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Parting Glances: Ah! Those Days Long Gone

By | 2015-10-15T09:00:00-04:00 October 15th, 2015|Opinions, Parting Glances|

I went to my first gay bar, the Silver Slipper, a dyke bar on Grand River, near downtown Detroit. Just 19, I used borrowed ID, escorted authoritatively by two ‘stone butches’: Speedy and Draino.
Lesbians sat in an upstairs balcony. Gays and “tourists,” downstairs. (Tourists came to gawk at us queers.)
Entertainer was porkulent Chi Chi LaTrine, aka Benjamin Ernest Franklin. He wore wide, be-ribboned picture hats, sang songs with lyrics of questionable OB-GYN soundness. (“Douche yourself with kerosene. Light it with a match. You will be the only queen with a blow torch for a snatch.”)
Chi Chi’s comedy routines closed with his trademark insertion of a champagne glass into his ample facial cheeks and mouth. (Sidebar: Franklin had a sociology M.A., and in the early ’60s was the first openly gay person to speak to Wayne University psych classes.)
With teenage friends Gary and Richard, we hit the Scenic Bar in Toledo, Ohio. Soon our little circle – “Claudia,” (Richard) “Margo,” (Gary) and (groan) “Crystal” – took our sing-along road show to Cleveland, staying at the Y-M-C-A!
I met Marcus, who took me home, played Maria Callas arias from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” fed me a wonderful breakfast. It was magic, until I learned to my over-stuffed chagrin that my gourmet cook was yet another crossdresser. Two that summer!
Next came Big Apple week. Our threesome took the New York Central train – playing gin rummy for 13 hours — and booked into the notorious Sloan House Y. It was mid-July. No air conditioning. Heat 90-plus. Sweat soaked outdoors in minutes. So, we slept at day; partied at night.
I had no sooner unpacked my things when the phone rang. “Hi! I’m Jerry. I saw you in the lobby. Can I take you to dinner?” He left two days later. Ever faithful at 19, I thought of Jerry for 36.5 hours, 36 seconds. (Jerry, who?)
Our trio went to a Greenwich Village downstairs bar, the Sans Souci. “Cry Me a River,” sung by Roberta Sherwood, was the jukebox hit. Bar ambiance was intimate and discreet. I met a bona fide actor: Gunther Wilde. (Gunther, who?)
Richard reeled in two mid-30s Italians who invited us to Fire Island. We took the train to Babylon – three hour ride – and a ferry boat to Cherry Grove. “Truman Capote’s there,” they told us. (Truman, who?) I experienced a toothache, a sunburn, no sleep, a sore back. (It was worth it.)
In the mid-50s, we had no role models. We suspected certain movie stars. (Tab Hunter, Barbara Stanwyck, newcomer James Dean). All wishful thinking. These Sen. McCarthy witch-hunting years were terror for “known homosexuals.” We had no choice but the closet.
For those who could pass for straight, problems were few. Vice cops. Crabs. VD. Job firing. Shock therapy. Excommunication. Incarceration. Media exposes. You kept your “she this” and “she that” to yourself.
Travel was a revelation. We realized we weren’t alone. We were everywhere: doctors, stevedores, actors, professors, cops, nurses, American Indian chiefs, average Joes, exceptional Jills. Gaydar was a godsend. Question: Who needs gaydar these days?

About the Author:

Charles Alexander