve didn't like to lose.

It was dark when finally, after yet another defeat, Steve threw his hand across the room and declared our vacation was over. Pack the car up. We're leaving. Now.

It was a long drive back to Lexington. Steve dropped me off at my apartment and returned to Martin. I didn't see him again until after he moved to Atlanta, a year or two later.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Steve hooking up with Rhonda was the beginning of the end. He met her through mutual friends at a party down around Martin. I knew right away she was bad news.

Rhonda was a 22 year-old high school drop-out with four kids and dreams of a better life. She was tiny--no more than 5 foot tall--with short blond hair, huge blue eyes, and a boy-ish figure. Any redeeming qualities she may have possessed were very well-hidden.

Rhonda liked to park her car along the road circling the lake at Jenny Wiley State Park. When a man drove by, she'd follow, flashing her lights and honking until he pulled over. What came next depended on her mood, her needs, and to some extent, the victim.

The lucky ones enjoyed wild sex in or on the back of her car or his. Some paid cash for the experience, some didn't. Whether they paid her outright or not, most lost their wallets in the process.

Some walked over to her car to find Rhonda in the back seat aiming a double-barrel shot-gun right square at his chest. They lost their wallets, too, and anything else of value on them or in their car. Like I said, she was bad. I never liked Rhonda.

Steve called to tell me he could make it to Lexington for my birthday, but only if Rhonda came with him because she had money for gas. At the time I lived in a tiny, one-room apartment in one of those huge green houses on High Street between Clay and Ashland Avenues. I told him to just stay home if he had to come with that tramp.

Since it was my birthday I went out anyway. Truth be told I went out most nights. Isn't that what you do when you are 23, all grown up and on your own?

About an hour before closing time, I see Steve and Rhonda on the dance floor. WTF? Steve came up to me like nothing was wrong. He just shrugged, pointed at Rhonda and acted like he didn't have a choice. I left them at the bar, went home and went to bed.

The next morning there was a note from Steve taped to my door. He said he'd never been so embarrassed and it was over between us. Whatever.

A month or so later, Steve's mother called me. She was a VP at the one bank in Martin. She hated Rhonda as much as I did and wanted to know if I'd heard about her getting arrested for robbing her bank.

The robbery and Rhonda's arrest were news to me. I asked for details. Steve's Mom explained Rhonda had walked into the lobby of the bank wearing a ski mask, toting her double-barrel and demanding cash--on my birthday. I nearly fainted.

But that wasn't the end of me and Steve after all. Some people are slow learners. We continued to see each other off and on for at least another year. We even had more adventures together but it was never quite the same...
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