A Life UNkind

How do you leave the past behind
When it keeps finding ways to get to your heart?
It reaches way down deep and tears you inside out
Till you’re torn apart.
-Rent

No matter how cynical you become,
it’s never enough to keep up.
- Lily Tomlin

As I embark on this writing journey, bear one thing in mind.  Roe vs Wade wasn’t put into effect until 1972.

Before you start reading, bear in mind that this is a VERY long work-in-progress that will probably change from read to read.  You can view the photos in a larger size by clicking on them.

Keep your eye on the ‘to be continued’…that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the writing.  Life sections are titled by region.


A Life UNkind.

In The Beginning…

I was born in 1963 in a small hospital in Rochester, Pennsylvania nine days before President Kennedy was assassinated, and my country began its descent into the hell that it has become. And as proof that everyone born before the assassination knows where they were when they heard that Kennedy had died, I was taking a bottle in the kitchen next to the stove.  Ok, so I don’t actually remember that, but it’s where I was told I was.

I have few memories of my childhood.  But I’ll try to embark.  The first thing that comes to mind is sitting in front of the TV in the apartment above my great grandmother’s store, eating French fries, or maybe it was fried shrimp…the TV dinner variety.  I think I had a blue terry cloth robe. The next thing to pop into my mind is a little red wagon filled with Easter fluff, and two little bunnies that were taken over by my mother (the ultimate Indian giver) and eventually eaten by stray dogs in the pen in our back yard.  I vaguely recall being loaded in the car and taken to summer camp somewhere, and returned home the same night. I remember taking a bath with my father.  I remember getting yelled at when my brother flicked lime Jello at the bird cage. I remember an evening with my mother and her friend Cathy Barber and her two girls Gina and Tammy, in our living room watching an ABC movie of the week called ‘The Deadly Dream’. Getting slightly older I remember being locked out of the house, and cutting the screen on my bedroom window to get in.  I remember being a bad boy lead by some neighborhood kids, and rolling things down a hill…and that hill ended on a roadway, so passing cars would suddenly have something rolling across the road in front of them. Now, the bad boy memories were not teen years.  I was under ten.  I remember a big garden between our house and the neighbors, the Armstrongs, Ruby and Marvin.  I remember sitting at their house one evening with my parents and falling asleep next to a coffee table.  My head bobbed down and I hit my head on the table, and the next thing I knew I was being whisked into the kitchen and my head held under the running water.  I still have a small scar in my left eyebrow. I remember eating mashed potatoes with buttermilk in my grandparents’ trailer. As well as Braunschweiger sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip.  My grandfather called the Braunschweiger ‘tiger meat’. I also remember vanilla pudding and vanilla wafers. I remember my great grandmother’s yippy Chihuahua named ‘Soody’.

I also remember hanging out with my grandfather at the old Turner’s Club in Monaca.  The old time social hall and bar, with the old plank wooden floors, the pool tables with the mesh net pockets, and ‘chocolate pop’ by the bottle.  I also have one memory of being forced to attend a calisthenics class with a ton of other boys my age who were doing somersaults and jumping jacks while I hid behind the curtain on the stage. I remember being in the Cactus Lounge once or twice with my father. I remember using a hammer to drive a nail into a can of beets in the basement.  I still despise beets to this day.

And that’s about all I can remember from my very young years.  Except for suddenly realizing that my father stopped coming home.

Wilma Joyce Radakovich

I was the mistake of a lower middle class rural 18 year old woman, Joyce Radakovich and her alcoholic 25 year old husband, Fred Martin (well, the

Frederick George Martin

‘husband’ part came later I firmly believe). She had gone off to Chicago to escape Western Pennsylvania, when she and her friend ‘Mary Ann’ entered a liquor store that was managed by my father.  My mother was a stunning young woman who, if she’d played her cards with a little more brain power, could have had any quality man she wanted.  This is a woman who was offered an opportunity to pose for the cover (not the insides) of Penthouse Magazine, which she turned down.

The story I heard from my father was that when she entered his liquor store, he threw the keys to his partner and told him to lock the door because ‘this is the woman I’m going to marry’.

Well, she married him.  But I truly believe that some alcohol and a smooth talking big city boy ended up going where a condom should have accompanied, and voila…an unwanted child.  So much for the big city dreams and the escape from Western Pennsylvania.  They ended up moving back to live with her parents in a tiny mobile home in a mobile home park owned by her tyrant grandmother.

It was kind of a cool mobile home though.  One of those 1930’s or 40’s silver jobs, with the master bedroom in the very back, with blonde wood paneling (the real stuff, not just a picture of wood), built in night stands with drawers, a ‘second bedroom’ which was a set of bunk beds with another built in dresser.  Between the two bedrooms was the bathroom, which was a tiny toilet, in front of a tiny sink.  And if you were really tired while doing your business, you could lean on the sink.  There was also a bathtub.  At the age of 5, I could fit in it just fine.  I never could figure out how an adult could however. I think there might have been a shower as well.  The front of the trailer was the kitchen/dining/living room combo, which together was about half the size of my current dining room.  The trailer was in a lot along an embankment that overlooked a stream (well, ‘creek’ really) and the ‘valley’ that used to house the rest of my great grandmother’s mobile home park on Chapel Road.  I can remember a time when there were three trailers in the lot including my grandparent’s.  Some time in the 70’s it whittled down to just one.  My grandparent’s.  Even the valley was just a neighbor’s house and an auto garage that used to do repairs.

After a time (don’t ask me how much) we moved into a small apartment

All that was left of Bakers Store in 2009

owned by my great grandmother.  She had a small two story house, with a general store built on the front called ‘Baker’s Store’.  She lived more or less on the first floor, with her bedroom and maybe bathroom on the second floor.  The rest of the second floor became somewhat of a rental apartment.  At the time we lived there, the general store had shut down, and she rented it out to college students.  It really was more like a big concrete dorm room with a soda fountain counter and a handful of really incredible old wooden display cases.  She had a well and a coal furnace in the back on that first floor, along with the coal room, and her old wringer washer, which always smelled of excessive bleach.  She had a big kitchen, and after the store had closed, she continued selling penny candy out of the kitchen windows to the neighborhood kids. Her living room was also down on the first floor.

Four years after I was born they popped out a second child, Randy.

This great grandmother, Laura Bock Baker, was of West Virginia hillbilly roots, but GERMAN ancestry.  No one was good enough for her unless they were German. Her husband, Dewey Baker, was GERMAN.  And all of her children were GERMAN, and married GERMANS!

Wilma Lucille Baker Radakovich

Except my grandmother…Wilma Lucille Baker.  She married William Joseph Radakovich.  The

William Joseph Radakovich

Slovak.  His parents were Yugoslav and Czech. One Serb. One Croat. Now, we all know how the Serbs and Croats feel about each other, and we know that the Germans hate everyone.  And all of this DNA is swirling around in my body.

Is it any wonder I have self esteem issues?

Radakovich wedding day 1941. They are standing where I am standing in my photo with my great-grandmothers store. The store is to the right in this photo.

If ever a man deserved to be granted sainthood sans religion, it would be my grandfather. Not only did he survive a dysfunctional childhood before ‘dysfunctional’ was used as a term, but what he endured from my grandmother and great grandmother would have driven an ordinary man off the cliff.  I think maybe I got my patience from him.  Not only was he NEVER good enough for my grandmother, not being German, in the eyes of my great grandmother, but my grandmother was a bit of a nightmare herself.  It wasn’t all her fault really.  Sometime in the 1950’s she contracted Multiple Sclerosis and lost the use of her legs. Add a disability to the obstinate German pride, and this woman would NEVER allow herself to be seen in a wheelchair. They lived in a small trailer, and a wheelchair wouldn’t really fit there anyway. But NEVER in public would she be seen in such a demeaning manner. So my grandfather, who worked in a wire mill most of his life, and who owned a barber shop in Monaca, literally CARRIED my grandmother wherever she wanted to go.  From the trailer to the car, from the car to the destination, back to the car, and back to the trailer. Her entire life.  She slept in the master bedroom, and he slept in the lower bunk of the bunkbeds from the 1950’s on.  I never saw any affection or appreciation from my grandmother to my grandfather.  I only saw a very lonely and bitter woman. She had been a somewhat talented artist.  I recall her doing paint by numbers kits and doing them her own way. There was a very large portrait of an owl that she had done that hung in the trailer as long as I could remember.  I had heard at some point that she’d been asked by the original Walt Disney Company to work for their animation team.  She turned it down. Imagine where that might have lead others in the family down the road.

She never socialized with anyone that I knew of.  He had his barber shop cronies, including his lifelong friend John Bell, who had been Mayor of Monaca at one period of time. Some guy named ‘Herky’ that I vaguely recall. But I never knew of her being with one other person except for him.

Laura Baker divorced Dewey, and I know not when.  I never even knew he existed until one day when my grandfather took me to visit him in his little home in Freedom, Pennsylvania.  Wow.  I had a great-grandfather living?  Thanks for telling me everyone.  I saw him exactly once in my life.

Laura died in March of 1981. She was found dead at the foot of her stairs.  Something that would be questioned in 1982.

My grandfather was one of seven children, and would have been eight had his

William the 1st and William the 3rd.

older brother not died at the age of one or two.  That little boy’s name was William.  So he died, and the family decided to name their next boy…William.  I was therefore named after my grandfather, and his dead brother.

Apparently, my great grandfather was a mean drunk, who actually almost killed his youngest daughter, who was my favorite Aunt Helen, by aiming a shotgun at her bassinet, which my then pre-teen grandfather shoved out of the way in the nick of time.

The children were Anne, Helen, William, Sue, Wilma (aka Minky), Irene, and Emma.

Now, from my father’s side, until winter of 2009, I basically knew…nothing.  I will get to all of that as that time in my life approaches. The only father family history I knew up until this point was that I had a grandpa from Chicago who I’d met once, and that my father had a brother named Eddie.  They came to visit us once, and stayed in the basement on cots. I remember my grandfather, whose name was Edward (which again, I did not know until recently) was a tall bald man (at least tall from my tiny 4 or 5 year old perspective), and that he brought me a gift of Sunoco Car coins in cloth bag, and the folded slotted book to put them in.  My mother took it.  Still has it to this day for all I know.

The house on Chapel Road

After living over my great grandmother’s store, we moved to a real house on Chapel Road. This was the house next door to the Armstrong’s.

This is where the memories of the red wagon, cutting the window screen, ‘The Deadly Dream’ and the dead bunnies come into play.  I also remember vividly the hippie babysitter terrorizing me into hiding behind the toilet in tears.  I remember also being bribed to get good grades by my mother at that time.  If I got a good grade, she would stick a gold star on the ceiling above my bed.  But in her ‘indian giver’ fashion, any good feeling of accomplishment I received was dashed.  As soon as I got a bad grade, she ripped the star down.

This was also the time when she forever altered my eating habits.  She HATED doing dishes if the food had begun to set on the plate.  Well, I could never call my mother a ‘good cook’, and she never seemed to grasp the concept of kids consistently not liking certain foods.  Like liver (which to this day makes me gag), partially fried onions and green peppers (which to this day I can’t stand) in scrambled eggs, and a few other things that made us eat slower than normal.  Her solution to this issue was to set the timer on the oven…15 minutes…that’s how much time we had to eat our meal.  If we failed to clean our plate before the timer went off, we were sent to bed.  Period.  Unless it was breakfast and a weekday, in which case I had to go to school.

The irony is that her display of love for her dogs was tremendously more loving than that of her children.  If the DOG didn’t finish its food, she would get down on the floor with a wooden spoon and spoon feed the dog the rest of its dinner.

We lived a few blocks from the Center Grange Elementary School, so I walked

Center Grange Elementary School USED to be in the field behind me.

to school every day. Rain, snow, whatever.  Past the Armstrong’s, up to the corner where another occasional babysitter, Mrs. Blachse, lived, turn right, pass the raving and two or three more houses, and the school was there.  I know, I know…I sound like an old guy bragging, but it was true.  On one of those occasions walking home from school, some grade school chum wanted to throw a rock into that ravine.  He warned me to ‘stand back’, so I went back about fifteen to twenty feet and waited for him to throw the rock.  I was carrying a book, and wearing a beige windbreaker type jacket.

He grabbed his rock, raised his arm up and back, and as he did, on the ‘back’ motion, he lost his grip of that rock, which skimmed across the top of my head.  I put my hand on my head and pulled it back with blood on my fingers.  I saw a drop fall onto my windbreaker. FEAR!  Not from bleeding and being injured. But fear from what my mother would do if I got blood on my jacket.  So I turned and started to run toward home, but as I did I kept seeing more blood on my jacket.  As I neared my home, the only solution I could think of was to stop by the guard rail across the street from my house, and bend over it so the blood would drip down and over the guard rail, and not onto my jacket.

A neighbor driving by stopped to help the little kid who appeared to be throwing up over the guard rail…wearing a red jacket.

I think it was that same neighbor that drove us to the hospital for stitches.

A few other memories that come from that time period, and this was first to third grade (I didn’t go to kindergarten, starting a year younger in first grade than most of the kids), are my first crush, Some boy on the playground. Can’t remember for the life of me who he was.  Pretending to save Pam Saddenwasser from falling over a cliff (a small ravine), and pretending to have a crush on her).  Getting in trouble, spanked before the class actually, for WATCHING another boy flush caps from a cap gun down the toilet in the boy’s room. This was one of the many things I would get blamed for and punished for that I really had nothing to do with.  A trend that would haunt me my entire life.

I also have my first theatrical memories from third grade.  Being a broom pusher in a third grade performance of ‘Rumplestiltskin’ (I swept away the straw and tossed gold chocolate coins into the place where the straw had been ‘spun’).  I also wrote a little play of my own and tried to ‘produce’ it in class.  Well, ok…I stole the story from one of the claymation Easter stories.  HEY!  If Lloyd Webber can do it now!!  I guess I was just ahead of my time.  I believe I still have that silly little mimeographed script in a scrapbook somewhere.

I also remember having my first TV crushes around third grade.  OH MY GOD…Keith Partridge…and The Barclay Boys…and Speed Racer.  I used to daydream that the Barclay Boys (The Big Valley) were outside my classroom window protecting me from a shootout) and I used to imagine that Speed Racer would pick me up from school.

But by second grade, my father was basically gone.

After my father stopped coming home, my mother took a job at the Beaver Valley Mall for Lerner’s, and my brother and I were saddled with several babysitters through a year or so period.

My incubator divorced when I was in second grade, to marry a rednecked millworker named Sam Mann, who treated her like gold, but who wasn’t very fond of her children, as his often raised hand would attest.

Sam also came from some serious hillbilly-esque roots, Hattie & John Mann.

She never gave a reason for the divorce, or the fact that she completely banished my father from my life and terrorized me from even mentioning his name.

I recall for about a year, we would have visitation with my father in his tiny trailer on some hill.  I will admit that my father was an odd bird, VERY quiet and not very demonstrative.  But he was gentle, and never hit his kids.  I mean I do recall being punished once or twice, and having the belt or a hairbrush taken to my backside.  But I can honestly say, it was never ‘abuse’.  I’d done something and needed to be punished. He never hit me unless I did something to really deserve it.  I remember one night when my mother let out a short yelp, shortly before he stopped coming home. On one of our visits shortly after that, I asked my father about that yelp, and asked if he’d hit her, which I believe is what SHE told me.  My father reached over and grabbed me by the chin and made me look at him.  ‘THERE!’ he said.  ‘THAT’S what I did to your mother! Is that hitting?’

My mother married the stepmonster, who was a slick blue collar guy with another hillbilly family background, a speedboat, and a corvette.  He used to be an amateur car racer, and has a collection of shiny trophies to show for it.  The testosterone dream.  He hunted, he fished, he built and fixed things.

At first he was nice.  Bringing gifts to appease the kids. Pretending to like us.  But as time went on (and GOD did it go ON!), I was more of my father’s child than anyone in the family wanted me to be.  I was not the macho hunter-fisher-gatherer-jock, and I was never going to be.  They were married, and he moved into our house on Chapel Road for a year or so.  Then we moved from somewhat suburban and intelligent Center Township to his family’s ‘street’ in Raccoon Township…Hillbilly Heaven.

Raccoon Township…

The stepmonster that she married ‘adopted’ her children so that even the last name changed and she wouldn’t have to hear it. I didn’t see my father again until I was 17.  As an example of the emotional blackmail to not mention my father, I was 8 or 9 and we were camping in some place around Tionesta, PA. Incubator and stepmonster were drinking coffee. I asked if we (my brother and I) could have some coffee too. The stepmonster said that kids don’t drink coffee. My brother spoke up with ‘Fred lets us have coffee’.  We were sent into the tent where we stayed until we went home. We didn’t mention him again.  A second example would be the time when I was in my teens and my incubator discovered that my father had moved into a trailer park at the end of our road.  She told me that I was NOT to see him because “You know I love you, right?” This is the one time I can remember my mother saying ‘I love you’ as a child.  And it was clearly emotional blackmail.

The stepmonster was a hitter, and my mother kind of started to follow suit.  I guess I reminded her just too much of that man she wanted to forget.

A few occasions I can recall…picking up logs for the wood stove in a manner that was not approved of by the stepmonster.  I was punched and kicked.  An argument in my bedroom, in which he turned to storm out of the room and got his foot caught in an afghan that was hanging down from the foot of my bed, and tripped.  His response to that was to wipe the top of my dresser off with his arm, smashing whatever was on it to the wall.  I remember a souvenir glass from Cedar Point hitting the wall, and being punched and screamed at to clean up the mess. This kind of thing went on and on.  Once in my mid-teen years, I was in the basement work room.  There on the work bench was a pack of matches, and one match had been pulled out of the pack and was laying beside the pack.  I had heard stories of mice chewing on matches and starting fires, so I struck the match on the pack, lit it, blew it out, and threw it away, to avoid any chewing.

Around this same time, our art class was working on perspective drawings, and I was somewhat good in art classes.  I had drawn an entire street scene, with one of the buildings on fire. Well, the smell of smoke, and the visual of the drawing were all it took to send him over the edge.  I was punched and kicked and ‘blamed’ for making my mother cry.  Ironically, when my brother was lighting matches in his closet a few years later and DID set a box on fire when I was home alone with him, I put out that fire…and got beaten and blamed.

But the piece de résistance came when I was in 4th or 5th grade, and my mother didn’t like the way I was rolling up a rug to take it outside and shake it as a part of my earning my keep. She hauled off to kick me in the ass, and said something which made me turn around at that precise moment. She kicked me in the face, and I think it was the only time she ever felt ‘bad’ for doing something like that. Not necessarily for hurting me.  But because I then had to go to school with a visible black eye.

She really didn’t like the kids being around.  Her favorite catch phrases in my post divorce early teen years were ‘Go find something to do’, ‘Go to your room, don’t bother company’, and my VERY favorite (after moving out to rural nowhere Raccoon Township), ‘Go OUTSIDE and find something to do’.

Woods, and ‘keep off private property’ farmland, mostly owned by the inbred relatives of the stepmonster, or other limited world view rednecks. That’s what my choices were for ‘going outside’ and finding something to do were.

In my mid-teen years, I went to the woods.  I took a coffee can, the bucket shovel from an old Tonka toy bulldozer, and a spoon.  And I started digging…a hole.  After several months, I has a hole, between four and five feet deep, about four feet wide, that I covered with a piece of corrugated tin…and there I would hang out.

My best friend when I was at that age was a border collie, a female, that my mother named ‘Ralph’. (she also had a Guinea Pig that she named ‘Dog’)  That dog was loyal and loving, and when I went for my long walks to nowhere, the dog would walk protective circles around me.

At that point I did love animals too.  One day when walking I the woods, Ralph went after a chipmunk, and ended up digging a big hold where the entrance to the chipmunk home used to be.  My response was to gather large flat stones, some linoleum bits from one of the neighbor’s trash dumps along the rim of these woods, and some roof tin…and I built a little multi room chipmunk condo over the hole.  I even found a few hands full of acorns and filled the pantry.

Most people loved my dog. Except one of stepmonster’s relatives.  One day I came home from school to learn that my best friend has been killed.  Poisoned.  Most likely by cousin David Collins.  I even recall our paper boy, Mark Altman, tearing up when he learned that Ralph had been killed. Yeah, that Collins family were a full pack of gems.

David and Nellie were the patriarchs.  They lived in the middle of their spawn, on the master farm.  Their son, David Junior, built his family house right next door to daddy’s house. To this day, that house is surrounded by a metal cyclone fence that scream ‘stay off my property’.  Their daughter, Nancy, in what seems like a daddy complex syndrome, married David Ferry.  David Sr. brother John and his wife Stella lived across the street until they were too old to run their house.  Then they moved two lots down into a trailer.

I recall my mother and her friend Sharon bike riding, and having rocks thrown at them mysteriously from the Collins field.  And my personal favorite memory of the Collins family – one year, the power company had built high tension power towers, which required them stripping miles of land to create the path the towers would take. After the towers were built, one could walk for miles along the dirt service roads under the towers. One day when outside ‘finding something to do’, my brother and I started walking the tower path across the road with began on David Ferry’s property.  David had married Nancy Collins, and their property connected with the David Collins property.  My brother and I weren’t but a few hundred yards into the trail, when we were approached by David Ferry, and his shotgun.  He made the comment ‘I suggest you boys find your way back to your own property’ as he waved the shotgun tucked under his arm gently back and forth. His tone of voice was reminiscent of some of the secondary characters in ‘Deliverance’.

My teen years were horrible. I was expected to toe the redneck macho line, being dragged into hunting (I cried and hid), playing football (I cried and hid on the back seat floor of the car in the parking lot), pee-wee league baseball (I didn’t cry, but I did stand as far out in the outfield as I could – where 10 year olds couldn’t really hit a ball ).

I recall many times hiding in my bedroom while his family was over to watch the ballgame, drink beer, and scream at the TV until the dogs were barking.  Things that make me cringe to this day.  I had music.  A transistor radio my grandfather had given me that I almost always had tuned to a big band station.

My mother did a lot of damage in my growing up years, and I know you’re supposed to ‘move on’, and I have…but damage is damage.

I was a C average student all through school.  Well, except for 4th and 5th grade.  Center Elementary was YEARS ahead of Independence Elementary.  Hell, I was taking speed reading courses in third grade.  Suddenly, after moving to Hicksville, I was really REALLY ‘smart’, and was on the honor roll for two years.  And why not?  I was basically re-learning what I’d already been taught in first through third grade. It was a breeze.

I have a few memories from Independence Elementary. One, Mrs. Ruth Shane, my fourth grade teacher.  This was her retirement year, so she was REALLY old! I remember a day when Charles Carpenter refused to say the pledge of allegiance.  Mrs. Shane walked over to Charles, (who was a little on the slow side) grabbed him by the ankles, and flipped him upside down and held this fourth grader in MID-AIR!  She MADE him say the pledge while hanging upside down by his ankles, which he did with huge sobbing tears in his eyes.

I had my own Mrs. Shane moment, but mine was more twilight zone than anything else.  I must have been bad or something, for I was sitting alone at a desk in the front of the class by the chalkboard.  We were going to have a pop-spelling quiz.  When Mrs. Shane gave a spelling quiz, she handed out blank sheets of paper, said the ten words out loud, we wrote them down, and then she collected the papers.  Now, one thing I have ALWAYS been very good with is spelling.  This day, Mrs. Shane announced the quiz, and passed out the papers as usual.  I swear, I must have slipped into a black hole or something.  I never heard the words, and the next thing I knew she was collecting the papers, and I failed.  I seriously lost about ten minutes of time…completely.

My only other real memories of Independence Elementary were taking a field trip to Ginger Hill after reading a book about it.  It was kind of on the ‘Little House On The Prairie’ side, written by a little girl who had grown up in a one room cabin in the Ginger Hill area, which is between where I grew up and the ‘city’ of Pittsburgh.  We did rubbings of gravestones at the church down the street, looked at the one room cabin, which had been built around, and was now the back room of a small house.  As an adult I traveled back looking for the church and the house.  No one in the entire area had ever heard of the book, and no one knew where the church was.

I think we also took a tour of the Town Talk bread factory.  I ate half a loaf of bread on the bus on the way home.

Mrs. Ditka, the fifth grade teacher was Mike Ditka’s sister, and sixth grade teacher Mr. Falloretta…was HOT!

One other silly moment from elementary school that comes to mind.  There was an assembly that parents were invited to in which students had prepared some entertainment.  I really wanted to be a part of the entertainment, but my mother wasn’t going to be the sort to drive me to extra practices, so I wasn’t allowed to be in the performances.  I remember the parents filling the cafeteria/gym chairs, the class doing the Mexican Hat Dance from the tiny stage, and a group of about eight kids standing along the wall in the audience…me and the other rejects who weren’t allowed to be in the show.  All of a sudden, I had to fart.  Well, it was going to be a very long time standing there…so I let it out.  And dammit if it didn’t come out LOUD and at a very quiet moment in the presentation. This started a giggling fit amongst those of us standing along the wall, and a group of sneers from the parents.

Somewhere in here began my parents adventures in ‘serious’ camping, to lodges in Canada.  The first year I remember was a trip to a place called Lake O’Babika in some REALLY remote part of Ontario. We were packed into the Chevy Blazer, possibly pulling a boat, with two dogs, and set off on an eternal drive to this Lake.  I think we may even have had to stop for the night in some motel.  When we arrived at Lake O’Babika, it really wasn’t so bad.  A little lodge with maybe a half dozen cabins.  The Lake was very pretty, and there were actually other families there.  I remember meeting Raylene Demerley and her family from Buffalo I think. I at least had a playmate for the week who was not my bratty brother.  But a week in remote woods has never been very appealing to me.

The next year at Lake O’Sullivan was the worst.  Again, it was a monster drive crammed into the Blazer dragging a boat and two dogs.  Only this time the last thirteen miles of road took two and a half hours to travel. We were driving over or around rocks in the road that were like talk show coffee tables, and we even went over one makeshift log bridge that was UNDER water.

We arrived at Lake O’Sullivan, a small even more remote ‘resort’ with maybe a dozen cabins and a ‘lodge’.  The entire week that we were there, we were the ONLY people there. I learned that most people tended to fly into Lake O’Sullivan, but oh no, not us. We were there in fall, so it was abandoned and cold.  It was run by a guy named Ted who was from Chagrin Falls in Ohio.  He was around, but the only other people there were the cook, and some teenaged kid that I fantasized about sneaking into his shack and getting naked. I think I did sneak into his shack when he wasn’t there, and found a little collection of porn magazines.

We spent the entire week in pretty much solitude, with mother spouting the usual ‘go outside and find something to do’.

What made this trip extra special (heavy sarcasm) was the brand new experience of portaging. For those who don’t know, this is when you load two kids, two dogs, hubby and wife, cooler of food, ton of fishing tackle and gear, gas can and motor into a boat, and set off across the big lake.  Once you arrive on the other side of the lake, you pull the boat up on the shore, unload the two kids, the two dogs, the cooler, the tackle, the gas can and the motor, and you CARRY all of that crap over the hill and through the woods to the NEXT lake, where you once again load the two kids, the two dogs, etc. back into the boat and set off in the next lake…to fish. Why? Because fewer people fished there and the fishing would be great. So there we were, a family that didn’t like each other, sitting in silence in this boat, (because talking would scare the fish, y’know) in the middle of an even more remote lake.  Stepmonster looked into the water and said ‘Wow. It’s amazing how clear and clean this water is.  This is 30 feet deep and you can see the bottom.’

I looked over the edge of the boat into the water.  Yep, 30 feet deep. Yep. So clean you could see all the way to the bottom clearly.  And what could we NOT see?

Fish.

Soon, 6th grade passed, and it was time to move to the big junior high school, which was about a 30 minute bus ride from where I lived.  This meant getting up even earlier in the morning to catch the bus, and a whole new load of kids on the bus to ride with.  Through this bus ride I became friends with Cindy Allison and Ila Morrow (well, Ila’s friendship came much later – she really hated me at first). Yes, in six years riding the same bus, those are the only two I really made friends with.  Cindy and I had huge crushes on Burt Reynolds, and we would fantasize about running away to his theater in Florida.  Of course, this was before we knew what ‘gay’ was, so it was ok.  I was picked on kinda regularly on the bus. Had a few crushes, a couple that I understand to this day, and a couple that I do NOT understand now. Understandable were the Albanese boys, Joe and his older brother.  Nice dark haired handsome boys.  I remember Joe sitting next to me regularly on the bus…and he always smelled good.  Not just clean, but like a guy.  I have no idea what cologne he wore, but one day he dropped a pen and left it behind.  I spent the rest of the week sniffing that pen. Ricky Waters was sexy as hell, but he knew it, and so did everyone else.  But he was a cocky prick, and I wouldn’t the least bit surprised, knowing now the things I do, if he wasn’t overcompensating with bravado for a deeper real feeling of extreme sensitivity.  The one I couldn’t understand, and one that should have started the ‘clue-ing in’ of my parents, was Bobby Campbell.  His daddy Wesley owned the mobile home park at the end of our street where I had my very first job. Bobby was NOT cute.  Bobby was a little dirty around the edges, and a little round around the middle. He also had a bit of an attitude being from the more financially well-off end of Hicksville. But for some reason, when I was in like 7th grade, I was crushing on Bobby Campbell. This is a fact that I voiced one afternoon at home.  Mother and stepmonster were sitting in the living room, and I recall being seated on the floor when I spoke the words out loud – ‘I think I’m in love – with a boy’.

Wellll, this is NOT what macho stepmonster needed to hear, who hit me and screamed that I was NEVER to say that again!

And thus began the social oppression of my feelings.

When I was in 7thGrade, in 1975, my Grandmother suffered a massive

William & Wilma Radakovich, in the early years after her stroke.

stroke.  She’d already lost the use of her legs to Multiple Schlerosis in the 1950’s, now she couldn’t talk, couldn’t write, could only move one hand, and nod her head and smile.  For a few years she could sit up, and was put up at a private care home run by a nice lady whose name I believe was Louise Conti.  After a few years there, she started to wane and ended up in the Beaver County Geriatric Center.  She died in May of 1994. Nineteen years she survived as a shell. We didn’t know if her head nods and smiles were actually acknowledging anything, or if she even recognized any of us when we were in the room. My grandfather, who was NEVER good enough for her, visited her every day for years, then several times per week toward the end.  My grandfather died in January of 1993, alone in his apartment in a retirement apartment building in Monaca. I went to my grandfather’s funeral and there were people there I didn’t even know, and I remember some old, and I mean OLD, minister giving the eulogy, and I had never seen him before in my life. My grandfather had been cremated, and so we were looking at a small marble urn that kind of looked like one of those tissue box covers.  It was very abstract.  When my grandmother died, my mother told me not to go to the funeral.  There wasn’t anyone there.  Her solitary years in the trailer, followed by 19 years laying paralyzed had pretty much left her with no one but immediate family.  So mother thought it best to just sweep it away and be done with it.

The bus ride was a lengthy experiment in how to destroy a child’s self esteem and ego.  Peer pressure began here. Fit in, or get flogged could have been the motto.  And I always tried fitting in in the wrong places and times.  Two things that come to mind are the mirror incident and the lighter pants incident.

The mirror incident involved kids using a compact mirror to flash reflected sunlight around the bus, including in the rearview mirror that the driver used. It went on and on…until I got caught at it.  No one else had ever gotten caught.  Just me.  Bus driver visit to my house, a grounding.

The lighter pants incident was the worst.  I think his name was Joseph Green.  I know the last name was Green, because his sister Mary had always been very nice to me. She was chubby and kind of Nun-like, and her brother was tall and skinny, dressed like a complete nerd, with big thick glasses.  He always looked angry, and people stayed away from him.

One stupid trend that kicked in on bus rides was the hold a lit cigarette lighter under the thigh of the person in front of you until the flame heated up their blue jeans and scared the shit out of them trend.  Not really harmful. Funny actually.  And no one was hurt, because the thickness of the jeans always stopped the flame from actually burning. That is, if they were wearing jeans.  No one explained the difference between denim material and polyester to me.  Joseph, who as I mentioned dressed nerdy, was wearing polyester pants.  They didn’t hold up to the lighter flame which I held under his thigh in order to fit in with the cool assholes, and the pants melted on his leg.  He spun around and punched me several times in the face, and stunned, I couldn’t figure out why my doing this prank was different from everyone else.  Joseph’s mom called my mom.  Beating, grounding, AND paying for the pants.

I was a student of the Hopewell School district, where I actually learned very little that would prepare me for ‘real’ life…but I did learn the difference between the ‘popular’ clique, the ‘freaks’, and the ‘slicks’…none of which being social groups or classes that I belonged to. Instead, I spent years skirting the cliques, and at the same time facing the fact that I was born into that ‘alternative’ lifestyle, which the fanatical right wing insists was my ‘choice’…HA

I was a C-average student, and always depressed, finding my only solace in the arts classes.  I did well in drawing, and was ok in drama class.  Even made it to auditions for a summer program at Bucknell University, and I did well…until they hit on the one thing our teacher had NEVER touched upon…in two years taking the drama class, we’d never even mentioned ‘improvisation’. I failed the audition, having no clue what the word even meant.

However, I was decent in the arts.  Pretty much average with everything else.  Well, except spelling. I was good at spelling.  HORRIBLE (and still am) with math.  Gym class was a total nightmare every year until Senior year, and then it was just a bad dream.

Being a young homo, the locker room was sheer terror. In Junior High, I skipped out of a complete semester of swimming class by hiding in a stairwell.  I got caught.  I was called into the office with my parents, and of course when I got home…

The irony is that for something like my thirteenth birthday, I was giving a 22 rifle…another attempt at butching me up.  Making me ‘part of the family’.  My punishment for skipping out of gym class?  Having the rifle taken away from me.  I never got it back, not that I ever WANTED it in the first place.  This ‘punishment’ was more a celebration.

But gym was always a horror.  For one thing, once they figured out that I pretty much was NOT athletic, I was always fourth from last chosen for anything.  You know, as if my heart would break.  Fourth from last, me.  Third from last, Tim Hoffmann, the big fat kid. Second, Alan Shukart, more a girl than the head cheerleader could ever hope to be. Last? Glenn Pukanic.  He was the kind of retarded kid.  The locker room became a serious issue after puberty.  My mother had never taught me anything about sex (or anything else for that matter, except how to clean up dog shit, take out the trash, pick lint off the floors, and shake rugs), except for an attempt at giving me some Reader’s Digest collection on human sexuality when I was like eight.  Well, what the hell does an eight year old get out of reading a set of books about human sexuality?  Well, I’ll tell you…a lot of misconceived notions.  I read the term homosexuality – something about attraction to the same sex.  Then I read the term masturbation – self-gratification.  Somewhere in my mind those two concepts morphed into one. Then in later years when someone called me a faggot, my mind thought ‘No, I’m not – I’m just going through my masturbation period.’  Well, a certain part of my body began behaving erratically. It started with Mr. Medlin’s history class, and an unexplained situation in my pants that required carrying school books in front of it when I needed to stand up and walk out of class. The locker room was even worse, and I refused to undress beyond my undies. Skipping swimming class was simply an emotional requirement at this point.

I do have ONE positive memory from gym class though.  Up until senior year, when we finally got a teacher (Mr. Kraus) who was into ‘physical education’, every year had been exactly the same.  Fall, football. Winter, divided between volleyball and basketball. Spring, baseball. Eight years, NO change.

Well, this particular memory came from football.  Which I still hate to this day.  As I did in pee-wee league, my goal when out on the field was to stay as FAR away from the action as possible.  I did a pretty damned good job of it too, until the day of Pat Galton.  There I was, wandering alone on the other side of the field, off in space, when suddenly I turned to discover in horror that the entire class was running straight across the field toward me.  I froze in my tracks in abject terror.  They just kept getting closer and closer, with Pat Galton, football in his arms, bolting like a wild horse across the field, and everyone else bearing down on him. I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly, Pat (and the rest of the class ten feet behind him) was twenty feet away from me…and I SWEAR on anything you think is holy…the next 20 seconds were in vivid slow motion…Pat looked me in the eye, his mouth opened, and his arms began to extend.  The words that came out of his mouth were not ‘sissy’, ‘faggot’, ‘pussy’ or ‘wimp’.  Not even ‘asshole’.

Pat said to me in the most genuine and sincere and caring tone any jock had ever spoken to me: ‘catch it’.  And he threw me the ball.  And I caught it…having nothing to do with the ‘game’.  I felt like I’d just done Pat Galton a favor on the same huge level that he’d just done me.

I had apparently wandered into my own team’s end zone.  It was the one and ONLY touchdown I’ve ever scored in my life.

Now my only OTHER ‘sexual’ education came from the piles of Penthouse and Playboy magazines that the stepmonster left laying around, and encouraged me to look at.  Well, I looked.  However, my eyes were not drawn to what they’d hoped they would be drawn to. Yes friends, there were boys in some of those magazines, and what they occasionally showed sporting in those pages, made a certain part of my body do the same.

