Saturday, June 26, 2010

Proud to be a Gay American

Every year on the last Sunday of June, millions of Americans celebrate Gay Pride. Only the most outrageous images reach mainstream media. No wonder so many misunderstand the festivities.

Gay Pride is about the freedom to live my life openly and honestly. I don't have to hide who I am or pretend to be something I'm not. I am proud, not ashamed, embarrassed, or humiliated.

Some see Gay Pride celebrations as offensive and immoral. In some instances, they have a point. Topless dykes on bikes, leather daddies in ass-less chaps, twinks in g-strings, and simulated sexual acts are not appropriate for all audiences. The dramatic increase in the number of gay parents with children has already made a difference. Pride parades aren't nearly as wild as they were 30 years ago.

The gay lifestyle, if there ever was such a thing, keeps changing. When I came out, bars were the center of the gay universe. They were sanctuaries from a homophobic world where you could relax, dance with your boyfriend, or meet another guy without fear of getting beat up.

Well, once you got in you weren't going to get beat up--at least not until you left. Drunken rednecks still cruise around gay bars looking for some queer ass to kick. Little pricks...literally.

Unless you knew where you were going, gay bars were hard to find. Entrances were rarely marked. In an unfamiliar town cab drivers were the go-to source for reliable information about the whereabouts of any gay establishments in the area.

Gay magazines were big when I came out. Personal ads were huge, especially for guys living in rural locations. I never placed or responded to an ad, but sure enjoyed reading them.

As with straight folk, sooner or later the bar lifestyle grows old. There are lots of exceptions, gay and straight. But for most people, priorities shift. Bar-hopping gets old and except for the occasional outing with friends, eventually falls off the priority list all together.

Boneshakers, the gay bar in Athens got my business maybe half a dozen times before it closed. Several places have opened and closed since then without me ever setting foot inside. In my 12 years in Athens, I've been bar-hopping in Atlanta exactly one time.

I've gone to Pride events in Atlanta, DC, Lexington and Athens. The Athens event is a potluck picnic--in April. Lexington's Pride celebration used to consist of a float in the 4th of July parade put together by some of the local drag queens. If you have never been to a big city Pride celebration, you really must go, especially if you're gay.

The way things are going, I expect gay bars will eventually become obsolete. The Internet provides a faster, safer and easier means of meeting potential partners. Growing acceptance by the public at-large means more straight people going to gay bars, and increasingly, more gay people going to straight bars.

We've come a very long way in the last 30 years. I wonder who's come the farthest--us gay folk or our straight friends, families and neighbors. We couldn't have done it without you.

Happy Pride. Enjoy your freedom. God bless the U.S.A.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Good Old Days

Working on my book in the cool, air-conditioned comfort of the house is an escape from more than the heat. I can see how people of a certain age might prefer the past over the present. A nostalgic view of the good old days is infinitely more appealing than present day reality.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about my current personal circumstances. My life is rich with blessings too numerous to list here.

I'm talking more about societal change and current events. The world is not the same place it was even 25 years ago. Are we better off? In some ways, yes. But overall, even with all the advances, I'm not so sure.

Return to ANY attraction in the United States you visited more than 25 years ago, if it's still there. It doesn't matter what it is--national park, museum, amusement park or vacation spot. I guarantee you the quality of the experience has declined.

You'll pay out the nose and be herded along with a huge group of equally disappointed and often ill-mannered tourists. They'll crowd around exhibits, heedless of those around them. Get close enough to actually see and someone will soon shove you out of the way. You end up paying a ton of money to see people looking at things you can't actually see yourself.

God forbid you get hungry or thirsty. The options are nearly identical no matter where you go and completely bereft of any nutritional value. You'll stand in long lines and pay a small fortune for a bottle of water and a lukewarm hotdog on a soggy or chewy bun.

The quaint seaside restaurant you loved 25 years ago is still there, but has expanded and now caters to tour buses. The food resembles the sumptuous fare served long ago in name only. Get 'em in, get 'em out, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

Remember helpful sales people who actually knew something about the stuff they sold? Or how about when flying was a fun and relaxing way to reach your destination? Or how about customer service anywhere, really.

Today individual chain stores are managed by people who don't care. Surly kids with bad attitudes got fired when I worked at those places. Now good workers are so hard to find, just showing up is good enough.

