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Rosemary Clooney, actor George’s aunt, had two big, crazy, campy, mentally adhesive vocal hits in the mid-’50s: “Come ona my house, my housa, come on”; “Sisters, sisters, there could never be more devoted sisters.”
This last happy hymnody to sibling adoration was the oft-sung ditty of gay men, including Rich, myself, and new member of our merry band, Gary Widener. Taking our cue from the Clooney song, we jokingly called ourselves Claudia, Crystal, Margo. (Don’t ask.)
Gary (Margo), with one published short story in Scholastic Magazine and a role as a banker in a senior high play, fancied himself a writer and actor. He was plump, had puffy, winky eyes, was a tad fluttery with his finger tips. He made me look good as second fiddle to Rich (Claudia) in our hearts-were-young-and-gay pecking order.
I invited Rich, Gary, and, for cover, Audrey, to meet my folks. Audrey worked at Grinnell’s music store and was seeing a stone butch named Rusty (or was it Drano?). Our get-together went pass-for-straight, undetectably smooth.
My parents liked my funny, well-mannered chums (safe for staying out late past midnight with). They, in turn, found my folks easy going. Taffy, our six-month-old cocker spaniel, was center of attention. (She lived – eventually a one-saucer-a-day beer boozer – to age 16.)
My folks never quizzed me about who I was dating or when I was going to marry. Even in my thirties nothing was said. (When I told my mother after my father’s death in 1972 that I was gay she said she suspected as much. Yeah, sure, mom.)
Margo, er, Gary, had access to his dad’s car. A real plus. It was Gary’s idea, after several predictable, non-scoring trips to Toledo – drinking age 18 – that we drive to Cleveland, staying at the Y, or, as he called it, “the Homosexual Hilton.” We were eager to be new faces in town (“or fannies,” quipped Gary).
We got to the Y with time enough to leisurely check in, shave, shower, find out directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant, and plan strategies for bar conquest. Gary spent extra time in the restroom playing tappy clogs with – sight unseen – its lone stall occupant. It was odd cruising for Gary. The other guy proved to be short, swayback, and overly eager.
Cleveland’s one gay bar was packed, as all gay bars seemed to be back then. While I’ve forgotten its name, I vividly remember a portly, Italian tenor in a purple-colored silk shirt singing the vocally florid, “La Golondrina” (the swallow). Everyone cheered, and an attractive guy pressing against me for operatic, high-C support bought me a drink.
I told Gary I was going to spend the night (and hopefully all-day Saturday) with “Mark,” returning melodically fulfilled to the Y on Sunday. “I got a news flash for you, honey,” said Gary sweetly, “a top she ain’t.” As I left, Gary was intent on chatting up the tubby tenor. Rich had disappeared for a roundelay, location and scoring undetermined.
In his tidy, three-room apartment Mark romanced me to the music of an RCA LP album, “Girl On the Spanish Steps,” featuring the haunting voice of some long-forgotten soprano. (I’ve since tried several times to find a copy, sadly with no luck.)
Mark fixed an elaborate breakfast for me, kissed me often, and offered to take me sight seeing. But two things proved a little out of tune. Mark showed me glamour shots of himself in drag. And, as Gary predicted, he wasn’t a top.