My first sexual experience came when I was thirteen.  It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade I believe.  A kid from down the street and I, and his uber-hunky stepbrother were having a sleep over in my parent’s camper.  The hunky stepbrother (who was my wet dream on legs at that time – dark hair, screaming blue eyes, a lean farm boy body, and HAIRY) went to sleep in the camper, while my friend and I hung out by the pool.  It was well into night.  We skinny dipped, and one thing lead to another, and I was encouraging ‘exploration’.  Well, we explored oral history all summer long, and at least once in the winter.  I remember snowsuits and erections in the barn.  Once we got back into school though, he avoided me like the plague, and to this day will not talk to me.

I also had my very first job ever that summer…general helper at the mobile home park at the end of my street (where my father had once lived, and owned by Bobbie Campbell’s daddy Wesley).  Superior Mobile Homes. Cleaning used trailers and raking the sewage system.  I started out on the wrong foot.  Working in shit every morning.  No wonder the rest of my working life seemed to follow suit.

I had very few friends in all of my school years.  Dorrie Naugle was who I

Dorrie Naugle

considered my best friend through most of junior and senior high.  She decided she hated me senior year.  Sondra Lengyel, who was a geeky Miss Piggy type in high school became a very good friend as it developed through the years.  And my goodness, you should see her NOW. Sondra went through some hell.  She was truly in love with Tom Clark, who died of Leukemia just after high school.  She called me at 3 am and when I answered the phone all I heard was a sob and ‘Tom died’.  I said ‘I’ll be right there’ and got in my car and was.  Shortly after high school, Sondra has a horrible auto accident and nearly died. She had to learn to walk and talk all over again.  And this chubby little geek grew into a beautiful strong and successful woman.  My other friends were Linda Wyke, who really did become my best friend in school senior year, and a few years after.  Michael Michaylo was one of my few ‘guy’ friends, and Jeff Franz.

I believe my friendship with Linda came initially during Spanish class with Miss Bonner and Mrs. Lutz.  From there, she ended up inviting me to a church youth group called ‘MYF’ (Methodist Youth Foundation), and we bonded as friends while she celebrated religion, and I skirted the religion and joined the group for the sole purpose of having a social life.  Linda and I really did do a lot together, from youth group to playing tennis.  At the time she was dating

Linda Wyke & Scott Marshall

Scott, and we planned a big going away party for his entering the military. What she didn’t know was that Scott was also planning her birthday party for the same day.  Now it was quite a challenge keeping each of them from knowing about the other half of the deal, but it was REALLY easy to get all of their friends together for the event, which was held in a park with a little lake.  When Linda arrived for the party, she did NOT see Scott’s party sign, but only saw the Happy Birthday sign, got mad at me, and her reaction was to get her friends to throw me fully clothed into the lake. Ahhhh, my rewards in life for a job well done. I recall another conversation on the telephone which amused our parents, when we were planning to go and play tennis.  She asked ‘Do you have balls?’ and my reply was ‘Yeah, but they’re kind of soft and fuzzy’. Then there was the time

Carol Jumpers Cake

we worked to get Carol Jumper elected as class president and she won.  So Linda and I planned a picnic celebration at Raccoon State Park and made a cake to accompany.

But the most memorable moments of our friendship came over theater.  Drama class, and the production of Winnie The Pooh that we toured to the elementary schools.  She was Pooh, and I was Piglet. During the rehearsal process, Pooh and Piglet are discussing the impending danger of a bath by Kanga or Rabbit, and Piglet says to Pooh: ‘You wouldn’t let anything happen to me would you Pooh?’ to which Linda responded with an affirmative head nod, as if to say ‘You bet your ass I would’.  Well, the result of that was that we could NOT get through a performance again without cracking up. I’d look at her in character, and open my mouth to say ‘You wouldn’t’, and her eyes would bug out and we’d start giggling.  Then in one performance Pooh pointed up at the tree and asked Piglet ‘How are we going to get the honey out of that tree?’, to which the tree promptly responded by falling down flat onto the stage.

I also recall vividly, being in a line in rehearsal singing ‘Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff…’ and the teacher, Miss Zaremba, came up to me, looked me in the eye and murmured ‘Don’t sing.  Just move your lips. Don’t sing’.

Through MYF, I kind of befriended Lori Holstein and Lori Cotter. They were from the more ‘elite’ end of the school system, and I never really felt like I fit into their clique, which pretty much proved to be true AFTER high school.

Lori Cotter & Lori Holstein

But if I recall correctly, it was my friendship with Lori that kind of lead to my friendship with Michael Michaylo.  Lori’s adopted sister was married to Michael’s older brother, so we started talking.  I remember sleeping over at Michael’s house a few times, and I can’t remember why.  Man, did that boy have some horrific smelling feet.  But a nice guy.  I vividly recall a conversation at school in which he informed me that the other guys didn’t think I was gay, but that they didn’t really think I was anything…asexual.  Because I never showed any interest in anyone.  We didn’t keep in contact beyond high school though.

The MYF experience was not such a great thing overall.  It was probably the one ‘group’ I ever belonged to, and yet still felt like an outsider, because a) I was not and will never be ‘religious’; and b) I was and always WILL be a homo.  The social aspect was a nice departure from my norm, but at the same time it ripped me apart inside because I couldn’t see what everyone else seemed to believe they saw, which was the power of some invisible man in the sky.  What I saw instead was the charisma and power of a young man leading the group who was absolutely adorable and charming, and as nice as a guy could be.  Jeff Arnold was his name, and I do believe that 98% of the members of this group had a hormonal attraction to Jeff.  He was built, babyfaced, a big little boy, and a charismatic leader.  When Jeff was removed from his post as leader by the board of the church, the group kind of disintegrated.  Being a member during that year wasn’t about the church.  It was about Jeff, and being in love with him. And in what would become one of life’s ironies for religious behavior, one of the members of this board that voted for his removal was also in the cast of the first public show I ever did.  She was well known for her cast keg parties.

I was totally in love with Jeff, as was everyone else.  But I wrote a poem about him then.  I submitted it to a Christina radio show called ‘Open Door’, and on November 22nd, 1981, listeners heard:

When I’m with you, one single spotlight swallows up the world, and everywhere there is action, happiness, love.

But when you’re gone, the lights go down, and the curtain forgets to open.  When it does open, only an empty stage is revealed.  What is it about you that affects me this way?

It’s not the make-up, and there isn’t any costuming.  Nothing is rehearsed, for every line is improvised and seems to fit perfectly into the exiting plot.

Not a single string entangles your joints, yet your actions seem to be the product of the world’s greatest puppeteer.

With you, I never seem to experience any plot complications, even the yellow brick road has lost its dangers.

What is it about you that affects me this way? Who cares?

You’ll always be there, and that’ll give me plenty of time to think about it.

Everyone thought it was all about the invisible man in the sky.  But it was all about how I felt about Jeff.

Jeff dragged me along to a Continental Singers concert in Ohio one time, with several of his Geneva College buddies.  The concert was very ‘make them convert’ oriented, and I got all weepy during the ‘show’.  Not because the spirit moved me, but because it did NOT.  After the concert, the four of us shared a motel room for the night, and I had to sleep next to a really hunky guy named Rich Grassle.  It was excruciating!  The funny moment of the whole trip was when suddenly Jeff Arnold, in the middle of the night, sat bold upright in bed and shouted ‘P.I., P.I., P.I.!!’ and then fell over onto his back and went back to whatever dream he was having.

The MYF Group at Coons Farm.

The MYF group also had a camp out at Denise Coon’s family farm in Hookstown one night.  I honestly can’t remember much of it.  I think it was maybe supposed to be an overnight thing, but I get the feeling I left early and just went home.  I just could NOT jibe with all of the ‘Jesus loves you kumbaya’ that went on when TRULY, I bonded with no one, and no one bonded with me. It was all a bunch of thinly veiled hypno speak, and I don’t fall for bullshit easily.

Jeff Franz and I were friends in high school, senior year, I think partially because of our desire to NOT participate in gym class, and I believe we were both on the tennis team. When the rest of the gym class was inside doing torture tests with high jumps and hurdles (I discovered much too painfully that I was not tall enough to do hurdles), Jeff and I were given the permission to go out and run laps around the track.

We were both on the tennis team, and I actually made it through two years.  Even received a letter for it, even though I only played in two games.  I played in one game the first year when we played another school.  They frowned on the fact that I wasn’t aiming to ‘kill’ the other team, but actually kind of wanted to chat with and know the other team. I still don’t really have a competitive bone in my body.  I really feel we should all just work together toward a common goal, but we’re seeing how well that has treated me in my life.  I ended up running a hell of a lot of laps for those two years on the team…and sitting on the bench.  And hell, since it was a SPORT, I could even get a ride from my mother occasionally.

Now the one memory I have from tennis team involved David DiCicco.  He, as did many, many other guys in school, hated me.  And one day on the court, he got pissed off at me to the point of hauling off and lobbing a ball at me trying to hit me.  He missed.  So I got a little defiant, and stood there with my arms folded across my chest, daring him to hit me.  LOB…LOB…LOB. Countless balls whizzed past me, to the left, to the right. I started to smirk a bit, and then to laugh.  David hot royally pissed off, took a ball, and slammed it straight down to the ground with his racket.  Karma proceeded to respond immediately by bouncing the ball straight back up and smacking Dave right in the face.

Ahhhhh.  That felt GOOD!

I can’t say much of anything stands out in a positive way in high school.  Except perhaps my arts involvements.  I wasn’t allowed to be in chorus class, only drama. Chorus would have to be practiced out loud, and mother wouldn’t have that, just as she didn’t permit me to learn any musical instruments. Drama could be rehearsed quietly. Art class was fine. Drawing was quiet.  I actually wasn’t bad at drawing…I mean hey, my perspective drawings caused a panic in the house.

One year, I built an entire village for my model railroad out of toothpicks.  I had houses, stores, barns, even an outhouse.  They were very small and very detailed. The train was displayed in the basement under the tacky silver aluminum tree that was given to the kids as something to decorate, so they wouldn’t make ‘her’ perfect tree look bad. I had trees, and was in the process of building an entire town out of the toothpicks.  I was proud of them.  And one day, mother dearest came into my room pissed off about something…and proceeded to mash them all with her fists.

Several weeks later, she offered to buy me more toothpicks and glue…but the desire to create again was killed.

To this day, I hate Christmas.  Not only were we forbidden to participate in the decoration of the ‘real’ tree, but it almost always felt like gifts were given begrudgingly, hating to spend actual money on the kids.  I would receive gift wrapped school clothes, or the smallest thing I’d asked for, in the cheapest version possible. She also seemed to feel it was pointless buying us anything ‘nice’ because we were just ‘going to break it anyway.’  Even stockings were stuffed with things like deodorant and toothpaste.

But for HER, that tree was her creative outlet every year.  She went all out, and did quite a bit of it by hand.  She was save Christmas cards from the previous year, and cut out tiny images from the cards, like deer, and birds, and little houses.  Then she would save egg shells, clean them up, and glue the little characters and scenes in the egg shells, and create her own ornaments. This had nothing to do with making it magic for us.  This was all about her. It was beautiful. It was hers. One year a giant branch from the white birch tree in the front yard came down during a winter storm. That became the Christmas tree.  Complete with her ornaments.  It was beautiful, and again…it was hers.

Junior or senior year I had a chalk drawing of a large spider displayed in an art show at the Beaver Valley Mall.  I think I even won a costume prize for my initiation into the Scarab Club (art club) when I dressed as a garbage man, and took my own garbage can.  Although my winning was really due more to my performance skills than my creative costume skills.  I said that they should imagine that it’s 6:00 am, and that everyone is asleep when the garbage man arrives.  I then proceeded to bang and kick the can around the cafeteria loudly for the next minute which drew laughter.

Our teacher for art was Mrs. Sirko, who was a short little crazy haired wild woman. I will never forget the day, somewhere around Easter, that Mrs. Sirko was getting frustrated with the class for not finding motivation to draw. She went into a mini-rant about ‘Come on your guys, it can’t be that hard. Just draw!  Draw anything! Anything that comes to your mind!  I mean for crying out loud, it’s EASTER!  Draw little pee pees!’.

The class just sat there shocked, blinking wide eyed like cartoon characters, holding back the urge to burst out in screaming laughter.  Mrs. Sirko realized what she said, and dismissed it with ‘Ohhh, YOU know what I meant!’

I wasn’t allowed to be in chorus, but my art skills came in handy to design backdrops for one of the chorus concerts.  Ok, so I used an overhead projector and stole some imagery to fit with the theme of the concert…A Chorus Line and Fame.

I also designed the float for the senior homecoming parade, which no one has a photo of to this day.  It involved stealing flowers from a local cemetery, but it was stunning for the homecoming queen and her court to ride on.

The result is that I somehow not only got nominated for, but was voted onto the May Court. May Court was like Homecoming Court, but held in the spring, and was supposedly to celebrate those who did good things for the school.  When they announced the nominees of the May Court and my name was included, and kids were supposed to vote, I just kind of figured ‘Nahhhh, ok, this was nice, but it’s done’. When they announced the winners, and my name was on the list, my reaction was ‘You’re KIDDING!’ So I had to go through the whole marching down the aisle thing with one of the other nominees who was a cheerleader or something like that, who would have rather have been holding anyone’s hand but mine.

I did the junior and senior proms.  Junior year with Diana Hanson. Senior year split between Chris Pilotti (?) and Lisa Gianetti.  I don’t recall kisses or such.  Although I do remember Chris saying I could if I wanted to.  But I didn’t.

I would rather have kissed Mark Rockwell. Dark Greek, hairy, big nose.

I was depressed most of my high school years.  Never quite fit in. Minimal social life. Hated my home life.  In fact, I almost left home my senior year when Lori Holstein’s family offered to help me get away from my terror family, and let me move into Paul’s spare room.  Like a jerk, I actually asked my mother if I could, and since I was only seventeen, and she didn’t want it to make her look bad, she said ‘no’.  Who knows what a little actual loving family guidance might have lead me toward.

My senior year in high school I got a job as a busboy at The Fez, which was a Lebanese owned banquet hall run by some folks who were whispered about being mafia.  One of the owners, Mike, eventually bought my Great-Grandmother’s property and changed the name of her store to ‘Jem’s Market’.  It became kind of one of those cheesy third-world type minimarts, specializing in cigarettes and lottery tickets.  I believe he still owns it today.  I heard years later that it was my grandfather’s friendship with Mike that got me the job at The Fez.  Apparently just applying wasn’t enough for a nobody like me, and a string had to be pulled in order for me to earn minimum wage wiping rice and slop off of plates.  All I really remember was the somewhat shady character of Tony, another one of the owners, lording over the place, and one truly dreamy co-worker, a guy named Kelly.  I don’t think I lasted long past high school in this job, but I did meet Fred Thomas, one of the relatives from the business, who I believe had been a school teacher at one time at Hopewell, and who decided to run for public office.  I lent a hand with his campaign a bit, riding along with him to put up yard signs and such.  One day while driving, we were exiting the parkway in his station wagon, and I heard a thud next to my window.  I looked out the window, and saw something rolling off into the grassy area of the cloverleaf, and asked ‘what’s that?’. It turns out it was his axle, and one tire.  It had snapped in two, pulled out of the chassis, and when it disconnected, the thud by my window was the axel rod smacking against the door before it flipped to roll out into the grass.  That rod was three inches away from smashing through my window.

Cindy Allison ala Farrah

I spent a lot of time with Cindy Allison at her trailer a few miles away.  We did some really stupid things together.  Cindy was a VERY pretty fat girl, and sweet as could be.  Her mother was divorced, remarried and divorced again, and they lived in a trailer on her mother’s ex’s farm. Mom, Sandra Vespaziani worked at Woolworth’s at the Beaver Valley Mall, wore a VERY particular wig, and was apparently quite a roller skater. On a couple of occasions, I was VERY gay, and did Cindy’s hair and make-up.  I

Ila Morrow

also tried doing her friend Ila, who looked good, but always looked kind of country farm girl, the Lesbian without being Lesbian look. Cindy and Ila were actually a year behind me in school, and graduated in 1982.

I don’t remember the actual time line, but I do recall hanging out with Elaine Scoumis and some of her friends for a while.  She had the potential to be the ultimate fag hag, and truly drew the high school closet cases like an electromagnet.  She was a busty Greek gal with a flair for partying.  I remember sneaking out of the house senior year when my parents were out of town for the weekend.  My grandfather lived behind us in a trailer at that point, and would watch over the house.  BUT, he couldn’t see the FRONT of the house.  So Elaine would pull up out front and off we would go to the 2001 Club across the border in West Virginia, where the drinking age was 18.  Ok, I was only 17, but I had a full beard and no one ever questioned me.  Elaine got in trouble for writing bad checks on her Dad’s account, and kind of disappeared the year or so after high school.

I had also worked for a short time at the Beaver Valley Mall in a crappy little snack shop called ‘Carousel’, where the manager was tyrannical about asinine things like keeping a count inventory of paper cups. That didn’t last long, especially with the stupid uniform and paper hat. But while working there, I would take breaks walking around the mall, and met Joe George.  Joe was adorable.  My first official ‘boyfriend’.  We both worked in the mall in 1981, and had seen each other regularly walking the halls.  After repeated eye contact, and seeing him one day, I decided to sit down on a bench and hoped he’d join me.  He did.  Joe was thin, with long dark curly hair, big brown eyes, a Duran Duran wardrobe, a little pencil line mustache…ah, the 80′s.

We started fooling around, and then we started dating.  Joe was a little on the feminine side, and although I found him to be incredibly cute, I was still young and somewhat terrified of people finding out about me.  We also had a tremendous problem sexually…Joe could not get it up with me.  He said he was ‘nervous’…but ALWAYS?

We actually dated for some time though. Even through a change of job which took me out of the mall.  We would hang out with friends, mostly his, since I didn’t really have any at that time (either), and we had some odd things in common.  One of the most odd things happened with Joe.  In my artistic dabblings, I’d done a drawing…of a woman, with her hair sweeping down and covering one half of her face, with only one eye visible.  One day at Joe’s house, he was showing me some of his drawings…and there in his sketchbook…was nearly the same exact drawing…even down to using similar coloring.

I remember one night that me, Joe and Elaine tried crashing the club ‘Heaven’ in downtown Pittsburgh.  Elaine was wearing some bizarre white dress that had a huge train that she’d pinned up into something like a fall.  We couldn’t get into the club (they were serious about carding), and so we headed for home, and along the way stopped for gas.  Elaine apparently had borrowed Daddy’s credit card and it failed.  We had to scramble for cash.

Joe and I eventually split, mostly because I couldn’t take the scrutiny of being seen with someone so obviously feminine, and because the sex was really disappointing. I LOVED the feeling that my sex partner was turned on…and a hard on meant that to me.  I didn’t feel like I was doing that for him, and it kind of did something to my own low self-esteem.  So I kind of dropped out of Joe’s life.  Didn’t return calls (remember, this was pre-cell phone).

The last thing I heard from Joe at that time was a card left on the windshield of my car in my work parking lot. It was a Snoopy card, and he said in the card that ‘the crazy thing was…he really did ‘understand”.  I still didn’t have the maturity to work past it.

Years later, when I returned to Pittsburgh for my ten year high school reunion, after the reunion, Sondra Lengyel and I went to the local gay bar (Pegasus, if anyone is familiar)…and there was Joe.  He was dancing with his then partner.  His partner looked a hell of a lot like I did when Joe and I had first met.

When I was in 11thgrade, I had a huge crush on John Kerr, who was in my art

John Tunney Kerr

class, even though he was a year older than me.  John was tall and skinny, with black hair, a big Italian nose, and beautiful brown eyes. Either when I was a senior, or shortly after I’d graduated, and hanging out with Elaine, John invited me to his apartment in the ‘big city’ of Pittsburgh where he was living with his boyfriend.  I think his name was Joe. John and Joe took us to my very first gay bar, The Holiday, which was on the edge of the Carnegie Mellon University campus.  I was thrilled as well as scared to death. Hell, I was still 17, but had a full beard, so no one questioned me. I was also cruised for the first time in a gay bar this night. Very 70’s looking guy, a bit of an afro though a white guy, hairy chest with the open shirt and gold chain, tan blazer, and he just kept looking.  Nothing happened.  I was with friends, and too scared to do anything.

I can’t remember if it was before or after the bar, but John took us to a party held by some Dr. Steven Fisher in his condo in Shadyside.  The doctor hit on me too, and gave me his number.  I tried calling once, but he acted like he had no idea who I was, and frankly, he probably didn’t.

It was also senior year and sneaking out that almost gave me my first heart

Not my actual car, but what it looked like.

attack.  I believe it was David Nebel, me, Cindy Allison and Ila Morrow all piled in my shitty 1969 Chevy Nova (yes, my first car, that my parents bought me for $200 – when they had a Chevy Blazer, an Impala, a fishing boat, a hunting camp, and an in-ground swimming pool) and snuck into the old Dependable Drive-In.  This was the place that showed x-rated movies on the giant screen, along the highway just outside of Pittsburgh.  So, there we were. David driving (because he was older), me in the middle of the front seat, and Cindy on the passenger’s side, with Ila in the back seat.  We pulled up next to the speaker pole, and settled in to watch our first dirty movies.  After about a half hour, it was getting to feeling kind of weird, but in a comical way.  I was trying to suppress the reaction I’d gotten in previous years in the locker room, while Cindy gradually ended up with a newspaper held in front of her face.  Ila was stone quiet in the back seat.  David was just kind of unimpressed.  It seemed to be dragging on and becoming uncomfortable, and I looked at Cindy with the newspaper in front of her face and asked ‘Do you want to leave?’  Cindy lowered the newspaper to just below her eyes, looked at the screen and said ‘Oh, five more minutes.’.

So we sat through a bit more and finally decided to leave.  But when David turned the key to start the car, nothing happened. Not even a click. We started to sweat.  David had pulled the car up so close to the speaker pole, that the driver’s side door wouldn’t open.  David was the only one in the car who was ‘of age’. Cindy was the youngest, Ila next, and they could get out.  After deliberating, Cindy just popped a testicle and decided ‘Oh hell, I’ll go to the concession stand and call my Mom.  While we were debating and the three of us were jostling in the front seat, we bumped the stick shift, and heard a click.  David turned the key, and the car started.  The car hadn’t been completely in ‘park’.

As we were driving home, Ila piped up from the back seat. ‘Jeez that was dumb…all you could hear was slurp, slurp, slurp, slurp!’

My Graduation Drag, 1981

Graduation came in spring of 1981.  At the ‘Dome’ in Beaver County.  All I wanted was to get the piece of paper (which my mother still has, big surprise), and get the hell out of there. I was paired to walk with Danette Montini, one of the mentally challenged kids from class. She and I had gotten into a stupid fist fight in junior high. Me picking on her, her hitting, and me being stupid. Plain and simple. But on graduation day, I took her by the hand, thought FUCK what anyone else thinks or says, and walked her down the aisle to get her (and my) diploma. I don’t think I even have a photo from the site that night. I just was glad to be one step into freedom.

It was the ‘Dome’ where I saw my first concert alone.  I went to see the Oak Ridge Boys in maybe 1980.  I sat on the floor in the front row. I don’t remember much about the show except that they were great, and that the lead guitar player was incredibly hot.  The most memorable thing of the evening was that as I was staring at this guitarist (possibly like a puppy in love) he seemed to look in my direction, wink, and did something odd with his fingers in what seemed like my direction. A split second later, I felt something hit my lap. I felt around to see what had hit me, and there, under my left thigh…was his guitar pick.

Graduation night lead to Sondra Lengyel’s graduation party.  In one of her few caring moments, my mother actually told me NOT to try to come home after the party.  This was my first night ever…drinking.

And I did. In a totally uneducated manner. Whatever was handed to me, I drank.  And I got DRUNK.  My clear recollection was sitting on the edge of a picnic table.  At the end of the table were several paper grocery bags full of garbage, which I eventually fell off of the table and into.  I crawled my way in the dark night to the middle of the yard and almost fell asleep.  Kevin Bitts and someone else were playing frisbee in the dark over my body. At some point Sondra asked Kevin to help get me into the house, and I remember Kevin picking me up and carrying me into the basement, saying ‘You’re a HEAVY motherfucker’, and dropping me on the floor between a welding unit and a deep freezer. I laid there for a while, when Carol Jumper came in.  She leaned her overweight self over my limp body and asked in a very concerned manner: ‘Does your MOTHER know where you are??’  Everyone knew the family hell I lived through school, and they were all concerned I’d be killed off the next day.  I groaned ‘yes’, and Carol again said ‘Are you SURE your mother knows where you are??’

I rolled back into consciousness a few hours later and made my way to the living room sofa.  I think it was Sondra’s little sister who woke me up around 4:00 am with a camera flash going off in my face.

I drove home late morning, and nothing was said.

The funniest thing about the whole scenario was our class pathological liar, Mollie Cox, who tried to tell me weeks later that I was so drunk I tried to take her off into the woods and have my way with her.  Not a chance.  I knew who I was then, and I couldn’t possibly GET drunk enough to go there.

Now the only other high school memory I have that pertains to both parents and students came from when Kelley Young was dating my step-cousin Stan.  We were at my house, with she and Stan, and some couple that I can’t recall.  They were older parent types as well.  Kelley introduced me as the son of Sam and Joyce, and the couple responded ‘Oh sure, we know Sam and Joyce. Wonderful people’, to which Kelley responded ‘Sure, to everyone but their KIDS’.  That was the first time that I had anyone else acknowledge that the way I was treated was not so nice.  I’ve admired Kelley ever since.

My first re-intro to the life of my father came in the summer before my senior year when a strange woman approached me in the mall and asked me if I was who I am.  I had never seen this woman before, and she had two small children in her hands.  When I confirmed who I was, she said ‘Oh, you look just like your uncle Dick.  I wasn’t aware that I had an uncle Dick.  Then, she jumped right in with ‘what do you think of your brothers?’ My introduction to Brian and Fred, my half brothers. My mother had so terrorized me from having ANY contact with my father that I freaked out a bit. The last thing I needed was more wrath of my mother, who never really treated me like her child, but more like her ‘responsibility’ until I was old enough to leave the house.  I did chores in exchange for a roof over my head, cheap clothing, and food.

Then, a few weeks before Thanksgiving of 1980, the telephone rang in my house, where my mother was NOT at the time, and it was this woman, Connie, asking me to go join their family for Thanksgiving dinner.  Again, sheer terror, and total relief that my mother was not at home to witness this contact.

Toward the end of my senior year of high school I had a new job as a waiter at Billy’s Restaurant, where I once again began encountering my father and other family.  He was trying to know me, but at this point, I was still too close in vicinity to my mother, and the ten years of terror. He and the whole family would come in.  Once they were seated in the middle of a section where I had two tables, and I walked large circles around the restaurant to avoid actually passing them.  I heard Brian say ‘There he goes, Dad!’.  Eventually, they ended up sitting at my table and I had to wait on them, scared to death, and just trying to treat them like regular customers. Dad was a big tipper that night.  The manager would tell me that he’d come in on nights that I didn’t work, and sit at the bar.  Suzie was the manager’s name.  She was not really a nice person.  Although she did share one bit of info with the wait staff that NO other food service or service employer had EVER shared with me.  She actually said once “You do NOT have to smile ALL the time!  The only people who smile ALL the time are retarded!”  They fired me when they found out I was still only 17…and couldn’t legally serve booze.  This was the last time I would see my father until 1991.

Billy’s was a steak and seafood restaurant, very 70’s feeling.  The chef was a very tall and temperamental guy who looked at bit like Lurch, and who wasn’t all that bright.  Some of the wait staff that I can recall were Becky the gossipy troublemaker.  A kind of suburbanite princess, with the big hair, braces influenced smile that was there even when she wasn’t smiling, and a little on the heavy side.  Michael Nuzzo (?) was her cohort and best pal, who was a gorgeous and uber-closeted gay boy.  Swishy as they came, but claimed to be straight. Fran was the incredibly serious uptight type, hair pulled back in a serious pony tail.  Nancy worked in the kitchen, and was very cool.  She was a little on the ‘bad girl’ side for that time, and we even considered becoming room mates at some point.  But all we could find were shit holes that neither of us could afford.  Her’s was one of the few weddings I ever went to in my life.  Don’t remember it much.  I think she might have been pregnant. Mark was a fellow waiter who asked me to be in his wedding, but I couldn’t afford to rent a tux.  He understood.  I kind of had a crush on him. There was another Mark who worked in the kitchen, who was a really nice guy.  I remember he had a limp.  The bartender was a very pretty girl named Melanie or Melody, whose boyfriend or hubby was a band member with B.E. Taylor back then.

We occasionally had entertainment, a solo act – guitar and singer. Sometimes it was Jerry Datillo, who was teacher at Blackhawk High School, and married to my high school drama teacher.  He was a little like Jim Croce, and sexy as hell.  The other singer was Karen Staley, who was a little Carole King.  She went on to be quite a songwriter, and is credited with writing songs for Reba McIntyre and many others.  She was a back-up singer as well.  But she really was good enough to be a solo star herself.

I actually went out once with Karen, and I think we even got to a kissing attempt, but I knew…oh I knew. Beautiful and talented as she was, it just wasn’t right for a Kinsey 6.

Monica Zaremba

Just before high school ended, my drama teacher, Monica Zaremba (later Datillo, and back to Zaremba) told us that the Brodhead Cultural Center was having auditions for their summer community production of ‘Carousel’. Me and a few classmates, Brenda Joy and Eric Mortimer, went to the auditions.  A few others might have gone, but we were the three that got in.  We were just in the chorus, but it was the first step into a cycle of community theater that lead nowhere.  It was a great experience to meet OTHER people than the people I went to high school with.  And other GAY people too!  Tim Bird, who played Billy Bigelow (probably one of the gayest Billy Bigelows ever), Mark Kaplan who was smoking hot, but a tad full of himself. And he could be.  He was gorgeous and  talented. Larry ‘Laden’ Sadecky, who was cute, at that time sweet, and talented.  Patty Chenet, who was Mrs. Mullins, and pretty much typecast as such.  Tim and I dated briefly.  Again, too gay, and I wasn’t ready to be seen in that company.  Larry and I fooled around, but not much came of it.  Even though we kept in touch through the years and fooled around several times, as ‘age’ set in, Larry, now officially ‘Layden’ seemed to become a chicken hawk, and had little interest in even being friends.  Now the ‘old pleasure boat’ Patty became somewhat of a friend, but I think Patty, looking back at the reality, pretty much tried to be friends with everyone who would admire her.  Brenda Joy attached herself pretty vehemently, and stayed attached through the years.

Patty Chenet

Patty was a real piece of work. Patty was what you would call ‘Rubenesque’ with long straight black hair, and a bit of a whispy voice, who taught ‘organ’ and played at local churches, but was extremely seductive…like a cat on the prowl.

Patty was kind of the ultimate fag hag – even had a ‘boyfriend’ who was a hairdresser who at one point was living in the woods to be near Patty (according to her).  She lived with her ‘Auntie’ and ‘Unc’ in Aliquippa, and what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.  In college (again, according to a story she told) she gained the nickname of ‘Peanut Butter Patty’ – supposedly, she had gone to the doctor for a routine pap smear. After they’d done the initial tests, they came to her and asked for a second round of tests because they had found an unknown ‘substance’ that was worrying them.  According to Patty, she lowered her voice and said ‘I think I can solve this – I think it may be peanut butter’.

And another of Patty’s stories tells of a gay couple borrowing her car while she was in college to attend a Rocky Horror event. In full Franky and his ‘man’ drag, on their way back home, they came to a crossroad and blew through the stop sign.  The crossroad was actually a ‘T’, and they sailed Patty’s car, which was completely in her ‘Unc’s name, into a Penn State duck pond.  When the rescue came, Franky was driving, and ‘the man’ was in a ball on the floor…of the driver’s side.

L-R: Layden Sadecky, Mark Kaplan (in pool), Harvey Kelly and Tim Bird

My parents actually allowed me to have a cast party in the pool in our back yard. Of course I heard all about how awful the people were for the next week.  Especially Rosalie Kaplan, who

Rosalie Kaplan

was all of 13 maybe, and from that incredibly talented Kaplan family. Rosalie was loud and energetic…JUST the type my mother hated.

I should also mention that my mother came to ONE dress rehearsal of Carousel.  That’s all.  NOT a performance.  Only one dress rehearsal, and I believe she left early.  That was THE only time my mother came to see me on stage.  My Aunt Helen came to quite a few. Even into her older age and suffering from Lupus. But not my mother.

I also did a children’s show that summer at the Brodhead Cultural Center called ‘The Princess Who Couldn’t Cry’, and I played ‘Prince Darius’ to a woman playing the princess who was MUCH older than me.  I met another guy there named Richard Braun. Thank goodness my parents were addicted to weekend camping at that point. I was being introduced to deep inner Scorpio.

After Carousel was over, Patty introduced me to the Comtra Players in then ‘Mars’, which has since morphed into either Cranberry Township or Wexford.  Comtra at that time was in a large circus tent on the front lawn of the East/West Restaurant. I did props or something for a production of ‘Not Now Darling’, then ‘On Golden Pond’, and then was in a production of ‘Murder On The Nile’, which is where I started smoking.  I had two sentences in the first act, and two sentences in the second act, as the Irish Captain of the boat they were on.  NOTHING to do in between.  Since this was a tent, we all just sat outside of the tent flap behind the sound and light board.  We couldn’t talk, for we’d be heard on the other side of the cloth.  So, most of the cast sat there smoking.  Finally, out of sheer boredom, I think I turned to Becky Meals and said ‘Give me one of those.’ She asked if I was sure, and I affirmed.  Been smoking ever since.

Murder On The Nile also brought me to my second vile drunk.  It was a cast party, and my utter inexperience with drinking.  The show had ended, and the cast party was in Moon Township somewhere, at one of the other cast members (and I can’t for the life of me remember who) apartments.  We had decided to car pool, and I drove, while Bob & Becky Meals, and perhaps Bonnie Cahill left their cars at the King’s restaurant in Mars. We drove to Moon, which is about 40 minutes from Mars (good grief, I just realized we went from Mars to the Moon – which is about as silly sounding as my moving from Raccoon Township to Beaver).  The party was fun, dancing to Devo, and having a drink.  The bartender of the evening asked what I’d like, and I asked for a gin and tonic.  I didn’t watch him make the drink, but I generally drink whatever is in my hand like a hefty gulp of water. So I finished gin and tonic number one, and then went back for number two.  Only this time I watched him pour the drink. In a plastic tumbler, he filled the glass with gin to about ¾ of an inch from the top, dropped in an ice cube, and topped it with tonic.  I thought WOW…but I drank it anyway.

In about an hour, I was a pile of useless flesh.  And I had done the driving.  So, they piled me into my back seat, and we all drove back to Mars.  There was a debate for a bit in the parking lot of the King’s Restaurant as to what to do with me.  Leave me in my car in the parking lot?  They couldn’t drive me home.  I lived in Beaver, which was another 40 minutes in a different direction from all of them, who lived in Butler, which was about 40 minutes in yet another direction. (Yes, theater people do stupid things for their hobby)  They decided to get me into King’s for some badly needed coffee.  So there we were, four or five (I remember Michael Marra was also there – Michael was scorching hot sexy – a runner – and the one thing I remember about Michael, aside from his hilarious abridged version of the Wizard of Oz – were his unusual knees.  They looked like a cartoon frog – honestly) very oddly dressed theater people.  Fedoras with feathers or paint brushes in the hat band, white shirts and dress suit vests, and jeans. We sat in a booth desperately trying to get me sobered up. Not a chance. A group of policemen walked in and sat in a booth near us, which put out paranoia on high.  I had to go to the bathroom, and I stumbled my way in, peed, zipped up, and then slid down the wall onto the floor, where I sat until Michael Marra came in to drag me out.

Clearly, I was not going to be in driving condition any time soon, so plan B was put into effect. They would drive me and my car to their place in Butler. Bonnie drove my car, while Beck and Bob drove their own, and I was going to sleep it off on their couch.  We drove the 40 minutes to Butler, pulled up outside of Bob & Becky’s apartment and as I opened the car door, out came dinner…and a lot of gin.

We got me up the stairs to their second floor apartment above some store, and onto the sofa where I passed out.

The sun was shining on my face in the morning when I was awakened by a cat jumping on my head.  I opened my eyes, which were nearly sealed shut with my contact lenses still in, and I looked around the room.  On the coffee table was a pizza box with old pizza that had aged to the point that the pizza had curled up, and there was a glass of some yellow liquid that had a small tropical green island floating on the top.

