My Life As A Gay Man- 1971: George, Part 1
I left L.A. in February of 1971 and came back home to my parents to live in the same room I had first jerked off in as a 12 year old. There was a recession going on at the time and teaching jobs had dried up. And I had no idea what to do with two degrees, one in English, one in Dramatic Arts. In those days before Career Builders and Monster.com, the only way to find a professional job was to religiously comb the Employment section of the Sunday New York Times and hit the pavement, checking out the agencies in Manhattan.
After weeks of futility, one of these agencies came up with an assistant to the editorial supervisor position at the public relations department at Blue Cross. Public relations? Was that group sex, I chuckled to myself, but I guess my boyish looks which appealed to older women and closet pedophiles at the time got me the job because Betty Lumen, the editorial supervisor, hired me on the spot.
The office located high on the 35th floor of this corporate temple on 26th and Lex was reminiscent of today’s “Mad Men,” an Irish mafia dominated by a band of chain smoking men who often came back from liquid lunches. Betty, the only woman on the professional staff, had been hired by old man Coleman, the sainted founder of Blue Cross, but was in a state of perpetual hyperactivity, looking back now, I think because as competent as Betty was, she felt insecure in this Land of the Gonads. But we got along and she taught me the basics of a profession that would rule my life.
Sunday afternoon beer busts in the Village were perfect for fags like me who still lived with their parents. You could hit the bars around 5 or 6, and if you got lucky, connect with a guy with a place nearby and be home like a choirboy by 9.
I think we all know the type of guy who turns us on from the first nanosecond our cock stirs when we see him, and for me Club Med men were my drug. Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, as long as they were shorter than taller, beefier than skinnier, with plenty of dark body hair and at least a Mark Spits moustache to match.
And for me on that balmy August Sunday evening, that guy’s name was George, the man who I would spend the next two thirds of my life with, even if those years were far from perfect.
I spotted him in the back of the Roadhouse, a popular guy’s bar, munching peanuts from a barrel and bullshitting with some other guys who looked like buddies. Average height, he had a face that was a cross between a young Omar Sharif and a young John Stossel, black curly hair, thick black moustache, with square shoulders and a beefy demeanor like James Caan and, if his half unbuttoned flannel shirt didn’t lie, just as hairy.
I kept staring his way, off and on for the next half hour, as did he, that is, once he realized I was looking his way. But no grin or smile or dead stare to tell me he was interested. I guzzled another beer, and when I saw he was all alone, I swallowed my pride, and took off my two dollar K-Mart red T-shirt to see if all my fur would get his undivided attention.
Then, pretending I was on a movie set doing a scene with the crane camera following me across the bar, I walked right up to him with a pick-up line he never let me live down:
“What’s a good looking guy like you doing in a place like this?”
He laughed, I think more at my unoriginality than anything else, introduced himself and, in a Brooklynese accent that made my Jersey twang sound like the King’s English, asked if I wanted to go for coffee across the street. He was all guy – no nelly handsome hunk here – and I flipped my T-shirt back on as out we strolled.
For the next half hour or so over coffee, we chatted about the things two strangers chat about. George worked in the back offices of one of Wall Street’s brokerage firms, and lived with his older sister, Jeannie, in Bay Ridge, a neighborhood populated by second and third generation Syrians just like him. It was Jeannie who with his brothers raised him, a change of life baby and ten years younger than his youngest brother, after their parents died in a one-two punch when he was 5.
But all that kept going through my mind as I stared at his hairy, hairy chest and into those deep, brown eyes was that I wanted him, wanted him bad – even that fucken Brooklyn accent was a turn-on – and there was no place for us to go
Finally, I popped the question.
“Listen, sexy man, you interested in playing?”
“Maybe,” he replied with a sly but hesitant grin.
“Well, since I live at home and you live at home, maybe we can sneak down to the trucks. I hear sometimes one of them is open and guys will go down there …”
Those were the days when the trucks lined the Meat Market section of West Street on the river and I had gone down there a few Saturday nights but hadn’t been courageous or stupid enough to explore what all the moaning inside in the shadows was all about.
“No, not for me.” He answered strongly back, almost as if I had insulted him.
“I’m sorry, I just thought … ..”
“Listen, give me your number, I’ll call you during the week. There’s a flophouse hotel in the twenties I’ve taken some girls to. Maybe we can go there.”
“So you’ve seen both sides of the fence?” I replied, me a guy who had never even dated a girl.
“Yea, I gotta be honest with you, I’ve only been out a few years, still kinda closeted, and frankly most of this fucken life you can shove down the toilet. But I’ve fessed up to myself that I like guys more than girls, and like Willy Sutton once said, I rob banks ‘cause that’s where the money is. I go to gay bars ‘cause that’s where the men are.”
I learned later George had almost walked down the aisle twice but, unlike a lot of guys pressured by family or friends, had managed to escape the ring boy.
We shook hands like two str8 guys, then I went on my way and he on his. I hit a couple of more bars, felt both elated and depressed, and drowned that bittersweet ache in my stomach with a few more drinks before I aimed my Chevy Vega for the Lincoln Tunnel and home.
I didn’t expect to hear from him again, but was pleased I had not stood like I usually did, like a cigar store Indian all night, cruising, wondering, hoping but doing nothing. At least I had made a move.
But two days later in the office, I got the call.
It was George.
More George Friday