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Detroit’s imposing, massive, block-wide Masonic Temple, now virtually empty, was built in 1922, or, 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 music 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 soprano Maria Callas in red-carpet recital (her conductor arrested at the long-closed, seedy Stone movie theater), 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, SM/BD devotees, straight and gay kink comrades gathered for an evening of mutual exposure, mental angst, 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 & 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 massed picture taken honoring 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 ll. We’d fake German accents, and talk in earshot of park benchers about bombings, black outs, 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.
Marcus said he was home on leave from the navy, and 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!”
Next day I put on a clean shirt. Brilcreem’d my hair – “A little dab will do you,” 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.”