Now came the big challenge…driving the hour and a half back to Beaver, with no idea where I was.  Well, I did it.  Went home, and went to sleep for several more hours.

Now if Comtra ever taught me anything, it was what NOT to do in the theater.  It was then, and always has been, pretty weak community theater.  Housewives and the husbands they could drag in when guys were needed.

Performing in a tent also had its drawbacks.  There was one night an actor was onstage, and his mom was in the audience.  In the tent, this was theater in the round.  As the man was performing, suddenly his mother rose from her seat, walked across the stage to her son, picked a daddy longlegs off his sleeve, said ‘Honey, this was crawling on you.’ And went back to her seat and sat down.

Linda Wyke and I were paired in a show called ‘Best Laid Plans’, which was a sort of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ rip off.  It was hilarious playing boyfriend and girlfriend.

In ‘The Torchbearers’ which was set in the 1920’s, I was Teddy, and I don’t remember a damned thing about the show.  The only thing I remember is wearing knickers and an argyle sweater, with the tweed cap, and having an ‘incident’ one night.  I needed hairspray to slick my hair back.  There was a grocery store two blocks away.  So I hopped in my car, and drove up the street, and ran into the store for my can of Aquanet.  When I came out of the store, I discovered that I had locked my keys in the car.  So, there I was running down the highway in Mars, in knickers, and argyle sweater and a tweed cap, with a can of Aquanet in my hands, and arrived at the theater in an absolute panic.  I was worried that someone would see the keys in my car and steal it.  So someone called the police for me as I went on stage, and during the intermission the police were there with my car and the keys.

Beaver…

When I escaped the ‘family’, and the school system at the age of 17 (I graduated early), and moved into my first apartment alone on the third floor of a building that housed a carpet store below.  I was in the roof apartment (slanted ceilings and all) with really crappy paneling, indoor-outdoor slumlord carpeting, and an emergency siren directly outside my back door.  The back parking lot of the building was the fire department. And about 100 yards from my back window, atop a utility pole, was the giant yellow emergency warning siren.  And when that sucker went off, it rotated in a circle, aiming directly at my back door and window every 10 seconds. After the first five or six times it happened, I lost the urge to suddenly crap myself, and got used to it.

I lived there for something like two years.

I had a couple of parties, one Christmas, and another for what I can’t remember. I think it was just a gathering.  For Christmas that year I did invite some people over, and decorated.  I’d found some grape vines in the woods, and spun them into a spiral, shaped like a Christmas tree, strung it with lights, and hung the branches with a few ornaments and icicles.  We just sat around and chatted, ate a little.  I felt kind of dumb and barely present, and I really haven’t had many parties since then.

At one of the parties, I remember Linda Wyke and I getting into a conversation about John Cougar, and she said she thought he was ugly, to which I replied ‘No he’s NOT!’, and she jumped right back with ‘Oh? Do YOU think he’s CUTE?’  I just kind of shut up, but it became a perfect reminder a few years later when I came out to her during a country drive.  I said ‘Remember that party, when you said John Cougar was ugly, and I said he wasn’t, and you asked if I thought he was cute? Well, I DO think he’s cute.’  Linda responded ‘I KNEW it!’

My furnishings at this first apartment were odd. I had gotten the old bar from my mother’s basement, which they didn’t use anymore.  A kind of makeshift futon sofa, which was really a mattress folded in half with some pillows behind it.  An old TV table and a small black and white TV.  The bedroom was nice, and I believe it came from my grandfather.  A kind of art deco blonde set, with a chiffarobe and a dresser with a mirror, and the full sized bed.  I can’t recall the kitchen set, but I know there was a table.  I also had my grandfather’s old barber chair.  In the 40’s or 50’s, he had a barber shop on the main street of Monaca, and I got his antique red leather and porcelain barber chair.  It took three guys almost an hour to haul it up the enormous rickety stairs that were the entrance to my third floor apartment.  Then there was the stereo, and my record collection housed in an old wooden box that had once been a big worm farm.

For a while, I tried a waterbed.  I didn’t know anything about waterbeds, but I did know about how damned hot it could get on a third floor roof apartment with no air conditioning.  So I bought my waterbed, filled it with cold water, and thought ohhhhh yeah…the heat isn’t gonna get to me tonight.

Ha. Well, it certainly did not.  I woke up at 3:00 am, frozen to the bone.  It was over 80 degrees outside, and probably hotter in my apartment, but I woke up, put on sweat pants and a sweatshirt, shivering like a naked man in the arctic circle, closed all of my windows, and curled up on the couch under a pile of blankets.  Next morning, I turned the heater on for the waterbed.

Through Brodhead, someone referred me to play a part in a children’s production of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ that was performed at the Beaver High School. I played the Cook, who was making soup and either kept putting more and more pepper in the soup and sneezing, or saying ‘too much pepper’.  I can’t quite remember.  Through this show, I met the high school tech boys who were all pretty much nerds in their own right.  Then one who became a friend at that time was Ron Kludo.  Ron was the son of a well-to-do doctor who lived in Windy Ghoul Estates, a kind of vintage McMansion plan (before McMansions became cardboard cut out homes in housing developments with no style whatsoever) on the hill behind the main town of Beaver. For about a two years we were friends, and embarked on a few creative dabblings, but nothing that grew.  I think he may even have worked with me backstage on ‘On Golden Pond’.  Ron introduced me to his friend Carl, who’s father owned the building I ended up living in.

In January of 1982, I was working for the Zupi family greenhouse.  I don’t remember for how long, or from when to when.  I only recall three things about working there.  One was miles of poinsettias being grown for the holidays. Two was that I had been a ‘big brother’ of sorts to a guy from Hopewell, and that we worked together there for a short time.  I wasn’t a big brother long.  I loved helping the kid, and I think I did, but I couldn’t stand the bullshit of the bureaucratic process that was supposed to be guiding us.  The third thing was one day when the boss and I started work one morning, and he asked me if I’d heard about the woman who was murdered the night before.  I asked who, and he said ‘Sandra Vespaziani’.  I went white, and told him that this was my friend Cindy’s mother.  I left work and called Cindy.  It turns out that Sandra and her friend Marie had left work at the Beaver Valley Mall, and Marie needed to stop at the grocery store. So Marie left Sandra outside in the car and ran into the store.  When she came out, Sandra and the car were gone.

A man named Charles Holcomb had been staking Sandra where she worked.  (Of course this was before the term ‘stalking’ came into vogue)  He followed her out of the mall that night, and when Marie went into the store, he jumped in the car and rode off with Sandra.  He made her drive holding a knife to her throat, down deep country roads, where the bumps and nerves of the drive jabbed the knife at her throat.  Once they had arrived where he intended for them to go, he dragged her out of the car, raped her, stabbed her, and left her to die in the snow.

It was one of the few, and probably the worst funerals I ever attended.  Sandra was in the casket for viewing, and nothing the undertaker could do would remove the look on her face of what she had endured.

Here’s the real kicker.  This Holcomb guy, rented the room above my great grandmother’s store (the apartment where I’d once lived with my mother and real father).  It was HIS rent receipt my great-grandmother held in her hand when they found her dead at the bottom of the stairs leading from the apartment to her living area.  It is very possible that Charles got into an argument with my overly headstrong great-grandmother and pushed her down those stairs.

I don’t quite remember how, but I ran into my high school’s music Teacher, Rich Shyan somewhere, and started hanging out occasionally with him. I think we might have met at at Pegasus or Zack’s 4th Avenue in Pittsburgh at some point, when maybe Joe George and his friends and I would go out.  I remember a guy named Gary that was one of Joe’s friends, who wanted to be a country singer.  I think he did go on to be a country singer, and is apparently well known…in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Joe also knew Paul Gallagher.

A lot of things happened around this time.  I started a new job that paid a little more than I’d been making (not by a whole lot, but substantially more) at Gladieux Food service at the OLD Pittsburgh airport.  This was the big food service slop server that operated in most larger venues like this until the chains swooped in to create even worse McFoodservice.  They shuffled me all around the airport.  Snack bars serving nasty hot dogs and dipped-in-preservatives salads.  The big restaurant with was like a low-rent Denny’s, as kitchen help, busboy.  They tried to make me work night shift for one week.  The night manager was former military who barked at busboys like boot camp, and I couldn’t STAND him.  After trying to drive home one night, and swerving off into the grass in the median of the beaver Valley Expressway, I told them I could NOT work night shifts.  I remember one night when I had to work until 11, drive 45 minutes home, and be back at 6 am.  I was the walking dead the next morning.  I had my first experience with ‘speed’.  One of my co-workers gave me a half of a pill and said ‘here, take this’.  I asked what it was and they told me, and I wouldn’t normally even try such a thing at that point, but I was so wiped out, I took it.  And, just as with most drugs I’ve ever tried, it didn’t do what I guess it was supposed to do.  I could NOT keep my eyes open.  I couldn’t stop MOVING, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open while I was moving.  I was pacing back and forth in the snack bar with my eyes closed.

When I worked at the airport, they knew I was involved with theater, and I tried to do a fundraising show at the old rooftop theater they had.  Paul Gallagher came into my picture as a dancer for the show, as well as a friend of one of the cast members.  Paul was stunning. He was a Tom Selleck look-alike when Tom Selleck was big on prime time.  Tall, lean, furry and GORGEOUS hairy legs.

We started dating, and I was ga-ga.  His mother and my mother had worked together at the Lerner’s store in the mall where I’d had my first job, before she stopped working after marrying the stepmonster.

Paul was the first to break MY heart.  The show at the airport wasn’t going well, (and eventually fell apart completely, as did I) and one day Paul came over, saw me in a depressed mess, and walked out, never to return.  I was heartbroken.

Here’s the irony.  A couple of years ago, I started flirting with a guy from an online profile in Pittsburgh.  We exchanged profile messages, and then stopped, never accomplishing anything.  Then, months later, I messaged him again, and after a few exchanges, I gave him my e-mail.  He e-mailed, and the name on the e-mail…Paul Gallagher.

We traded a few more e-mails, and I explored the name and the background.  It was him.  We traded telephone numbers.  He called, and we talked for hours, exploring and explaining the past.  He told me the reason he’d walked out.  Apparently, he’d been as ga-ga for me as I was for him, but he wasn’t very good at showing that.  He had loaned me a Joan Rivers album back then. One night, unannounced, he came to my apartment to hear the record playing.  He knocked on the door and got no answer.  I was hanging out with an old school TEACHER, Rich Shyan, who was music directing the show for me at the airport, and listening to the comedy in the dark.  Nothing was going on, but I didn’t hear the door, and Paul misconstrued the situation. He came back for his album, explained nothing, and left, never to be seen again…until last summer online.

After almost two years, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown from simple assed food service politics and rules, as well as from some incredibly ridiculous passengers.  But hey, I did serve Marty Allen, David Brenner, Wolfman Jack, Rocky Blier and a few others some really expensive and crappy hot dogs.

I had a few flings here and there through that old airport.  AND, remember the guy who cruised me in the Holiday Bar? One day I’m working one of the snack bars, and who walks by in a US Air ramp worker uniform? Yep.  And for about two years I saw him regularly walking the hallways there.  I don’t think he ever recognized me, but I sure recognized him.

One fling I never had was with Dave McDermott, the fresh orange juice boy, although he chased me relentlessly.  Why I never gave in is beyond me today, because he was built, and I’ll bet he was an animal in bed. He even tried to get me into the juice company storage room for a quickie at one point.  I turned him down, afraid someone else would come in, but all I can say is…thank goodness I was wearing an apron.

I remember the crew from Piedmont Airlines being really incredibly nice people.  A gal named Kathy (Bubenko?), and even the boss, Jim McCormick (I think?) was really nice.  Kathy and I actually hung out a bit when she moved into her new house in Beaver.  I think I helped her a bit in the house, but I’m not sure.  I don’t remember if it was for my birthday, or for Xmas, they came over to the snack bar with a big gift.  It was a framed art print.  I had it for many, many years, until it fell off a wall and the glass broke.

The crew from US Air, who were the main airline at the airport at that time, we NOT such a nice crew.  Ellen Teets, whose mother ran the Comtra Theater, worked there, and was fooling around with a married guy name Chuck. The flight attendants all thought they were hot shit.

Barb Galvanek - in rollers.

Barb Galvanek was a flight attendant for US Air, and she had been our next door neighbor for a few years in Raccoon.  Barb really was an inspiration to me in my last high school years.  Barb was a little more sophisticated and worldly than anyone I’d ever known to that point.  I would take care of her dog when she went on multiple day flights or vacations, and I always enjoyed being in her house more than mine.  She was more ‘city’ which were where my tastes were developing.  I don’t think she liked me very much when I got older though.  I think she saw me as a reflection of my mother, which I don’t think is very true.

But I did find a small crew of friends that I used to hang out with and go dancing.  Don’t ask me to remember any of their names. We would head to the Dancer Club in Weirton, WV, and dance our asses off to Rock Lobster, John Cougar, Pat Benetar, and on a few occasions B.E. Taylor was there live.

I had a few admirers then, mostly girls, and it was still a little hard to be open with them at that time.  I think my biggest admirer was Beverly Thompson.  She was a short, chubby gal that worked for the newsstands.  We became friends and did hang out a bit.  Her family was all a little on the ‘slow’ side. She had two brothers, one who was kind of cute, but dumb as could be, either Joe or Jeff, and then Elmer, who was REALLY backward.  Dad was just as goofy as could be, and it almost seemed like the shallow end of the West Virginia gene pool had congealed into this family.  Beverly was the ‘brightest’ of all of them.  She kind of took after her mom.  Now, if you want to see a fairly clear picture of both Beverly and her mom, if you’ve seen the movie ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, Muriel’s mom was a pretty good physical and emotional version of both of them.  Beverly is probably the person I hung out with most.  But after we both left the airport, Bev started working as a gas station attendant for BP in Robinson Township, and one night who should roll up to Bev’s pay window, but Elaine Scoumis.  Who felt compelled to ‘spill the beans’ to Bev that I was a homo.  Bev called me the next day and said that she’d met Elaine, and that Elaine told her something ‘disturbing’.  I didn’t deny or verify, but we never really spoke again.

Gladieux had a big company Halloween party one year, and those of us who agreed to work the party (as well as attend it) could have a room for the night.  I can’t remember what my costume was…maybe something punk.  But I ended up getting invited into one of the candy stand girl’s rooms.  She was ready to let me go wherever I wanted with her.  And really…I didn’t.

The manager of the Candy Stands, Betty Jean Simon, knew I wanted to be an actor, and thought she’d introduce me to her brother who was an ‘agent’ from Florida.  His name was Robert something.  Well, Betty Jean didn’t mention that he was a big ol’ queen with a drooling desire for young boys. He worked me, photographed me, trying to get as much clothing off as possible for the photos, and eventually asked if I was interested in doing porn.  Um…NO!  I should have done it.  What the hell, I would have gotten laid AND paid.  But at that time (and that era) it was NOT kosher to have nudity of yourself out there in the world floating around when you wanted to be a serious actor.

One of the good things to happen at that airport as Walt Shifler.  Walter was one of the accountants who closed out the registers at the end of each shift.  Absolutely adorable, and sweet as could be.  Dark beautiful hair and blue eyes, a beaming smile, and a terrific personality.  We started flirting at work, and he gave me tingles every time I saw him.  He started lingering longer and longer, and we started kissing one day in the stock room.  Then he came to my place.  We started dating.  Walter was a wonderful guy, and is probably the first big fuck up on my part for letting him get away…or sending him away.

He was wonderful, supportive, came to see me in theatre shows, went to cast parties with me. Helped me cook a dish for one of them.  He was a passionate lover.

But…I still couldn’t get past the ‘stage fright’ phenomenon…that feeling that everyone was looking and ‘knowing’.  Eventually, that fear won out, and I walked away.

I finally had to quit when I was on the verge, trying to rely on Valium which didn’t do a damned thing for me, and a fat manager who wouldn’t help me with a schedule to allow for rehearsals for a play.  I literally locked the cash register, changed my clothes in the back room, with a line of people waiting in the front room, dumped my clothes on the floor in the back room, and walked out.  The manager came huffing down the hall toward the snack bar as I was walking away from it, and I tossed him the keys and told him ‘good luck, it’s all yours’.

AMC Spirit - next generation of The Gremlin

After high school my parents arranged for me to get a better car.  A NEW one. An AMC Spirit.  Two things to know: One, the car was ‘arranged’, but not given. Every dime was my responsibility, even though I didn’t get to pick the car. I’d had my eye on an old 1953 Ford that was parked near Linda Wyke’s house with a $900 price tag in the window. Instead of what I desired, I got a piece of shit that saddled me with car payments for the next too many years.  Two, this wasn’t a cute car.  It was the next generation of…the Gremlin. Nor was it a good car.  It was an entire lemon tree, and I was not a mechanic of any variety.  Not that the old Chevy Nova was any better.  The Nova (which for those Spanish speaking folks, the words ‘no va’ in Spanish mean ‘won’t go’) had rust holes in the floor that allowed you to see the pavement rolling by underneath, the oil leaked constantly, and the muffler fell off regularly, and always in the wrong direction.  If you were going forward, it fell off forward, grinding into the road, or if you were backing up, it fell off backwards grinding into the road.  One time I actually got stuck in someone’s driveway because I’d pulled up to the garage door too close.  The muffler fell off backward, and I was wedged in the driveway with the muffler digging into the pavement as I tried to back up.  The Spirit also had an issue with oil leaking, and the gas pedal never quite coordinated with getting the gas to the engine when idling, say at a stop light, and it would stall.

I’d started doing dinner theater at Johnny Lounder’s Restaurant in Robinson Township.  Lounder’s was one of Pittsburgh fine dining establishments, and I was working with Unicorn Productions, run by Jeanne Dumbovich (who later

Me and Jeanne Donovic onstage in Thurber Carnival.

changed her last name to Donovic for the sanity of her child as she entered school), Cathy Gialoretto and Robert Kwiatkowski (who later changed his name to Branigan for his soon to be non-existent acting career).  I was cast in a production of ‘Eat Your Heart Out’, which was about a waiter in NY restaurants working his way through his acting habit. There were five people in the show, and four of us played the different customers coming into the restaurants where our waiter worked. The waiter was played by Robert ‘C.T.’ Steele.

Robert CT Steele

Robert was the next guy to make my heart flutter, and the next one to rip it out of my chest and hand it back to me in a greasy paper bag.

Robert had straight black hair, blue eyes, a toothpaste smile, a perfect lean body, passion, sensitivity (except when it mattered), and was sexually charged.  I completely and totally fell for him.  He was a Mt. Lebanon brat, and as I’ve discovered through the years living in Pittsburgh, guys from Mt. Lebanon are missing a few puzzle pieces.  A few fries short of a happy meal. The oil doesn’t quite touch the dipstick.  The first thing is that Mt. Lebanites feel that they are superior to other Pittsburghers simply by address, even though they seem to forget that Sewickley and Fox Chapel kind of beat them in the economic status department.  He was a student at Pitt in theater, and was doing quite a bit around town.  He was probably also doing quite a few OTHERS around town.

But our ‘fling’ lasted from my apartment in Beaver to my apartment in Shadyside.  I even bought him a ring, I was so in love.  Of course when he dumped me, it never crossed his mind to give it back.  To him, it was just a friendly gift.  Had nothing to do with what I felt for him.  And with my non-existent budget, $200 but NOT just a ‘friendly gift’.  It meant something to me.

I recall sitting in his car behind the rehearsal space for the Lounder’s show, and the police pulling up as we were making out in the car, and fumbling for an excuse – he covered well, saying I was depressed and needed to talk.  I also recall him visiting my apartment in Shadyside, I believe Nick was gone by that time, and I had a friend that I’d met in the bar (Zack’s Fourth Avenue) through John Aiken and Bob McGrogan, named Michael Rager.  Michael was a beautiful queenie kept boy from NY who hung out in Pittsburgh somewhat regularly since it was where his family came from.  While Michael was sleeping in the bedroom, Robert and I started making out on the sofa in the living room.  Robert looked at me and said ‘Have you ever had a threesome?’  That question lead to a brief discussion, and then a trip to the bedroom to wake Michael.  The last thing I recall from that era with Robert was him telling me that I needed to get some kind of therapy to help me.  Why is it that people why are dumping you for no real reason are always the ones to tell you that YOU need therapy?  Of COURSE you need some kind of help, whether it be therapy or a true friend to listen, because you’re heart is being destroyed.  But they never acknowledge that perhaps the issue is really THEIRS, and that maybe they need a little therapy to lead them to understand why it is they can’t continue a relationship.  And you can bet your ass they never find it within themselves to apologize at any point later in life.

So, back to the piece of shit AMC Spirit.  In the same parking lot for the Lounder’s Rehearsal space, I had arrived early one day.  When I parked the car, I noticed some smoke coming from under the hood.  I was kind of used to this from the oil always leaking.  But since I was early, and no one else had arrived to unlock the door, I got out and popped the hood.

FLAMES!  The engine was on fire!  I ran across the street to the gas station begging for help, and they came with a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.  That was major incident number one with the AMC.  The dealer came all the way from Zelienople, got it, ‘fixed’ it, and I got it back, only to have the oil continue leaking.

I also had an incident where I pulled up outside a friend’s house, opened the back hatch which was basically the window with a metal strip around it on two hinges, got a bag out of the back, shut the ‘hatch’ and the window shattered into a million tiny pea-sized pieces.  They fixed that when they repaired the burned engine.

Then I was driving to a rehearsal somewhere and the engine started to clank and sputter, and I pulled off into the parking lot of some warehouse, turned it off, smoke once again coming from under the hood, and walked away from it.  I went to a pay phone, called a friend, then called the dealer again to come and get it.  I’d hoped it would burn and explode, but no such luck.  They ‘fixed’ it again, and I got the damned thing back.  Then the last straw. One day, driving through Oakland, I was coming to a traffic light, with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake, so it wouldn’t stall again.  The light changed, and I started to move forward. Ahead of me was a giant old 1970’s land yacht of a Buick, that started to turn left, but jammed on their brakes to avoid hitting a bicyclist, and I read ended them.  The result? They had a cracked tail light.  The entire front left side of my car was destroyed.  I again called the dealer and said ‘Fix it, sell it, I never want to see it again!’  That was the last car I would have until many years later.

Before I left Beaver, and I still had the car, my mother and stepmonster sold the house in Raccoon Township, and moved, first to Slippery Rock, and then ultimately to Tidioute, Pennsylvania.  I had to take a road trip to Slippery Rock once with my grandfather in the passenger seat, and his best friend, the former Mayor of Monaca, Johnny Bell in the back seat.  It might have actually been one of the longest two and a half hour trips of my life. First, when the radio was on “Turn that down, that’s too damned loud!” and it was barely audible.  This from a man who constantly said ‘Huh?’ when you talked to him.  After a short period, I stopped talking because I was getting tired of repeating myself, so he began to entertain us all by reading EVERY street sign, billboard and roadside stand sign he saw. ‘Tomatoes, two dollars a bushel’ – ‘Smith’s Market’ – ‘Rte. 66’ – ‘Dairy Queen’.  It was maddening.  But I guess it was better than my grandfather and Johnny trying to talk to each other the whole trip. ‘Huh?’ – ‘What?’ – ‘Huh?’ – ‘Eh?’  Instead, he just read the signs, and Johnny sat in the back seat and sucked on his false teeth the entire two and a half hours.

Ron Kludo graduated from high school and became at student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Linda Wyke became a student at Slippery Rock University.  So I started making road trips to visit both of them, and through them had a few meetings of new people, and a few adventures.

Pittsburgh…round one…

Through hanging out with Rich Shyan, I met some folks in bars from ‘the city’.  I met John Aiken, who was room mates with Bobby McGrogan as I’d mentioned.  John was a dancer, tall and lean.  He was going to be one of the dancers in the airport show. Along with his crowd came Nick Connelly.  Nick was Alaskan, my height, a wannabe dancer, and restaurant worker along with John, and he was absolutely adorable.  Nick became my first room mate.  I packed up my stuff, and we found a small one bedroom apartment in Shadyside on South Aiken Avenue, which was owned by a sleazy Limousine company owner, and started my life in ‘the city’.

The apartment was slightly slumlord with crappy carpeting and avocado colored fridge and stove, but otherwise it was cute.  Exposed brick fireplace in the tiny living room, galley kitchen with a counter. The bedroom had a curved giant window.  This used to be one of those big old houses that had been chopped into four or six apartments.  The front porch, which probably used to be a grand wooden porch, was torn off and nothing was left but a set of concrete steps.  The neighbors were an odd bunch.  The landlords bitch girlfriend lived directly upstairs from me, and their early morning sessions could be heard loudly through the floor.  One day I sat up and yelled at the top of my lungs ‘HARDER, HARDER!’ as I heard the springs boinging and their headboard clanging against the wall.  It grew suddenly very quiet.  She sneered at me every time she saw me after that.  Across the hall from me were a VERY weird couple of nerdy fatties.  She was so obese she never left the apartment.  I only caught glimpses as she peeked out their door, and she would slam it shut as soon as she heard or saw anyone else in the hall.  He was big, fat, bespectacled, and would actually leave the apartment for groceries and errands occasionally.  He would also grunt a hello if you greeted him.

Life with Nick was my first challenge of living with another human being. Nick was a total slob, never paid his bills, was a complete and total sex pig, and had personal habits that were a complete and total turn off.  I endured Nick for about 8 months.  He was about three months behind in rent, but had no problem going out partying with what little money he had.  He was cute enough to have all his drinks paid for, but all he had to do was put out after. On a couple of occasions, he ‘put out’ in the bed next to mine at 3 am. I was actually astounded that he would bring anyone home, knowing the condition his side of the room was in.  Plastic trash bags full of MONTHS worth of dirty laundry between his bed and the wall. A nightstand covered with candy wrappers and other food remainders, as well as a pile of scraps of paper and napkins with random telephone numbers written on them.  He had a hamster in a fish tank in the hallway that he never cleaned that stank like mad, and the hamster was constantly clawing at the walls of the tank, and chewing on the nearly empty water bottle. Toward the end of Nick’s stay, I was getting desperate for his portion of the rent, and knowing I wasn’t going to get it, I tried playing the sympathy trip.  You know, a can of generic corned beef hash, label removed, with a spoon stuck in it on the refrigerator shelf looks remarkably like a can of dog food. Well, that meant nothing.  The hamster was driving me out of my mind, clawing, chewing…so I decided to slip it a little vodka in the little water bottle.  It was gone in a few weeks.

Finally, I took the initiative, and while he was sleeping at 11 am, I slipped the house key off his key chain.  Nick headed out for work later that afternoon, and I was rid of Nick.  I told him he could get his stuff when he handed over some of the back rent money.

Nick never got his stuff.  Nick died about six or eight years later of AIDS.  I felt bad for him.  He was a sweet but lost child, who relied on his adorability, and destroyed himself.

Through the Comtra crowd I hung out with Amy Tolbert, Kathy Majetic, Karen Kelleher, and a few others that I can’t recall.  I do remember a New Years eve party where most of those folks were present, drinking peach schnapps and dancing to the Rolling Stones.

Bob Kwiatkowski

Through Lounder’s I only really made friends with Bob Kwiatkowski, who crushed on me, AND on Robert C.T. Steele.  I think he was as hurt by C.T. as I was, but he managed to maintain a friendship through life. Bob actually came out to me one Christmas after we’d gone somewhere to the country and cut down an illegal Christmas tree for my apartment.  We were sitting in my house and he described how he felt like his life had been lived in a funnel, and that everything swirling toward the spout let him to this moment of baring his soul with me.  We had been horsing around at the theater one night and I tackled him, and we wrestled around for a brief moment, and that is when he felt like breaking free.  I tried for many years to be friends with Bob, but I always felt this aloof ‘better than you’ attitude, and saw him being drawn to the C.T. crowd and his more ‘important’ upscale friends.

I did a lot of shows at Lounder’s, from ‘Eat Your Heart out’ and ‘Thurber

Laura Daniels and Thurber Carnival. Click on the image to enlarge and see me in the lower right hand corner. Laura still looks exactly the same. I...do not.

Carnival’ where I met Laura Daniels, and a lot of stage managing – ‘The Gingerbread Man’, ‘The Man With The Plastic Sandwich’ and ‘Wally’s Cafe’. I remember anything that Bob was involved with always smelled of Kouros cologne,  The cabinet where the cast stored their clothes sent everyone home smelling like Bob.

One of my funniest memories of Lounder’s involved some ‘Oh praise god’ xtian girl named Judith Stevens.  She was all up and down xtian, but one of the meanest people ever on the sets. In ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ we had an awful scene together, in which C.T. came to our table to take our order, and we were supposed to be a young couple in love.  We had to kiss through the entire eight minute scene. Several nights, Judy smeared Dr. Pepper lip gloss from her nose to her chin, and I had to endure this lip lock stuck to slimy lip gloss.  So, the next few performances, before the scene, I munched down a handful of Lounder’s garlic puffs before heading onstage.

The lip gloss ended.

Jim Hages and me outside Lounders. Behind us became the McDs Drive Thru.

Lounder’s eventually ended when Johnny Lounder got an offer of like $2 million dollars for his building.  And this once 5 star restaurant in Pittsburgh became…a McDonald’s. Located right next door to a Burger King.  The drive through window is now where our stage used to be.

The saddest thing of all is that in my 30 years of being involved in the arts and trying to perform…THIS was the one long-term group I enjoyed working with the most.  And they vanished when the building sold.

Before I ditched the car, I did a few odd jobs for a company called ‘Horsefeathers Singing Telegrams’. I put on dumb costumes, and delivered singing telegrams here and there around Pittsburgh.  I can actually remember partial lyrics to one, set to the tune of ‘Til There Was You’…”Maryann Salapa – happy birthday’s what I’m singing – half a century is what you’re – celebrating.” And then there was some thing about “How you’d like to haul off – that doctor – It’s (some Doctor’s last name) I’m singing – for quite – a fling!”  WHY on earth that silly lyric has stuck with me all these years I’ll never know.

I also made a few road trips to visit Ron Kludo at IUP, followed by a few more

Rachel

road trips to visit new friends I’d met there.  Rachel was from Squirrel Hill and was studying there (her brother used to manage the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill back in the early 80’s). I visited Rachel a few times.  We had some fun partying back in the day.  I also remember an evening when Larry Sadecky was in the area, and we ended up getting it on in Rachel’s living room while she was out. And then came Michael

Michael Daloisio in his dorm.

Daloisio.  Tall, delightfully skinny, incredible hairy legs, brown eyes, a great head of hair, and a big Italian nose.  We dated off and on for a couple of years.  He’d come to Pittsburgh, I’d go to IUP.  Michael kind of had this Vinnie Barbarino thing going on, without thinking he was cool.  A little ‘in the box’, kind of suburbanite, and with da Philly accent (you’s wanna glassa wooter?) Eventually, the dumbness sound worked my nerves.  We did stay friends for many years, and only recently cut it off completely as friends.

My other road trips were to visit Linda Wyke at Slippery Rock University.  Up

Linda Wyke & William Mann

to a certain point in time, we really did maintain best of friends status, even from a distance, although it may have been only in MY mind.  We did the pen pal thing after high school when she headed off to college.  And we found creative ways to write.  In high school, out of boredom, I learned how to write completely backwards.  I still can for the most part. I would write an entire three or four page latter backwards.  Once, I typed an eight foot long letter – on toilet paper.  I had asked Linda for some new photos of herself from college, and

A Letter From Linda Wyke.

she responded with an envelope full of photos…about ten of them…in each photo she was holding a piece of poster board on which she head written her letter.  My piece de resistance – I think it was for her birthday – I took cash register paper roll, and types a very long letter on it.  I cut the letter up into eight or ten sections, rolled each section up and inserted each section into a numbered balloon, with a pinch of confetti, blew up the balloons, and loaded them into a very large cardboard box that I had lined with comic pages from the Sunday newspaper.  I filled in the cracks between the balloons and box with tons of confetti and hard candy. Then I sealed the box.  I attached the address envelope to the top, containing a pin, and the following instructions:

“Open the box carefully, with an Exacto knife, taking care not to pierce deeply into the box.  Retain this special bursting device in a safe place (the pin).  Once cut open, hold the box over your head, invert, and allow the contents to fall onto your head. Once the box is empty of its contents, use the special bursting device to pop the special numbered envelopes in numerical order. Read the content of each envelope”

We would hang out on campus as she indulged in theater things.  We’d sing songs from Godspell. We’d reminisce about Winnie The Pooh.  I also recall being there for her when she was terrified that perhaps a condom should have been used during sexual encounter.  Linda is a diabetic, and a pregnancy would NOT be a pleasant experience.  But all was well as I learned in a telephone call when I got home when a very cheerful voice shrieked into the phone ‘I got my period!’  I said, “o-kayyyyy” and she repeated pointedly “No, you don’t understand – I got my PERIOD!” Sometimes it took a while to get that lightbulb to go off, especially in matters never properly taught to me.  It turned out to be even BETTER that she wasn’t preggers since the guy she was involved with at that time turned out to be gay.

I remember stalking around the campus one night with she and her buddies, and the entire group going after a Volkwagon Beetle, lifting it up, and setting it on the sidewalk.  The Bug belonged to a geek named Lane Duda.  Lane was gorgeous at that time.  Dark, brooding, an amazing thick head of black hair, and a furry body.  I had the hots for him, but he didn’t notice me at all.

Eventually, Linda graduated, and went off to do her college internship on Cape Cod, in a little town outside of Provincetown called ‘Wellfleet’.  She invited me to go for a vacation, and so I did.  The car had died by this time, so I took the dirty dog.  Greyhound.

I boarded a Greyhound bus for what was going to be a 24 hour trip to Cape Cod. It’s not something I would do again. I sat next to 20 different people, and the deeper we got into Pennsylvania, the worse they got.  The on I remember most clearly was some young guy from Somerset who would NOT shut up about my cassette player, and how his momma got him one like it because she worked at Woolworth’s and got a discount.  And dammit, my batteries were dead so there was no drowning him out. However, FAKING him out seemed to work.  I pushed ‘play’ even though it wouldn’t do anything and put the earphones back on, and he finally shut up. As soon as I got off at the next break, I bought batteries.  I don’t remember much about the actual trip except for my first taste of New York City at the 42nd Street Bus Station.  I was terrified to walk beyond the end of the block, even though I had a two hour layover. In the station were all kinds of unsavory looking characters, like I’d seen on TV shows about the seamy underbelly of New York.  I held my baggage close and spoke to no one.  I bought a bagel at the little shop in the station, and the guy screwed me out of a nickel. A black man approached me asking if his dollar bill smelled like cocaine.  I walked in the other direction. Two hours later, back on a bus.

Hours and hours later, I got off the bus in some little town, and Linda picked me up for a drive to her lodgings in Wellfleet.  It was AMAZING!  A rustic cabin, with eight bedrooms, a gigantic living room with a fireplace that would burn LOGS, a nice kitchen, set back far enough from the highway that you could hear nothing, but close enough to walk to the highway.

I remember the beach, finding a few clams, sunning, admiring the views.  I went out a couple of times in Provincetown, but man was I green.  I did meet a hot guy from Cleveland named Bruce Zully (maybe) and we spent some time in his hotel room. I also recall going to a tea dance and running into two guys I knew in passing from Pittsburgh.

Michel Blaine, Me, and the Lesbians.

The best of the trip was meeting on the beach a gorgeous man from Quebec named Michel Blaine.  He was a lean, dark haired and blue eyed French speaking fellow Scorpio, traveling with a Lesbian couple.  We hit it off beautifully.  He was staying in this great little ‘cottage’ that was actually on stilts on the water.  And we spent the rest of the day (and night) together.  At that time, I wore contact lenses, and colored ones at that, that turned my blue eyes a bit turquoise, and not in a real faky way.  I slept with them in to not destroy the image, but woke up with plastic laminating my eyeballs, and my turquoise was a bit red.  But it still was good.

I called Linda, and he and I and the Lesbians (Goeslin and Mireille?) went to

Michel Blain & I making dinner. 1982

Wellfleet for dinner at Linda’s.  We cooked, we ate, we cleaned.  The only rough spot was when the three of them would start speaking in French, which kind of left Linda and I out of the picture.

I kept in touch with Michel for many years, but then he vanished without a trace. He was a very talented artist, working with silkscreen prints on canvas.  He gave me one way back when, and I still have it around somewhere.  I wish I still had him around somewhere.  Or I wish I could find him again.

Cape Cod was the one and ONLY time in my life I ever hitchhiked, and I remember a very nice older lady picking me up and driving me into Provincetown.

My last memory of Wellfleet was going to dinner at a seafood restaurant and having THE most amazing seafood dinner I have ever eaten to this day.  ‘Fresh’ isn’t a good enough word to describe it, ‘plentiful’ would also be an understatement, and inexpensive would be as well.  In other words, it was cheap, huge and right out of the sea.  I got a seafood platter, which was a mish mash of seafood in a giant bowl.  It was astounding.