Dad grew up with a kind of freedom I never knew. I grew up with a kind of freedom my niece and nephew will never know. We did our own thing in ways no longer possible. We had to come up with our own ideas for how to fill our time.

Today you even join groups to do your own thing. Nobody is alone with their thoughts anymore. Can't have that. Gotta stay plugged in to something.

I think I'll answer the siren call of my book. It's nice looking back. Hard to believe I haven't always been...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Day Green Light

The book is in progress. Coming up with ideas has not been an issue. The greater problem has been tearing myself away from writing it long enough to work, sleep and eat.

I did start with the posts from this blog. I arranged them by topic, and within topics in chronological order. Took me several days of playing around with them to finally come up with the main idea.

Over the past two weeks the framework for the book has come together. I've written nearly 100 pages all together. Yesterday I finished the first 40 pages enough to print them out for Andy to read.

The book starts before I was born and will likely end with the night I went to Johnny Angel's with Lynn and realized I was gay. The second book picks up from there. Not sure whether the "rest of the story" will end up in that book or require another volume.

I discussed the book with my parents this week. I'm writing about the way things were before they married and wanted to check a few details. The difference in reactions was very interesting.

Mom was happy I was writing it and worried about what will be in it. She told me I was not permitted to write about certain things. As we talked the list of forbidden topics grew.

She made me feel like the book was a bad idea--something I shouldn't do. Why couldn't I write fiction? The truth is just too painful.

Dad called to thank me for his Father's Day gift. I told him about the book. He was nothing but supportive.

He completely understood about it being my story, and hence, my recollections. He thought the central premise was right on target and clarified a few details for me. He mentioned things he thought I should know and was surprised to hear they were already in the book.

We talked about some of the secrets specific to his side of the family. I shared my concerns. He says tell the truth--don't gloss over anything.

Well I'll be damned...

You'll understand the significance a lot more after you've read the book!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Toward a Dream Fulfilled

I've always wanted to write a book but never thought I could. The very idea was too intimidating. With no idea of how to start, I never did.

I started blogging on a whim in September of 2008. I'd never knowingly read a blog and couldn't see why anyone would want to. Funny how things change.

Blogging gave me something to do that wasn't watching television, playing video games or staring at Facebook. Along with gardening and parts of my work, writing for the blog is an all-consuming, totally engrossing activity. I lose all track of time.

The peripherals are fun, too. Keeping up with the daily statistics, building a following, and taking advantage of all the cool blog gadgets adds another dimension. Even without pursuing the advertising potential there's just no end of things to obsess about.

When I started The Adventures of Tico & Toodles, lots of fans said I should write books for children--an idea I'd never considered. Writing a book went from an impossible idea to something do-able. I wrote a dozen in a matter of weeks.

From the start it didn't feel right. The idea of a book tour terrified me. As you know, my best stuff is at least a little naughty. I decided writing for children really wasn't my forte.

I returned to the blogs. Coming up with something interesting to write about every few days was sometimes a challenge. It was also great practice.

Along the way I tried to write about a lot of different things. Politics and religion are too polarizing and controversial. My recollections of people, places and events from the past have always been very well-received.

I started telling the stories from my early 20s. It started innocently enough with the car. I never set out to write a series. It just happened.

You loved the stories. I loved writing them and had no trouble cranking out a new one every day. In fact, I could crank out two or three a day. The more I wrote, the more I remembered.

You've convinced me. I'm going to write a book. I'm not saying the blogs are dead, but the frequency of posts is certain to decline as I get more and more involved with the book.

I'm starting with all the posts from this blog. I'll add stuff from the journals I've kept for the last 30 years. Whether through payola or royalties, I'm going to be rich!

Thanks for your support and for all the feedback. You can be sure I'll keep you posted on my journey to become a published author. I need you to buy the book!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Great Friends

Having met the night Jeff locked me out of the apartment, Shirley and I became friends. She repaired vacuum cleaners and other small appliances for Sears. We worked similar schedules and often hung out together after work.

Shortly after we met, Shirley took me back to her bedroom. In it was a china cabinet, chocked full of mason jars of various sizes. Each jar was meticulously labeled with the variety of the marijuana buds or seeds it contained. I was impressed.

