Parting Glances: In Cass Park with Bobby Burns

By |2018-07-11T15:45:17-04:00July 11th, 2018|Opinions, Parting Glances|

Detroit’s imposing, massive, block-wide Masonic Temple was built in 1922 — cornerstone-dated 5022 — following the Hebraic custom of noting esoteric history.
At one time in the 1960s every major dance company in the world, classical musician, orchestra and performer appeared there; many brought to the city by famed impresario Sol Hurok.
I heard Paul Paray many times conduct the DSO, thrilled to include soprano Maria Callas in red-carpet recital — her conductor arrested at the long-closed, seedy Stone Movie Theatre — I saw Russian defector Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn dance a memorable “Swan Lake” (curiously, too, a few years ago I attended a freak gathering in a small masonic auditorium, where leathermen and women, BDSM devotees, straight and gay kink comrades gathered for an evening of mutual exposure, mental angst and 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 and Health magazines, admiring muscle idols Clarence Ross and Steve 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 mass picture taken that honored 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 Joan McGonical and I would pretend we were European survivors of World War II. We’d fake German accents, and talk in earshot of park benchers about bombings, blackouts and the horrors we had endured. Occasionally, listeners who felt sorry for us – or liked our performances – gave us nickels and dimes.
I suppose I was about 16 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.
His name was Marcus and he said he was home on leave from the navy. He 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,” Marcus smiled, patting me on the shoulder. “Anchors away!”
The next day, I put on a clean shirt and Brylcreemed my hair – “A little dab’ll do ya,” ran the radio commercial – and arrived at 11:15. I sat there for an hour. Waiting, waiting. Marcus never showed. Soon, it began to rain. It was a disappointment. The first of many in my young, just-coming-out, gay life.”

About the Author:

Charles Alexander