After almost a week and a half, I boarded my bus and embarked on the 24 hour trip home.  I’ve never been back to Provincetown or the Cape.  My entire life has been a very small series of ‘incidental’ vacations.  I’ve never been able to afford an outright vacation.  Always needed a place to stay before I could even plan to go somewhere.  And I thank Linda for the opportunity that year.

Now, on the job front back in the ‘city’, I can’t remember all.  I do remember working as a waiter for a very brief time at a restaurant on Baum Blvd. that was ‘Wing’ something. I can’t even remember what they served I was there so briefly.  I was a pizza delivery driver for a few weeks at a Four Star Pizza which doesn’t even exist anymore. That was a brief nightmare, trying to find addresses and not feel threatened.  The job I remember most was working as a waiter for the Faculty Club at Carnegie Mellon University when Marriott Food Service ran it. Most of the waiters, who were really all just glorified bussers, were college students, with a few ‘grown ups’ thrown in.  Of the entire staff, I remember Katie Robinson or Robertson as the sole voice of rationality and reason. She was a very pretty gal, who really was what a ‘manager’ should be. Calm, able to deal with issues without throwing tantrums or power trips, and always pleasant, and even when she wasn’t in a great mood, she was civil.  I haven’t found that very often in the food service industry, and I spent a LOT of time there.  At the Faculty Club, Katie is pretty much where it ended as well.  The older women who worked there were about the meanest, cattiest most backstabbing group of yinzers you could ever find. I don’t remember most of the waiters since the college students came and went.  I do remember Joseph, the Iranian. He was absolutely, positively stunning.  I once told him he should model, and he snapped at me ‘Why would I prostitute myself like that?’  End of suggestion.  Dottie was the cashier, teased up bubble hairdo, and CRABBY disposition. Nice one minute, knife in back the next.

The diners were a whole other ball of wax. These professors and grad students thought they were THE primo shit.  Arrogant for the most part, beyond full of themselves, and quite frankly, not very interesting at all.  I remember a professor Kraus who would sit down and order ‘App-EL Jooz’ every time he sat down, even if I was already standing their with his APP-EL Jooz in my hand.  Another professor would sit down with a plate of those crappy little coffee creamers and drink them.  Like shots.  He would also lick out any butter containers. And needless to say, the man was fat.  Serious manboobs, accentuated by greasy side part combed hair, this belt and waistline yanked up about ten inches above where I imagined his belly button would have been (it was kind of hard to tell), and those thick coke bottle 1970’s glasses.

There were a couple of stunners though.  One was kind of cute and a little geeky, named Elliott.  He seemed to like me, and always sat with this incredibly sexy guy.  One day he intentionally left behind a scarf so that he could come back and retrieve it alone, and chatted me up for a moment accompanied by a scrap of paper with his phone number.

And it actually might have worked…has he not been married to a Lesbian with a couple of children running around.

The absolute WORST experiences were when the professors would try to show off to the grad students by taking them to the ‘private’ Faculty Club for lunch, and the little shits thought they were suddenly highbrow, and we were expected to kiss their little ‘entitled’ asses.  Instead of receiving a drink order from the entire group, they’d order one at a time. They’d make messes for you to clean up, talk down to you, and then leave a quarter tip.

And from what I would be experiencing all through my life, the ‘entitled’ pretty much maintained that behavior.

I did get to wait on Stephen Bochco and Barbara Bosson from Hill Street Blues.  Most folks outside of Pittsburgh don’t know that the show was based on our own little ghetto called ‘The Hill District’. Stephen and Barbara had both been CMU alum, back when studying performing arts at CMU actually meant something.  They were kind enough to autograph a napkin for me.  It said ‘You give good lunch’.

This was a very hard time of life for me.  Feeling ugly, regardless of who told me I was cute, discovering the gay ‘community’ or ‘culture’ in Pittsburgh (which was actually more open and liberal THEN that it is now), trying to earn enough money to pay the bills, and still trying to pursue the theater/acting dream. Dream. Ha.

After Nick was out, I found another room mate named Howard, who basically bunked in the living room.  He was a tall, VERY skinny and very nerdy black nurse.  Nice enough guy, but not a real match as a room mate.

My going out at that point was to Zack’s Fourth Avenue, or The Holiday Bar.  There was also the old Traveler’s Club/Tilden in East Liberty which was an all-night club, but private, so I had to go with a ‘member’.  I did have some fun, and a LOT of hook-ups, but that’s what you did back then.  I rarely went alone, either with Rich Shyan, Nick (briefly) and then through his friend Darin Carney.  Darin is still a friend to this day, although from a far since he lives

Darin Carney and I in the late 80s.

now in Portland.  Darin was a student at CMU, and a waiter at Chi Chi’s when I met him.  We fooled around a bit here and there, even though neither of us were each others’ types, I think we kind of clicked in the brain. Darin was a trust fund baby, his Daddy and Uncle having started the very first Pizza Hut, and another restaurant chain.  So Darin had some champagne tastes, but wasn’t really making much more than beer money, except for the trust fund.  He was also the pink sheep of his family at that time, so the sense I got was that the trust fund was kind of a ‘here, go away’.

Darin and I hung out a bit, and his friends usually made me nervous.  He had a group of the ‘beautiful people’ who circled him for the money (eventually Ron Kludo joined in that fray), but he also had an interesting collection of Bohemian types that I think he kept around for sanity.

When I met him he was living at the Racquet Club in Monroeville.  I remember hanging out one night and teasing his cat with a flashlight.  The cat would follow the pin spot all over the floor, to the wall, and when the flashlight shined out the window, the cat went bonkers trying to figure out how to chase the spot it was seeing ‘somewhere out there’.  I also remember Darin having a penchant for room scents…apple pie if I recall correctly.  When Darin moved out of that apartment, we laughed…there was a spot on the wall behind the bed.  We knew how it got there.

There were a few other places to hang out back then that weren’t ‘bar’ oriented.  There was a four or five block area in Oakland around Dithridge Street that at night was a walking pick up joint.  Cars cruised and circled and parked, and if you were cute and made the right eye contact, voila…a hook up. Your place or his?  There was also the ‘Fruit Loop’ at Schenley Park

Ray Schlachter

where one could go to hang out and hook up.  Through both avenues I met some interesting people.  Ray Schlachter and I actually dated, even though I soon discovered he was still in high school.  He’d became acquainted with Darin too and we soon dubbed him ‘Baby Homo’.  Ray was adorable. Skinny, beautiful eyes, a big nose, a little furry, and passionate.  The funniest thing about my involvement with Ray was when he came down with a case of mono (I did not) and I went to visit him in the hospital.  He was 17.  He was in pediatrics. I was visiting my fuck buddy in a room with balloons and circus animals painted on the walls.

At Schenley I got laid a LOT, but met a few interesting longer-than-usual dates.  Marty Heintzelman was a CMU student who lived in the mini-mansion at the corner of Wilkins and Fifth Avenue, Sunnyledge, which was owned at that time by a guy named Robbie. Robbie had inherited the house from the elderly sisters who had owned it. He’d been their very gay gardener and assistant. One of the sisters, and I can’t recall the last name, Rachel had been a prominent water color artist. The house had been built for their father, who was a doctor and founder of Shadyside Hospital, and the house had been designed and built by the same architect that designed and built Shadyside Hospital.  It was a GORGEOUS old house, with wood paneling from floor to

The Sunnyledge Foyer

ceiling, and on the ceiling.  The main staircase was stunning.  The kitchen had the old tin ceiling, and I can’t tell you how many bedrooms it had.  When the last sister died, the house and a trust fund were left to Robbie.

Robbie rented out the house to CMU students mainly, all gay, and there was even a professor living there.  In later years he was killed in a boating accident.  I think I’d heard he was decapitated.  Marty’s rented one of the rooms that was enormous, with a big arched window. His bathroom was also pretty amazing.  The bathtub could easily fit three, and was stainless steel, with the faucet in the middle of the side instead of at the end.  We took a couple of nice long baths together. I really liked Marty, but he soon moved on to someone better. I’ve never been able to find him again.  But I did have some very nice times with him in that house, and with the other people in it.

The best Schenley catch was Jim Kocher.  I was sunning there one day with another friend whose name I can’t remember, and Jim was playing Frisbee. He was perfect. My height, incredibly lean, black hair, a furry chest and hairy legs, perfect body.  Our ‘date’ started off a little sleazy, but we kept dating anyway.  My friend, Jim and I got into my car and drove out to the country where I’d grown up.  We went to the Old Service Church, which was located on the edge of the Ambridge reservoir, and had a huge hillside cemetery.  First, we went skinny dipping in the reservoir.  And dammit if I didn’t get a mosquito bite in the damndest place.  I still have a freckle of a scar to this day. Then the three of us ended up naked in the back of my shitty AMC Spirit parked in the cemetery.  Jim and I dated for several months.  He lived in some almost communal hippie granola kind of place in Point Breeze, and was very ‘health’ conscious before it had really become the trend. Tofu and Tempeh, and veggie goulashes were his driving force.  Macaroni and cheese and cigarettes were mine.  It all ended one day when I was stressed and trying to move, and smoking, and he made a snide comment about the smoking. I blew smoke in his direction, and he slapped me.

Well, after the years of abuse from my mother and stepmonster, NO ONE was going to smack me.

Weeks later he came into the faculty club and left me an envelope.  He apologized in the letter.  But we never found our way back to each other.

Around this time I could no longer afford the apartment in Shadyside and had to move.

I think first came a temporary situation renting the upstairs bedroom from Cathy Gialoretto in the Crafton area.  Cathy seemed destined to forever be the modern ‘old maid’.  She spent most of her time alone, or at the theater.  I can’t remember what she did for a living at that time.  She had a very quaint house in a little suburb, and the upstairs was very nice.  I can’t remember a whole lot from this time, except that Tom Haefele visited me there, and introduced me to…well…we’ll get to that in a minute, since my timeline seems to be slightly askew at this point.  I also remember my one and only experience trying ‘poppers’.  I was alone, and either had a bottle that someone left behind, or found somewhere, and thought I’d take a sniff to see what the hoo hoo was all about.  I’ve known guys all my life who can’t have sex without this bottle rammed up their noses.  So there I was, home alone in my bed.  Not even naked.  Just experimenting.  I put the bottle to my nose, and breathed in.

Jesus!!!  All of a sudden my heart was pounding so fast I thought it would explode.  I couldn’t catch a full breath.  I honestly thought I was about to have a heart attack and die in Cathy’s upstairs.  Well, that was the last time I tried THAT.

I had tried marijuana once or twice up to this point, and it was embarrassing.  I don’t remember the guy, but we hooked up at his place (and this was before it was called ‘hooking up’ – back then we called it ‘tricking’) and he wanted to get high.  I first went numb, ended up on the floor unable to move.  And then the weird thing. One complete side of my body went numb, as if shot full of Novacaine, and I literally felt like the one side of my body wasn’t there.  As a result, laying on the floor, the side that still could feel wanted to roll into the side that ‘wasn’t there’.  So I ended up rolling across the poor guys floor until my body ended up against a dresser.  And there I remained until the effects wore off.

Can’t do pot. Can’t do poppers.  Don’t really drink well.

Two other things I recall from the time spent in Cathy’s house were being interviewed by the local Crafton newspaper for having been in Lounder’s shows, and a HORRID case a scabies.

I’m not sure which was more painful.

The interviewer was a young girl who was just starting her journalistic endeavors, and I was a young guy who was just starting his misguided theater endeavors.  I’m not sure if I really sounded like that big an ass, or if she made me sound like that big an ass.

As for the scabies, no CLUE where that came from, other than maybe slutting around a little. But the whole Quell lotion thing, and the near incineration of my clothing and bedding, and the itching – not a thing that ever need be repeated.

So I stayed in Cathy’s house for several months, but she leaned extremely heavily toward anal retentive about her space, as she certainly was entitled to be, and we didn’t work well as room mates.    So once again, I had to move.

A gal that I had been doing theater with, Chris Fisher, knew of a guy who had a basement apartment that he was trying to rent in West Homestead. By now my car was gone, which meant having to bus from West Homestead to CMU for work.

Chris and I had met through Tony Dale, who also worked at CMU, and was involved with theater. We all worked on a show or two at Comtra, including ‘No Sex Please, We’re British. It was a Brit sex farce, and I was the character who couldn’t get it, and Chris was the character with a big bosom. I don’t remember what Tony did, except maybe direct. Tony was a walking inspiration for the lead character in ‘Waiting For Guffman’. VERY gay, with the fake Hamptons accent that so many people in the ahhhhhts seem to adopt for some ridiculous reason.  He fancied himself a writer.

So I moved into this really horrible basement apartment in West Homestead, which was basically a concrete room, horrid indoor-outdoor carpet laid flat on a bare concrete floor, a small kitchen with a 1950’s stove and a makeshift sink, and a toy bathroom, which was a tub that one couldn’t even sit in, with a hose attached to the faucet as a shower. You basically sat hunched in the ‘tub’ and watered yourself with the hose to take a bath. Or, you could sit on the toilet and use the tub as a foot bath.  Upstairs lived an elderly couple, and they were actually very nice.  Well, I only met him. She was apparently ill.  The rest of the basement was the shared laundry, and it was right outside my bedroom (or ‘room’ as the case was).  My social life kind of tanked without the car, but I still managed to be involved in theater. I caught rides from the city mostly.

I couldn’t afford a phone, and would have to walk a few blocks to use a pay phone for any calls.  It was a very isolating time since no one could contact me.  I remember walking to the phone in winter once to call Robert Steele…to ask why he wouldn’t even talk to me. He gave me a very insulting reply that I had once told him that the only way to get ahead was to walk over people, and that this is why he didn’t want anything to do with me.  Well, I do believe today that this is the only real way to get ahead…but anyone who really knows me knows that this is not something I’ve ever done.  If I had, this life story would certainly have been a different one.

I was cast in a production of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ with Stage 62 in Carnegie. Chris Fisher was in it and we shared ride. It was a fun production, but not without hormonal grief. Trudy Gray was an AMAZING narrator, but I don’t really remember too many other cast members, not even Joseph. I remember those I was involved with. Judith ‘Praise god’ Stevens played Mrs. Potiphar, and thank goodness we really didn’t have to interact. My affections were torn.  Alan Chettle, who was the all American boy next door, who I later learned had a deeply kinky side which eventually killed him, and at a very young age.  I befriended David Joy, who was a chubby blonde, who I would later run into again in life, and at the darndest place.

And Tom Haefele.

Not much taller than me, a skinny dancer with steaming dark eyes and thick, dark eyelashes, brown hair, furry legs, an amazing ass, and a BIG honking nose, and a huge flirt.  I was smitten.  We started seriously dating and I fell hard. We went to movies. Plays. Exchanged gifts. We even bought each other basically the same gift for Christmas, diamond stud earrings (and the early 80’s tasteful kind, not the big honkin’ ghetto ‘bling’ of today) – I bought gold, he bought silver.  So we traded one each. We fooled around dating through four apartments, including the initial basement dump in West Homestead.  I really thought this was the guy.  After our first several months together, I found out that Tom had a room mate, Jim.  After several more months together, I learned the truth about Jim.  Tom said that they ‘had’ been a couple but that it was just a matter of time before they split, basically now just living as room mates.  Boy, was I in love enough to be gullible at that time.

I adored this man.  But I was just something to play with.  The sex was good though.  He even introduced me to something I’d never done before, which became on of my favorite things to do.  Did I mention he had an amazing ass?

I clearly recall the breakup.  We were walking in downtown Pittsburgh, and he started telling me about how he and Jim had been out the previous evening looking at sofas for their home…a split any time, eh?  I stopped in my tracks, turned around, and started walking in the opposite direction.  He called out “What do you want me to do?” to which I replied, turning around…”What the hell do you want ME to do??”  He had no answer. So I turned around and kept walking.

In my ‘hang out’ group, most had disappeared, and a new branch came in.  Jamie Simpson, his room mate Jason (who was a drag queen and trying to work as an ‘escort’), and their small orbit of friends.  Tom was brought by me into this mix, and I recall a great Christmas party, we may have even traded the earrings on the way to this party, and I believe I am recalling that Darin Carney drove. Baby Homo Schlachter may have even been in this mix.  Anyway, the party was a great big mix of people, and we were doing some serious drinking.  I remember sitting on a chair in the living room, with Tom sitting on the arm of the chair, and some new people came into the party and into the room.  They were straight boys and girls.  I looked at Tom and said ‘STRAIGHT BOYS!’ and Tom took the cue, jumped in my lap and started sucking my tongue out of my mouth.

Ah youth.

While hanging out with Jamie and clan, and bar hopping, I somehow got introduced to Steven Angelo. Steven was a young (but I didn’t realize at that time HOW young) Italian stallion who looked like a very young Steve Guttenberg.  We dated for a little while, and it had to come to an end when he started leading me around the bar by the hand as if to say ‘MINE!’  However, Steven was amazing one particular winter night in my life.  He and I had gone to a movie in Squirrel Hill.  I can’t remember the film, but I do remember holding hands in the movie theater. I was still living in the basement apartment in West Homestead, which I could get home to by bus…except.

When the movie was over, we went outside to discover two feet of snow had fallen while we were inside, traffic had come to a basic halt, and the buses were not running. NOW what?  I couldn’t get back to my place.  So we thought about it, and decided to walk to Jamie Simpson’s apartment in Shadyside, which was near Ellsworth and Ivy.  So there we go, walking down Negley Avenue, through the side streets of Shadyside, to Jamie’s. This took well over a half hour, and it was freezing.  I wasn’t wearing anything especially warm, as we weren’t expecting the blizzard. I was not wearing boots.

No one was home at Jamie’s.  NOW what?  Steven knew someone who lived in Squirrel Hill, about two blocks from the movie theater that we had been in originally. So, off we went.  Another half hour.  No one was home.  We went to a pay phone and he made a couple of calls and learned that the people who lived in this house were at a function at CMU.  So…off we went…walking to CMU.  By the time we got there, I was about as close to hypothermia as I could be.  I could not function.  His friends rushed me into their car, and took me back to their house after Steven had explained what’d happened.  I sat in their living room under a blanket for a couple of hours.  And this is when I met Melanie and Marla Smith and Steven Sirulnik.

Melanie & Marla Smith

Melanie and Marla were twin sisters from somewhere outside of Pittsburgh.  Marla was the more serious of the two, working for Planned Parenthood, always striving to be PC and communicative, with an interest in theater, but who I never saw pursue anything about it.  Melanie was the artsier fartsier of the duo.  She taught classes at Point Park College, was in an off again on again relationship with Gary Weinberg, and was the sleep in as late as possible and have as much fun as possible type.

They lived in a housing complex called Forbes Cottages, which were about a half block from Forbes and Murray Avenue.  GORGEOUS old brownstone type row houses.  It was three stories with a basement.  A nice living room with a huge fireplace, a full dining room, a kitchen, three bedrooms and a bath on the second floor, and two bedrooms and a bath on the top floor.  One of the second floor bedrooms had been turned into a dance studio, since Marla occasionally taught dance, and Melanie did rehearsals.  Steve was a nice blonde Jewish boy with an astoundingly overbearing mother who created drama every time I ever encountered her.

Somehow, Steve and Steven brought up the living situation I was in, and one thing lead to another.  I moved into the top floor dormer type bedroom.

This was a very odd communal living situation, but one of the only decent room mate experiences I ever had.  We did have a trial or two here and there, but it always seemed pleasant.  I definitely had some experiences with that clan.

They had an eclectic group of artsy friends. I can recall Linda Carolla, an incredibly self absorbed wannabee motivational speaker, wannabee actress (you can see her in the film ‘Gung Ho’ as the supermarket checkout clerk who announces into the PA system, after a fight and taken place in the store, ‘Clean up on aisle 4’.  Lamont Arnold was a very sweet black man, also an actor and director. I’ll be working with him in about ten years.  You can also see him in a film, a little better known, ‘Silence Of The Lambs’.  He’s the flower delivery guy undercover cop ringing the doorbell at the empty house while Clarice rings the doorbell of the actual freak’s house.  Ronny Valentine was a GORGEOUSE pianist that hung out there.  I would have LOVED to go out with him, but one night an event at the house kind of pushed him away.

Marla had a buddy named David Truby, who was a journalist.  He’d just returned from some place like El Salvador bearing gifts.  His new book, ‘Getting Even: The Complete Books Of Dirty Tricks’, and a bag of marijuana the size of a small throw pillow.  The girl’s eyes lit up like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center when THAT arrived, and their social lives increased ten fold for the next month.

Well, Ronny and I had set our first date.  He was picking me up at the house.  He came in, and sat in the living room with Marla and Melanie. He sat in an armchair, I sat on the sofa with Marla to my right, and either Steve or Melanie was on my left, and whoever wasn’t, was in another chair across from the coffee table.  We sat and chatted for a bit, and then Melanie brought out the giant bag of pot.  Ronnie’s eyes lit up like theirs had, and they rolled a joint and started passing it around.  I also had a short glass of Apple Schnapps.  Well, this was one of my first experiences with pot.  I took maybe two puffs as they passed it around, and maybe a sip or two of the schnapps.  And then began what would be a somewhat regular occurrence when I tried smoking pot.

Now on maybe two occasions in my entire life did pot do to me what it seems to do to everyone else.  I actually think it was only on one occasion.  I was giddy, light, laughing and damned hungry.  This night was NOT that occasion…this was the occasion where it did to me what it did every other time.  Only this time it did it in front of an adorable date who thought I was a total loser afterwards.

I started to feel groggy and bogged down.  Everyone was talking, but I could only focus on how weak I was beginning to feel.  I was having a hard time even holding my head up. After about twenty minutes, my body was giving out.  I remember leaning toward Marla and saying ‘Marla, do me a favor’ and when she asked what, I said ‘move the coffee table’.  She looked at me puzzled and said ‘What?’, and I repeated ‘Move the coffee table’.  She and Steve moved the coffee table away from the sofa, and I practically slid off the couch and onto the floor in front of the couch.  Slowly, my body was going numb.  I couldn’t move.  I was burning up, and this was in the middle of freezing winter, in an ancient house with minimal insulation.  I crawled, or more like slithered across the floor into the open space between the couch and the fireplace and just laid there.  They’d put on Gilda Radner’s comedy album, and I can still remember having kind of a tunnel-focus on the sound coming from the stereo.  But I needed air.  I slithered to the front door, and begged for someone to open it, and I laid there with my head in the door, which was open JUST wide enough to accommodate my head.  A neighbor came over to borrow some records and had to step over my head to get in the door.  After about twenty minutes, they insisted that the door be closed, and I again slithered to the middle of the open space.  After I landed there, I went completely numb.  I couldn’t move a muscle, not so much as lifting a finger off the floor.  Well, the party was over, and Ronnie left.  The last time I saw him.  After he left, they tried to get me up, and as soon as they started to move me, my stomach decided to evacuate. Marla grabbed a trash can and I lost dinner and some apple schnapps into it.  That was when I learned the lesson…and the phrase to keep handy: ‘Do NOT move me! If you do, get a bucket!’

Melanie was quite a fashion plate.  Ok, well, maybe not exactly.  She did the thrift store chic VERY well.  The amazing thing was how she dressed herself.  Getting her to wake up ‘early’ was futile, so she always woke up running late.  Melanie’s clothing selection for the day?  Reach over the edge of the bed and grab the first thing that felt like a shirt, followed by reaching over again and grabbing the first thing that felt like a pair of pants.  A quick brush of the

Melanie could do this in the blink of an eye!

teeth, a slap of deodorant, a tussle of the hair, and out the door she went…and always looking…great.  Not much in the cooking department though.  I do remember a lot of mac n cheese, and one specific attempt at getting creative with it.  Radishes.  She sliced up radishes and mixed them into the 50 cent box of generic mac n cheese.  We called it Mac N Cheese Ala Melanie.  I remember it sitting in that pot overnight.  Not many takers.  Now Marla would work and introduced me to making Coq au Vin.  It was perhaps the first time anyone had introduced me to ANY cooking.  My mother taught me…well…nothing.

My room was interesting.  The framed print from the airport gang was on my wall.  I had a small B&W television, and my creatively designed stereo stand.  I had taken a shopping cart…the kind with the short basket on the top with plenty of space underneath…and I kept my records in the top basket, with my stereo on the bottom.  It was actually kind of cool for poverty decorating.  A twin bed.  And a dresser that I can’t remember, along with remnants of my other apartment furnishings.  I think the barber chair was still in the basement apartment, and I recall the guy calling me a LOT to get it out.  I finally managed a truck and some help, but I honestly don’t remember where it ended up at that time.

One of my biggest ‘let down’ sexual occasions of that era came in that little room.  I had been at the Holiday bar, and had occasionally seen this really beautiful guy.  Built, dark hair, very masculine…and he finally came after me, which I never thought would happen. He asked to come home with me.  He was a horse trainer, and very solid.  We got into my room.  Into my bed, started kissing, slowly undressing…I was in heaven.  He may have been one the handsomest and most ‘guy’ guys I have ever been with.  All of a sudden, he gasped, and asked what time it was?  Ok, here it comes I figured…an excuse to run away.  But oh no, nothing as mundane as that. I told him what time it was, expecting him to grab his pants and start getting dressed for ‘that thing’ he’d forgotten to ‘do’. Instead…he asked me to turn on the TV so he could watch Hogan’s Heroes while we did it.  So for the next half hour I basically laid there with him rubbing himself against me, his eyes glued to the TV, and laughing periodically at really old jokes. Part of me was thinking ‘Wow, he’s totally gorgeous and he’s with ME’, and the other part of me was thinking…well…you know what I was thinking.

When he left that night, Marla commented on how gorgeous he was, and I kind of swooned at the fact that he’d been with me.  The next morning, I expressed that he’d actually been kind of a let down with the Hogan’s Heroes schtick, and Marla asked why I’d been so elated the night before.   I couldn’t answer that. At least not then. Now I can.  It’s called being delusional, and then reality sinking in.

I remember one day, Marla getting really mad at me, and actually snapping at me in her politically corrective manner.  I had just gotten home, and had been waiting for a call.  I didn’t get to check the answering machine.  Marla started venting about her day, and I was preoccupied with knowing whether or not the call had come through.  She really was just getting her day stuff off her chest, so I got up and pushed the button on the answering machine.  No messages.  Well, she snapped at me for not being a ‘good listener’ and kind of called me a rude person.

I almost got involved with some show Melanie was doing at Point Park.  But all I can remember is being in a room full of musical strangers, and being asked to sing some song I’d never heard of (THEN, it was ‘The Girls Upstairs’ from Follies – which I pretty much know back to front now) and I never was taught to read music, so I was totally lost. Marla was involved too, I think in some dance capacity.  I did maybe two rehearsals, and that was that.  I think Melanie and Marla looked down on me and any ‘ability’ I may have had from that point on.

I did tale one acting class for adults at the old Pittsburgh Playhouse.  Charles Waxman was the teacher.  He was a swishy young guy, who was OBSESSED with making us all sexual.  He wanted us touching and all over each other, like participating in an orgy vicariously through others.  We did mime, we did goofy exercises.  But his most prominent catch phrase was ‘don’t worry, you won’t get pregnant’.  I do remember his assigning me to ‘brush my teeth’ in pantomime.  When I finished he gushed ‘Wooooow…that was superb’.  You know, as if sense memory from something I do normally every day was astounding to him.  I didn’t really get much out of the class, except maybe a little more sexually frustrated.

I was still working at CMU at this time, still schlepping Ap-pel jooooz to the elitist weirdos.  I remember having an intriguing interaction with a bathroom wall around then.  Someone had actually written a ‘personal ad’ on the bathroom wall.  So I responded on the wall.  A day or so later, I received a response.  This actually went on for a week or so. He’d write, I’d write.  Finally, we planned to meet.  I told him to meet me at Eat n Park in Squirrel Hill at 7:00 pm, and to wear a pink carnation.  So I show up at Eat N Park around 6:45, and settle in for what I’m expecting to be absolutely nothing at all.

At about 6:55 in walked a really cute young guy in a blue shirt…wearing a pink carnation on his shirt.  The hostess seated him about two booths away from me.  He was my height, sandy blonde hair, baby face, amazing little lean swimmer body…and a friend of my current room mates.  I can’t remember his name, but he was friends with the Twins and with Steve.  I had met him several times in the house.  He saw me and recognized me, and said hello.  And I greeted him back.  We started a little small talk, and I tried to bait him with what brought him here?  He hemmed and skirted…and finally I just plain old said ‘I know what you’re doing here’.

We ended up playing around a few times.  He wanted to be a porn actor, and well, he very well could have been with what he’d been given by nature, and a hot little body.  But he sent a few polaroids off to some ad in a magazine, and was rejected.  I truly can’t understand why. I mean if Betty Jean’s brother thought I could do it, surely this adorable little guy with an amazing body and a huge piece of salami would have been even better at it.   I guess like everything else, it’s all in who you know.

When I hung out at the Holiday Bar, the staff got to know me and was friendly.  I recall Timmy, who was actually a realtor with Howard Hanna. He was probably the nicest gay bartender I ever knew.  The owner, on the other hand, was a drunken dick. Chuck Honse.  He owned several bars in Pittsburgh.  At one point, they had just built a back patio, and were looking for someone to be a waiter for the patio.  Tim suggested that I apply, so I did.  Chuck was a little drunk, but I thought he was having an actual conversation with me.  I told him up front that I had a ticket to travel the following weekend, but that after that already scheduled trip, I was free and clear.  I could start THIS weekend, but would have to miss the next.  He said it was not a problem.  So I worked that Friday or Saturday, which was the only schedule he’d made.  Was flirted with by a guy named Darrin who was jock all American gorgeous. We ended up going out once, but I honestly can’t remember it.  I do remember that he’d been friends with Darin Carney. A few years later, he died in a car accident.  Decapitated.  Anyway, I went on my trip the following weekend, I believe to either Indiana University or Slippery Rock.  Then I returned and reported for work the following Friday.  Chuck asked what I was doing there.  That I’d been a no-show the weekend before and that I no longer worked there. I tried to remind him of our conversation, but it was a moot vodka enhanced point.

I was cast in a play at Robert Morris College. An original production of ‘The Diary Of Anne Frank’.  I was cast as Peter, and a girl I’d gone to high school with, Cathy Ruscitti was cast as Anne.  Yeah, we were just a little old to be playing those roles, but hey, it’s Pittsburgh.  It was the show that I most enjoyed the curtain call.  It didn’t have one. Instead of all of us coming out and taking a bow, a screen came down, and photos of the real people were shown on the screen and instead of our names or bowing, we simply said the name of our character as the photo was show on the screen, and after we said the name, the photo changed to a negative image of the photo if they had died, and faded if they’d lived.  I never was a fan of the curtain call, where we all walked out as ourselves and took the bow for the adoring audience.  It all seemed to phony. They clapped because they were expected to. I grew to enjoy more simply hearing laughter, tears, or other grunts of disapproval at what the characters were doing.  One night after the show, a guy I’d met who had come to the show, Rich Cummings, and I left the theater to head home.  Rich was a school teacher, or a school teacher in training with kind of reddish hairy, big lips, a sexy body, and a very kind and gentle manner.  We left the theater and started driving toward the expressway, and as we turned onto the expressway in front of what used to be the old Pittsburgh airport, a cop pulled us over.  Seems Rich had forgotten to turn on his headlights.  The female officer who was ticketing this guy, who would never hurt a fly, was extremely gruff and condescending.  Truly, with all of the illegal things that go on in the world, that an office had to be so nasty over a simple mistake, AND write a ticket over it is absolutely absurd. She continued to be gruff and arrogant, and I decided to name drop.  My cousin, Rich Mayfield, son of Aunt Sue, was a very high ranking officer in the State Police.  I asked the officer her name, and she told me.  I thanked her, and said that perhaps my cousin Richard Mayfield would be interested to know how nasty an officer was being to a citizen over a simple mistake.  She changed her tune REALLY fast.  It may have been the one and ONLY time something like that worked for me.

Rich was a really nice guy, and we dated for a short time.  I recall one date when we were at the apartment that Nick and I had shared. Rich and I were having full sex when Nick came home and walked into the bedroom, laughed maniacally at us, and then left.  That may have been the moment that put a kink in our dating. I think it was Rich who eventually introduced me to the last room mate I had in the city of Pittsburgh before I moved away.

I also did a production of ‘Deathtrap’ back at Comtra. It was a memorable production.  I was cast as the Christopher Reeves role (Clifford), and Ed Cain was cast as the Michael Caine role (Sidney).  We had a LOT of mishaps in that show.  In one of the scenes, Sidney tricks Clifford into trying on some ‘Houdini’ type handcuffs, but uses real ones instead, then strangles Clifford until he thinks he’s dead.  He then drags his body out into the back yard, removes the handcuffs, and buries him.  Later, when Sidney is hanging out in the living room with his wife Myra, Clifford bursts into the room covered with mud, wielding a log, and scares poor Myra into cardiac arrest.

The strangling was accomplished by placing a chain around my neck which Ed was supposed to gauge how ‘loose’ it was, and I had my fingers between the chain and my throat to prevent actually strangling.  Well, that generally happened all but for one night when Ed had the chain too tight, and was actually squeezing my fingers into my own throat, and I – blacked out. Fortunately, the rest of the scene is him dragging my lifeless body off the set.  I came to as he was dragging me.

In the same scene, on another night, in the struggle of the strangulation, the key to the handcuffs went flying across the stage. I was strangled, dragged out, and when offstage, it was my job to cover myself with mud, and prepare for re-entry with the log…AFTER Ed had removed the handcuffs.  I had to improvise this night, rolling on the muddy tarp with my hands cuffed behind my back, hold the log menacingly BEHIND me, and come in to scare poor Myra to death…without making her laugh hysterically.  I had to ad lib the line “YOU try digging yourself out of a three foot grave wearing handcuffs behind your back!”.

Cathy Gialoretto came to see this show, and actually scared the hell out of me.  She sent a rose backstage before the show started…with a card attached that read ‘Your mom’.  Cathy had played my mom in some show at Lounders, and was using this as a reference.  I, however, thought that my actual mother had finally come to see me in a show.  All during the performance I kept trying to sneak peeks at the audience to see where she might be sitting.  No such luck.  Cathy found me after the show, and I almost choked up a little.

The end of the play involved Clifford slitting Sidney’s throat with a knife. Comtra was always theater in the round, so the audience was always RIGHT THERE.  On this one night, there was a woman in a gorgeous white outfit sitting right in front of where Sidney was getting his throat slit.  This involved a baggie of fake blood in my left hand, the knife in my right, and as I slid the knife across his throat, I pierced the baggie and squeezed.  Well…squeezed a little too hard this night.  The poor woman looked like SHE had been stabbed.  The theater offered dry cleaning I believe.

Michael Hilgefort was a friend at that time, and used to drive me to the theater.  I don’t remember how we met, but I do remember spending one night with him in his Robert Morris dorm, and going at it something like seven times through the night. One night as we were driving home from the theater, we decided to cruise through an adult book store parking lot in the North Hills.  It was winter, and there was snow on the ground.  We ended up driving past a cute guy who started following us.  I made some obscene gesture using the rear view mirror (use your imagination), and the guy kept following us.  We eventually pulled into a parking lot somewhere, and the guy pulled up next to us.  And that night, I met Dennis Hamm.

Dennis Hamm

Dennis was the outdoorsy type, but classically handsome in an ordinary way.  He had a kind of gentle demeanor, an amazing body under the flannels and jeans, and was an all around great guy. He was the second guy that my age and insecurities let ‘get away’. He would have been a perfect partner.  I can’t remember if I gave Dennis my telephone number that night, or if I was actually much bolder than I should have been, and got into his car for a ride home.  Whichever the case was, we dated for a while.  I remember him kind of grossing me out with a conversation about getting his hands cut up in briars, and letting his dog lick the scabs because they’d heal faster.  At that time my brain couldn’t quite get past that.  I always wondered what happened to him, and would track him down through the years.  He was always working in a park somewhere, was a tremendous photographer of nature, and the one time I saw him again in the 90’s, he still looked amazing.  He stopped talking to me altogether at some point, and now won’t even accept a friend request on Facebook.

Melanie and Marla decided to move to Arizona, and they were leaving their gorgeous brownstone, and thus, everyone else had to as well.  I needed a place, and I think it was Rich who told me about an acquaintance of his named Kevin Bartlett, who lived on Lehigh Street, just a few buildings down from Darin Carney.  It was a potentially beautiful top two floors of a row house, with an absolute ego maniac.  This guy had framed 8 X 10’s of HIMSELF as well as mirrors ALL over his home.  He was an ok looking guy, but not the uber stud he thought himself to be.  I’m not sure how long I lived there, or exactly when.  He might have been a bartender at the bar ‘The Tender Trap’ which used to be on Highland Avenue.  Either that, or he spent a hell of a lot of time hanging out there.

