Mar 2, 2015

Fall 1973: The House Full of Men with Guns

One Saturday in the fall of eighth grade, my friend Craig and I rode our bikes through Lincoln Park in Rock Island, and then past Alleman, the Catholic High School.

Nazarenes said that Catholics were dangerous, demon-possessed, anxious to brainwash you with their weird Latin chants.  I didn't really believe it -- but still, the sense of danger was exciting, like approaching a cage of roaring tigers.

Across the street from the Catholic school was a big white house with a fence of spiked logs, like they used in the Old West.

"See that house?" Craig asked. "Do you know why it has such a big, spiked fence?"

"Because it's full of Catholics?"

"No, because it's full of men with guns.  If you go in there, they'll shoot you."

Men with guns?

I wasn't afraid of guns.  My Dad and uncles had been taking me hunting ever since I learned to walk.  I liked the all-masculine preserve, and the phallic symbolism of a gigantic gun pushing up from a guy's crotch.

 "So...what do the Men with Guns look like?"

"Oh, they're big.  With big muscles.  They can tear a steel girder in half with their bare hands."

Being a naive twelve-year old, I didn't realize that Craig was putting me on.

"Let's take a look!" I exclaimed.  I was anxious to see these muscular men polishing their guns and tearing steel girders in half.

" can't do that.  We'll get shot."

Ignoring him, I parked my bike, walked around to the back, and peered through the gaps in the wooden spikes.  I could vaguely see a grassy yard, two trees, and some lawn chairs -- wait -- was that a guy in a swimsuit?

I needed a better look.

No way was I going to try to climb that fence!  In fifth grade, I nearly killed myself falling into an outhouse while looking for Uncle Edd's gun,  and last summer, I banged my head into the side of the pool trying to see if my boyfriend Dan was kissing another guy.

How about just going to the door and knocking?

I had an excuse: the preacher was always talking about the importance of soul-winning, going door to door to win strangers for Christ, or at least inviting them to church.  Two or three times a year, the high school kids divided into groups of three and went soul winning in different neighborhoods in Rock Island and Moline.

I was too young to go with them, but maybe I could convince my Sunday school teacher, Brother Dino, to bring me.

The next day in church I told him, "There's a house by the Catholic school, and it's full of Catholic sinners.  I rode past on my bike yesterday, and God laid a burden on my heart to win the souls inside."

"Are you sure?"  Brother Dino asked.  "You're a little young for soul-winning."

"I'm mature for my age,"

"But...Catholics are advanced.  Satan has a strong grip on them.  They'll try to brainwash you."

"You're big and strong," I said, taking his arm.  "You can protect me from anything, I bet."

So the next Saturday, I went soul-winning with Brother Dino and a high school girl named Cecilia (two women weren't safe going out together, and two men were intimidating, so you always went soul-winning in a mixed-sex group of three)

We walked up to the door, and Brother Dino knocked.  I felt my heart racing.  Any moment now, I would see the inside of the house, with muscular men cleaning their guns.

A cute guy in a black shirt with no buttons answered the door. He eyed our Bibles suspiciously.  "May I help you?"

"I'm Brother Dino, and this is Jeff and Cecilia.  We're here to share some Good News with you."

"Good news?  What...."

"The Good News that God has a place in heaven waiting for you.  All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior."

"Um...ok, won't you come in?"

He ushered us into the most Catholic room I had ever seen.  A framed portrait of the Pope! Statues of saints and the Virgin Mary! Crucifixes, rosaries, candles!  A scary, evil Catholic Bible on the coffee table! Catholic magazines!

"This is the rectory of Saint Mary's Church," he said.  "I'm Father Benedict.  Father Andrew is puttering around in the garden somewhere."

Seeing our faces drained of blood, he grinned.  "Maybe you'd like some tea before you tell me about Our Lord?"

Brother Dino turned and ran from the house as if he was being chased by monsters.  Cecilia and I followed.  We jumped into the car and zoomed away, and didn't stop until we got back to the Nazarene church.

Then he started yelling.  "Catholic priests!  You brought me to a houseful of Catholic priests!  Do you have any idea how dangerous they are?  We were lucky to get out of there alive!"

But I couldn't help thinking: There were two men living in the house without wives.  They had found a way to escape the "what girl do you like?" brainwashing, not with guns, but with Catholic cassocks.  .

March 24, 1975: Mitzi and a Hundred Guys

March 24, 1975.  The Monday before Easter.  I check the TV Guide and find a special, Mitzi and a Hundred Guys.  

I don't know who Mitzi is, but anything with a hundred guys is going on my DVR List.

Just kidding -- in those days you watched it in real time or not at all.  So I plop myself in front of the tv.  My parents are surprised that I want to see something with "singing and dancing" in it; usually I hate variety shows.

There's a lot of singing and dancing, interspliced with comedy skits like Carol Burnett.   But the hundred guys make up for the tedium.

They include  included practically every male tv star,  plus some movie and radio stars.  I divide them into:

 Hot guys that I know.

Hot guys that I don't (such as Rich Little, left).

 Ugly guys that I know.

Ugly guys that I don't.

But the highlight is Mitzi crooning the Irving Berlin torch song "Always" while bodybuilders in jock straps surround her.

At least, I remember jock straps.  But, thanks to the internet, I see that they were wearing white pants.  And I can identify them.

1, Don Peters (1931-2001), a five-time Mr. America winner who also posed for the gay-porn photos of Bruce of L.A.

2. Kent Kuehn, a three-time Mr. America who appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Stay Hungry (1975), the film that popularized bodybuilding.

