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Parting Glances: Ys Beyond my Wildest Dreams

Charles Alexander
By | 2018-05-29T15:37:32+00:00 May 29th, 2018|Opinions, Parting Glances|

Long, long before The Village People made “Y.M.C.A.” the unofficial, persistent national anthem of Winter Olympian skater Brian Boitano, the Young Mens Christian Associations played an important role, second only to bars, as places to meet available others of like-minded, body-mind-and-spirit, triune persuasions (“You show me your triune, I’ll show you my try-unity. Let’s shower in unison. One with the others”).
In the ’60s and ’70s there were four YMCAs in the Detroit metropolitan area. There is only one now, located on busy, busy Broadway, in a brand-spanking-new, crowded downtown technicolored vista.
It was understood in the late ’50s that the “C” in YMCA also stood for “Contacting” (among other gerunds of neo-pagan opportunity). And in the course of my wanderlust years, I’ve spent many pleasant (and, I’ll add, radiantly-scrubbed) weekends at Ys in Hamtramck, Toledo, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Santa Fe, Windsor, Toronto, Montreal and, the subject of this reminiscence, New York City.
I recall only two mishaps. At Chicago’s exuberant, centrally-located Lawton Y in the 1970s, I decided to take a nap after a gin martini brunch at the nearby, crazy patchwork Haig Bar (leaving my door ajar with every good intention of do-unto-others, 7th-floor hospitality).
When I awoke I was chagrined to find that someone, in an act of non-Christian, self-serving umbrage, had taken my new shoes and left me with their size 14, floppy clogs (I have no recollection of what I bartered for the exchange).
In the Detroit Y, when I was a young “looker” (and by that I mean I was always looking), I happened to be on the wrong floor at the wrong time. A passkey check was demanded. “Hey, Mary! This is for two floors below. Why are you here?”
“It’s Sunday,” said I with a reasonably-straight face. “I’m just checking to see if my friends are planning to go to church.”
As I couldn’t remember their room number, their names or, what’s worse, their religious affiliations — if any (and I was wearing nothing but a baptismal tea towel) — I was told to genuflect and leave immediately!
My name was placed on the sinners list — rather sizable I learned from an attendant friend — of “transient undesirables.” But I remember New York City’s Sloan House YMCA, on West 34th Street, with much pleasure.
Thirteen hours, 15 minutes, 35 seconds is a long time to spend on a confining, tepidly-ventilated train, and when traveling friend Gary and I arrived at Grand Central Station we were both in need of a soothing shower (but not together).
We took a hectic cab ride to the Sloan House, where another friend, Richard, who flew in the day before, had made our weekend reservations.
Our stay during that hot, humid memorable July was for a week, at the cost of $50 (in the ’40s, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, of “Fahrenheit 451” fame, lived at Sloan House for $5 a week). Richard greeted us in the crowded lobby, eagerly telling us as we registered that he had met this “hot number” who was going to introduce him — and Gary and me — to his buddy Marlon Brando. Party time! Sure, Mary.
I hadn’t been in my room more than 10 perspiring minutes when there was a knock at my door.
“Hey, Alexander! You’re wanted on the hall phone.”
The call was from someone named Jerry.
“I saw you check in,” he said quite directly. “If you’re available I’d like to, er, you know, buy you coffee.”
Jerry — who proved to be a mature guy of 25 in contrast to my tenuous 19 — was pleasant, good-looking, all-around nice. He was from Sandusky, Ohio, staying for a three-day holiday weekend.
“If you like, I can show you around. We can hit a few of the tourist spots. Take in the bars. It’s up to you. How about it? Please!”
As Brando wasn’t a viable option, I said sure (thanks, Jerry — whatever nursing home you’re now in — for three memorable, if non-air-conditioned, romantic July days. Sorry, I can’t remember your last name or your try-whatever).

About the Author:

Charles Alexander