I remember a few things from that living situation.  I remember me, Sondra Lengyel and one other person, either Michael Daloisio or Ron Kludo all sleeping in the same bed together after a night out.  Nothing sexual, just drunk buddies sleeping.  I remember an afternoon there with Tom Haefele where we laid out sunning on the roof.  Tom and I kept finding our way back to each other at that time, but never for a full boyfriend kind of thing.  I also remember trying to cut my own hair here, to simply give myself ‘baby bangs’. BIG mistake.  I knew a guy, a friend of Tony Dale or his old room mate Carol, who was a hairdresser in a salon nearby.  This guy was drop dead gorgeous, and we’d flirted occasionally.  Lots of people flirted with me, with absolutely no interest or intent. Something that happened quite a bit through my life, which eventually turned a bit hurtful.  We, this guy could have talked me into most anything, but at this point, I begged him to come to my house and help me fix what I’d destroyed.  He did, thank goodness.

I lived a few doors down from Darin Carney, but almost never saw him.  It was also at this point in life that I started to discover another aspect that would plague me for the rest of my life.  For the most part, I was ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

On one of my social evenings at the Holiday Bar, I was sitting nursing a drink, very possibly a Diet Coke, and was generally feeling very alone and miserable. There was a guy sitting across from me at the bar. Jet black hair, gorgeous eyes with thick eyelashes and an infectious smile.  Well, infectious for most, but with the mood I was in, not much for me, but I was mesmerized by his face. He kept looking at me like ‘what’s up?’ He moved in, sat right next to me and started chatting.  His name was Jimmy Spodnik, and he was a student at the Art Institute and a display designer at one of the old downtown department stores, like Gimbels.  We dated for a month or so.  Jim was perfectly adorable, and I had a serious crush on him.  The problem was that I did NOT have a serious crush on any of his friends.  They were all the crowd of ‘pretty people’, including his friend Tom Watson. Tommy was the California surfer looking guy lost in the burgh. Shoulder length perfect blonde hair, beautiful body, big blue eyes, and an uppity ‘what are you doing with HIM’ kind of attitude.  Even though the sex was very nice, and Jimmy was stunning to look at, and an incredibly creative and sweet guy, after a few evenings with his ‘friends’, I knew that I would NEVER fit into that crowd, nor would I ever want to.  The wannabee ‘A-Listers.’  And they have never wanted anything to do with me.

I do remember one afternoon in Jimmy’s office at Gimbels, him going through some coffee table book on some haute couture designer, and wondering what the person in the photo was thinking as they were being photographed.  He really was quite charming and adorable.

It was around this time that I started to get antsy and fed up with ‘the burgh’.  Most of my friends had evaporated for the most part, were busy with their social lives which I didn’t fit into, or were moving away.  Too far away for me to hang out with.  I started feeling isolated and lonely.  I also was learning a few things about theater.  Someone asked me why I wanted to be an actor.  I thought about it and realized that growing up, music and the television had been my best friends.  I wanted so badly to have a family like I saw on TV.  I wanted Mrs. Partridge to be my mom.  (I wanted Keith to be my boyfriend).  I wanted the Barclay boys to be my brothers. (and lovers)  I wanted Lucy to be my best friend.  As I grew up, I realized that those people were all actors, so it followed suit that my emerging intellect wanted to be a part of the group of actors that formed such a beautiful family. Then I started dabbling in high school, and discovered that a) I wasn’t bad at it; and that b) a ‘cast’ WAS a ‘family’ of sorts.  Friendships were born out of three months of community theater rehearsals (as well as enemies and political bullshit), and that on the stage, the ‘family’ was intact.

But, I was starting to discover that these theater families were much like my real one.  Temporary, broken, and full of dysfunctional personalities.  After the run of the show, the family broke apart.

I was also discovering something about being trapped in the town I grew up in.  As a young homo, I still found myself trying to act ‘accordingly’ when around people who knew me as a kid…school mates…relatives…etc.  I couldn’t completely be myself.  It was time to start to think about escaping all of ‘them’ to stop being what they wanted or expected, and to be who I was, inside and out.

My job life was as pathetic as it ever was.  I’d stopped working at CMU, and bounced around a few jobs.  I was working as a waiter for a bar and music club called Graffiti on Baum Boulevard.  It was an incredible space, owned by a good guy named Tony DiNardo.  Tony was actually thinking of hiring me to run his kitchen.  They weren’t high end gourmet by any means, just basic bar food to go with the drinks.  I was thinking about that proposal, and at the same time thinking of escaping.  I don’t remember much about the music…mostly headbanger rock which never did appeal to me.  But I do remember in the lounge one night a very Lesbian looking gal, short hair, jeans and a vest…sitting down at the mic and doing ‘God Bless The Child’ accapella  - it was spectacular.  And the music I could relate to.

For a time I even did lawn maintenance work for a couple who lived in the same building.  They were renovating their three story portion of the rowhouse.  They did lawn service for the area, so I pushed a lawnmower for $6 an hour that summer.

I spoke to a gal I’d known from the 1982 party days with Amy Tolbert and gang, Kathy Majetic, who had moved from Ambridge to Dallas.  We had several conversations, and eventually she said ‘Why don’t you just move down here?  Jobs are everywhere, and you can stay with me as long as you need to.”

I told Tony at Graffiti that I’d made up my mind to move to Dallas.  Tony wished me well.  But warned me.  You’re going to hate it.

I told Kevin that I would be moving out.  My high school dream boat, John Kerr, was a bartender at the then ‘Norreh Social Club’, a private gay club at the end of the Herron Avenue bridge.  I had visited him there a couple of times, and even had a wild night there once.  I went to visit John, and while he was working, and I was sitting at the bar possibly nursing a soda, the other bartender, a jocky looking all American type started chatting, and then flirting.  Then rubbing my leg under the bar.  The he went over and chatted with John for a few seconds, and John looked at me, then came over, and asked me to follow him.  He lead me to the stairs to the basement bar, which was closed, and the other bartender had already found his way to the basement.  John and I got down the stairs, and I was talked into another threesome…on the pool table.

I really did have an enormous crush on John.

John agreed to let me stay with him for a couple of weeks until my flight.  So I told Kevin I was moving, and had some issues with ‘stuff’.  I had a bunch of boxes of scrapbook stuff, yearbooks, letters, etc.  And…the barber chair.  Kevin agreed to let me keep it in the basement until I could make other arrangements.  Darin kept a few things for me in his place, like my record albums, and a few other little things. I packed a suitcase or two and crashed on John’s guest room floor until the two weeks were up.

I didn’t really see too much of John since he worked nights and slept days.  But it was nice hanging out with him when I saw him.  He introduced me to Laurie Anderson, who I really grew to adore.  We also played a little, but I would have loved to have made it a boyfriend thing.  That wouldn’t happen.  And when I left, little did I know that I would never see him again.

Big D, little a, double L, a-s…

Ok, so I’m off.  I’m on a plane and out of the Burgh. Can I remember the actual event?  Not at all.  Now you’d think that my first trip on a airplane ever would be something to remember, but no, not me.  I can’t remember anything about this trip.  The first thing I can remember after leaving the Burgh and flying halfway across the country is being in Kathy Majetic’s car, and driving to some dairy where her Mexican boyfriend worked.  We drove a LONG way on a very FLAT road to get there. We pulled up outside of this very industrial looking warehouse ‘dairy’ and she parked her car to go inside to tell her friend she was there.  Before she got out of the car, something ran across the sidewalk.  It was big and brown and bug-like, and I said ‘Oh my, what was THAT?’  Kathy replied nonplussed – a roach.  I had NEVER seen a roach so enormous.  She told me they were actually water bugs, but like roaches – and in later years and other tropical climes, I learned properly that they are Palmetto bugs.  But I’m thinking ‘Damn – everything IS bigger in Texas’

Again, I’m not remembering much about conversation, or driving to ‘look around’.  It seems to me we just drove out to a ‘suburb’ of Dallas called ‘Carrollton’ where she and her two room mates lived in a massive housing complex.  If you can recall the old promos for the Oprah Show in the eighties where you just saw an image of nothing but houses after houses after houses, for as far as the eye could see…all little one or two story cookie cutter buildings with TV antennas, no more than 20 feet apart from each other…THAT was her complex…and miles of other complexes around her.

Her ‘unit’ was a three or four bedroom white ‘box’.  You first walked into the living room, a big white box, where you would encounter Josh sitting on the sofa after work smoking pot and staring blankly at the TV.  Josh was adorable to look at, but absolutely no one was home.  A little taller than I, sandy brown hair in kind of a mullet cut (YES, it was the early 80’s!), very thin, and wore glasses.  All this boy did was go to work for his nine-to-five, return home, and get stoned on the sofa in front of the TV.  He was supposedly straight, but couldn’t pass for anything less than A.  I can’t even imagine him ever masturbating.  How? With a joint in one hand and the remote in the other?

Just behind the sofa, which sort of acted as a room divider, was the dining room table.  I think it was glass.  And on the other side of the dining room, in the kitchen could be found Marty, Kathy’s other room mate.  A chubby and UBER queeny Mexican boy with a serious pissy bitch streak.  If there were knives in anyone’s back nearby, check them for Marty’s fingerprints.  He was pushy, he was snotty, he was all about him.

After I was moved in, these were the two I saw.  I never saw Kathy.  She was always out working or at her boyfriend’s house.  I was stuck with these two vunderkind.

Once again, I was totally alone in a venture, only this time around with NO knowledge of the lay of the land, and NO one to help me discover it.  I was grabbing all of the local papers and looking for jobs, but I couldn’t even tell by the listings where they were. I looked for theater auditions, acting agencies, and just jobs in general.  The transit system at that time was worse than Pittsburgh is NOW.  And back then Pittsburgh had a pretty amazing transit system. I can’t remember where I first worked in Dallas.  I think it was as a waiter in some restaurant, but it didn’t happen in the time I lived in Kathy’s home.  The bus ran like every hour or hour and a half, and went in two basic directions, North and South. I vaguely remember taking it…but for the life of me, I can’t remember to where.

I am rather ashamed of my first ‘job’ in Dallas, looking back at it now.  I knew it was a joke then, but the fact that I was involved in such a scam makes me cringe now.  I was hired as a ‘model’ (yeah, right) to go with a herd of other ‘pretty’ people to hang out at events and festivals where there would be tons of unsuspecting people, to get them to enter a ‘contest’ to win a free trip to Hawaii.  Well, what we were doing was rounding up idiots to sit through a time share scam.  This was back at the beginning of the time-share scam, before people would say ‘Yeah, RIGHT’ and walk off.  There were some very oddball people involved.  There was one guy who just HATED me, to the extent of scrawling something really nasty about me on a bathroom stall wall in the office building where the home base was.  I was the ‘fag’ to him.  Well, I’d bet pretty good money that a few years later in life he was bedding down with some big burly top guy.

The other person I remember from this crowd was a girl named ‘Bambi’ – and I’m not kidding.  Bambi had all of the earmarks for being one hard assed used car saleman later in her life.  Now, when you hear ‘Bambi’ perhaps, like me, your mind pictures a petite and not so bright former cheerleader blond type, but that’s certainly not the case.  Bambi was a short, fit, brunette, a little on the pushy butch side, with a LOUD booming voice, a bit of the Brenda Vaccaro rasp, and one hell of a Southern drawl.  At one point, she was talking about going shopping at ‘Sanger-Harris’ – and since I was new to town, I thought she was actually saying ‘Singer-Harris’.  Later, as we were driving past a mall I saw the store…nope…it truly is ‘Sanger-Harris’.  I’m sure Lazarus has bought them out by now, just like they have every other department store.

The next thing I remember getting connected with was a scam talent agency.  They offered classes for on-camera – Robert Burton Agency I believe it was.  It was one of those fly-by-night scam agencies that took up offices in some innocuous low rent distant office building, scammed people out of class and photo money, and then vanished when the questions began to be raised.

Being involved with agency did nothing for my ‘career’, but it did connect me with a few new acquaintances in the city, which I desperately needed.  However, as has been the case with 95% of the acquaintances I’ve made in my life, to quote Fozzie Bear in The Muppet Movie – I picked up some weirdos…

The two I recall most clearly, for I ended up having some odd relationship for a longer period of time than most were David and Florence.

David was a chubby Jewish guy, who was obviously a leather ‘bear’, and he was a somewhat aggressive pig.  I was young and cute back then, and David

Yes...these were the 80s.

wanted me.  David befriended me with the ultimate plan of getting me, but I had no attraction to David whatsoever.  I did befriend him somewhat naively, hoping to have a friend with the similar desire to get into film.  We talked, and he told me he did his own editing of music videos in the studio in his home, and eventually invited me to his home in Plano, which was WAY North of the city.  He lived in another one of those housing developments, but with single family homes all going in circles, ten feet from each other, mostly single story and built in the desert with perfectly landscaped and manicured lawns and recently planted trees, all with quaint little street names that reflected nothing real about the place.  His home was on ‘Hillbriar Circle’.  There were no hills.  There were never any briars.  It was a big flat soon to be bulldozed pile of dirt just ripe for a developer.

David invited me over one night, and showed me his videos, which were clever, but amateur to the core.  One I remember was taking Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall To Pieces’ and creating a full music video to the song with clips from Zombie and horror films.  You know, creatures rotting with body parts falling off.  Not exceptionally well done, but a cute idea.

This was really Thom Gough’s house.  Now why I can remember Thom’s last name and not David’s?  Go figure.  Thom was a queen.  Plain and simple.  He worked in food service as a manager for some Dallas company that was like Gladieux or like Marriott, and everything was poofy and puffy.  The house was pretty damned nice.  Probably one of the nicest I ever lived in.  Huge living room, formal dining room, fully stocked kitchen with a breakfast nook, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a pool in the back yard, and the garage has been converted into David’s ‘studio’.  The walls were padded Moiré fabric.

Well, after about a half hour in the studio, David showed me to what his real intention for the evening would be…and took me out to the pool and…the hot tub.

He tried to get me naked, but I wasn’t going there.  We sat on the edge of the pool for about an hour and talked, with him trying to get closer, and me trying to keep a distance.  I can’t remember how that evening ended, but it did result in David introducing me to Thom, and after sharing how horrid my living situation was, they invited me to live in their home in the guest room.

It wasn’t exactly a ‘great’ move, being that a) I was expected to be the ‘maid’ and b) it was even farther away from any kind of ‘city center’ than Carrollton had been.  BUT, it was close to a lot of suburban sprawl strip malls and restaurants, so I started applying.  I got a job in some restaurant that I can’t remember that was about a mile away.  I honestly can’t remember anything about working there, except that it was then that the Challenger exploded. As I was working, the TVs kept playing the footage over and over, all day long.  I didn’t last long there, not being fond of the corporate structure that dictates a waiter’s every move, as though they couldn’t POSSIBLY write down a food order, turn it into the kitchen, deliver it, get paid for it, and clean up the table afterwards, without a six month training and probationary period.  So I ended up down the street at another corporate steak house (maybe Houston’s) which was the exact same line of bullshit. Nearby, in another strip mall was a little tiny restaurant called ‘The French Café’.  I put in an application there, and was hired.  This time it lasted a little longer.

It was a tiny little place, maybe 15 tables, run by a man named Billy Joe Gardner.  Billy Joe was not a very good businessman, but he was a good chef.  And, more importantly, he was a good man, a kind man.  His wife, Marilyn, was not such a good human.  She was a tad heavy on the Southern Baptist side, and very judgmental.  They had a couple of kids, I can remember vaguely a daughter, and I believe they also had a son.  The restaurant was managed by a white trash blonde whose name I can’t recall.  I worked there through the new year at least.  I remember working New Year’s Eve for a big party, and then walking home just before midnight.  Thom and David had gone off to some New Year’s Eve leather party and wouldn’t be home.  It was unusually cold for Dallas, I seem to recall that the mud puddles had frozen.  As I walked home, midnight struck, and I could hear the sound of pots and pans banging, firecracker, and a few Texan hoots and hollers along the way home.

I arrived at home to an empty house, and settled in on the sofa for a movie.  ‘The Shining’ was on.  And the part where Jack Nicholson is wielding the axe at the bathroom door and shrieks ‘Herrrrrrreeeeee’s JOHNNY!’ had me sitting on the edge of the sofa hugging a pillow and biting my nails…and suddenly…the front door opened.

A huge chunk of the leather party had been moved to Thom and David’s house.  In marched the big platoon of swishy guys trying to pretend they were all macho with their leather chaps, Nazi black leather brimmed hats with the chains, crisp white shirts, boots, and…well…the whole leather freak drag.  They mostly headed for the studio, where the thud-thud-thud disco music was cranked to the point that the bloodshed and screaming of ‘The Shining’ were completely drowned out, so I snuck off to my bedroom, put in my earphones with a cassette of Dan Fogelberg, and tried to go to sleep.

My bathroom was shared by the guest room, and in the middle of the night, I saw the light come on in the bathroom.  My headphones in my ears, I could still hear my heart pounding, afraid some leather bear was going to come in a try to start something.  Then…the door opened.  I shouted ‘someone’s in here’.  It was Thom’s friend Leroy, a VERY sissy Southern white queen…in drag (at a leather party?) who said ‘Oh, it’s okay sweetheart, they know you’re not into that, no one’s gonna bother you’.  Leroy was a Southern Belle to the core.  It was nice of him to assure me I was fine.

Thom and David had an incredible hunky black friend, again, whose name I can’t recall.  But sometime in the next few weeks when I was looking through some of the videos in the studio, I found a video that had been taken the night of the party.  It was this hunky black man, in the sling in the closet (NOW I knew what it was – for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why they had a chair like that strung up in the closet…for watching TV? I was so naïve) and another guy had pretty much his entire forearm up this hunky black man’s ass.  Whoa.  THIS was new to me.  And all I could think was ‘Damn, that’s gotta hurt’, and ‘If he’s turned on by this…why isn’t he hard?’

I had a hard time looking that man in the face during later house visits.

Things started to sour a bit at Thom and David’s. There was a strain between the two of them, and David didn’t like me.  I think David’s dislike for me came the night of the swimming pool attempt, and what made David not like me, is what made Thom like me. But eventually, I couldn’t live up to Thom’s expectations of a house boy.

I had been through a few jobs by this point.  The French Café fizzled, and I had tried working in a retail store in a mall for a short time, and all I got out of that was that I couldn’t lie to people to sell them something, that I hate fashion, and a date with the manager, Josh.  Josh Jones.  We became friends through my run in Dallas.  At first, we were going to try to start a vintage clothing store together.  We shopped garage and estate sales, and he had a really great eye for ‘stuff’.  We had accumulated quite a collection.  Some of it made a fantastic Halloween costume, one of which I kept for years. Too many years.  Josh and I actually semi-dated for some time.  He was slightly off my type, but adorable.  Taller than me, skinny, big nose (ok, so there were essences of my type in there) very blonde, with big blue eyes.  He was a little feminine, but not screamingly so, and not unnaturally so.  Not a put on, like a lot of gay men trying to fit into the ‘queen’ category.  Josh was just a simple, sweet, gentle guy.

The other person I’d met through the scam agency was Florence Thompson.  Florence was a nice gal, but a tad on the white trash side.  She lived in a dumpy house, with two daughters, and her husband Don, who was a total blue collar loser.  Even his daughters said he looked like a chicken.  But Florence had big dreams of being an actress, even though she couldn’t lose the Texas drawl to save her life.  Listening to her try a British accent once was hilarious.  BUT, in spite of all that, we became friends.  We ended up getting called to work as extras on the mini-series ‘Dallas: The Early Years’.

We had to report to ‘Frontier Town’ in old Forth Worth at 6:00 am for wardrobe and make up.  ‘Dallas: The Early Years’ was the story of how Jock Ewing and Digger Barnes became friends, business partners, and later enemies.  Dale Midkiff was Jock Ewing and David Marshall Grant was Digger Barnes.  David Marshall Grant was no taller than me, but damn, he was definitely better looking than I would ever be.  Short hunky guy.  And Dale Midkiff was tall and incredibly handsome as well.

Florence and I, and about two hundred others were the ‘townfolk’ as Ft. Worth was transformed into 1920’s Texas.  It was a very cool, but very draining experience.  The cars around the streets were gorgeous, and they did everything to mask ‘modernity’ from the area.  Barrels over fire hydrants, gas lights where lightbulbs used to be.  Horses. Dirt over pavement.  The only exposed street they left alone was cobblestone.  It was supposed to be spring, but we were filming in the winter.  So there we’d all be, huddling around a corner out of camera shot waiting for the cue to move…girls in fur coats, guys in full length coats.  And as soon as they started the process, the coats came off post haste and were piled on a mailbox, and we strolled into action.

I was in several scenes in which I can’t really be seen at all.  In a food line at a bar, where Jock and Digger were trying to eat during the depression, and where Jock met Miss Ellie, who was serving in the food line.  The bar scene was something else.  Mounds of old cold food made to look pretty, and smoke!  First, they set off rosin bombs to give the bar that smoky atmosphere, then they asked everyone who smoked…to do just that.  BUT, we couldn’t smoke our own packs, we had two period-appropriate choices…Camel and Lucky Strike…non-filtered.  So, we started the scene at 7:00 am, and finished around 11:00 pm.  To save time, since we had to be back the next morning at 6, I just rode with Florence and slept on her sofa a couple of nights.  I woke up the next morning with a tar flavor in my lungs like you wouldn’t believe.

But…it was still good…Dale and David Marshall TOUCHED me!  At one point they were discussing how to get through the line of people gracefully into the food position.  Dale said, ‘Oh, we just shove them out of the way!’ And he grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me to the side and said ‘MOVE!’.  I was only half paying attention to the conversation preceding, so it was kind of a shock, and I guess it showed on my face!  He put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said ‘Just kidding’, and David Marshall patted me on the back, laughing.

I was paired with another gal at some point, who ended up becoming a fairly good friend.  Her name was Lori Cooke, and she was a reporter for the local new radio station KRLD.

We were about the same height, and same age, and I guess we looked good together.  Lori was a very pretty gal, with long sandy blonde hair, and big blue eyes.  In one scene, we were sitting at a dining table in a restaurant, and a fight broke out.  She and I jumped up and ducked out of the way.  We also did a lot of walking.

A few months later, many of us were called back for a scene at Southfork.  Yep,  the Ewing home.  I have to say, the camera’s really DO add ‘ten pounds’ to things…because that house, that looked enormous on TV was a tiny two story regular old house with a two car garage, in the middle of a giant field.  The pool in the back yard had been covered over with a dance floor.  It was now supposed to be the 1950’s, and they were having the big Cattle Barron’s barbeque, or something similar. Again, MOUNDS of old cold fried chicken, vats of mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, and all of us in 1950’s country and western wear.

Lori Cooke was room mates with Naomi Hatsfelt in some little apartment complex off the expressway.  I started hanging out with them, and some of their friends.  One of them worked at a restaurant with a guy named Steve, who was also an aspiring actor (notice how no one that I’ve mentioned so far has ever gone on to the big time?).  Steve and I went out for a while.  Nice looking, nice guy, but had a big ol’ mole on his you know what.   That was a little off-putting. But looking back, Steve was one of those ‘WTF were you thinking?’ blow offs.  He was a very nice guy, and seemed to like me.

That summer, Lori’s parents came to visit from Lake Charles, Louisiana, with a burlap bag full of live crayfish, and all of the supplies for having a crawfish boil.  We did it right there in the courtyard of their little apartment complex.  I will never forget sitting there, still slightly in the closet (but much better than I’d been in Pittsburgh), when Lori said to me: ‘Don’t forget to suck the head!’

I think I blushed a bright vermillion red – I looked at her as though she was telling state secrets in front of people – and she demonstrated by sucking the remains out of the crayfish head.  ‘You have to suck the head’ she repeated.

Ohhhhhhh…

Well, I did suck the head, but it didn’t do much for me.  In fact, the crawfish didn’t do much for me.  I’m not really even that much of a Lobster fan, but it seems like more meat for the same amount of work.

One evening, Lori and Naomi were showing me their high school yearbooks.  Naomi had been the lead gal in all of their high school musicals.  And she had the pictures in the yearbooks to prove it.  It just so happened that Sam Harris was the MALE lead in the high school musicals, and there, standing right next to her in most of the images from the yearbooks, were the pictures to prove it.

Lori and Naomi introduced me somehow to a co-worker who worked with one of them at a temp agency, named David Houston.  David was a semi-successful science fiction writer who may have had something to do with The Body Snatchers way back when.  I also hung out a little bit with David and his then partner David, who was a drunken loser.

Lori and I did a few things together here and there, and eventually I saw an ad for an audition for the Plano Community Theater for ‘Period Of Adjustment’ and we decided to go together.  I was cast as Ralph, and Lori was cast as the character played by Jane Fonda in the film version.  Her new husband was played by Greg Asbill.  This was actually a very good experience.  Patty

Me, Carol Williams, Greg Asbill and Lori Cooke

Arnold was the director, and she really did direct, not like most community theater ‘directors’ who more or less ‘herd’.  I will never forget Patty’s guidance.  One of the funnier moments was that my character was supposed to be Texan.  And in the rehearsals, I started with a Southern drawl, and Patty snapped ‘NO!!!  That’s NOT Texan!  That’s SOUTHERN!’  I said ‘Ok, sorry, teach me how to talk Texan.’  She said ‘To talk Texan, the first thing you need to do is put a big smile on your face.  And you KEEP that smile on your face, and WITH that smile on your face you can say things like ‘Your dog died’…THAT’S talking Texan!’  Now if you think about it, years later…Ross Perot.  Always sounded like his top teeth were sticking out…because they were.  Indeed, that is talking Texan.

I had one small ‘incident’ in the production where I was ending a scene in the living room, and was to turn to go to the bedroom to lay down on the bed until my next cue.  As I turned, I banged my Ulnar nerve (better known as the ‘funny bone’) on the wooden corner of the back of the couch. A tingle and ripping pain shot through my arm to the point of breaking out in a sweat.  Thank goodness the next move for me was to lay on the bed and do nothing.  It took the next ten minutes to stop screaming in pain.

Greg Asbill and I became very good friends.  He was a very kind, funny, attractive, creative Texan guy who was trained to be an architect, but he worked in an art supply store.  He was very dear to me as a friend, and we would hang out for Mexican dinner, or slumming in Deep Ellem, which at that time was a very underground kind of club scene.  In fact, we would go to Club Clearview every now and again, which was a former window blind company that had been abandoned in the Deep Ellem area. People had taken it over and created a pretty amazing makeshift nightclub that was extremely popular, albeit with no frills.  And I mean NO frills.  Remember places that had an ‘office’ that was basically a very large elevated cubicle in the middle of a warehouse?  Usually paneling covered, with some kind of windows at the top that didn’t go all the way to the ceiling? Well, tear it down and leave the linoleum floor, and that became the dance floor.  The booths around that dance floor looked like they came from an old Pizza Hut, and people would wander around the back of the building which was an enormous empty concrete warehouse, still full of junk from the old window blind company.  Greg was a very cute Texan boy, but straight. Had a little issue with the drink.  But a really good man, and a good friend.  He was very open minded, and my being a homo wasn’t an issue to him.  In fact, occasionally he’d tease me a little (which was very cruel since I did have a crush on him) by getting ‘bumpy’ on the dance floor, and shaking his butt at me.

I had to help Lori move at one point, after she started getting a little paranoid after her car (a convertible LeBaron) had been knifed open through the cloth top and her radio stolen.  As she was moving out of the complex, to a room she would rent from a girl named Mary Carpenter, who worked at that time for Mary Kay Cosmetics in the video department, she came in the front door to discover someone going out the back door.  Things didn’t get better for Lori though.  She really started getting a little over the top paranoid after she moved in with Mary.  I ultimately lost contact with her because, well, she was cutting contact with EVERYBODY.  She moved out of Mary’s and vanished.

One humorous moment with Lori came one day as we were shopping in a music store.  As we crossed the parking lot to the store she asked if I’d heard that we’d attacked Khaddafi that morning.  (this was Bush dumbass number 1)  I hadn’t heard it, and didn’t think much of it.  So we go into the store and start browsing around, and all of a sudden we hear the high pitched tone of the emergency broadcast system…we looked at each other wide eyed, and looked for any TV.  Remember, Lori was a journalist on the radio. As we looked around for a TV, we found the source of the noise…a VCR had come to the end of the tape and the tone was to alert the store staff that they needed to change the video.  We laughed.

Lori’s room mate Naomi worked in the temp agency with David Houston. They knew that my living situation was deteriorating, and that I was looking for work.  Well, work they couldn’t find me, but another one of their coworkers Mark Streuter lived in an apartment building on the edge of Oak Lawn, and was looking for a room mate.  So a meeting was set up, and I went to Mark’s place for a look-see.

Mark lived in a building complex on the corner of Hall and McKinney in what was referred to as Turtle Creek.  It was a very nice complex with a courtyard pool, a laundry room with a sun deck, three floors and several buildings.  His apartment was on the second floor, but there really wasn’t a ‘first floor’ to his section of building, because the car park was underneath.  It was a two bedroom apartment, with a kitchen, living room area and a bathroom.

And it was SPARSE.  Mark had nothing, because apparently Mark wanted nothing.  In the living room was only a full length mirror in one corner.  That’s all.  I can’t really even remember a table or chairs in the kitchen, and practically no cooking supplies.  Mark’s bedroom was a mattress and box spring on the floor, and PILES of books and newspapers.  He said I was free to decorate in any way that I wanted.

So the meet and greet seemed odd, but ok enough, and we agreed that I’d move in.

The apartment complex was amazing.  It was SO gay, and a hotbed of action.  There were a ton of gay residents, and I got to know a few of them.  Patrick was kind of the father of them all, and older guy, VERY handsome, bald, but salt and pepper. Lean, and incredibly kind.  He always had a couple of boy room mates, who were either seeing each other, or in the process of breaking up.  One of them was the all-American jock type.  A few doors down from him was a sort of young cowboy type.  Always in jeans and boots.  Very handsome.

If you kept your eyes open at night, there was almost always something dirty going on…in the pool, on the roof of the laundry.  At the bottom of the stairwell just outside our apartment was a slab of concrete set up as a lounge chair sunning area.  There was one guy who would sit on a lounge chair there and masturbate, wearing only a T-shirt.  He’d scout around the windows, and if he was anyone looking, within a minute he would be up and outside of their window.  He caught me peeking a few times, and I had to quick pull the curtains and hide.  One day I decided enough was enough, and I plotted.  He saw me looking out the window, and I knew he’d be outside my window in a moment.  I ran to the kitchen, grabbed a large kitchen knife, ran to my bedroom with the curtainwide open, laid face-down on the bed, spread my legs wide, and laid the knife between my legs, and turned my face away from the window.  In my glasses, I could see the reflection of the window, and watch what happened.  Sure enough, he popped up outside my window, looked in, paused for about three seconds, and vanished.  Never to return.

One day, the all-American jock type came knocking on my door asking for quarters for the laundry.  We chatted briefly, and I told him I didn’t have any quarters.  Patrick later told me it had been a ruse to get in the door and get naked.  Well, at this point, I was losing my naivete – just not all of it.

I started looking around the neighborhood for a job.  Ended up humiliating myself as a costumed mascot, ‘Andrew The Elephant’, standing in the median of the street handing out 2-for-1 coupons from Andrew’s Restaurant on the corner of McKinney and Lemmon. Yes, 90 degree Texas heat, and there I am at lunch hour getting paid dirt to sweat and hand out coupons.  Tres dignified.

Right down the street from the restaurant was a President’s Health Club (before it became Bally’s).  I applied there, and was hired as a front desk clerk, checking in the 80’s gym heads.  This was NOT a pleasant working environment. Very little pay, and these folks were CARNIVOROUS about ‘leads’…if I didn’t get the contact info of EVERYONE who called, I was memoed, and slapped on the wrist.  Quite to my surprise, one day a trainer walked in…it was the incredibly handsome black man that dated someone in Marty Heinzelman’s (Sunnyledge) house.  It was great to see a familiar face.  I believe it was he who told me about the professor dying and being decapitated in the boating accident.  The rest of the staff was about as backstabbing as could be…well…as backstabbing as I’d experienced so FAR in this UNkind life. They were uber homophobic, and again, to the extreme that I would bed good money that a few years later, they’d been naked together.

What I discovered about the modus operandi for these health clubs was that their goal was to pack in as many people as possible into one club’s ‘membership’, until they had amassed a bankroll, and created a situation where there were just too many people trying to use the club.  Then they would find a property somewhere ‘reasonably’ nearby, and start all over again with a new club.  The ‘free week membership’? It’s a joke.  The on-staff personal trainer as ‘part’ of your membership?  You get a personal trainer to advise you maybe twice.  They are working to sign you up the moment you walk in that door, and once you sign the paperwork and the credit card agreement, you are just another cow in the herd.

I did meet some very nice members though.  I met Jac Alder who was the artistic director for Theatre Three.  After a conversation about theater, he invited me to ‘volunteer’ at the theater.

I also met a very sweet, slightly feminine (but naturally) guy whose name I think was Terry.  He was always very friendly and kind, and just so damned sweet.  One day he told me that he had two tickets to see Ella Fitzgerald, and asked if I would like to go with him.  I said ABSOLUTELY!  He said great, and would make the contact arrangements after his workout.

Wouldn’t you know it, I was fired within the half hour.  Never saw him again, and never got to see Ella.

But, Jac Alder and his offer to volunteer had been cemented.

And why was I fired?  The ‘official’ explanation was that I’d not gotten the contact information for a lead.

But the trainer, who I’d run into weeks later somewhere told me it was because they ‘thought’ I was gay.  1986 folks.  There wasn’t a legal leg to stand on…yet.

At this time, I found myself back to Billy Joe.  Billy Joe had been offered a space in another suburban sprawl office building which was SLOWWWWWLY being renovated and built, that he was going to call ‘International French’.  In the meantime, as a teaser for the office building, and possibly to appease the building owners/developers, Billy Joe ran a lunch counter in the lobby.  After a while, he couldn’t work the restaurant as well as the lunch counter, and he asked me to run the lunch counter.  At first, he’d set the menu and bring the food, but then after a while, he’d set the menu and give me instructions to make the food.  It was the basic makings for sandwiches, a few salads, and some desserts.  Sodas, cookies, that type of thing.  Better than a lunch truck or vending machine, reasonable prices, and made some people happy.  I would go to some space that he owned in the morning and initially pick up the supplies for the day.  He gave me full use of a ratty old station wagon he owned, and soon, it became all me.  I shopped for the food, I made the food, I hauled and served the food, I cleaned up after at night, eventually in my own home, prepped for the next day, rinse and repeat.

I did this alone for a few months.  Made friends with some gals that worked in a Title office on the same level.  Didn’t make friends with anyone else.  In fact, there were the typical wannabee machos who started whispering about ‘he’s queer’. This is where Billy’s wife Marilyn comes in, and makes Billy Joe decide to let me go because he didn’t want those guys thinking HE was queer just because they THOUGHT I was.  There went the job, and there went the car.

Oh, and the room mate.  Mark.  In my apparent ability to find the oddest humans on the planet, Mark was one of the top five.  Mark had nothing in his apartment, because Mark WANTED nothing in his apartment.  He said I could decorate any way I wanted…well…EXCEPT for that one corner of the living room devoted to his full length mirror.  Marks basic routine was to get up and go to work.  Come home and make either popcorn or oatmeal for dinner.  This was all he could cook, thus the lack of cooking anything in the kitchen.  After his meal, mark would sit on a blanket or towel in front of his full length mirror and read, or write poetry (none of which I ever read), and do push ups and sit ups.  After an hour or so of that, he’d take a nap, and then get dressed to go out dancing.  Alone.  Always alone.  I never saw him with anyone.  And truly, that is all there is to be said about Mark.

So I got in touch with Theatre Three to volunteer.  They were in the process of moving their hit show ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ to The Plaza Theater in Snider Plaza because the run had sold out, and was extendable, but the theatre had another show to begin on the schedule.

The Plaza was run by Lou Moore, (Ms.) who had been a producer all over the country for film, television and theater.  Lou was a bit on the ‘Dorothy’ (Golden Girls) side.  She wasn’t butch, she wasn’t at all feminine.  She was ‘woman’.  She was very business like, and a bit classist, as a hell of a lot of people in the arts tend to be, regardless of whether or not they CAME from upper class roots.  There were those she would talk to like equals, and there were those she would talk down to.  She certainly knew how to produce a show though.  Carla McQueen was the secretary.  Carla had been secretary to Joe Sears and the ‘Greater Tuna’ gang before coming to Dallas.  She was pretty, she was very sweet.  She was probably the most sincere human in the mix.  Rebeka Jones was the backstage/production manager. Butch Lesbian.  Soon, my main social circle was to become Lesbian.  The lighting gal for the theater was Libby, the marketing ‘consultant’ was Diana Clark, and the box office manager was Anna Whelchel.  That was the general theater staff.  When I got there, I was initially volunteering for Theatre Three, and with their show had come their own staff.

