During my ride back from my first gay party – a closeted affair of mostly University of Michigan profs and grad students – Jack Jacobs (aka Miss Liberties) talks nonstop, ending his paragraphs of chit-chatty conversation with rapid pats on my (surely black-and-blue) knee.
“I’ve read every gay book I can put my hands on, from Oscar Wilde to Donald Webster Cory,” says Jack, nearly running a red light in his footnoting exuberance. “You just must read Cory’s ‘The Homosexual in America.’ It’s every bit as ground breaking as Kinsey’s male sex study. Really revealing!”
“I’ve read only one gay novel,” I venture, not wanting to appear too just out of high school. “I think it’s called ‘Finestre.’ It’s rather sad. About a young student who falls in love with his gay teacher, commits suicide in the end by walking into the ocean.”
During a lull in Jack’s monologues he switches on the radio. A classical music selection. Soft. Soothing. Romantic. Maybe Tchaikovsky. (The only composer whose music I know. The ‘1812 Overture’.) “Sorta makes me want to hold hands.” Jack winks and hums along.
“I’d like to Jack, but my hay fever’s acting up something fierce. Maybe next time.” I sneeze. Says he, out of the blue. “Did you know my aunt Dottie works at the Ten-Eleven as a hostess? She adores gay guys. They’re generous with tips. Keeps her in babbles, bangles, beads, so to speak.” He giggles.
(Looking back these many, many years at the role of hostess Dottie, she was one of many who worked in gay bars that were straight owned. In the late 50s and early 60s, “known homosexuals” could not own Michigan State Liquor Licenses.
These Dotties were a buffer between gay customers and bartenders, most of whom were straight. The most famous of these hostesses was Bessy, who worked for 30 years at Detroit’s famous Woodward Bar. Night after night. Year after year. Decade after drink-up-guys decade, she’d call out – surely a million times – “Anybody wanna? Drink that is.”)
It’s with a sense of relief for me when Jack drops me off at my folk’s house. “May I take the liberty of a little kiss-face good night?” he asks hopefully. Making sure there’s no one around to see, I grant a quickie on the cheek. The following week I receive a hand-drawn card in the mail. It reads simply, “Thanks for a swell time, Al. You’re OK in my book. Your friend for life, Jack.”
A month later I see Jack again. He’s coming out of the Ten Eleven and I’m standing on the curb. (We gay teens like to see who might just be available before and/or after the bars close.) Jack’s with a stunning guy, whose head just measures up to his shoulder.
“Al, old buddy. Great to see you! This is one of my most recent, er, ‘affairs’. His name’s Ernie. Living in Miami ’til fall. Then he just might move back to cultural city Detroit. Among other things, Ernie’s a ballet dancer, a classical piano player, a writer, and, if I may say so, four stars in the schlafzimmer.”
Ernie and I chat (as Jack conveniently goes for the car); perhaps a little awkwardly on my part, and Ernie slips me his phone number. “Call me, Al. I’m here for another week. And very, well, schlafzimmer free.”
My life was about to change in ways I couldn’t envision then, but looking back at that star-spangled summer night, I’m grateful for Miss Liberties (bless his now long, long departed loquacious soul) for that extra-special introduction.
It truly changed everything for me, an average, just coming out, slightly streetwise kid of 19 who needed a mentor.