3. Bob Birdsong (b. 1948), who appeared in two gay porn films, California Supermen (1972) and Loadstar (1973) before winning the 1975 Mr. Universe title. He later "found Jesus," got a "beautiful wife" and started a ministry.

4. Ric Drasin (b. 1944, recent photp), a bodybuilder, professional wrestler, and actor, with credits ranging from Ben (1972) and Sextette (1978) to The Shield (2004).  He is also a spokesman for Gold's Gym and a wrestling instructor.

Mar 1, 2015

Fall 1996: The Preacher and the Homeless Teenager

David was 43 years old, but an honorary twink.  He grew up in an ultra-conservative household in Arkansas, got married, and became a Baptist preacher -- then, on his 40th birthday, had his first same-sex experience.  He came out, quit his job, divorced his wife, and moved to San Francisco -- all in the same week!

He got an apartment and a job, joined a gym, bought a new wardrobe consisting mostly of leather, and went cruising.  Every day.  At lunchtime, after work, in the evening.  Sometimes on the way to work.

David was an equal-opportunity cruiser.  Young, old, black, white, rich, poor, he didn't care as long as you had either a nice smile or a big package.

But still, I was shocked when he cruised the panhandler.

In San Francisco, panhandlers were everywhere, lined up outside ATM machines, restaurants, Muni stations, waving their cups, holding their signs that said "hungry!" or "Disabled veteran" or chanting  "Any change?  Any change?  Any change?"

Most people ignored them, figuring if you gave them money, you would be tagged as an "easy mark" and followed by many more.  Besides, you couldn't tell who was actually in need and who just wanted money for drugs.   There were many charities in town that could provide food and housing more equitably.

But even if you gave them money, inviting them home was quite a different thing.  No one did.  Ever.

Except David.

One day we went to Orphan Andy's for breakfast before work, and near the Muni station we passed a young panhandler, short, slim, probably in his 20s, wearing a baseball cap and an "Oakland A's" jersey.  His sign read: "Kicked out of the house for being gay!"

David dropped fifty cents into his cup, said "God bless you!", and moved on.

"Cute!"  he told me when we were out of earshot.  "I'll bet he's open for business!"

"You mean as a hustler?" I asked.  "Probably.  I hear that a lot of panhandlers will drop their pants and give you a show for a dollar.  Except they're not usually very attractive.  Living on the street, you don't get a lot of opportunities to hit the gym."

"Well, that twink was hot.  And I didn't mean as a hustler -- I meant as a date."

My mouth dropped.  "Are you crazy?  You can't cruise panhandlers!"

"Why not?  Worried that he'll stab me and steal all of my stuff?"  He patted my shoulder. "Just because they don't have a place to stay, they're automatically criminals, right?  Got a few prejudices there, Jeff?"

"It's not that," I said, embarrassed.  "But you know...."

"Oh, you're worried that he's poz (HIV positive).  I don't doubt it -- safe sex isn't exactly a priority on the street.  But I'm not stupid.  I never go downtown without a condom."

"Anyway, he's at least 20 years younger than you.  Middle-aged guys can't cruise twinks.  It's not done."

"Well, there's a first time for everything."

"Yes, but..."  I struggled to articulate.  "You're in a position of power over him.  Sex with him sounds like exploitation."

"Jesus had dinner with tax collectors and sinners," David said with a shrug.

The next morning we passed the same panhandler, and David gave him a dollar and shook his hand before saying "God bless you."

"I'm gay," the boy pointed out, as if that prohibited us from using the word "God" around him.

"The Metropolitan Community Church has an outreach program for homeless youth..."  I said.

"I know.  I've been there to take showers and get new clothes.  But I don't like churches much.  My Dad was a strict Baptist, and when he found out I was gay, he held my head under water to force the 'gay demon' out."

"I heard that!" David exclaimed.  "I used to be a Baptist minister -- they didn't get that being gay is a gift from God.  So is sex," he added.

The boy grinned.

"My name's David."


"Is this your usual spot?  Maybe I'll see you tomorrow."

As we walked away, David nudged me.  "Still worried about exploitation?"

"Sort of.  Give him some new clothes, buy him dinner, but having sex with him just seems exploitive."

"Would you like to supervise? Or share?"

I admit, I was curious.

On the third day, David gave Cole another dollar and a sausage-and-cheese bagel and invited him to have dinner at his apartment.  "Oh, and Jeff is coming, too."

That night, Cole arrived at David's doorstep, wearing a see-through t-shirt, and carrying a bouquet of flowers, of all things.

Over a dinner of chicken tetrazzini and tiramisu, Cole told us about his upper-middle class home in Tucson.  His father was a prominent lawyer.  He had three older brothers and sisters, one a lawyer, another married to a lawyer.

"And I'm the black sheep of the family.  Straight C's, suspended for fighting, arrested for smoking pot, and 'an abomination in the eyes of the Lord' to boot."

"You're not an abomination in anyone's eyes," David said.  They were holding hands under the table.

"You think so?  You should see how people at the Muni Station look at me.  Like I'm lower than dirt.  When they look at me at all.   They don't get that I'm just a regular, normal guy.  I like sports and stuff.  I like hot guys."

Soon they were kissing and ignoring their tiramisu. They moved into the bedroom.  I cleared the table and joined them.

Two weeks later, Cole was on a bus to Phoenix, where his older brother had agreed to take him in: "gay or not, he's still my brother."

What he needed the most was not money or a place to stay.  It was to be treated like a "regular, normal guy," not an abomination because he was homeless or gay.