At first I was one of the ushers and bartenders. Eileen was the house manager, and she seemed to take a liking to me.  Next thing you know I was put to serious work…all volunteer of course.  Folding programs, processing mailings, staffing the souvenir table. They trusted me with the money, and they couldn’t get enough of my work ethic.  As a volunteer.

This production of ‘Little Shop’ was THE best one I’ve seen to date.  The cast was perfect.   Doug Jackson was Seymour, and the most spot-on Seymour I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen several. I saw a production at the Muny in St. Louis on a HUGE scale, and a small black box version in Phoenix on a very small scale, and no one can touch the performance Doug gave.  In fact, I feel they have ruined the character of Seymour by making him young and cute in all of the current productions.  Doug was a short little bald guy, a little on the bug-eyed end of the scale.  He was PERFECT! Another local actor, Jerry

Jerry Haynes - Mr. Peppermint

Haynes (better known to locals as ‘Mr. Peppermint’ – the Dallas version of Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers) played Mr. Mushnik.  A very nice man who just recently died.

Preston Bircher

Preston Bircher as the sound engineer for the show.  I met Preston, and I fell in love.  Preston was cool, laid back, unpretentious, with great curly hair, sea green eyes…and a cast on his leg from the waist down from an auto accident he’d been in that required his leg to be rebuilt a few times.  He was skinny, intelligent, and totally into theater and the arts.  We started hanging out.  I couldn’t wait to be in the sound booth and hang out with him when the show was going on.

We started really dating, and he introduced me to a LOT in Dallas.  The cast would often go to a great restaurant called ‘Chelsea Corner’ which was a great little neighborhood bar and restaurant.  They had great burgers, and there was something about their rice and beans that was to die for.

He introduced me to S.T.A.G.E., which was a not-for-profit clearing house of sorts for the performing arts in the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  It was a phenomenal organization, run at that time by Artie Olaissen and had a secretary named Tim Hatcher. It was one-stop shopping for all things performing arts in Dallas.  Auditions, classes, member benefits like discount or free tickets, even a script library.  Theater holding auditions could drop off copies of the scripts there so that actors could actually read what they were thinking about auditioning for.  I got involved there, again, as a volunteer, processing mailings and such.  Artie took a liking to me.  Artie was partnered with Duane, but that didn’t stop Artie.  Artie was the nerdy type, in his late 30’s or early 40’s maybe at that time.  Not bad looking, but not great looking…kind of a Waldo, as in ‘where’s’?

Artie was also an actor, and was cast in some healthcare company oriented

Artie Olaisen

TV commercial that was filing in the middle of some cow pasture in the middle of nowhere Texas.  Artie decided to invite the young and naïve wide eyed youth along for the trip, and the young naïve, not QUITE so wide eyed youth decided to go along.  I had nothing else to do, and certainly no one else had invited me on any kind of trips.

We arrived in the middle of nowhere, and checked into the room at the motel…uh oh…one bed.  Shit.

I only remember two things about that trip.  One, we were SERIOUSLY in the middle of NOWHERE.  Cow pasture for as far as the eye could see.  And a few piles of cow shit.  It was kind of a hazy or foggy morning when the filming took place.  I can’t even remember a crew, or cameras, but I know they were there, and Artie filmed his bit against this stark background.  Two, spending the night sharing the one bed with Artie.  Ok, I know my Scorpio side gave in, I mean when there’s a naked body involved, and it isn’t Free Willy or a girl, something is going to happen.  But all I can really remember is him on top of me, and me not wanting to be there, feeling trapped in the middle of nowhere without a safety net. Life lessons.  Artie and I were cool around each other from that point on.

I have to credit Preston for fully introducing me to The Manhattan Transfer with a cassette tape (remember those?) of their Vocalese recording, and thus changing the direction of my musical tastes forever.  I really did love Preston.  I remember driving around a mall one night and it actually snowed in Dallas.  By ‘snow’ I mean just enough to hit the ground and form a film on the pavement.  No accumulation to speak of.  BUT, you would have thought it was the Fourth of July with the biggest fireworks display ever.  He was SO excited, screaming, and skidding his little Renault Fuego around the parking lot.  To me, this kind of snow usually meant impending dumpings of winter, but to a Texan it was like a moment of Christmas.

No matter how much I adored Preston, he always kind of kept me at arm’s length.  Until…

The cast came off.  And subsequently, Preston went off the painkillers.  Cool, laid back, and unpretentious?  Only when on drugs.  Screaming queen trend whore OFF the drugs.

The more I was around him, the bitchier I became.  The bitchier I became, the more appealing he found me, and wanted to get closer.  The closer he got…well…you get the picture.  We split, but did remain friends for a long time.

Little Shop Of Horrors ended it’s run at the Plaza, and the theater moved on to the next production.

The next show coming in was ‘In The West’.  This was one of the most brilliant shows I’d ever seen.  The creative team and cast had come from Houston, and what they had done was take Richard Avedon’s photo essay coffee table book called ‘In The American West’, studied the photos, created characters to fit the characters, and developed a string of monologues to make a two hour show.  Avedon photographed truly ODD people, against a plain stark white background at a county or state fair.  These were back woods Texans of all varieties, from poor dirt farmers, to oil monied people who thought they were richer than they were.  The Plaza displayed the photographs in the lobby of the theater that the monologues were created around.  The monologues weren’t REALLY the people in the photos, just what the images lead the creative team to think they could be like.

I’ve seen a few of the actors in bit roles in mainstream films here and there.  The performances were stellar in the play, and I’ve always wanted to see it again somewhere.  Then, several years later, a British film company decided to turn it into a film called ‘Deep In The Heart‘.  And they totally destroyed it.  They made the film about a British couple coming to Texas to interview ‘town folk’ for a documentary, and the film ended up being mostly about the relationship between the British couple.  They dumped most of the monologues, but did keep most of the original cast.  There are barely hints of the fantastic production this really was.  It’s really very sad.

Carol Jumper was in Dallas for some reason during the run of that show, and I was able to get comp tickets for her for a matinee.  Preston, who I really hadn’t seen much of for a while, was also there that afternoon.  I tried to keep my distance…this was someone from high school.  The class president, and a serious gossip.  I came to Texas to find myself and get away from the high school people, and it was extremely uncomfortable having someone so obvious around.  At least obvious to me.

The next thing to come up at the theater was American Jukebox.  Lou Moore and Charles P. Kopelman created one hell of a night of fun by building a show around a Dallas show band called ‘Custom Made’ that did 50’ and 60’s oldies.  The weak plot was that two kids are having a late night bite in a diner, with the bus boy trying to mop up and close shop.  The diner boy starts to put a coin in the jukebox center stage, and presses buttons…but nothing happens.  He tries three times, and gives up, but just as he does the jukebox said ‘Come on, take a chance…it’s ONLY a quarter!’  He puts in one more quarter, and the jukebox starts to play ‘Mr. Sandman’…and then the front of the Jukebox pops open, and the three girl singers are in poodle skirts and pedal pushers, and they come out into the diner to sing.  They do a medley, then take the three diner people into the jukebox.  The stage goes dark, and transforms into an old Rock-o-la jukebox.  The band rolled in from left and right on platforms, and the stairs leading up to the platforms lit up with the names of people like Elvis, Aretha, etc. looking like selection buttons on the jukebox.  The three diners became the dancers.  The girl singers were Shelley Brandt, Paula Kaye Evans and Tricia Johns.  Shelly was the cheerleader blond, Paula was the short haired girl ‘crooner’, and Tricia was the bigger girl.  Paula could do Patsy Kline like nobody’s business, and Tricia nailed Aretha and Brenda Lee.  Shelly actually came out as a blond Tina Turner and did Proud Mary.  It was another hit show that had to be extended at the theater, and then was so popular it was packaged up and taken to Osaka, Japan for a tour.  Of course, I didn’t get to go on that trip.  But, it did create a job for me that I was actually good at.  I was hired as a follow spot operator, 30 feet above the audiences head.  It was nice to finally hear compliments on work that involved a paycheck.  I would pop the light onstage on the beat, and Libby would say ‘Damn, hot pick up!’  I was on stage right, and Pam Omiatek was on stage left on the cat walks.

I also recall out costume designer, Tommy Bourgeois, introducing me to Patchouli.  I still love the scent, but had to learn…in moderation.  Tommy practically bathed in it. And it really is a scent that can permeate a room quickly.  One day, when Pam and I were on the catwalk by out follow spots, before the show started, we both spoke on our headsets at the same moment and said ‘Is Tommy in the theater?’  We looked down, and he was walking toward the stage.  He had been in the 600 seat auditorium maybe 30 seconds, and the scent of patchouli had reached our noses 30 feet above the audiences heads.

Another fun headset moment came when Libby, the light gal, announced that there was no possible way for a face to look dignified when singing ‘Shooby-dooby-dooby-dooby-doo-wop-wop’ in regard to watching Paula try to do it.

Connie MANNcis?

Halloween was fun that year at the Plaza.  Everyone came in costume, so I decided since it WAS a creative crowd, I should go all out.  So I picked through some of the stuff Josh and I had gathered that I still had, and for the second time in my life, dressed as a woman.  I was kind of aiming for Sabrina from Bewitched, but as Charles Kopelman told me, I either looked like Ethel Kennedy in her heyday, or Connie Francis.  Ok, I can see Connie Francis.  So there I was, 30 feet above the audiences head dressed like this.  A chartreuse green sleeveless dress with a white collar and a matching Jackie O type jacket, white snakeskin shoes with a little square bow on the front, big green clip on earrings, a black wig that failed as a bouffant, so was pulled back as a pony tail, white gloves a paisley handbag and, of course, pearls.  I don’t think it even would have been pretty in its own heyday.

I even made a cake when the show was extended, and it was announced that

My Jukebox cake

the show was going to go to Japan.  I remember making it in Mark’s ill-equipped kitchen, but I somehow managed to pull this cake off.  It might be the most beautiful cake I ever made.

My Jukebox program, autographed by Brenda Lee

One of the funny moments from the show involved Tricia and her Brenda Lee impersonation.  She really did it well.  However, the production team had caught wind of the fact that Brenda Lee herself was in town playing one of the hotel showrooms (remember those?) and they invited her and her entourage to come and see the show.  And they ACCEPTED!  So her was poor Tricia, shaking in her shoes, singing ‘I’m sorrrry, sooo sorry, that I-I was such a fool’ to the woman who made it famous.  The girl was terrified.  Tricia, that is, not Brenda (who came up to about my chest WITH her big hairdo)…Brenda Lee was extremely gracious and seemed genuinely flattered.  I even got her autograph on one of the programs.

This was the time I finally clicked with a ‘social circle’, and they were all Lesbians.  Rebekah, Libby, Pam, their friend Rhonda are who I specifically remember, as well as a wiry little gal named Pat. I remember going to the mall one day with Preston, and Pat was walking in at the same time, and I yelled ‘Hey Pat!’ and she turned, saw me, and yelled ‘HEY, you little faggot!’  But she meant it endearingly.  Preston thought it was beyond hilarious, especially when I turned crimson.

Rhonda was a big butch blonde with a mullet haircut.  She was kind of the all-American guy next door, former football hero type – had she been a guy.  Actually, the kind of guy I wish more gay GUYS would be like.  I told Rebekah once that if there was a girl I could go for, it would be Rhonda.

For my birthday that year, they all took me to an enormous Lesbian bar, which had been an old movie theater that was converted into a nightclub.  Huge dance floor, pool tables (of course), and the balcony had been turned into a lounge.  Can’t remember the name, but it was a very cool club.  I think only this place and Zack’s 4th Avenue in Pittsburgh ever really caught my attention as ‘cool’ places.  They were gathered around the pool tables, and I was kind of hanging around checking out the few other guys in the place. Rhonda was being playful, and at one point, in front of Rebekah, put her arm around me in a semi-headlock, and said ‘You know, if ever I wanted a baby, I’d want it to be with a guy like you!’  Rebekah looked at me wide-eyed and shrieked ‘OH NO!!!!’

Now, I don’t remember if it was this night at that club, or if there had ever been other visits to that club, but the evening brought another charming marijuana moment.  Rebekah had driven me, and lit up a joint in the car, and handed it to me.  I took two puffs.  Well, here we go again.  After their round of pool, the gals headed up to the balcony lounge, which was closed for the evening, but the managers let us go up to just sit around a couple of tables.  The balcony had two levels, the mezzanine which overlooked the dance floor, and the upper balcony where the bar was and a bunch of tables.  The tables for the upper balcony had been pushed together, and stacked.  The mezzanine had been much the same, but the gals pulled down a few, and joined them together for the group to sit and talk.

Well, here it came.  First the weakness.  Then the loss of energy and muscle control.  A slide down out of my chair onto the floor.  One side of the body went numb.  I rolled under the table coming up against the table post, where I would stay for the next hour or so.  As usual, my brain functioned just fine, as the girls were discussing skiing, and whether fiberglass or wood skis were better.  Then, I’d been there long enough and it was time to go.  They made the mistake of trying to pick me up to carry me out, and I had to throw up.  As we approached the steps to the upper balcony which lead to the BIG staircase that went down, I went down on the little steps, trying not to throw up and make a mess.  Off under the tables pushed together, I thought I saw a trash can, so I flash crawled under the tables toward what turned out to be…and ashtray.  SHIT!  I came scampering back out, and Rebekah laughed and said I looked like a cockroach zipping under the tables.  Well, I threw up on the little steps.  Then Rebekah and Rhonda got me to my feet and shouldered me down the big steps and out of the club.  Somehow, they got me home and into bed, and the next day it was like nothing happened.

Somewhere between the making of the cake and the being carted home stoned, two things happened. I was cast in a production of ‘Bullshot Crummond’ as Bullshot Crummond, and I moved.  The cast was me, Mark Stoddard, Janet Bruce, Robin Taylor and R. Andrew Martinsen.  Now I can’t recall which came first, the chicken or the egg in this scenario.  Mark lived upstairs from my in my new apartment, but I can’t remember if he told me about the audition, or if once cast, he told me about the apartment.  At any rate, I finally moved into my own little place (and I do mean ‘little’) on a street called ‘Bowser’. It was a two story apartment building directly behind a Chinese restaurant and a Burger King, with maybe ten apartments.  The property was separated from a gorgeous renovated carriage house next door by a six foot tall wooden fence.  In the summer, the kids from the Chinese restaurant would come to the sidewalk along the apartment building and pick the bamboo shoots that were growing as a wall against the fence.

Once again, poverty provided me with a semi-slum apartment.  I had basically two rooms, a galley kitchen and a bathroom.  The front room had a floor to ceiling window, a ‘counter’ between the galley kitchen and the living room.  My furniture was an oriental rug with two antique park benches, and a slab of brick wall that Preston and I had found on a demolition site somewhere, set upon three cinder blocks as a coffee table. I had some antique lamps that had been brought from Pittsburgh, my stereo, my worm box record collection, and not much else.  The bedroom was a box spring and mattress on a couple of packing pallets, a drafting table that Preston and I had taken out of an abandoned office at Club Clearview, a nightstand, and again, not much else. Linoleum was on the kitchen floor, and the rest of the apartment was wall to wall carpeting…somewhere between beige and gold.

I had retrieved some of my things from Pittsburgh after an unexpected road trip.  I had gone to an audition somewhere, and there, in the waiting area was David Joy, from the cast of Joseph at Stage 62.  We started hanging out a little, and in the dead of winter, David was going to drive from Dallas to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for a weekend. He asked me to go along and help with the driving.  So I arranged to stay at Darin’s place, and we set off.

It was a 24 hour drive, and as we hit the states like Tennessee and Kentucky, the weather started to REALLY turn winter bad.  We actually ended up sleeping in the car on the side of the road for several hours, but in essence, we drove straight through.

David dropped me off at Darin’s, and we had arranged a small gathering for the Saturday evening.  I had slept a good part of the day, but I remember Ron Kludo being there, and fawning over Darin, Baby Homo was there, and a few others.

On Sunday David picked me up again, and I loaded what I could of my belongings in his car.  I was a little disappointed to discover that some of my things had been pilfered while stored at Darin’s, like my record collection.  Apparently Nick had picked through it and taken what he wanted.  We drove to Cincinnati and spent a few hours at his Aunt’s house, and then headed back to Dallas.

L-R: Mark Stoddard, R. Andrew Martinsen, Me, Robin Taylor and Janet Bruce.

“Bullshot Crummond” was quite a little theatrical experience for me, fun and ridiculous at the same time.  The show was performed on a puppet theater stage.  The entire stage was maybe 20 feet wide and maybe ten feet deep.  The show, a totally ridiculous farce, was directed by a guy named Mack Hays, who took EVERY line of the script 200% seriously.  He broke the entire show down into ‘beats’, from sentence to sentence, to the point that it was absurd.  I did learn from it though.

We had almost NO audiences.  We did have a few mishaps, one of which provided me with a scar to this day.  And several of the incident occurred in one performance. First, the sword fight.  We rehearsed the sword fight and I was supposed to block a slam to my face by holding the word across my face, and he was supposed to hit where my hand had a firm grasp to keep the sword from hitting my face.  Instead, when his sword came down, it hit about ten inches to the left, and pushed the loose end of my own sword down onto my face.  A small cut to my eyebrow.  Blood ran down my face. Then we get up and parry through the audience to the lobby, clang, clang, clang, and back to the stage.  As I hit the stage, I banged my shin against the edge of the stage, went down on my back, clang, clang, clang, and WHAM…hit my Ulnar nerve on the stage.  The same one damaged in Period of Adjustment. Then, in another scene, I pull a small step stool out to stand on while my foil fits me for a costume.  I put my hand under the stool to move it, and there was a staple sticking out underneath from where the fabric had been put on with a staple gun. It buried itself into my finger, and I literally had to pull my finger OFF the staple.  Blood ran into my hand.

Toward the end of the show, I got down on one knee to propose to the heroine. As I hit the floor, and unavoidable groan came out of me, and the audience laughed heartily.  It was the knee I’d banged on the stage.

But, the most hilarious and absurd moment to come out of that play was the night the set fell.  We had literally ONE audience member who sat in the front row.  He was actually a very good audience member who laughed at the right places.

In one scene, the evil Otto Von Bruno grabs the ‘waiter’ in the scene, drags him behind a flat, scuffles, and then comes out dressed at the waiter to get to Bullshot and the heroine, to plant an obscenely large microphone near the table to record their plans.  The night we had ONE audience member, in the FRONT row, Von Bruno grabs the waiter and drags him behind the eight foot tall flat (four feet out on a ten foot deep stage), scuffles, and bonks into the flat. In front of the flat is a tea cart on wheels.  The flat teeters, and falls, sending the tea cart rolling across the stage, and the flat falling…onto the ONE audience member, who thrusts hit arm into the air above his head to stop it.  Then, as the heroine and I continue with the scene, the AUDIENCE member gets up along with Von Bruno, and helps put the flat back in place.  The guy playing the waiter ran off the stage and nearly peed himself laughing.  All in all, it was a lot of fun.  Linda Boatman was the producer, and she would later lead me to another audition that would lead to one of the best learning experiences in performing I’ve ever had.

Somewhere in this time frame, I also took a trip to Phoenix to visit Melanie and Marla.  I spent a week in Tempe, and I swear, out of 12 photos on a disposable camera, all I ever got photos of were us eating.  It wasn’t an especially memorable trip with the twins themselves, but I did end up having one of THE most romantic nights of my entire life during that trip.

I also saw the small black box version of ‘Little Shop’ there. Melanie was somehow involved with the theater, and got us in.  The performances were decent, but the space was small.  It was kind of a miniaturized version of the show.  It could not compare with the Theatre Three production.

Marla taught ballroom dance lessons at some studio in a two story strip mall in Tempe.  I went with her one night, and hung out outside of the studio, which was on the second floor, leaning against the railing and smoking, watching the uber nerds learning to dance.  Lots of polyester and puffy hair.

Suddenly, a group of four people came walking down the sidewalk, and as they passed, one of the guys looked at me and said ‘Hi’.  I returned the greeting, but we both did double takes.  I went back to my cigarette, and he stopped his friends and told them to go ahead, that he’d catch up with them later.  He came right over, sat down next to me, and started talking.

His name was James.  And dammit, I can’t remember his last name.  I really

James - if you know him, tell him I said hello!

wish I could.  He was gorgeous.  All American type. My height, built, dark blonde perfect head of hair, an infectious smile, and one hell of a personality.  After a bit of chat, he asked if I wanted to go and hang out.  I had to tell Marla, and tried to get her attention, but didn’t want to interrupt class, so we waited for that five minute water break, and I told her I’d just been asked out.  She was wary, but sent me on my way.

First, James took me to a couple of bars in Phoenix.  Can’t really remember them.  One of them was very ‘Southwest’ in its feel, with adobe and cacti.  So, after about an hour ‘bar hopping’ (I think we hit a total of two), he took me to ASU, where they were filming a movie with Rob Lowe.  It was by the pool, and he took me right onto the set, and there I stood, ten feet from Rob Lowe.  After we hung out there for about a half hour, we got hungry, and he took me to a diner somewhere.  We talked the whole time, and it was so incredibly easy talking to him.

We left the diner to return to the car, to discover a two story office building was on fire near where the car was parked (a convertible beetle), so we stood and watched the fire for another half hour.  Then he wanted to show me something REALLY cool, and he drove me to the top of the one ‘mountain’ that overlooked Phoenix/Tempe.  We sat in the car looking at the city, talking, listening to the music (they played ‘A Summer Place’ which Paula Kaye sang in ‘Jukebox’, so I knew all the words – he said he liked my voice) and then started kissing.  It was magical.  A true romantic whirlwind of a night.

Then he took me to his place to spend the night.  An architectural student, he had designed the furniture himself.  The bed was pretty amazing.  Everything in the room was controlled from the headboard.  The lights, the TV, the stereo. Smooth and smart man.  And not to mention a bit ahead of his time. This was 1986.  How many beds did you know of THEN like that?  The rest of the night was just as magical and passionate as the evening has been.  I could have married this man.

Melanie & Marla Smith & James

Melanie and Marla told me to invite him over for dinner the next night, so I did, and he came.  We had a great meal, great conversation, and the twins thought James was completely charming and a gentleman.  I couldn’t have agreed more.  That night was the last I would ever see him.  We traded letters a couple of times, but time and circumstances even eroded his last name from my memory.  But not his face, or that amazing night.

I’d hoped we might stay in contact I thought as Marla was driving me back to the airport to return to Dallas, as I was trying to use up the last four shots in my disposable camera.

After the experience of being an extra made her a bit starstruck, Florence Thompson decided she would start her own casting agency and become a star.  She called it ‘The Dream Factory’, and ran it from her home.  I have no idea how long she lasted, but unless she found a partner with some actual business acumen, I don’t imagine very long.  But, we did work on two projects that needed masses of ‘real people’.  One was a print ad for two trucking companies merging, in which they re-created the old photo of the railroad line being finished, but instead of a crowd of people and two trains, it was a crowd of people and two semi trucks.  I was placed carefully on the exhaust pipe of one of the trucks, with my flat ass to the camera, because the pipe was dirty, and they needed something to hide the soot.  That would be me.

They other thing we worked on was a really cheesy motocross film called ‘Winners Take All’ where we, about 200 of us, were supposed to be the crowd of 20,000 filling Texas stadium for a motocross race.  We would fill the stands on one corner of the stadium, throwing coats and other things in empty seats to make them look occupied, then pack it all up and move to the other side of the stadium for a different camera angle. As we were hiking around the stadium I kept seeing this guy.  Black hair, scruff of a beard and mustache, very cute and furry, but kind of unenthused.  I kept seeing him off in the distance, like twenty rows of seats away.  He was cute…and VERY familiar.  I kept trying to get closer, and finally worked my way to walking beside him.  I said “Did you graduate from Hopewell High School in 1981?  He looked at me kind of non-plussed and said ‘yeah’.  It was Richard Scimio.  He was the cute guy that was in lower end English with me.  I didn’t need lower end English, as I was VERY good in communicating, spelling and whatnot.  I just was NOT good in ‘humanities’ and this was the only class available during that time slot.  Rich HAD to be there.  He wasn’t very smart.  CUTE…but not bright.

So I asked what the hell he was doing in Dallas, and what he was doing working as an extra?  He told me he worked at a gas station somewhere, and one of his customers said they needed a lot of people.  So he was making an extra buck.

I met a guy on both this project and the trucking project named Terry Jackson.  He was a trucker.  A very gay trucker.  We hung out a bit, fooled around a bit.  Good looking man.  After I left Dallas, never saw him again.

I had a few adventures with Florence and her friends.  One friend was Mary the lawyer.  We were hanging out at her house one night, and she was bitching about her neighbors, and one thing lead to another, and the next thing you know, the neighbor’s house was TPed.  We were sneaking out of the house, when Jody, Florence’s young daughter yelled ‘Wow Mary, you guys did GREAT!’. Leave it to a child to blow your cover.  As far as I know though, the neighbor never figured it out.  I mean REALLY…a LAWYER?  Nahhhh.

I remember Mary telling us the story of having been invited to a film premier by a friend of hers, and how she ended up talking to a very quiet man for most of the evening.  Mary never watched movies or TV, being caught up in lawyer stuff, and ended up striking up quite a friendship with this stranger for the evening.  His name was Harrison Ford.  She had no idea who he was.  The fact that she just saw him as ‘another guy’ created an actual friendship.

Another friend of Florence was another Mary.  This one was short, a little chubby, and thought she was a psychic.  She wasn’t.

Meanwhile, back at the Plaza, they were gearing up for their trip to Japan, and to bring in a new show.

Diana Clark, the woman who helped with marketing, was moving from a house into a small apartment.  Diana had two dogs, and was only allowed to keep one in the new apartment, so I thought it might be nice to have some company.  I hadn’t had a boyfriend in a while, and the house was lonely quite often.  I agreed to take her Pomeranian, a very tiny fox colored dog.  The first thing I had to do was change the dog’s name.  Now I know this may seem cruel and confusing to a dog, but I did choose a name similar in sound – Chelsea (I believe I took the name from Chelsea Corner).  It was much better to take a dog out for a walk and call her Chelsea than to be seen calling out ‘Here Choo-choo’. Yes…Diana had called her dog Choo-Choo.

Well, this dog drove me NUTS and was a loud wake up call that I was never intended to have pets as an adult.  For one, why would I take on an extra mouth to feed when I had enough trouble feeding my own?  I was chowing down on Mac-N-Cheese and Ramen noodles, but had to buy 25 pound bags of dog kibbles for this tiny dog.  Secondly, I was not home enough to keep the dog proper company, and the dog took it out on me by pooping everywhere BUT on the paper, or the linoleum.  ALWAYS on the carpet, or the Oriental rug, and even on occasion on the brick wall coffee table.  Chelsea would stand on the table barking incessantly out the window at anyone who passed by, and when I came home, she would crawl into the packing pallets that held up my mattress and box spring.  We’d go for a walk, she did nothing.  I left the house, she crapped on the oriental. She also had a truly annoying habit of dragging her hard crunchy kibbles out of the kitchen into the carpeted hallway and munching them into fairly painful sized chunks when stepped on in bare feet.  After a couple of months, one of Florence’s older daughter’s friends agreed to take Chelsea off my hands and provide her with a loving family at a farm.

The was the last time I would ever have (or want) a pet.

A few blocks away from my house was an IHOP where I would occasionally go (mostly alone) for a meal.  I became friends with one of the waitresses, a Mineola Texas girl named Loretta Sansing.  A little chubby, a little nerdy, but a nice person, and a friend to occasionally hang out with.  Loretta and I were both taken by a Latina grifter whose name (at least to us) was Janie.  She claimed to be a Lesbian, and she knew how to work people to scam them.  It was my first official dealing with a human of that nature.  She had a knack for finding out what you dreamed of, and then smooth talked her way into your dream for the purpose of eventually offering ‘help’ in the way of ‘connections’.  I don’t remember how much she took Loretta for, but in my case she took a good chunk of what I had.

My ‘dream’ at the time was to open a restaurant, and she supposedly knew of a ‘backer’, but it would require the input of a lawyer and a $400 payment to get the ball rolling.  I asked all the right questions…I just didn’t listen to the right answers.  She never introduced me to anyone, but played the whole old ‘Well, if you don’t do this in good faith it will never happen’ kind of game.  We even went TO the bank where I signed over $400 to a gal I hardly knew, for a business I would never have.

There wasn’t a damned thing that we could do.  Loretta and I just lost.  Why do people like that prey on the poor?

Preston actually hired me during the holiday season to run a follow spot for a children’s show called “The Gingerbread Man” at a Theatre located just outside of a mall.  We did two shows a day, morning and afternoon.  The show was about as corny as could be.  There was a rat in the pantry that was out to get (eat) the Gingerbread Man, and it was up to the Salt and Pepper shakers to find a way to save him.  And, it was a musical.

I don’t remember much, but I do remember that during the intermission, it was the stage manager’s job to go out into the audience and find a child to give a piece of candy to, with the instruction NOT to eat it, but that it would be needed for the second part of the show.  Then, in the second part of the show, the salt and pepper shakers had decided they needed to set a trap for the rat, and they needed something to put in the trap that the rat would like.  They decide, of course, on a piece of candy, and asked the audience if anyone had a piece of candy.  Believe it or not, 100% of the times, the kid was a good kid and held on to the candy, and handed it over for the trap.  Salt would then ask their name.  The child would say ‘Susy’ or ‘John’, and Salt would thank Susy or John, and then ask everyone to thank Susy or John.  Well, I guess our stage manager was getting bored, and she started purposely seeking out African American children to hold on to the candy.  She would ask their names until she found one that had the typically made up un-understandable African American name.  Then, when it came to the point in the show where Salt would ask the name, he would be confronted with the Chamika Jamahl syndrome, which would take three repeats to even phonetically sound out from the stage, and almost impossible for a crowd of average Texans and their children to grasp.  More often than not, the ‘everyone thank so-and-so’ turned into ‘thank you very much for the candy’.  It may sound cruel, but really people…think about it before you name a child!

During our lunch breaks, we would go to the mall to find some food. Prestonwas all excited one day because his friend John Hardman was set up in the mall for the holiday season, and in addition to running the ‘photo with Santa’ set-up, John also did a puppet show in the middle of the mall.  We hung out at the rail on the second floor overlooking the scene.  It was Scrooge, in his old gothic puppet mansion, propped up in the window, watching over the crowd.  At the moment we arrived, there was a class of elementary school children doing some holiday song and dance routine for Scrooge.  Scrooge just sat and watched.  When the children finished, and after the gushing parental applause finished, the attention turned back to Scrooge, who was staring at the children.  Then he spoke.  “That was nice” he said, “REAL nice!”  The children responded with a shy ‘thank you’.  He then went on:  “I can sing TOO!  You wanna hear ME sing?”  The children of course egged him on to sing, and he did…he looked out at the crowd of elementary school children and sang:

“Children roasting on an open fire”

There was a gasp, and then a roar of laughter, and then he changed tunes:

“Have yourself a crummy little Christmas”

And again, the crowd ate it up.  I looked at Preston and said “Oh my god, I HAVE to do this show! This is TOTALLY me!”  Scrooge then continued to harass the crowd for about another fifteen minutes and then closed his show.  He did a fifteen minute show ever hour through the day.  I begged Preston to introduce me to John, because apparently John had these kind of shows, in different guises, in amusement parks around the country.  Preston introduced me (and I’m thinking this might have been the perfect time to learn to NOT beg Preston for showbiz things – for it would bear disaster in the future – but we never learn when we should have learned) and I began the rally to do the show.

I went to an audition with Linda Boatman for Scarborough Faire, which was a renaissance festival held annually for six weekends in Waxahatchie, Texas.  There were several months of rehearsals and workshops before the actual event.  I had never done anything like this before, and it was an amazing experience.  I made it through the auditions fine, although I don’t think they really turned too many away, since they needed a cast of at least one hundred.  And of course, for people like me, it didn’t pay anything, except for the experience, and the experience was invaluable.

They turned a gigantic empty field in the middle of nowhere Texas into a medieval town, with the castle gate, various stages, and small buildings that were shops, restaurants (pubs), bridges, jousting fields and stands, and more.  We were the ‘townsfolk’.

First, we had workshops for EVERYTHING.  Costuming (we had to come up with our own), voice, singing, character development, TONS of improvisation and games that taught us how to pull or divert focus, to ‘blend’, to work as a giant ‘unit’, and even workshops on outdoor survival, since the festival took place outdoors in Texas summer heat.

Being an actor in this atmosphere meant developing and maintaining a completely improvisational character, a real live ‘person’ from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm, Saturdays and Sundays through the run of the festival.

Now, I do have to say, the ren faire folk kind of really freaked me out at first.  The incessant hugs from people who were rather large, bearded, and who looked like they hadn’t really bathed in a while, or EVER run a comb through their hair, were a bit off-putting at first.  But to a good portion of this group, they LIVED for this festival, set during the time of Henry The 8th.  After the initial huggy-huggy shock wore off, this was a pretty amazing group of human beings.  Talented, committed, and pretty darned crazy.

I didn’t really fit into any part of the group though, so I created a character that was kind of a loner, yet everyone watched over.  I became Timothy O’Leary, the village idiot, with a thick Irish accent (we had dialect coaching as well).  Now, I knew NOTHING of Timothy Leary at that time, but it was pointed out to me that I had chosen the PERFECT name for my character. Basically, I was a guy who had never aged past the age of say, twelve, because I’d been traumatized by the loss of my dog, Dorabelle, which ended up being the only name I could ever remember.  If I walked into a crowd of my ‘clan’, and yelled the name Dorabelle, EVERYONE responded with ‘Yes?’ I called everyone Dorabelle.  Made it easy.  Although, all these years later, remembering anyone’s REAL name? Not so easy.

I basically wandered around with a rope tied around my waist trailing off behind me, waiting for the dog to return, so I could tie her leash back on.  I had a strand of bells around my neck so that all of my ‘townsfolk’ could find ME.  I’d wander around the field from end to end, allowing the rope to get stuck on things, then doing a one-stooge routine trying to get loose from whatever the rope had gotten stuck on.  I would burst into tears screaming…and drawing a crowd.  It could go on for twenty minutes until one of my own ‘clan’ (the Crossed Keys Inn) would come by, release the rope, pat me on my back and sent me on my way.  I also included in my schtick taking whatever was told to me at complete face value…’get lost’, ‘go away’, etc. The secret side of Timothy was that he was also one of the hidden faces in the puppet show, but no one needed to know the village idiot was a puppeteer.  We did the story of ‘Stone Soup’ in a daily puppet show.

There were some quite interesting buskers around as well.  There was a group called ‘The Mud Beggars’.  They did several shows per day in ‘The Mud Pit’, which they had constructed in the middle of the Holly Field.  It was a gigantic sloppy nasty pit of mud where they did a slapstick show involving diving, wrestling, etc.  One of the Mud Beggars was a guy named Jonathan.  He was scrawny skinny, with long wild and scraggly hair and a beard to match.  Most of the mud beggars would take a quick shower after the show, and then head into the ‘village’ as townsfolk.  Not Jonathan.  Jonathan did ONE thing between performances.  He walked from one end of the festival ground to the other and back again.  ONCE.  But he did it by standing perfectly still, covered with drying caked on mud, in his beard and hair, and generally everywhere, a wooden bowl in his hand extended outward like a maitre’d hinting for a tip.  Someone would drop a quarter into his bowl, and Jonathan would take a step. Basically it cost twenty-five cents per step.  Put in a dollar, four steps.  This muddy, scrawny, nasty looking man, made a FORTUNE simply walking back and forth once between performances.

I made a few ‘friends’ who basically vanished after I left the festival.  Except for David Kear.  David caught my eye almost immediately.  He was about my height, thin, ginormous blue eyes with thick dark eyelashes that made them scream blue even louder, a spiky mass of dark brown hair, and really furry legs.  He was a shy, meek, and adorable guy.  I couldn’t figure out after weeks of workshops, how to get closer to him and actually ‘talk’, but we made eye contact almost constantly.  Finally, the cast book came out, with everyone’s contact numbers, and after deliberating with myself for days, I finally said, oh the hell with it…CALL him.

According to David, when I called, he was so stunned he went into the bathroom with the phone and walked around in circles until he calmed down.  He’d been wondering how to make contact with me as well, but I was slightly less shy than he.  So we ended up being friends, dying to kiss each other, and then found the time and place to sneak away to a ‘safe zone’ at the festival.  One kiss lead to dating.  David was adorable.

