Jan 23, 2015

Viju Teaches Me How to Cruise

When I was in junior high and high school, I spent many Saturday afternoons at the Public Library on 4th Avenue in downtown Rock Island, or walking around outside, past dry cleaners and hole-in-the-wall restaurants and pay-by-the-hour hotels, enjoying the little thrills of danger and disgust.

And four blocks from the library, the most dangerous, the most disgusting: a small green building with boarded-up windows and the entrance in back, advertised by a neon sign of a woman in a grass skirt hula-dancing: The Hawaiian Lounge.

My friend insisted that we cross the street and look at a safe distance.  "That's a swish bar," he said solemnly.

I didn't really know what gay people were yet,  but I knew about swishes: thin, willowy beings, masculine in form but wearing rings and handbangs and perfume.  They flitted about like birds and never spoke above a whisper, except to shriek "Girlfriend!" to each other.

I had never been inside a heterosexual bar -- anything involving alcohol was forbidden to Nazarenes -- so I couldn't even imagine what a swish bar was like. Utter darkness except for the glow of an occasional cigarette?  Utter silence except for an occasional whispered discussion of...what?  What could swishes possibly have to talk about?

The summer after my high school graduation, I figured "it" out, but I was still afraid to go near JR's (the replacement for the Hawaiian Lounge).  What if someone saw me parking nearby, or walking down the street, and concluded that I was...you know?  Besides, I still couldn't imagine what went on in those dark, whispery, sinister realms.

In college, I read a coming out story called The Best Little Boy in the World, in which the author talks about making a call from a pay telephone in a gay bar.

Wait -- wait!  A pay phones in a gay bar?  Someone from the Straight World would have to go in to install it.  How was that possible!

So even after I turned 21, I never set foot in JR's.  It was terrifying.  Once I drove around the block ten times before losing my nerve and going home.

When I went to Indiana University for grad school, I was still afraid to go anywhere near a gay bar.  My friend Viju kept kept inviting me, but I made one excuse after another.

"Indianapolis?  That's pretty far, isn't it?"

"Well, what about Bullwinkle's?  It's here in Bloomington.  Only four blocks from campus."

"Um...you know, I don't drink."

"I don't drink either! They have soda and Perrier."

"Well....I don't know how to dance."

"You don't have to dance!  You can just sit there if you want."

"But what if...."

"What do you think?  A lot of drag queens are going to tie you to the pool table and spank you with the pool cues?"

"No, but...well, what if I see someone I know?"

"He'll see you, too, so you can both keep the secrets, right?"

Finally, one Saturday night in March 1983, I gave in.

It was a five-minute walk from the campus, next to a theater and an office building and across the street from a sleazy straight bar. Brown wood walls, windows too far up for passersby to see.  No name outside (they put up a sign later). You went in through the back door.

I hesitated.  Viju took my arm. "It's fine, Boomer.  Nothing to worry about."

Inside there was a narrow bar with stools all around, a cigarette machine, a pay phone, and a small dance floor. Posters of semi-nude men on the walls.  No pool table.

It was not dark or quiet -- music was blaring.  Billie Jean, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?, Self Control, It's Raining Men -- all of my favorite subtext songs.

It was packed, mostly men, occasionally a pair of women.  Mostly college-aged guys standing in clumps, plus some older guys -- in their 30s -- sitting at the bar.

While Viju went to the bar to get our drinks from the shirtless, buffed bartender, I stood by the cigarette machine, reading gay newspapers -- The Works from Indianapolis, Windy City Times from Chicago.  I read about Querelle, a new gay-themed movie based on a novel by Jean Genet.  I saw gay comix for the first time.

Our Cokes came very watery, with cherries.  We stood for a few moments -- Viju called it "pose and model" (he meant "stand and model").  Then we walked slowly around the bar.  Viju showed me how to "cruise" -- make eye contact-- and "give attitude" -- pretend not to see guys you didn't like.

We talked to a dozen guys -- a member of the swim team, an older guy from Brown County, an undergrad political science major and his boyfriend, and Joseph, who lived in my dorm.  Before the night was over, I danced with three of them, kissed two, and got four telephone numbers.

