Dec 1, 2014

Looking for Love in the Encyclopedia

My parents married on the spur of the moment,while my father was on leave from the navy.  They immediately drove cross-country from Indiana to Long Beach, where Dad was gone all day, leaving Mom alone in a small apartment.

In those days, fast-talking salesmen often knocked on your door, and the naive 20-year old with her first checking account was an easy target.  Mom ended up buying several things that she regretted later: a vacuum cleaner, a set of ceramic dogs, a record-of-the-month service.

And a 20-volume black-and-red bound set of Collier's Encyclopedia.

The salesman told her that it would be essential for her future children's success in school.

When I was growing up, the set of Collier's Encyclopedias, the ceramic dogs, and the late 1950s records were stored in the basement, exiled as reminders of the loneliest, most miserable period in Mom's life.

(No, I don't know why my parents didn't get just rid of them before leaving Long Beach.)

The salesman was lying: not once did I, or my brother or sister, have a homework assignment that required the Collier's Encyclopedia.

But I loved it.  When I was in grade school at Denkmann, I used to bring volumes upstairs and leaf through them while the family was watching tv.

My brother derided me as a "braniac" for reading the encyclopedia.  But I didn't actually read much, although occasionally an interesting fact sprang out at me, like the Yaghan of Pantagonia wore no clothes, even in bitter winter weather.

I was looking for beefcake photos, or pictures of men who "liked" each other.

I found dozens of them, in articles on Indonesia, Indian Tribes of South America, African Tribes, China, Bolivia, and the Artic.

South American Indians wrestling, but I thought they were hugging.

Pygmies of the Belgian Congo (now Zaire).

Barrel-chested Aymara tribesmen of the Andes.

Muscular African natives wearing only loincloths.

Javanese athletes wearing only suggestive pouches, holding hands.

My first glimpses of a "good place," where same-sex desire was free and open, came from the My Village Books and the Collier's Encyclopedia.

By the way, years later, I looked up "homosexuality" in the index, and found only one reference, under Abnormal Psychology.

It's amazing that I found glimmers of hope in the silence.

See also: The Gay Village of Sonia and Tim Gidal.