Two popular Rosemary Clooney hits of the late-1950s were “Come On-a My House” and “Sisters.” Both took over the air waves, juke boxes and drag queen lip-synch stage routines.
As a lark my friends Richard, a pharmacist assistant, and Gary, a would-be writer (one story published in Scholastic Magazine) and I (a soon-to-be OR Tech, six weeks in training) as a joke would hold hands, sashay unseen down a Toledo street, and sing, “There were never such devoted sisters.”
Of the three of us gay “siblings” Gary was the least, might one charitably say, “marketable.” Over weight and facially uneventful, he would often sigh with envy, as blond Richard and occasionally lanky, 175-pound, 29″ waist me – hey! I had a good run for the pocket money – got lucky.
Gary said he made out when he was alone, and had what he claimed was a sure fire gimmick for attracting potential romantic suitors. (“Only if they’re intelligent,” he stressed.) Gary, who took the bus to and from work daily, would sit next to an empty seat, carrying a book with an intriguing title.
He told me he got lucky twice flashing “Gone With the Wind” and had a week-long affair that resulted from an in-depth conversation about “War in Peace,” all 650 pages of it in hard cover edition. His contactee spoke Russian and immigrated here at the end of World War l.
It was with Gary’s literary ploy in mind that one late spring day I took a Michigan Avenue street car out to see Richard at work at his pharmacy on Detroit’s west side. My choice for conspicuous reading consumption was Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
(My grandmother Mary Petty took me as a nine-year-old to see the 1945 movie, starring Hurd Hatfield as Dorian and Angela Lansbury, as his ill-fated paramour. My grandmother lived in England during the infamous three Wilde trials. She was 19.
There’s a slight possibility – very slight – that seeing the movie made me gay.)
Making sure that the Wilde book cover was face up on my lap I pretended to be looking out the window. “Am I fortunate to find this seat next to you vacant,” said – and I mentally caught my breath – a handsome thirty-something guy smiling at me. “Do you think you, like Dorian, can become eternal through degradation?”
Never having been degradated (at least I was certain I hadn’t), I answered, “I saw the movie as a kid. I liked Hatfield’s performance,” and, dropping a hair pin, “actor George Sanders was a bit of a camp.”
During the twenty stops remaining I learned that my companion Jack Jacobs, was an artist, and that were I available he would like to see me again and take me to a “g-a-y” party in Ann Arbor Saturday next.
“You’ll fit right in for sure,” said Jack, beaming like a Pepsodent ad, not unlike the one facing across from our seats. “It’s college profs, grad students, scholars. They’ll simply adore you. You like the right kind of books.”
I couldn’t wait to tell Gary. Saturday Jack picked me up as promised. Unfortunately his “Miss Liberties” came later.