Now I understood what gay bars were for.  Not to drink, or dance, or cruise, although those things happened.  Gay bars were havens in a homophobic world, the only places where you could comment on cute guys and gay-subtext songs, discuss boyfriends and job problems and crazy relatives, complain, strategize, commiserate, advise.  The only places where you could meet with friends and ex-friends, lovers and ex-lovers, a whole extended family, while outside heterosexuals rumbled past, oblivious.

Today gay people often colonize the sites of the straight world.  What do you need a gay bar for, when you can drink and dance and discuss boyfriends anywhere, and cruise by posting selfies on Grindr?  But sometimes I miss sneaking down a side street to the back door of a bar with no windows, and bursting into a secret, safe world.

See also: The Boys of Eigenmann Hall; Viju and I Compete Over Pecs

10 Good Stories for Gay Cruising

Everyone should have a repertoire of 10 good stories from their past, 5 to use for cruising, impressing potential dates, or meeting new people in general, and 5 more to use during dates.

Selecting good stories takes some thought.

1. They should take no more than 2 minutes to tell, and require no extensive explanations or"set up":
2, They should present you in a positive light, but not so positive that they seem like bragging.
3. No depictions of death, disease, homophobia, racism, or anything unpleasant.
4. No depictions of how different things used to be when you were a kid.
5. No complaining about anyone or anything. It puts you in a negative light.
6. Kissing and cuddling are ok, but no depictions of penises or sexual activity.
7. Long, tedious coming out stories used to be part of every first meeting in gay communities. Not anymore.  Avoid them, unless yours is particularly fascinating.
8. They should not involve religion or politics.  Save these topics until you know the person better.
9. And, above all, the stories should be interesting!

Got all that?

Time for a pop quiz.  Which of these stories is appropriate for cruising or meeting new people in general?  (These are just the outlines; the actual stories will be longer).

A. When I was little, I had a Book of Cute Boys, but my father got mad, thinking that it might indicate gayness, and grabbed it and threw it out the car window.

B. When I was little, I wanted to feel the muscles of a Bodybuilder on the Beach, and my mother said "Someday you'll have muscles, and the girls will all like you!"  But I wanted boys to like me.

Answer: B.
A. makes Dad look violent and borderline abusive, but B.just makes fun of Mom's heterosexist misinterpretation of the incident.

A.  When I was a kid, my Uncle Paul told us to never go near the peat bog behind the cornfield, because a Naked Man lived there, and he would eat us.  But one day my cousins and I went back there hunting for alligators, and sure enough, a Naked Man jumped out of the cornfield.

B. When I was a kid, our preacher said that the 1969 Moon Landing would be the start of the Rapture, when all of the Christians would go up to heaven.  My boyfriend Dan and I were worried that one of us would be taken up, and the other left behind.

Answer: A
A. has nudity, but it's not risque.  B. requires too much set-up about fundamentalist beliefs, it draws attention to the fact that I remember the year 1969, and there's no punchline: the Rapture didn't come.

A, During my freshman year in college, I worked at the Carousel Snack Bar in the mall, with the boss from hell: vulgar, abusive, condescending, and fond of sexual harassment.  To make matters worse, at least twice a day, he would grab a magazine and do things in the bathroom.  So we played a trick on him, forcing him to Reveal His Trouser Snake.

B. During my freshman year in college, my friend Mary asked me to determine whether her brother was gay.  He told me that he had a girlfriend who lived in another state and rarely visited.  Then we spent the night together.  I reported back to Mary that he was definitely straight.

Answer: B.
A. is too risque, and puts the boss in a negative light.  B merely plays with Mary's naivete.

A. When I was in grad school in Bloomington, my boyfriend Jimmy accidentally invited his homophobic friend to my Halloween party.  When he found out we were gay, he started saying things like "It's a choice!", so I "chose" to be straight, saying "boobs!" and drinking 1 1/2 cans of beer.  But when he started abusing one of my guests, I poured the rest of my beer on his head.  That's why I've had only 1 1/2 cans of beer in my life.

B. When I was in grad school in Bloomington, my friend Viju and I tried to figure out if our professor was gay.  Viju tried the "confessing a sexual crisis" approach, I tried complementing him on his physique.  My strategy worked.

Answer: B
A. is too long, with too many characters, and gives me some internalized homophobia.  B. is shorter, and doesn't involve bragging: notice that I didn't display my physique.