High Times had nothing on Shirley. From cultivation to curing, storage and consumption, her knowledge was encyclopedic. She could describe subtle differences in the buzz you got from smoking any one of countless different varieties and sex plants like nobody's business. It was her gift.

Shirley was intent on perfecting her own cultivar. Her goal: good flavor, a mild buzz, and no munchies. We in the Elite Fleet were more than happy to sample the results of her trials and to offer our own expert opinions.

Now and then she went to an undisclosed location to help with the harvest. Her job involved cleaning the cured buds and bagging them up. The pay was great.

The benefits were even better. She could smoke all she wanted while she worked. She was also able to take home several of those white, 13-gallon kitchen trash bags full of the shake she swept from the floor.

In hard times we'd drag out a bag and dig through for fragments of bud. Whatever was left got rendered into butter. Nobody could eat just one of Shirley's homemade brownies or chocolate chip cookies. The more you ate, the more you wanted.

Shirley is the most trusting, generous, accepting, and non-judgmental individual I have ever met. She has an innate ability to see the good in anyone, including those in which a little good was very hard to find. She is a great friend.

Lovers come and go. But a great friend lasts forever--or at least a good 30 or 40 years. I am extremely grateful for my many great friends.

The great friends I met around the time I came out will always be special to me. Some of the stuff we did damn near killed us. Still, I'm not sure I would have survived without them.

Shirley. My roommate, Linda. My gay sister, Mitzi. Paul. Jeff's boyfriend, Jamie. Thanks for being my Elite Fleet for all these many years. I love you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Gay Sister

While living at the Cloisters I landed a full-time job working in the College of Pharmacy stockroom at UK. Break your beaker and I was the guy who punched your lab card and gave you a new one. It was exciting stuff.

Libby lived at The Cloisters and worked at the UK Library. We met at one of the monthly social functions at the complex clubhouse. The clubhouse and the three bedroom apartment she shared with two roommates were across the street from the golf course apartments.

Her roommates were sisters from Bowling Green. They met Libby at Western Kentucky University. We hung out around the pool a lot. Libby and I sometimes rode into work together.

One day Libby called to invite me over for dinner. She said a college friend from California was coming in and she wanted us to meet. Beyond that she offered very little in the way of details.

Libby's apartment overlooked the parking lot. I was kicked back on the deck enjoying a cigarette when our guest arrived. She pulled in a few minutes before 7.

Curious, I watched as she parked, got out, locked her car and headed toward the apartment. She wore cowboy boots and blue jeans and looked very familiar. We recognized each other at the same time. I don't know who was more surprised.

We read each other right away, too. You gay? Yep. You too? Yep. Damn!

For the next 20 years me and my gay sister hooked up whenever she came to Lexington. Mercy. The stories I could tell...

But I won't. Not now anyway. And in the absence of any proof we'll just keep denying the rumors. They couldn't all be true anyway. Right Mitzi?

The Elite Fleet Hits the Road

I ran around with Paul and Steve throughout the 80s. Sometimes other friends or the guys we dated came along. Most the time it was just the three of us.

Steve rarely dated or hooked up. It wasn't that he couldn't, he just wasn't interested. He'd rather just drink and dance. You could tell the time by the number of buttons undone on his shirt.

Paul was the ringleader. We were all at least a little bit in love with him. We went wherever he wanted to go and did whatever he wanted to do.

A lot of it was his attitude. Paul was arrogant, cocky, and sure of himself. He was very gay, but not the least bit effeminate. He never told his parents he was gay but brought his lover home with him for the holidays. Somehow, it never came up.

Lexington's 1 a.m. closing time never slowed us down. After the bars closed we'd hop in Steve's car and head to either Louisville or Cincinnati. Both had a Badlands that stayed open until 3 or 4 in the morning.

The Cincinnati Badlands was my favorite. It was a huge complex. Just inside the entrance was the leather/cowboy bar. From there you passed through a little anteroom with a jukebox into the piano bar then down two ramps to the stainless steel dance floor. There were cocktail tables and restrooms on the landing between the ramps, and a basement level that opened up for after-hours.

We'd dare each other to walk all the way around the leather bar. You had to squeeze between two rows of big scary-looking guys wearing leather harnesses, chains, and ass-less chaps. Guys like them ate guys like us for breakfast.