I ended up accidentally finding my own busking routine at the festival.  One day, Julie Riggs, one of the festival coordinators, came up to me and told me that she was late for a pub sing and had to run to the pub across the festival grounds.  She carried with her a grass broom, and asked if I would hold on to it until she came to claim it.  Well, Timothy did everything he was told.  So I carried the broom around.  I also had my mandatory water mug in my hand (from survival class, we were told to always have something in hand for water).  So in my right hand I held the handle of the broom, with my fingers looped through the handle of the mug, and the left hand managed the sweeping of the broom.  I saw a guy with leather shoes, and a coating of dust from walking around the field…so I walked up and swept off the dust.  At first, I scared the shit out of him, and  his group of friends laughed. Then, after the laughter was over and the dust was gone, the man dropped a quarter into my mug of water.  I thought ‘ewwww’…and then I thought ‘hmmmmm’.  Screw the water!  I ended up making $70 in change in one day sneaking up behind people and sweeping first the back of their ankles, which made them jump out of their own skin, and then they’d laugh, I’d sweep off the dust, and they’d drop money in the mug.

I had other performers coming up to me for ideas on how THEY could find a gimmick to make money.  I had no answer for that, but Julie let me keep the broom.

One really fond memory I have from this festival, aside from David Kear and the acting experiences, is the FOOD!  It was amazing!  It was all real, and ‘period’.  Screw the funnel cakes, they had turkey legs on the grill, ribs, and all types of other ‘big’ home made food, that was really ‘cooked’, as well as beverages like Meade (honey wine), sarsaparilla and lemonade.

While the festival was going on, the theatre was preparing to open the new show. One of the issues they were having was that their cleaning crew was not doing a good job.  They’d hired an outside company for big bucks, who then hired minimum wage lackies to do the actual work, and they frankly didn’t give a shit.  The work wasn’t getting done, and it was a major frustration for the entire theater.  Well, I needed money.  I told them that if they paid me what the other crew was getting paid, that I would stay after the shows and clean the theater at night.  They agreed.  Yay, I had a real paying job in the theater.  Ok, so it wasn’t what I dreamed of, but there ya go.

This was a big assed theater, and I cleaned it from front to back.  From the glass doors that lined the entire front of the theater, floor to ceiling, that was located three businesses down from an ice cream shop.  Little children with ice creamy hands left their marks daily, about thigh-high.  From the audience bathrooms, during an era when ‘big hair’ was the thing, ESPECIALLY in Texas (remember mall bangs? Those clumps of hair in the front of womens’ heads in the 80’s that were hit with a blow dryer, sending them straight UP and then hit with half a can of hair spray?  The floor of the ladies room had to be acid stripped every two weeks to remove the black grimy varnish layer from the overspray.  The men’s room needed the same, but more to remove the layer of piss around the urinals and the toilets.  I discovered something about a ladies room I never knew before.  They had these little mailbox looking things attached to the stall walls.  The men’s room didn’t have them.  My first day, I opened the little mailbox lid to discover what they were, AND that they were SUPPOSED to contain little paper trash bag liners, which the previous cleaning crew had NOT been putting in.  There they were.  Little nasty, crusty, bloody, stinking feminine napkin products.  And I was NOT going to stick my hand in THAT!  I thought for a moment, turned and walked out of the ladies room, across the lobby, out the front doors, across the street and to the hardware store – salad tongs.  My little metal lifesavers.

Carla McQueen

Carla McQueen recently shared her memory of that discovery on my part.  When I returned with the salad tongs they asked what they were for, and when I shared my gruesome discovery in the mailboxes, Anna from the box office asked “didn’t you have any girls in your family?”  Apparently, my response was “I WAS the girl in my family!”

It really did become a coin toss as to who were bigger pigs in the restroom, men or women.  The men pissed everywhere.  One thing that has always amused me is that men can find a hole the size of a silver dollar, in the dark, using no hands, and BULLSEYE.  But somehow, standing up, in bright light, using at least one hand to aim at a target the size of a large mop bucket, and they can’t hit it to save their lives.

Women, on the other hand, can’t seem to hit a trash can with a piece of paper, they piss all over UNDER the toilet seat, they seem to believe that the five feet of toilet paper they’ve used to line the seat before they sat down will be happily reused by the next gals terrified of actually sitting down on a plain ol’ toilet seat, and that those mall bangs can’t possibly hold up for an hour without reglazing them with half a can of Aquanet.

Cleaning the auditorium was actually a pain in the ass, but could be quite rewarding. Things fall out of your pockets while you’re sitting in the theater.  Your gum, your mints, occasionally your keys, your dry cleaning receipts…and your money.  From coinage to paper.  I thought of it as a tip.

The dressing rooms were the easiest.

The Plaza Theatre, however, had a ghost.  In the 1920’s, when the theater was a movie house in the more well-to-do neighborhood, a man went in and tried to rob the theater.  He was apparently shot and killed in the lobby.  The theater staff believed that his ghost stayed in the theater, and they simply called him ‘Rob’.  The house manager who was there in my beginning, during Little Shop told the story of one evening late in the theater when he was alone.  He had locked all of the front doors, and was making his rounds to double check that everything backstage was locked and ready for the alarm to be set.  The houselights were on, but the only other light was the ‘ghost light’, which is the floor lamp without a shade that is always left on in the middle of center stage when all the lights are off at night.  He checked the back doors, and all were locked.  As he walked onto the stage, suddenly the houselights dimmed, and went out, leaving only the ghost light shining.  Then, a single follow spot came up on him center stage, and stayed on him for about fifteen seconds.  The follow spot turned off, and the houselights came back up.  He shouted up to the light booth to see if someone had been left behind. No reply.  He ran up the stairs to the light booth and found it pad locked as it was supposed to be.  He then ran to the lobby to see if anyone was waiting to get out the front door.  Nothing.  That boy hit the lights and made skid marks out of the theater that night.

Now I can’t confirm that story’s validity.  Nor can I confirm that the little things that happened to me when I was working nights were the actions of ‘Rob’, but there were a hell of a lot of coincidences that made me go ‘hmmmmm’.  The vacuum coming unplugged regularly at times when nothing would have caught the cord.  Doors slamming shut with no reason.  I heard no eerie sounds, and didn’t have any visions.  But in the middle of the night, dead tired, and frustrated having to plug in the vaccum cleaner five times, I would have little soothing chats with Rob.  I think eventually Rob took pity on the poor schmuck in the schlepp role of janitor.

I cannot say the same for the staff of the theater.  Things started to turn a little sour at this point.  After over a year of volunteering and being seen as the guy that could do anything, and even after proving myself as a good follow spot operator, suddenly – I was the janitor.  I was cut out of a lot of things, and even the box office manager, who I had helped many times in the past year, Anna Whelchel, would not permit me to cross into the box office.  Of course, because I was the janitor, I must NOW be untrustworthy and a thief waiting to strip the box office.  The rest of the theater staff pretty much followed suit. It was an eye opening occurrence to say the least, and one hell of a blow to my self-esteem, which I’ve never really had much of to begin with.

The only saving graces of that time period were dating David, doing Scarborough Faire, and the new show.

The new show, which was having a run at our theater before heading to off-Broadway was a truly FUN little show called ‘Oil City Symphony’.

Oil City Symphony is a musical with a book by Mike Craver, Mark Hardwick,

Mike Craver, Mary Murfitt, Mark Hardwick and Debra Monk - Oil City Symphony.

Debra Monk, and Mary Murfitt and songs by various composers. It is a recreation of a recital by four middle-aged amateur musicians who have reunited in the auditorium of the Ohio high school they attended in the 1960s to pay tribute to music teacher Miss Hazel Reaves, who is retiring.

All four, whose combined talents “represent 127 years of total studying time,” aspired to show business careers, but none of them ever left their small hometown. Debbie, the ex-prom queen, plays the drums and percussion; Mark, the minister of music at his church, is a pianist and accordionist; Mary, a rabid fan of women’s roller derby remembered for her portrayal of Anita in a local production of West Side Story, plays the violin, saxophone, flute, and slide whistle; and Mike, a former member of an acid rock band, is a master of the synthesizer and vibraslap.

This show was too much fun, and what an amazing cast.  Mary, Mark and Debbie were pretty stand-offish, or stayed within their ‘social status’, but Mike was different.  He was much less showbiz, and more human. And incredibly talented. I would walk into the auditorium to start cleaning, and the lights would all be off…pitch black…but Mike was on the stage playing the piano.  In the dark.  Mike actually paid me one of THE nicest compliments I ever received.  I was cleaning one day, alone (or so I thought), with my cassette player plugged into my head, and singing along with something like Journey.  I’m picking up programs and belting along with Steve Perry (which, in the early 80’s, I COULD do).  All of a sudden, Mike appeared out of nowhere, and I guessed he’d been practicing on the piano in the dark again, and my headphones had obliterated the sound, so I didn’t realize he was there.  I yanked out the phones and apologized for interrupting him.  He told me it was ok, and said “I wish I could sing like that.”

Coming from the man who co-wrote and performed in THIS show, had been with the Red Clay Ramblers in the 70’s, and went on to co-write ‘Smoke On The Mountain’, ‘Radio Gals’, ‘Lunch At The Picadilly’, and record a few of his own CDs – this was truly flattering.  Quite a change from Monica Datillo saying “Don’t sing.  Just move your lips.”

Debra Monk was a hoot though.  Quite a party girl.  One night David and I had seen the show, and then David stayed behind to help me clean.  Around 3 in the morning, we were finished, and we’d called a cab to get us home.  We waited on the sidewalk outside the theater for a half hour, exhausted, and a car pulled up.  It was Debra dropping off someone else from the theater, who hopped right in their car and drove off.  I mean REALLY, why would they be bothered or concerned with the janitorial staff?  Debra asked if we needed a ride, and I said that we’d called a cab, and probably weren’t going in the same direction, but thank you.  She told us to get in and not worry about it.

Well, we worried about it a little.  Debra was a little drunk.  It was a driving adventure.  But we got home safe.

I took a bus to visit David one weekend.  He was a student at a University in Greenville, and I stayed with him for the weekend.  We stomped around the ‘town’ of Greenville a little, which was really as much as was doable…a ‘little’.  I saw one of the coolest (and saddest) things I’d ever seen.  There was a shitty little clothing shop in the lobby of what had been an old Vaudeville Theatre.  I asked the people working there about the history of the theater, and of course they didn’t know much of anything.  BUT, they did take me ‘backstage’ to the stock room to see the old backstage area.  It was ASTOUNDING.  The piles of boxes of clothing and hangers we on the old stage, which was surrounded by the original brick walls.  On the walls, permanently mildewed and molded into the bricks, were the posters from the old Vaudeville shows that had played the theater during its life. They couldn’t be removed, and in the 80’s we didn’t have cell phone cameras to take pictures.  From the great acts to the forever unknowns. There they all were, some autographed, and hanging forgotten in the stock room of a crappy clothing store.

David and I started to crack a little that weekend.  I adored David, but David was a little wimpy and whiny in bed. It was starting to become frustrating to a Scorpio to have him in my mouth and hear a cry and a wimper about ‘Oh, you caught a hair’.  Pains, discomforts, oh no don’t do that.

When I returned to the theater, things were just becoming more obnoxious in the ‘cleaning guy’ treatment.  I really was snubbed now by most.  So I started really rallying for the puppet job.  It turned out that John Hardman was putting a show on a riverboat in St. Louis.  He agreed to hire me, and offered me Los Angeles (which I never wanted to go to), Las Vegas (which I never wanted to go to) or St. Louis.  I opted for St. Louis.

I let the Scarborough Faire people know that I was leaving, but I did NOT let the Plaza people know I was leaving.  David was hurt, but understood, and I promised I would see him again.  I gave him my pinky ring to wear until I we met again.  Oil City had ended its short run and headed off to off-Broadway, and the Plaza was starting planning for something called ‘Lucky Guy’ or something along those lines.  I wasn’t invited in any way to be a part of it.  I was pretty much abandoned, so I figured ‘fuck them’.  I planned to leave for St. Louis on a Saturday. I would NOT tell them I wasn’t coming back.  I would NOT clean the theater Friday night…and additionally, just for fun, I did NOT order toilet paper, which ran out on Thursday.

I gave my apartment keys to Josh Jones so he could watch over things until I could arrange to have my things moved, and I departed for St. Louis.

Before I actually leave for St. Louis via the blog, I do have to catch a few other random memories of note.

Somehow, through Preston I believe, I met a guy named Shawn Churchman.  Very tenor, very sweet, very talented, a little gentile feminine, and VERY hairy.  We fooled around a bit here and there.  But nothing real ‘connection’ came of it.  This is primarily of ‘note’ for the future reference.

And two Latinos bear note, Felix Estrada and David Ramirez.  Felix I met in the grocery store, and he followed my home one day.  He was smoking adorable, and passionate in bed, and we met a few times.  We’d planned to meet one night at my place, and I told him I’d leave my door open so that when he got off work he could just come in.

Now, in this last complex on Bowser, I had a few gay neighbors.  One who hated me, and was missing his mobile home somewhere, and one who was kind of cute, but kind of fatter than I like.  The trailer trash would pull his car up to park, which was directly behind my bedroom, and rev his engine at 3 in the morning to the point that I had to call the landlord.  The chubby guy and the trailer trash were friends.  Well, this one night that Felix was supposed to come over and crawl into bed with me, he was a no-show.  I was pissed.  I was even more pissed when I found out that he’d gone to the WRONG door, to find IT open, went in, and crawled into bed with the chubby guy…and stayed the night.  I never heard from him again.

David Ramirez was a very sweet, cute and kind of nerdy (which I love) guy that I met at a restaurant or something.  We dated briefly, but he was kind of on the dull side.  Extremely quiet, and not too enthusiastic about anything.  He worked at one of the museums.  The only reason this comes to mind is the funny moment we had in bed.  There we were in bed one afternoon, me face down, head on the pillow, and him on top of me, basically dry humping, or I guess the word used now is ‘frottage’, and it was rhythmic and monotonous, and I started to fall asleep. AND, I started to dream.  I start to dream about ‘I Love Lucy’.  Suddenly, in my half sleep trance, I blurted out ‘Oh Ricky!’

I snapped awake realizing what I’d said, and was a bit embarrassed.  No need to be though, he just kept right on going, oblivious.

There was also one night that I had a fucking mariachi band right on the other side of the fence outside my front window.  The little renovated carriage house was having a party on a GRAND scale, complete with valet parking, and a HUGE crowd of oh-so-upscale attendees.  Their back yard was basically my front yard, with only the wooden fence and bamboo to separate us.  And the mariachi band was set up on a stage against the fence outside my window.  At about 1 am, I walked over and complained, but as would always be the case with the well-to-do, I received a basic ‘fuck you, now go home’.  And as I recall, this was NOT a weekend night.

And there was the restaurant I wanted to open in Deep Ellem.  I’d found a great space that I couldn’t afford, a great idea based on a restaurant that had died in Pittsburgh (but not to worry, a lot of brilliant ideas die in Pittsburgh that would succeed a hundred fold elsewhere) called ‘Bahama Mama’s’. Bahama Mama’s had basically two things on their menu. ‘Sandwich’ and ‘Salad’.  On the table were checklists, and you basically built your own Dagwood sandwich for $6, or Salad for the same.  I wanted to use that, and have a roster of appetizers from all over.  Everyone thought it was a great idea…but no one would step forward to help, except the grafter who screwed me over.

And that’s the end of Dallas.

St. Louis, Misery…

To be quite honest, once again, I don’t remember actually arriving in St. Louis.  I’m not even really sure how I got there, or how my ‘stuff’ eventually got there.  I do remember a guy named Steve Wise being my initial guide, and John Hardman’s assistant, who was supposed to set me up and train me with the puppet show.  For at least a few nights, I was in a hotel room, but I can’t remember if it was shared with Steve or not.  The first few days I had to move FAST on all planes, from learning the job, seeing the venue, and finding my own home, because the hotel room was going to run out fast.

Steve gave me my initial puppet training in the room.  I had received a joke ‘manual’ which had to be very familiar, if not nearly memorized, and used as the proper occasions arose in the shows.  He gave me criticism on my puppet

Old Man Smudge

voice, showed me how to use my fingers within the head of my new character ‘Smudge’.

Smudge was a crabby old man who lived in a giant wooden ‘copper’ boiler on the main deck entrance to the S.S. Admiral.

The S.S. Admiral

The S.S. Admiralwas a stunning piece of riverboat architecture.  1930’s art deco steel, six decks, and when it was built, the largest inland excursion boat in the US.  It had several restaurants, a lower deck full of shops, a grand ballroom, a disco, a cabaret lounge, and there were two theatre barges attached to the side, one that showed a cheesy automatronic music show, and the other a film about the history of the St. Louis riverfront and the Arch.  Big band music was piped all over the boat, and it could have been a truly

Keith Alper

magnificent entertainment center…if ANYONE with a modicum of taste and dignity was managing it.  The ship certainly wasn’t going to get that from Keith Alper and his Six Flags team.  From what I’d heard, Keith had started out as a trash picker-upper at the Six Flags theme park.  Now, THERE’S a qualification for running an entire entertainment department.

In fact, the St. Louis riverfront used to boast a fleet of vintage riverboats, all of which were grabbed up by St. Louis greed mongers, with no real desire to maintain the integrity of the vessels.  They just wanted to use a little history to grab as much as they could, scamming more than a little off the top.

The Goldenrod Showboatwas another, built as an actual floating theater,

The Goldenrod Showboat

Frank Pierson and partners bought it and ran it…into the ground.  This boat was rumored to have been the inspiration for ‘Showboat’, and yet no one in St. Louis would muster up the ethics to preserve it for its historical value.

The Admiral had SO much potential, that was sucked dry by the Six Flags mentality of funnel cakes and cheesy theme park entertainment, and sucking as many dollars out of the public’s pocket while giving as little as possible in return.  A theme that I discovered later would carry on to bigger boats as well.  Click here to see a tour of the Admiral – but as you watch, bear in mind – I was twenty-five and doing a video tour as a birthday gift for Linda Wyke.

Part OnePart Two

But, in the beginning, Smudge’s entrance onto the boat was met with great applause.  I did six shows per day, one an hour, for fifteen minutes, with the rest of the day to basically wander around the boat.  I LOVED doing this show.  It was a ‘slander’ show, where basically the old man came out of his boiler, banging and yelling, opened the door, to see dozens of people standing staring at him.  His opening line was usually ‘What are you staring at? I don’t come to your house and stare at YOU! Go away!  Stupid people!’

That was the ice breaker.  From that point on, it was just a fifteen minute banter with the audience.  ALL men were fair game.  Women were treated gently. Kids were moving targets.  I was allowed to pick on anything I wanted, from stupid fashion, to the management (which REALLY came in handy for keeping them away from my show).  If I ever saw a manager in the vicinity, I would first point them out to the audience, and tell the audience to say hello to them, and for them to say hello to the audience.  I would then tell the audience that if they had ANY problems with their visit on the boat, that they should IMMEDIATELY go to THAT manager to have their problems taken care of.  The managers learned to stay the hell away.

The show had all kind of gimmicks.  That joke manual was an encyclopedia of jokes to harass people by.  Baseball caps with letters.  How many things could the letter ‘C’ stand for?  Crappy. Creepy. Creep. Cuckoo. Congealed.  Crabby.   Crummy. The list goes on, and there is a list for every letter.  Colorful or oddly patterned clothing?  I know someone that’s got a shower curtain just like it. People LOVED watching other people get slammed.  Every once in a while I’d have the guy who thought he could be funnier than me, but most of the time I was able to put him in his place.  Then you’d have the low IQ oddball who would genuinely be offended, who would get mad and scream at me, telling me that I was ‘stupid’.  My response was ‘I’m stupid? Buddy, you’re the one standing here in public arguing with a puppet!’

One of my routines involved finding a teenager in the back of the crowd, and encouraging him to come closer to the puppet.  After several back and forths, ‘closer – closer – I’m OLD you dingy, I want to get a better look at you! Come closer!’ Around the front of the boiler was a protection rail that kept people back about five feet from being able to actually touch the boiler.  I’d tell the kid to come right under the rail and draw him right up into my puppet face.  My right hand was in the puppet head, and my left hand was through a sleeve that actually became the puppet’s left hand. With my hand, as the kid was a foot from my puppet face, I’d say ‘Yeah, that’s what I thought…the closer you get the uglier you get!’  Then I’d tell the kid that I had something in the back that would help him out with that problem.  And my left hand would go out of the window, reaching to the left where it would produce a brown paper bag, and hand it to the kid.  I’d say ‘You know what that is?’  The kid would respond ‘A bag?’ and I would tell him ‘That’s right son, it’s a bag.  Put that over your head, and keep America beautiful.’  Now, USUALLY the audience would just laugh, and the kid would throw down the bag and leave under the rail.  But one day I had a kid who just stood there laughing.  So I continued the banter. ‘Well, go on son, you know what to do…just take the ugly part and put it in the open end.’

I saw the gleam in his eye, and the idea forming.

Again, just off to the left I had another prop waiting for moments JUST like these.  And as I watched him open the bag, and start to move it into the direction of the puppet head, my left hand grabbed a spray bottle of water, and BULLSEYE…right in the middle of his forehead.  The bag flew, and so did he.

The water bottle also came in handy for torturing small children.  They’d naturally hold onto the rail in front of the boiler, and I would warn them to get their ‘grubby little rugrat fingers off my rail!  I don’t come to your house and fondle the furniture! Get you mitts off my rail!’  They’d drop their hands to their side, scared.  But as the show went on, eventually they’d forget and put them back on the rail.  I’d give the second warning.  They’d drop their hands from the rail.  Show progressed. They forgot.  Third warning, and this time they were funny, trying to be defiant and grasping their hands on the rail firmly, sticking their tongues out at the puppet.  So I told them.  ‘I warned you once, I warned you twice. This is your last chance.  Going once, going twice…’ and the hand would reach off, grab the water bottle and zip it out to spray the entire front row of children. (and let me tell you…you kids today, screw your video games…my aim was damned good after a month of practice – no joy stick needed)

‘GONE!’

One of my favorite moments from that show was this incredibly sweet little old lady who wanted the puppet to ‘smile’ so she could take his picture.  She fiddled with her camera, her husband fiddled with the camera, and I just sat their ‘posed’ waiting for her to take the picture, picking on her the entire time, making her laugh and lose any concentration on what she was doing with the camera.  She truly was new to the camera, and was just about to lose it laughing while trying to figure out how to take the damned picture.  Finally, she calmed down, aimed the camera, and FLASH!  The camera was backwards, and the flash went off in her own face.  I turned to her husband, and in one of the rare instances when I picked on a woman, I said ‘You got a real bright one there buddy! You’re going to go home, drop your film off at the Photomat, and take home 24 shots of her own eyeball.’

Now, the first time I did this show full out, I have to tell you…that puppet got lockjaw about ten minutes into the show.  My right hand cramped and locked. PAIN!

To this day, if you look at the palms of my hands, the pad at the base of my thumb on the right hand is a giant solid muscle. The left hand is normal.  I did this show for six months, fifteen minutes an hour, six times per day.  In the near future from this, I will work out like a fanatic for more than a year.  And none of THAT muscle managed to stay with me. But that one muscle in my right hand is still there like a scar from a past life.

So, after the initial training with Steve, and the hotel room seduction (yes, it happened again – they always wanted to get naked with me, but they never wanted me around afterward), I went in search of my ‘home’, which I found in a very small but very cute apartment in Soulard, which is a small and very old neighborhood just South of the city, in between the downtown area, and the Anheuser Busch brewery. It was basically one large room with a galley kitchen and a snack counter, a small bedroom, and a bath.  A few of the walls were exposed natural brick, beige wall-to-wall carpeting, high ceilings, and no upstairs neighbors.  There was a courtyard in the back yard, and another small place behind me that shared the courtyard.  In the little house behind me was Beth.  She was an older woman, lived alone with her little rat of a dog, that she loved more than anything else.  We became somewhat friendly, but I gotta tell you, it wasn’t easy riding in her car and watching her share licking an ice cream cone with the dog.

In the steamy summer humidity, the smell from the brewing Budweiser made the air even heavier, and stank with the aroma of sour hops fermenting.  On occasion, I would just sit out on the front stoop, which consisted of three steps, with a glass of wine, and the local NPR Jazz station playing in the background, feeling lonely.  I remember hearing one song that really knocked me out called ‘Small Day Tomorrow’.

I don’t have to go to bed

I’ve got a small day tomorrow

Small day tomorrow

I don’t have to use my head

I’ve got a small day tomorrow

I could sleep the day away

And it won’t cause too much sorrow

No, not tomorrow

‘Cause tonight this cat will play

She’s got a small day tomorrow

Now all of you big wheels

With all of your big deals

You are gonna need your sleep

But I’m a drop out

And I would rather cop out

Than run with all the sheep

Honey child, tonight’s the night

I’ve got a car I can borrow

Until tomorrow

And we can swing ’til broad daylight

‘Cause we’ve got a small day tomorrow

Now all of you big wheels

With all of your big deals

You are gonna need your sleep

But I’m a drop out

And I would rather cop out

Than run with all the sheep

Honey child, tonight’s the night

I’ve got a flat I can borrow

‘Til the day after tomorrow

And we can swing way outta sight

‘Cause we’ve got a big night

And a small day

Tomorrow…

I ran in the house to write down the artist and the recording, and I did.  I’d never heard of Janis Siegel, but she had a voice that melted me, a range that shook me, and the lyrics that caught me.  I lost the piece of paper, and never found her recording.  But I never forgot that moment.

I was able to walk to work in about 25 minutes, and the same for the trip home.  I wasn’t really making friends on the boat, and spent a lot of time home alone.  I did make friends with a girl named ‘Sunny’ – her real name was Kathleen Deterding – and her circle of friends, the Cabaret manager, Karen Milatti, and their other friend Rocky – whose real name was David Rodenberg – who was a barback or busboy or something.  Karen was one of the red hot mama types – brassy and brash, more than a little on the wild side. She had a couple of small girls, and lived in an apartment complex in the suburbs somewhere.  Rocky was her room mate, at least for a while.  But Karen was good people.  She was very nice to me, more so than anyone else at that time.  Sunny and I became partners in crime for a long while.  She was a beautiful girl.  VERY much on the Doris Day side of the scale.  Bleached blonde hair.  And I mean it seriously, she looked like an 80’s version of Doris Day.  She and I both had our boyfriend problems, commiserated, and occasionally went out dancing.  Don’t ask me where.  Rocky was a stocky red head, very sweet, trying to be macho, but I think a little in the closet.  I remember one day when I was at Karen’s, and we were going to all go to the pool, I asked Rocky (innocently) to help me remove the damned hair from my back before I went shirtless to the pool.  He stood behind me in the bathroom with a razor, gently scraping the hair off, pressed against me, and I could feel him getting erect.  He admitted it, but nothing happened about it.

The showboys on the boat were a mess for the most part.  A LOT of attitude and quite a few delusions of grandeur from Six Flags show kids.  There were a couple of hot ones though.  A couple of them even came after me, but again, it was for one thing only.  Joe Osgoode, the lead in the daytime kid’s show in the cabaret, Dr. Duck, was ‘friendly’ with me.  He was gorgeous.  Longer dark hair, very lean, hairy chest, and an amazing jawline and cleft chin.  He would visit me in my boiler, and we often got busy in between shows inside that boiler.  I think he may have come to my place once, maybe twice.  However, it eventually revealed itself that he was involved with a man of means who owned a very healthy bar and restaurant called Duff’s in the Central West End.  He was quite latched on to his sugardaddy, but liked to play on the side.

Bill Ledesma

Bill Ledesma was another player on the ship.  Typical steamy Latino.  Although it wouldn’t be until much later that I really got to know how typical, through experiences with a whole city of Latinos.  He worked me.  He knew he could.  Bill seemed to love to prey on guys with low self-esteem, draw them in, get what he was after, one quick fuck, and then become aloof.  He worked me.  He got me.  He ignored me.  He threw another log on his ego.

No one else on the boat expressed any real interest.  I made friends with the gal who ran the old time photo studio (did I mention this boat was Six-Flags managed?).  Can not remember her name.  We had some fun though hanging out between my shows.  I’d go to the photo studio, which was almost always empty, and we’d just chat and make fun of the people walking by, although we also acknowledged that we felt like we were in a fish bowl as they walked past and looked at us too.

Pappy Smudge

I took the puppet there and had a couple of photos done, as his own grand pappy and grand

Mammy Smudge

mammy.

I think she was starting to like me, and I thought she was a Lesbian.  Eventually the truth came out with the wash, and she said ‘Yeah, all the good ones are married, or something’.  I just looked at her and smiled and said ‘Yeah, ain’t I something?’

The business of this boat was filled with problems.  Aside from the management, the Unions made it nearly impossible to exist.  Six Flags certainly wasn’t going to pay for Union wages, so the Union people sat outside in lawn chairs with little cardboard signs asking people not to support the business.  St. Louis citizens are very good little sheep, and do what they’re told for the most part, so drawing business was difficult.  Then, after a while, when Six Flags decided it wasn’t making enough money, they started cutting corners.  It became somewhat ridiculous to see a show in the ballroom with a big band orchestra (on tape), and a full chorus of twenty coming out of four people.  They started cutting people left and right.  And there were some

Lindys Cabaret Show.

VERY good performers in this mix.  I can remember a gal named Christine belting out ‘Birth Of The Blues’ in a way I’ve never heard it live either before or since.  There were some really funny people, and I have to say the evening cabaret show was the best the boat had to offer.  A guy named Casey did a ‘Noel Cole’ routine, singing ‘Stout Hearted Men’ in the gayest way possible, including holding a cigarette in a holder, which he started off with in the ‘Roosevelt’ size position, and snapped to the Holly Go Lightly LONG position when he sang ‘Start me with ten – SNAP – who are stout hearted men’.  It was fun, musical, audience involving…and it was slowly killed off.

Most of the food on the boat was the same crap you’d get at an amusement park, the shops were the same lame overpriced chachki you’d get at the amusement park, and the entertainment was the same lame…well…you get the Six Flags picture.  And this was NOT a vessel that should have been treated in such a schlock manner.  This was a majestic piece of history and architecture, reduced to a shabby merry-go-round in need of paint.

A sad moment came the day I was sitting in the Cabaret during the daytime, watching a rehearsal.  It was the day after it had been announced that Bob Fosse had died.  As we all sat around, I said ‘Oh my god, can you believe Bob Fosse died?’  This group of ‘dancers’ and singers basically looked at me and said ‘Who?’  I kind of figured then…we’re in big trouble. I can’t comprehend how ANYONE can take ANY dance classes and NOT be introduced to Bob Fosse.

I had an enlightening incident while walking to work one day.  I needed to get to the boat early to have the puppet in a photo shoot for promo materials for the boat. I was almost to the boat when I came upon the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ booth that had been set up along the riverfront.  Growing up, my mother was a Pepsi person, so all I ever drank was Pepsi.  I approached the booth all rah-rah for Pepsi.  The sampling lady was very nice, and we engaged in a bit more Pepsi rah-rah.  I then took the two little soufflé cups and sipped from each one.  And I chose.  The lady looked at me sullen.

I chose Coke.  Or rather, my TONGUE chose Coke.

It was from that moment on that I stopped listening to any advertising bullshit.  From then on, my tongue and my feelings selected a product, not the influence a TV commercial had on my brain.

After that enlightenment, I rushed off to the boat with still a half hour to go before the photo shoot.  I stopped by the cabaret and chatted with Jacqui, the large bosomed French bartender who was very nice.  A few cabaret people

Casey Noel Cole Colgan and the adorable John Ricroft (in white)

started to drop in, John Ricroft, the tech guy Phil Elliott, who was straight but very open minded.  I had an enormous crush on him.  He

Phil Elliott

was half Japanese and half American, and he was gorgeous. A very good human being too.  I always thought John was adorable too, but he always played aloof.  Skinny, and furry with big blue eyes and a baby face.  He was part of the A-list on the boat, so I didn’t get into the inner sanctum.  So, I babbled for a half hour or so, and then headed down to the boiler for the photo shoot.  I reached into my pocket for my keys.

PANIC!

The keys were nowhere to be found.  After much mental step retracing, all I could figure was that I’d left them at the Pepsi Challenge, where I’d chosen Coke.  I made a rash of phone calls from the office, with Keith and Denise fuming, and finally got though to the Pepsi people.  They returned the keys to the boat in an hour.  I couldn’t thank them enough.

But I still don’t drink Pepsi.

As the shows were slashed into oblivion, the crowds started to slim even more.  There was a day that Dr. Duck got sick, and his understudy couldn’t go on. Denise was not happy with the understudy at all, and asked if I would give it a shot.  So I thought ‘what the hell?’ (and I knew I could do a better job) and crammed for the show (even though I pretty much knew it verbatim from watching it ever day, several times per day).  I dressed, and on we went.

It was great!  It went VERY well.  Denise saw me after the show and looked at me wide-eyed, and said ‘Watch THIS!’ She grabbed her walky-talky and headed back to the office to pow-wow with Keith about using me as a replacement.  Well, for at least one brief moment, I had someone in management from the boat in my corner.  Keith of course said ‘No’.

I was ‘permitted’ to do a bit of a promo though, dressed as Captain ‘Barnacle

Barnacle Bill

Bill’, with a talking seagull on my arm.  I was in a full costume, once again doing mascot/puppet stuff.  The seagull talked, I (the captain) did not. At least I got to be the voice of the seagull for an afternoon.

IN addition to the photo studio and other kitsch shops, they also had a recording studio, kind of like Karaoke in a booth, where you could record yourself singing and take home a ‘cassette’. (YES kids, this was 1987!)  So I decided to elaborate on the Scrooge ditty that John Hardman had done in Dallas (children roasting on an open fire), and completely re-wrote the Christmas Song as follows, and recorded it singing as Smudge:

Children roasting on an open fire

Grandma nipping at the booze

Yuletide carols being ruined by a choir

And folks dressed up like silly fools.

Everybody knows

Some vodka and some everclear

Help to make our noses bright

Grimy tots with their grubby little hands

Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They think that Santa’s on his way

And loaded lots of junk and garbage on his sleigh

And every mother’s child is going to cry

To see that reindeer

Don’t know

How to fly

And so

I’m offering this simple phrase

To brats from one to 92

Although it’s been said, many times, many ways

CRUMMY CHRISTMAS

To you.

John Hardman

John Hardman came to visit, and I loaned him the tape for a laugh.  Well, the laugh was on me. It was thrown into his briefcase and never returned.  I asked several times, but hey, who the hell was I?

One night as I was sitting on my front stoop, a guy walked by.  Tall, skinny, brown hair, blue eyes, an odd nose, and he did a double take.  And came back and started chatting.  We talked for about an hour, and I invited him in.  His name was Tod Johnson (yes, with one ‘d’), and he was a singer, who worked in a flower shop.  One thing lead to another and we ended up in bed.  I liked it, but didn’t think anything would come of it.  The next day, there was a knock on my door.  A delivery man, with ORCHIDS in a square glass jar, some kind of vines attached, and a cassette tape queued up to play a specific song – ‘Unexpected Song’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Song and Dance’.  So I put the cassette into my stereo, in the silence of my little apartment, with a bouquet of orchids from a cute guy I’d just done the dirty with, and I clicked PLAY.

Back on the boat, things were sliding downhill fast.  Staff was disappearing, but the BS was climbing.  Even a dead body floated up to the gangway one afternoon.  I wanted to get off the boat to go out to lunch somewhere, but the gangway was blocked while EMS fished the bloated body out of the river.  Of course, to the people on board, it was a free morbid floor show.  It was interesting though.  This was the first body I’d ever seen outside of a coffin.  I didn’t get close, but it was unpleasant enough from a distance.

Second Sunset on the SS Admiral

Kind of a sign for the boat.  The end was near, and the news finally came that they were going to shut down.  Six months into my supposed one-year contract (which was never fulfilled) the announcement came that the historical landmark and architectural marvel was closing.  For my last show, I gathered around the remaining cast members from the show (well, the ones who would bother showing up for something I did), and did my last show, pointing out to the audience (minimal as it was) that it was my last show, as well as most of the cast members that were mingled amongst them last show.  We were all hitting the unemployment line thanks to bad management and the union issues.  Dr. Duck was in the boiler with me – we’d borrowed the opera singer puppet from the Dr. Duck show – and I closed my last show by announcing, with a can of beer and the opera singer, that I was going out with a bang!

Click here to see one of the last shows, as audience numbers dwindled.  Bear in mind, it was out of the norm – I was doing a video tour of the boat for Linda’s birthday, and I got the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her.