A. When I lived in West Hollywood, my friend Alan could get any guy he wanted, with no exceptions.  Usually this was a pain, but one night at Mugi, I had just convinced a guy named Tranh to go to dinner with me, when a celebrity came in and stole him away.  In a moment, they were kissing!  So Alan zoomed in, easily stole Tranh away from the celebrity, and said "Oh, by the way, Boomer will be there too."

B. When I lived in West Hollywood, I ran into a celebrity at the post office. We dated for about three months, but when his friends started calling me "the boyfriend" and suggesting that we move in together, he ended it.

Answer: A
A. makes Alan the hero, and has a humorous "punchline."  B. makes the celebrity boyfriend the villain, and just kind of fizzes out at the end.

See also: and 15 Simple Rules of Gay Cruising and 10 Good Stories for Gay Dating.

A Beefcake Tour of France

After being surrounded with the best art in the world for a pitiably short number of days or weeks or months, no one will blame you for choosing more weeks in Paris over Dijon or Strasbourg. But if you need a break from the sensory overload, here's a week-long drive into the countryside.  Don't be surprised if you run into more artistic treasures.

And cute guys.

Day 1: From Paris, head west on A11 to Chartres (1 hour).  See the famous Cathedral, then go on to LeMans (1 1/2 hours) (stop to visit the famous Cathedral).

Stop at the Place des Jacobins, to see the Quinconces Park and the Cultural Center, and this monument to a nude Wilbur Wright.

Not a lot of gay life, but there are a few bars.

Day 2: West on the E50 for about two hours to Rennes. the heart of eastern Brittany (though only about 2% of the population speaks Breton).  See the Musee de Bretagne, and then stop at Parc du Thabor, which has some nice views, and some nude statues, including Faune a la Flute.

In the evening, try the Sauna California on the rue de Leon, but be careful: on some nights, it's mixed male-female.

Day 3:  I would spend a lot more time exploring Brittany and the Breton language, but if you're not a language buff, you might want to go south on the D775 and then east on the E50 to Tours (2 1/2 hours).  The most interesting sights are the Chateau de Tours, the Basilica de St. Martin, and the Botanical Gardens.  There are several gay bars within walking distance of the Basilica.

Day 4: It's an hour and a half drive to Bourges, and the Cathedral St. Etienne, and then another three hours on to Dijon.  You'll have just enough time to go to the Place Francois Rude, with this nude statue in its center, for dinner.  Then spend the evening at Le Bossuet Sauna, near the Cathedral.

Day 5:  Check out this beefy, nude male (hugging a nude female) on Beune Street, then drive two hours east on the A36 to Mulhouse, an old Rheinish city near the German border.

More after the break.

Jan 21, 2015

Why I Stopped Reading "Doonesbury"

Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury  first appeared in national syndication in 1970.  I had heard of the strip, but knew nothing about it until the summer of 1982, right after my college graduation, when I found a copy of The Doonesbury Chronicles (1975) at a garage sale.

It came along to grad school in Bloomington with me, along with my Greek New Testament and the copy of The City and the Pillar that I bought in West Hollywood.

I was mesmerized by these 1970s college students, who live together on a commune outside Walden College, and form an alternate family, with heterosexual romance virtually absent.

Mike Doonesbury, the level-headed, somewhat naive central character.
The radical hippie Mark Slackmeyer.
Pot-loving "freak" Zonker Harris
Conservative all-American B.D.
And especially Joanie Caucus, a housewife who abandoned a heterosexual life for the wild freedom of the commune.

In Bloomington in 1982, I started reading the strip in the Herald-Times.  The politics bored me, and I disliked the custom of using weird icons for political figures, like a cowboy hat for Ronald Reagan.

But hetero-romance was still virtually absent, and there were occasional glimmers of the same-sex friendships that once fueled Walden Pond.

From January 1983 to October 1984, Trudeau took a hiatus from the strip.  When it returned, I was in Houston, teaching at Hell-fer-Sartain State College, the worst place in the world, and to my consternation, the characters had "grown up."  That is, most of them had acquiesced to the heterosexist life trajectory of husbands and wives.  Mike married J.J. , B.D. married Boopsie, Joanie married Rick Redfern.

So I abandoned them as relics of the Straight World.  I haven't read Doonesbury since.

But I have researched the gay story lines.

1. Andy Lippincott appeared in January 1976 as a fellow law student Joanie is crushing on.  In February, he tells her that he's gay.  She's shocked -- she asks "are they sure?", certain that he must have gotten several doctors to diagnose such a serious condition.