Paul wasn't the least bit afraid. Steve and I would hit the dance floor while he flirted with the leather dudes and cowboys. He was so consistent about his type we called anyone he ever liked Jed Clampett.

Most of the time, when the bars closed we headed home. Before leaving town, whether in Louisville or Cincinnati, we always stopped at White Castles to load up for the ride. The sun was usually coming up as we hit the parking lot at The Cloisters.

Now and then one of us would meet someone and want to stay. With one car and no cell phones, staying could get complicated. Sometimes two of us would share a hotel room while the other went home with his new friend. Sometimes a hotel wasn't needed.

Whatever we did required an extremely high level of cooperation and coordination. Phone numbers had to be written down and deadlines determined. Over time we learned to agree on the consequences for missing important deadlines ahead of time, too.

One weekend Steve and I stayed in a hotel room while Paul went home with a friend. The plan was for Paul to call us at the hotel before check-out to arrange a place for us to pick him up. He never called. Steve had to work so we hit the road and returned to Lexington without him.

When we got to Lexington there were furious messages from Paul on answering machines all over town. Since Steve had to work, I had to go get him. Great.

Trauma car wasn't interstate-worthy. I forget what was wrong with Paul's camaro. It was bad enough we never took it anywhere. Steve's car was the only option.

I dropped Steve off where he worked and headed to Louisville in his beat-up Chevrolet Impala. The speedometer didn't work. You just went with traffic and kept your fingers crossed.

Paul chewed me out all the way back to Lexington. Somehow it was my fault he didn't call the hotel before we had to check out. Yeah, he was a little self-centered, but we loved him anyway.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Were So Gay

Timing is everything. By the time I started going to Johnny Angel's again, Michael had set up house with Mark. I knew Mark, too, and was happy for them. They were obviously very happy together and rarely came out.

When Jay moved out of the Lamplighter Apartment shortly after we met, Steve moved in to take his place. Steve was a Bryan Station graduate--pretty, very easy going, and dumber than a rock. All were important traits for anyone living with Paul.

Jeff moved out of Lamplighter Apartments and into a downtown apartment with his new boyfriend. Jamie had moved from Louisville to Lexington to attend UK. Everyone thought Jamie looked like Robbie Benson and believed Jeff had hogtied him before anyone else even had a chance to meet him.

According to Jeff, they were deeply in love and excited about building a future together. Jeff sure gave it 100 percent. He was bound and determined to have the best relationship in the history of the world.

His idea of working on the relationship revolved around fixing Jamie. No problem, imperfection or perceived slight escaped comment. For the sake of the relationship he needled, prodded and nagged Jamie every waking hour.

Jamie drank a lot. Except for Jeff, we all did. Jeff was convinced Jamie was a raging alcoholic. The rest of us felt the constant scrutiny that came with being the object of Jeff's affection was enough to drive anyone to drink and sided with Jamie.

After Jeff moved out of Lamplighter, Paul and Steve moved to The Cloisters, too. Our gay friends came over on weekends to lay-out at the pool with us. We even had enough guys to play volleyball, gays against the straights.

We were so gay. I laugh now thinking about it. The competition was always friendly, if not intense--especially when we were winning. The teasing was good-natured and often hilarious.

We went out six nights a week. Before going out we gathered at Paul's apartment because it was closer to the laundry room and he had the best music collection. We sat around in gym shorts with our shirts on hangers and our jeans in the dryer listening to disco albums, watching MTV with the sound off, polishing our cowboy boots and getting primed for a night on the town.

It was the 80s. We took turns in the bathroom beating our hair back into fierce looks with a blow dryer and a vent brush. When you got it just right, you sprayed like crazy to laminate every hair in place. Outside you faced the wind at all times to avoid the dreaded back-draft.

At a specified time someone would run to the laundry room to fetch all the jeans from the dryer. We'd pull on piping hot jeans (Levi's, red tag, 501s though 505s were also very popular). To keep them from stretching out, we wouldn't zip or fasten them until after we'd parked and were walking to the bar.

We thought we hung the moon and that gay Lexington revolved around us. OK so we were deluded. Even so, the truth never got in the way of us having a good time.
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