Parting Glances: Memories of a Near-Forgotten Past Pt. 3

BY CHARLES ALEXANDER

Detroit's imposing, massive, block-wide Masonic Temple was built in 1922, or, cornerstone dated 5022, following the Hebraic custom of noting the inception of ritual religious history.

The impressive venue is once more hosting youth-oriented music events, name local entertainers, with crowds lining up block round Temple and Cass Avenues.

At one time in the 1960s every major dance company in the world, classical music orchestra, and soloists appeared there; many brought to the city by famed impresario Sol Hurok.

I heard Paul Paray many times conduct the DSO, thrilled to soprano Maria Callas in red-carpet recital (her conductor arrested, and very briefly detained because of an "incident"" at the long-closed, always seedy Stone Burlesque), saw Russian defector Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn partnered in a memorable "Swan Lake".

(Curiously, too, a few years ago I attended a Freak Gathering in a small masonic auditorium, where leathermen and women, SM/BD devotees, straight and gay kink comrades gathered for an evening of mutual exposure, pleasurable mental angst, playpen seduction. A BTL former editor was a self-styled dom. I, her 95-percent vanilla guest.)

Across from the Masonic Temple is Cass Park, named for former Michigan governor Lewis Cass. As a kid I spent my summers playing there, wading its centrally located fountain, and, as a nascent gay, enjoying looking at my collection of "Strength & Health" magazines, admiring muscle idols Clarence Ross and Steve "Hercules" Reeves.

At the edge of the park is a statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns. When the statue was dedicated in 1923, thousands gathered for a massed picture taken honoring the unveiling. (How many today know or care who Robert Burns was?)

I played tag around the statue. On three sides are poetry quotes I learned by heart: Nae man can tether time nor tide./ From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs./ Wee modest crimson flower, thou has met me in an evil hour.

For fun my friend Bob Wells and I would pretend we were European survivors of World War ll. We'd fake German accents, and talk in earshot of park benchers about bombings, black outs, the horrors we had endured.

Occasionally listeners who felt sorry for us -- or liked my tearful, would-be Academy Award performance -- gave us nickels and dimes.

I was about 15 one mid-June, no-school day as I sat alone relaxing, soon to be joined by an older, athletic- looking guy who was probably about 30. He asked if he might join me and I said yes, pleased for the company.

Mitch said he was home on leave from the navy, and was visiting a friend who lived nearby. "Would you like a Coke?," he offered, pointing to a nearby drug store. "Sure, why not?" I agreed, somewhat eagerly.

After our coke and conversation, he asked if I'd like a ride to Palmer Park. "I'd like to, but I have to be home for dinner soon," I hesitated. "Can we meet tomorrow?" I offered. Hopefully. "Sure. Let's meet at noon," Mitch smiled, patting me on the shoulder. "Anchors away!"

Next day I put on a clean shirt. Brilcreem'd my duck-tailed hair -- "A little dab will do you," ran the radio commercial -- and arrived at 11:15. I sat there for an hour. Waiting. Waiting. Mitch never showed. Soon it began to rain. It was a disappointment.

The first of many in my young, just- coming-out, gay life.

Charles Alexander is prolific both as a BTL columnist (700-plus columns) and as a well-known LGBT community artist (1000 Face Book images). He is a Spirit of Detroit Award recipient and an Affirmations LGBT CENTER Jan Stevenson awardee. Connect with him at Charles@pridesource.com.
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