Then Andy vanishes.  In the late 1980s, he appears again, to die of AIDS.  Many newspapers refused to run the continuity, stating that the topic of gayness was "inappropriate for the comics page."

2. In 1977, Joanie decides to spend the night with her boyfriend, Rick.  No gay content, but many newspapers refused to run the "morning after" strip because they thought it was two guys in bed together.

3. In the 1990s, Mark realizes that he is gay.  By that time, he is an adult, the host of a call-in political radio program.  He and his co-host, the conservative Chase, begin dating, and finally marry in 2007.  They have since divorced.

Not a lot, but still, more than most newspaper comics.

See also: Hell fer Sartain State College.

Jan 20, 2015

Uncle Edd's Gun

Year after year, summertime and Christmastime, we would visit my Grandpa Prater in the old farmhouse outside of Garrett, Indiana, and Uncle Edd was there.

He was tall and lanky, with a beard and piercing eyes.  He didn't participate much in the conversations about long ago-events in the hills of Kentucky and the exploits of husbands and wives.  He sat in  an old easy chair, smoking cigarettes, his face illuminated in firelight like an otherworldly creature.  After awhile, he grabbed his car keys and left without a word, driving out into the darkness of the Indiana countryside.

Was he a secret agent, off to fight evil Russian spies?  Or maybe he was a wizard, off to the cemetery to summon the spirits of the undead?

I thought he was the coolest guy in the world.

My Cousin Buster lived nearby, and saw him all the time, but he, too, thought of Uncle Edd as a mysterious, otherworldly character.  One of his favorite games was spying, hiding beneath Uncle Edd's bedroom window and trying to catch a glimpse of what he had in there.  Spy equipment?  Treasure? Magical implements?

But the curtain was always drawn.

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Jan 18, 2015

12 More Public Penises of Spain

Most visitors to Spain stick to the provinces south and east of Madrid.  The south has gypsies, oranges, and Moorish architecture.  The north has factories.

But there's a lot of attractions in the north.  Two distinct languages: Galician (close to Portuguese), and Basque, unique among the languages of the world.

Some of the world's best beaches.

Some of the world's best beefcake.

And a surprising amount of nudity in  male art.

1. Avila, about an hour's drive north of Madrid, is a beautiful walled city, famous for the Medieval mystic Teresa de Avila and for a naked limestone monster just outside the city wall.

2. Zamora, about an hour and a half north of Avila, on the Duero River, boasts more Romanesque-style churches than any other city in Spain.   Plus this modernist Homenaje a Leon Felipe, featureless except for his penis.

Everyone thinks he's a soccer star raising his hands in victory.  Actually, Leon Felipe was a poet.

3. Viriato isn't exactly nude, but he's buffed.  He was the leader of the Lusitanian people who fought off the invading Romans between 147 and 139 BC.

4. Pontevedra is in the northeast corner of Spain, about three hours from Zamora (the best way to get there is through Portugal).  It's the heart of Galicia. with lots of beefcake art, such as the Fiel Contraste, a bodybuilder holding a scale.

5. Oviedo, about four hours east on the Bay of Biscay, is the capital of Asturias.  It has a nice Archaeological Museum, the Boys-Sauna (don't worry, the clientele is all adult), and the Cathedral of San Salvador.  In the Plaza de Espana, across from the Cathedral, you can see this neoclassical boy and dolphin.

6. Plus the Monumento a la Concordia, in the Plaza del Carbayon, depicting three very muscular naked men and three naked women (not romantic couples).

More after the break.

A Naked Baseball Player in the Kitchen

I hate sports!  Especially playing them:  I could never understand the allure of waiting for a hard round projectile to come zooming out of the sky and hit you in the head.

But also watching them: why watch a bunch of guys who don't even have their shirts off chase a little projectile around?

I had seen only one half of a baseball game in my life, on August 12, 2003, when I was living in Florida.  And that was only because Yuri was dating one of the Florida Marlins.

They were pro-gay.  They bought ads in gay magazines, and the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus sang before the game on AIDS Awareness Day.

But that didn't stop Jim the Baseball Player (not his real name) from being closeted.

Yuri met him online sometime in May 2003.  He always went down to Miami for their dates, so even after three months, I had never met Jim.

See also: Yuri and I Trade Dates.