Now John Hardman basically abandoned me in St. Louis, with only the option of going to Vegas staying on the table, and as I mentioned before, I never had any desire to live in Vegas (or even visit for that matter). So there I was, unemployed, stuck in St. Louis, no money, no leads, an apartment in Soulard, and somehow the responsibility of watching over all of John Hardman’s show things until Steve could come to claim it all.  Most of it went into storage, I think put there by the boat entertainment department remains, and I had things like the tools and some of the puppets that I had to lug around and store.

The irony, and further proof of the mismanagement was the story I heard about cleaning out the hull when the boat shut down.  They had been renting dishes for the various restaurants. Thousands of dollars on dish rentals.  Yet there, in the hull, were boxes and boxes of brand new dishes that had been bought for use on the boat…that had never even seen the light of day.

Was it lack of public interest that killed the SS Admiral?  Hardly.  It was piss-poor management from a greed mongering corporation – the exact type of thing that is still slaughtering our country, and most of our world today.  And the result is that a historical gem has vanished forever.

Now what.

Joe Osgoode introduced me to his ex, Kevin Moore, who worked for a puppet company as their assistant.  He thought they might be looking for help, so I went in to interview.

Kramer’s Marionettes.  A somewhat nationally known company run by two of THE strangest humans I’ve ever met.  Bob Kramer was a little neurotic Leprechaun of a man. Long 70’s kinky curly reddish-blonde hair, a beard, about 5’4” tall.  At least I think.  He was shorter than me, and I’m 5’6”.  He had a high nasally voice, and LIVED for his puppets.  He was like a sinister elf from Santa’s workshop.  He also had the most annoying and bizarre habit of fanning his fingers across his nose, kind of a scratching, making an odd flapping sound.  He spent the majority of the day in his workshop making marionette heads and puppet parts from clay and molds. He rarely spoke, and if he did, it was quick and abrupt, and then back to his workshop.  Socially inept is an understatement.

Douglas Feltch (and I’m not even going there), the pretentious ‘Dug’ for short (not the regular ‘Doug’), was a big bearded lady. Tall and chubby, and a complete girl.  And these two gems were (and still are) a couple. (from the link in their name above, click ‘videos’ and then ‘behind the scenes – and see the proof)  Dug did all the talking, like a grand dame, protective of his little elf, running the ‘front’ of the show so Bob could hide in the back and be ‘creative genious’.

They actually LIVED in this unfinished space, which had an office, a lobby, a workshop, a theater and stage, a basic bathroom and storage. There were no ‘living’ quarters, but they lived there anyway.

Kevin Moore and William playing card?

Kevin was a bit like me in the mindset, and a LOT like me in the looks.  On several occasions audience members would ask after a show if ‘the two blonde boys were brothers’.

So I was hired.  I spent several months dancing incredibly built marionettes around a small stage alongside Kevin (or Dug, if the Marionette was deemed far too intricate for the two of us dolts to handle), in what had been, up until I worked for Carnival years later, THE lamest shows I had ever been a part of.  Basically, take recordings from shows and movies, chop them up and into a storyline, dance some puppets along with it, the puppets lip synching with Carol Channing, or whoever, and give children a 30 minute show.  Pretty much what the cruise ships give you today, only the ‘production singers’ tend to be lip synching to their own voices.  When I wasn’t dancing the marionettes around, well, like most everyone else, they saw me as the waste of money to be used as the janitor.

Kevin and I did become friends, and he was my friend through at least three of my five years in St. Louis.

So now the boat is gone, and I’m stuck working for two uber neurotics for just about minimum wage, and living in an apartment that I could afford on what I was earning on the boat.  So my heart is sinking and I’m a bit depressed…and Tod comes to visit.  We have this big talk about feelings and

Tod Johnson

such, and I’m standing in my kitchen, with him standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room.  Tod then tells me “I really have to tell you something very important, and I’m worried it’s going to change things.  But I’d rather get it out of the way right now…I’m HIV Positive”

NOW?  He wants to get it out of the way NOW?  Not BEFORE we slept together?  Not BEFORE feelings got involved?  My head started to spin, and for the first time in my life I was about to faint.  Literally faint.  I had to push by him to get to the park bench in the living room to sit down before I fell down.  I still liked him, a lot.  And I certainly wasn’t going to process this in a minute and a half, but Tod was embarrassed and excused himself to leave.  And there I was, for the next several weeks, wondering ‘had I done everything right?’  In addition to the stress of being broke, needing to move, and wondering what the hell I’d done with my life, now I have THIS to worry about.

Tod never wanted to come back.  And he didn’t.  We’d talk on the phone once in a while, but I didn’t see him again until years later.

I can’t remember who it was exactly about Bob Chinsky and some catering service he ran, but someone thought I might be able to find work with him, especially since he liked young pretty boys, which I guess all the wrong people thought I was at that time.  Never the people I WANTED to think I was a young pretty boy, like casting directors, or guys my own age.  It was always the fuck ups who expressed that I was a young and pretty boy.  Bob Chinsky would become one of them.

He lived in the Debaliviere neighborhood in a shi-shi apartment building.  And he had an empty guest room.  He told me that he could rent me the guest room for really cheap if I just did a little ‘light’ housekeeping.  Sounded like a great deal.  Good neighborhood, great apartment, close to many more things than Soulard, so I agreed to move in.

In the meantime, I was job hunting, and ended up applying for Ticketmaster at the Fox Theater.

Fox Theatre, St. Louis

The Fox Theater was a 1920’s movie palace that had fallen into ruin, namely by being turned into a low rate kung-fu movie house sometime in the 70’s.  Fill the place with a bunch of young, stupid hi-YA minded kids, and the amazing architecture was karate chopped and kicked into bits.  The place was in such a shambles that the film crew for ‘Escape From New York’ decided to use it as one of the hide-outs in the film.  Mary and Leon Strauss and partners stepped in to rehabilitate this jewel, and turned it into a live theater.  The Ticketmaster offices were in one section of the building, with about fifteen to 20 phone reps with cubicles and computers, managed by Mary Lee Bortnem.  This was a crazy bunch of young…well…losers.  And I was one of them.  There were many boring days ahead here, but it did lead to a slight step up.  To kill some of the boredom, especially on Saturdays, we’d all play a little game.  Pee Wee’s Playhouse was a big favorite of a lot of the phone reps, so every Saturday morning we’d watch the show, and then come to work armed with the ‘secret word’.  This was WAY before internet, but our computers could communicate with each other in a very archaic type of message system.  So there we were, chatting on the phone with someone about seats 105 and 106 being too far, or too close, or too near the aisle, when a message would pop up on our screen containing the day’s secret word.  The phone conversation would come to a pause with us saying “I’m sorry, would you mind holding for one moment?  Thank you.” And our finger would hit the hold button, we’d yell ‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’ just loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to be disruptive, and then return to our phone call.  But before we got to re-entrenched in the phone call, it was our turn to message someone else with a stupid sentence containing the day’s secret word.  Then from two cubicles away we’d hear ‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’.

It was stupid, but it was fun.

While I was working at the Fox, I moved into Bob Chinsky’s home.  A small bedroom and my own bathroom.  All of my furniture from the small apartment was in my bedroom.  This was in summer of 1988.  Bob was NOT such a nice man.  He had moments, but what he had more of were moments of condescension, belittlement, neurosis and arrogance.  This was all coming from a man who had a bad coke habit, and addiction to little boys, was seriously overweight, and a serious superiority complex.  It became clear that I was to be his servant.  I cleaned up after Bob.  Bob was a slob.  Bob LOVED to barbecue and then smear barbecue sauce all over his glass dining room table top.  Bob would never lower himself to eat food out of Styrofoam or cardboard containers.  He left leftovers to rot in the fridge.  Bob’s bedroom dresser was covered with a layer of fine white ‘dust’, and I don’t even want to talk about the bathroom.

I found the best way to maneuver Bob was to be around him as little as possible.

After I moved in here, Steve Wise finally came to claim all of the Smudge and Admiral stuff.  He just swooshed in with a U-Haul van, sucked it all out, hand shake, thank you, buh-bye.  Never heard from anyone from John Hardman again.  The hell with the fact that I DID have a one-year contract that I signed, which only lasted six months.  The hell with the fact that I was one of the most popular little shows on the boat.  I was done with.

Shawn Churchman came into town to perform a show at the Muny, and paid me a visit one afternoon.  Sweet guy…no spark…still.

The Fox actually appreciated me for a bit.  I ended up being promoted to the main office receptionist.  Pat Katisch gave a certificate for being a model employee, and I moved up to the big office.  At that time, the Fox was run by Steve Litman and David Fay.  Rich Baker was general manager.  The Marketing and Pr ‘team’, was a mean and crabby woman in her early 40’s named Gail, and the other was a very sweet brunette in her mid to late 20’s whose name I believe was Angela.  The sweet one was the artist, the mean one was the PR, as in the person who was supposed to deal with the public and make nice.  We also had a house manager (Vikki?) and a volunteer manager (a very gay older man), a very butch Lesbian box office manager named Nan Downing, a sweet black woman in the box office named Marguerite, and her young daughter who I can’t remember.  Backstage was Scott Wolf, Sue, and a young girl named ‘Emmy’? Who was kind of backstage hospitality manager.  Every once in a while Leon and Mary Strauss’ son Adam would come in.  He liked to strut around and act important.  And Adam could strut around me ALL he wanted.  He was gorgeous.  In fact, one day, there was something going on in the lobby, and there was a balcony just outside our offices that overlooked the lobby.  I was standing there and Adam walked up…and the next thing I knew he TACKLED me…to the ground.  Oh my goodness, I jumped up, a nervous wreck, surprised I didn’t have the same reaction I’d had to Mr. Medlin in history class in Junior High, and seriously stumbled my way back to my office.  He never did anything like that again, and we never seemed able to really talk to each other after that.

That baffles me to this day.

Kevin Moore and I actually ended up hanging out quite a bit.  His friend Jacqui worked at The Improv or The Funny Bone, or one of those comedy clubs, and Judy Tenuta came to town, and we got into the show for free.  Judy came swirling to the stage via the audience and she touched me on my head with her goddess blessing.  The show was great, and afterwards Jacqui got us in to meet Judy.  She was quite subdued backstage, pleasant but not necessarily chatty.

One day while hanging out at Kevin’s, he popped in a cassette, very excited, and said that I had to listen to this awesome recording by the Alto from the Manhattan Transfer.  So he hit play and the first song came on, and it was good…then the SECOND song came on.  It was that amazing song I’d heard while sitting on the stoop of my apartment in Soulard sipping wine alone that night.  Now that I knew who she was, Janis Siegel, I fell totally in love with this woman’s voice and power.  To this day she is my number one favorite female vocalist.  Kevin lead me there.  (Click here to see the video and hear the song. Go to the section ‘caught on film’, click on ‘Small Day Tomorrow’. You will have to look at the bottom of the screen to the left for ‘open hi-fi’ and put the background music on pause. Then close the hi-fi.)

Kevin was crazy as I’d mentioned.  He had a VERY wicked sense of humor, and loved playing practical jokes.  He would do things like as we were walking down the street having a normal conversation about something and someone was about to pass us, as the person was in immediate earshot, Kevin would switch to a very clinical voice and say things like ‘And then you put the penis in your mouth.’  Then he would just carry on with the conversation we were having after the person had passed earshot. His brain also saw things in a very odd way, like I do most of the time, and say things that would not only make you think, but laugh your ass off.  For example, while driving one day, we drove past another car that was being driven by a man with almost no chin.  Kevin looked at him and then very subtly remarked “I wonder how he puts on a pillow case?”

On the practical joke side, Kevin would torture me by coming over to Chinsky’s home, and when I was in the bathroom, he’d find Bob’s stash of condoms, and quickly disperse them to various locations around the apartment.  The candy bowl. Propped on top of a picture frame on the wall. Under the phone receiver. The centerpiece on the dining room table.  As book marks.  And I would then run around in a panic trying to find them all so the lord of the house didn’t go into a pissy queen fit.  Kevin would do the same thing with candy wrappers.

The Fox was a nice place to work. There were definitely perks.  I met a lot of people that became friends.  Nan Dowling introduced me to several of her gay friends.  I kind of remember Kevin and I going out with two of them.  One was Carl, cute, slightly chubby dark haired, little mustache, and his friend Mitch, who was really into 1950’s kitsch.  We hung out a bit, and kind of switch-dated, but nothing came of it.  I vaguely remember all of us going to a show somewhere.  Jesse Raya was an adorable little Mexican guy with a beaming smile that was a music promoter, also friends with Nan.  Jesse and I actually dated for a short time.  The funniest physical thing about Jesse was that in addition to his jet black straight hair, pretty eyes and beaming smile, he would also wear jeans with the pants rolled up just above the ankles, which was one of the fashions of that day.  And he had really furry ankles…and hairy legs have always been a huge turn on for me.  So, the first time we get passionate and the clothes came off, I almost laughed.  Jesse had almost not a hair on his body…except for his ankles.  It was almost like he was wearing natural socks.

We did a lot of work with a company called Purrfect Print, and I got to know the people from there a lot too. Roy Warren was a large and very pleasant man who owned the print company where we had all of our copies made that were too large for our own machine.  He had a shop on the second or third floor of a building downtown.  A printing press in one room, with a smoking, drinking, country boy who ran it, a tall skinny red head, Chuck Smith, who made deliveries, and Roy’s wife Jan staffing the front desk and doing the books.  Roy was a good man who would later be an enormous help for me.

Our security crew were St. Louis police officers, and the only one I can remember was Chief Dale. He also ‘almost’ helped me out of a bind at one point later.

I got to meet a few celebs at that time, and got to see a LOT of them.

I worked backstage for one concert, and we realized that William still can’t work the late shift.  It started ok, with me being asked to pick up the headliner

Stevie Ray Vaughn

for the evening from his hotel in the Central West End.  It was Stevie Ray Vaughn. I didn’t know Stevie Ray Vaughn.  I asked ‘How will I recognize him?’ – they replied ‘He’ll be wearing his hat’.

And he was.  And a full length leather jacket, and with him came his GORGEOUS

Skip Rickert

assistant/manager Skip Rickert.  We drove back to the theater, no issues.  I was back stage for the concert, but didn’t really interact.  The opening act was Stevie’s protégé band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  After the show was over, around 1 am, I was asked to once again drive the Thunderbirds back to their hotel.  I was zonked.  Exhausted.  I pulled out of the parking lot, turned left onto Washington Boulevard and started driving.  The guys were chatting in the back, and very quietly, one of the guys reached up and tapped me on the shoulder.  He said ‘Uh, hey buddy…I think you’re driving on the wrong side of the road.’  Yeah.  I was.  A few years later Stevie Ray died in the helicopter crash.  This night could have ended the Thunderbirds.  Fortunately, no cars were coming.

They didn’t ask me to work nights again.  Kind of sad that I have this awful syndrome that I tend to sleep at night.  I missed out on a lot.

A horrible memory came up in the fall of 1988, while living at Chinsky’s.  The phone rang one day in late November, just after Thanksgiving, and it was Sondra Lengyel.  Once again, all she said was ‘John died.’  I didn’t really hear her the first time, and she simply repeated ‘John died.’  It reminded me of the time her boyfriend Tom Clark had died and I ran to help her at 3 am.  I asked her what she meant.

My friend from high school…my enormous crush…John Kerr had died of an accidental overdose Thanksgiving eve night.  John always had problems sleeping and waking, so he would take things to put him out and wake him up.  Kind of came with being the late night bartender.  John was staying at his parent’s house Thanksgiving eve to help the next day with Thanksgiving. He was home alone though because his mother was at another child’s home for the night.  He looked around the house for something to help him sleep, and found a bottle of Co-Tylenol, which had codeine, so he took a giant swig and went to bed.

John’s mother was a nurse.  John’s father had died of cancer, and in his dying days, mom took care of dad at home.  Mom failed to clean out the medicine cabinet after John’s father had died, and the Co-Tylenol had actually been laced with excess codeine to help ease dad’s pain while he was dying.

The next morning, John’s brother came to the house and knocked on the door and John didn’t answer.  He tried all the doors and tried calling from a

John Tunney Kerr - Rest in Peace My Dear Friend

phone booth nearby…no answer.  He climbed up to look in the window of the bedroom where John was sleeping, and he saw John just laying on the bed as if asleep.  But knocking on the window didn’t stir him at all.

John Tunney Kerr died November 24th, 1988 at the age of 27.  And I miss him dearly.

Back at work, the backstage manager, Sue, was trying to sell her car.  A very beat up 1972 Superbeetle that desperately needed repairs.  She had a new car, and needed to get rid of the old.  I hadn’t had access to a vehicle for about four years, and the price of $200 was right.  Another couple of hundred to get it going, plus all of the blah blah blah…insurance, license, etc.  So I became the owner of a powder blue (and rust) 1972 Volkswagon Super Beetle.  It was

Mine was NOT this nice.

a royal P.O.S., but I somehow really liked it.  Even though it had its quirks.  For example, if you set out to drive somewhere and it started to rain, once you arrived and turned off the motor, don’t expect it to start again until the engine dried out.  This little shit was definitely opposed to rain.  When it rained, the windows would all fog up…INSIDE. The only way to get it started after rain, other than leaving it sit and dry out, was to get a big push from another vehicle aimed downhill…the old fashioned jump start.  But for a few years, it got me around.

Godspell

One of the things it got me to was an audition for the River Repertory Theatre’s ‘Godspell’.  I sang ‘When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along’, and was cast.  I was cast as ‘Jeffrey’ who sings ‘We Beseech Thee’.  See my big number by clicking here. I found out later that they considered casting me as Jesus, but they leaned toward the skinny (and buff) Patrick Crane, who kind of disappointed them in the long run.  Disappointed me too.  He KNEW he was hot, and flirted and pretended to crush.  David Sievers played Jushas, and had the triple threat…bad actor, bad singer, bad dancer.  BUT, a legend in his own mind.  He had looks.  Patrick had looks and some talent.  I kind of teamed up with Joanie Bibeau, who was a really fun crazy woman on the stage.  Wilson Bell was a very sweet and talented closeted black man, and very cute.  Diane Parker was Hilarious. The big black mama. Judy Scheer and I were kinda sorta friends for a while, since she was exploring being a Lesbian, and we ended up hanging in some of the same circles. Kristen Zuehlke was the sweet girl, and Mica Letizia was the gentle sweetheart.  Mitchell Taylor, a large black man,

The Cast in the Riverfront Times

was a voice to be reckoned with, and a lot of fun to play with. Kate and Michael Stewart were the producer-directors, and at this time were fantastic people to work with.  The show was wrought with drama however, as I liked Patrick, David liked Patrick, David hated me, and we all cringed when David sang his first note, which ironically was the first note to open the show.  Leigh-Anne Wencker was the choreographer, and Dwayne Estes was the music director.  Dwayne was in a relationship, so he didn’t really give a shit about me or Patrick or David.

The show went fairly well, in spite of light audiences.

I can’t recall anything particularly interesting that happened in the show in the way of mishaps.  Truly, all of the drama was backstage.  But man, could Joanie find creative ways to add to the show.  One of the things that struck me about this show, that I will find ironic in another production much later is how SERIOUSLY the religious folks took this show.  I mean, when Jesus was on the cross singing ‘I’m dying’, the true religiosos in the cast were genuinely sobbing every night.  Didn’t matter about the venomous love triangle going on between three guys in the cast, and Jesus being the point of the triangle.

Kate Stewart (Cuba) would cross my path again in a couple of years…and it would NOT be very nice.

The main friendships to come out of that production were me and Judy, me and Joanie, and me and a friend of the choreographer, whose name was Phillip Alexander.

Judy and I just mostly kind of hung out once in a blue moon.  We never really did anything on stage again.  Judy and I just kind of ended up being toy boats in the same pond.  Only Judy had more business sense, drive and stamina for bullshit.  She was also a little active in the community, and I was as well, so we’d end up on the same plane often.  If I had to describe Judy’s character as an actress, I would say she was a cross between Carol Burnette and Lily Tomlin.  She looked a lot like carol, but had the PC drive that Lilly has.

Joanie and I explored being creative together, and I’m not quite sure what happened there.  I think perhaps we were the same mind in different universes.  We had similar ideas, but different ideas for following through and inspiration.  I took most of my inspirations from Vaudeville and old movies, and Joanie took most of hers from TV.  We both ended up creating murder-mystery dinner theater, but separately.  Joanie was an adorable wild woman.

Philip Alexander

Phillip was smoking hot, a dancer, crushing on Leigh-Anne (he was indeed straight, but open minded), a vegetarian, and all of that granola stuff that was going on in the mid 80’s.  We hung out several times, and I really liked his friendship.  He was awesome to look at, and fascinating to talk to.  He was supportive, and kind.  I lost touch with him and have wondered where on this Earth he could be.  But that has happened with a lot of folks…most of them, in fact.

Other than hanging out at a local diner and chatting, one of the more fun memories I have of Phillip was going to see Kenny Loggins together.  The ironic thing was that I worked at the Fox Theatre…and I couldn’t get tickets without paying through the nose for them.  I tried and was snubbed.  However, Kevin’s friend Jacqui Poor, who worked for the comedy club, called and got us four comps.  Made me feel real special. At any rate, we went to the concert, along with Jacqui and I think Kevin, and it was excellent.  Afterwards, Phillip REALLY wanted to get backstage and meet Kenny and of course, me, working in the building, had ZERO pull.  However, Jacqui headed right to the stage manager and came back with permission to go backstage.  So the four of us went backstage and met Kenny outside his dressing room.  I have to say, I was shocked.  Any time I’ve even see him on film of video, and even this evening looking at him on the stage…he looked short.  He looked like a skinny little guy with a whole LOT of energy. Now, here he was standing in front of us…at 6’3” maybe?  I couldn’t believe he was that tall.  Phillip first started with praises and then asked the really dumb question about Kenny ever maybe reuniting with Jim Messina, and Kenny turned a little cold.  He signed autographs for us, but slipped back into his dressing room.  Wasn’t my fault. I just stood there looking up at him wondering how he could look so tiny onstage.  I don’t think I said anything but ‘thank you’ for the autograph.

I saw a lot of performances at the Fox.  Belinda Carlisle, several Broadway shows.  I saw the tour of Cabaret with Joel Grey, and a friend that I’d known briefly in Pittsburgh, a whole episode missed earlier in this story, Jim Athens was in the ensemble.  We met and hung out one evening.

Back when I’d been in Carousel, one of the guys who hung out with the Blackhawk gang was Jeff Sherin.  The musical the summer following Carousel was ‘Fiddler On The Roof’, and I’d gone to see it.  Tim Bird and the Caplans were there, and they introduced me to Jeff Sherin.  Jeff was one of the whitest boys on the whole planet. He was almost white blonde, blue eyes, white, white, white skin.  A bit crazy, and incredibly horny and fun in bed.  Jeff was in a few Kennywood summer shows, and Jim Athens was one of his co-performers.  I had the biggest crush on Jim Athens who was gentle and sweet, skinny, with a delicious furry chest, and gorgeous eyes.  I believe he was a bit caught up in family issues at that time, so our ‘dating’ never really went anywhere.  Or, he didn’t want it to go anywhere, and the family issues were a good excuse.

It was great to see him again.  I was a little surprised to see ‘skinny’ turn into a kind of Cary Grant ‘full’ build, but he still looked great.

I got to see Tim Curry in a production of ‘Me and My Girl’ which was WAY too much fun.  Also one of the most brilliant set devices I’d ever seen.  At the beginning, the crowd is arriving for a summer at Hereford.  A huge silver 1920’s car rolls onto the stage loaded with people.  And as each person gets out of the car, they pick up a silver suitcase and head into the house.  The car is completely built out of silver suitcases, and by the time the crowd is gone…so was the car.

I saw the tour of ‘Into The Woods’ with Cleo Laine as the witch.  Tango Argentina which nearly put me to sleep. Grand Hotel with no one I knew, but which was a great show.  Chess, the totally crucified and butchered version.

One of my highlights of the Fox was going with Jesse Raya, sitting in the Fox Club, which had been newly opened, sipping wine and eating crudités, watching Whoopi Goldberg (who shares my birthday) do her one woman show. The grand moment was at the very beginning of the show.

Now, I need to set this up slightly for those who do NOT live in St. Louis. In St. Louis, before ANY public event or performance, and yes, even before the Broadway shows, the National Anthem is played. And those townies take that SERIOUSLY.  They are up on their feet, right hand slammed to their chest, chest puffed out, and bellowing notes they will never be able to hit.

Ahhhh, middle Amurica.

So, before Whoopi enters the stage, the voice comes over the loudspeaker and says the usual welcome, followed by ‘Will you please rise for the playing of our National Anthem’.  The crowd leaps to their feet, and you could almost hear a collective ‘PLAP’ as hands smacked onto chests.  The first few notes play.

Now, Whoopi is on a genii lift, extended up to the top of the main curtain.  As the curtain is going up, the genii is coming down.  Whoopi, in her Charmaine character (the rough, street wise addict) begins to sing…

Oh-oh say can you MUH-FUCKIN see?

BY the dawn’s early MUH-FUCKIN light…

Welllllllll…this was NOT what the townies wanted to hear in St. Louis, and they started marching up the aisles and out of the theater. I would say at LEAST a quarter, if not a third, of the audience stormed out right at the beginning of the show.

Jesse and I just sat and laughed at how clueless they all were.  It was in perfect character for Charmaine, who, in the Broadway show sings ‘Around the world in 80 muh-fuckin days.’

Whoopi was doing her show at the Fox, while the Comedy Awards were going on in L.A., so there was a camera crew backstage waiting to go to Whoopi if she won.  So the first act of the show went on for almost two hours, and then suddenly (she won) and intermission came.  She did her remote award acceptance, and then gave us like another twenty minutes of show.  And she was GREAT!

One other show that I can remember was when Michael Daloisio came to visit me in St. Louis.  I really wanted to treat him to the Fox Club, and take him to a show.  However, the only performance coming while Michael was there was Wayne Newton, who I’d never seen.  So I got us tickets, we had nice wine, food, and quite frankly, Wayne Newton did a tremendous show.  Michael SEEMED to enjoy himself, but in later years I would get bitched out for ‘forcing him’ to sit through Wayne Newton.  It was all about me, and what I wanted, according to him.

I kind of made friends (well, ok, glorified ‘acquaintance’) with Mary Strauss, who would occasionally ask me to help her with her Monday Night at the Movies events.  This was a really great idea for such a grand old movie palace.  Every Monday night Mary would show a classic film on the big screen as it was meant to be seen.  From classics like Casablanca and Gone With the Wind, to my favorite Singing In The Rain, and some more modern classics like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  I especially had fun with her on

Spritzing Mary Strauss

Singing In The Rain. We did raffle tickets and gave away door prizes, and I was more or less her ‘Vanna’, drawing the tickets and backing her up.  For Singing In The Rain we were there with an umbrella, and I took my Smudge water bottle with me.  And every time she mentioned Singing In The Rain, I held the umbrella over her head and sprayed the water bottle in the air.  Hey, it was dumb, but it got a laugh.

For Sgt. Pepper, she brought four guys (I was one of them) together to supposedly be the Beatles, and walk up and down the sidewalk before the show, with instruments, and none of us actually played.

Beatle Bob on the left

But it sure was fun making a lot of noise. Drew attention, that’s for sure.  One of the Beatles, the one in the left in the photo, was St. Louis’ notorious Beatle Bob.  A Beatle fan to beat all Beatle fans.

Mary Strauss was one of the few socialites to be somewhat reasonably nice to me.  But she only let me step so far into her echelon. I stayed in my place.  I played the happy little lap dog.

St. Louis (at least at that time) had a very interesting rule in place by the local government.  If an organization received money from the city, and thus the taxpayers’ money, then the organization had to give something back to the city.  Therefore, all public places like Museums, Theaters, Cultural events, even the Zoo HAD to give something ‘free’ to ‘the people’, and had free specific nights or days and free seats.

Many of these sites were located in Forest Park, which was the site of the 1904 World Fair.  All rolled into one huge urban park, actually 500 acres BIGGER than Central Park.  The park had a jogging track all around it and through it.  A golf course.  The ‘Jewel Box’, which was a glass botanical garden. The Art Museum, The History Museum, A skating rink.  Tons of canals and a boat rental place.  The zoo.  The Science Center Planetarium. The ‘Muny’, which was an enormous outdoor amphitheater that brought in the Broadway Tours in the summer.  9,000 seats, with giant fans to cool the seating area.  Giant trees growing basically ON the stage (which would occasionally be inhabited by escapee peacocks from the zoo a few blocks away) and the upper seating area…was free.  Ok, so 6’6” Tommy Tune looked like a Munchkin from the free seats (I saw him in My One And Only there), but what a great thing to encourage culture in a citizenship. This rule also applied to the upper balcony of the Fox Theatre.  There were lines around the block waiting for the free seats.  Free days at the zoo. Free admission to the Science Center (you only paid for special exhibits).  Free days at all the museums.

Kate Stewart was cast in the chorus of ‘Carousel’ at the Muny, so the cast members of Godspell gathered together for the free seats to see it.  I remember Joanie Bibeau being there, and Wilson Bell.  Maybe Judy Scheer.  Not sure who else. Carousel starred Rex Smith as Billy Bigelow.  I can’t remember anyone else in the cast.  Rex Smith is Frederick in Pirates of Penzance.  He was NOT a good Billy Bigelow.  However, he WAS more butch than Tim Bird.

As the show started, the little voice came over the P.A. System asking us to rise for the playing of the National Anthem. So our little cast stood up and sang along, and in harmony.  After it was over, an older couple in front of us turned around wide eyed and said ‘THAT was really GOOD!’  We thanked them and kind of giggled later.

After the show was over, we went backstage to meet Kate, got to shake hands with Rex Smith, and we all went out for a bite to eat. Well, Rex didn’t.

It might have been that night, not sure, but I remember another time that the cast of Godspell (those who liked each other) gathered at a restaurant somewhere.  We had a nice evening.

I saw quite a few shows from the free seats at the Muny.  And the cool thing was that if there were empty seats closer to the stage, during intermission, we could move down and fill them.  Saw Cats, Bye Bye Birdie and quite a few other that are escaping my mind at the moment.

Forest Park was ALSO quite the gay cruising area.  Guys would just drive around in their cars and try to hook up.  I met a few guys that way, mostly some oddballs (that’s generally what came after me).  There are two that come to mind. A very young kid, 19 I think, sweet face, mullet haircut, golden blonde (naturally) who drove around following me.  So I pulled over and we chatted, and he wanted to follow me home.  Well, I wasn’t going to turn down a sweet fresh faced guy who thought I was interesting.  So he followed me home.  And when he got out of the car, he was using crutches.  But not the ‘I broke my ankle last week’ crutches.  The serious crutches with the elbow braces and all.  After we got into the house, I discovered that he was paralyzed from the waist down.  He’d tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the chest, missed all the important stuff that would have done the job, and ended up shattering part of his spine. Well, he was adorable, and very sweet, and I certainly wasn’t going to send him on his way making him feel bad, so we crawled into bed, so to speak.  It was one of the more abstract sexual experiences I’ve ever had.  His legs just kind of…well…either flopped around like a rag doll…or they just laid there in a very odd and unnatural looking position.  I did see him a couple of times after that.  I actually would have dated him, but he kind of shied away.

The other ‘memorable’ gent was another somewhat young guy, more early 20’s this time, who followed me, but didn’t want to go into the house with me.  So we pulled up in a parking lot, and he asked me to come to his car.  We were in a place that was private, yet public enough that if anything happened, an escape was possible.  So I got out of my car and went to his. I opened the door and got into the passenger seat.  He had a beautiful face and great hair.  But this guy was totally handicapped.  His car had been adapted to his twisted arms and legs to enable him to drive.  I’m not sure what was wrong with him, but his hands and fingers were twisted nearly backwards, almost like if you tried to reach around and scratch your ass with the back of your hand.  His legs were disfigured as well, with leg braces to help keep his legs and feet straight enough to drive.  I really didn’t know WHAT to do with him.  I did NOT want to hurt his feelings, but I also didn’t want to have sex in a car, and he wouldn’t get out of the car.  So that kind of sealed that.

I don’t remember other pick ups from the park, but I DO remember vividly one evening when I was pulled over by the cops in the park, when I was NOT cruising.

I had gone to Kevin’s house for a movie.  We were both depressed, dateless, and we basically devoured a pint of ice cream each while watching some movie.  When the movie was over, I had to go home, and Forest Park was between his place and Chinsky’s.

As I drove through the cruising area, I saw the red lights come on, and I was pulled over.  ‘You know you have a headlight out?’  Well, actually no, I did not know this.  It was a 1972 Superbeetle standard P.O.S.  The lights NEVER quite focused properly on the road, not to mention the fact that I generally drove alone, and was not standing in front of my car with the lights on at any time.  Well, supercop, determined to make an example of ‘the fag’, made me sit in the cruising area, while other cars drove by and vanished, for almost a half hour.  They wrote me a ticket FINALLY, and sent me on my way, scowling at me like I was a criminal.

So what I had to do was get the headlight fixed, have it inspected by a police officer, take the ticket to city hall, pay the fine and be done with it.  Well, getting the light fixed was easy. I took it back to the guy Sue had recommended for overhauling the bug in the first place.  $25…fixed.  I took it to work at the theater, where all of our security guards were off-duty St. Louis Police officers, and Chief Dale inspected it, and signed off on the ticket.  Now all I had to do was take it to City Hall and pay the fine.

Well, to accomplish this, I had to make ‘arrangements’.  I worked 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.  City Hall was open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Typical lack of logic from Bureaucracy. So I told the theater I would be late so that I could go and pay this stupid ticket.  I drove downtown and discovered that the parking lot for City Hall was half blocked off for some ‘VIP Event’, which of course I was NOT, and the other half was packed full from lack of space thanks to those oh-so-important people.  I drove around and every damned parking meter downtown said ‘No parking until 9 am’.  Finally, at about 2 minutes until 9, I said the hell with it, and parked at a meter.  I reached over for my bag, and dug around.  After driving in circles for a half hour, I discovered that I’d forgotten the ticket on the table at home.  I would have to do this all over again the next morning.

Second day and second attempt, same story.  Parking lot half blocked for ‘important’ people function, rest of lot full. Meters all said no parking until 9…WAIT!  A VAN! Pulling OUT of a parking space along the building of City Hall!  Hallelujah!!  The van pulled out and drove off, and I pulled in, grabbed the ticket in my hand and turned to open the car door.  There, outside my window, was a badge in the hand of a St. Louis officer who barked ‘Hey, we need this space’.  I stared at him coldly for about a second and a half – angry, but not in the mood to get beaten up for being defiant – and I said through clenched teeth… ‘FINE…take it’.

I went back to work and threw the ticket away.

It was coming close to time to move out of Bob Chinsky’s place.  I was working, needed to find my own place, and stop being the slave boy.  I do have one other memory of Chinsky and his entourage to share though before I go.

There was another gay couple living in the building that were friends of Bob’s. One guy whose name I don’t remember, and his partner Alan.  This actually connects back to another memory from years back in Pittsburgh.  One thing I’ve forgotten to mention in this story is that I used to jog.  Jogging, biking, and swimming were the only athletic things I could really tolerate.  I’ve never been the competitive type, as high school will attest, but to keep in general shape, I jogged.  I jogged in Beaver, I jogged in Shadyside, I jogged in Dallas, and I jogged in St. Louis.  But this memory relates to jogging in Pittsburgh, specifically in Shadyside.  One day, as I was jogging up Negley Avenue toward Fifth, where I would then turn right onto Fifth and continue into Oakland, I noticed a car kind of cruising me.  In it was an older man with that 70’s mustache, kind of leering at me in that Chester-the-Molester kind of way.  He drove by and turned right, and apparently made a circle around the block when we made eye contact, be it brief.  As I was just about at Fifth Avenue to make my turn, there he was again…this time masturbating in his car as he drove by drooling.  Today, that might flatter me, but at that time in the early 80’s…not so much.

So one day, I’m walking into the building in St. Louis, and a man comes out the front door as I’m going in.  He held the door for me and I thanked him, and went inside.  I turned around and glanced again, thinking he looked kind of familiar, but from where??

A few weeks later, Bob’s friends from the building came to visit, Alan and his partner.  And the partner was the same guy who held the door.  Alan was beautiful.  Tall, dark and handsome.  Very furry, lean, kind of ordinary with glasses, but a very attractive ordinary. He was a nurse.  But I kept looking at his partner and wondering why he looked so damned familiar.  I left the room to leave Bob to his company, and overheard the partner comment that ‘You haven’t made it with THAT? What’s wrong with you Bob?’  I went into my room, and scanned my memory banks over and over trying to place the face.  And BINGO…it came to me.  THIS was the guy masturbating in his car in Pittsburgh!

I eventually ran into Alan a few times alone, and we ended up having a little fling.  I mentioned having recalled the incident in Pittsburgh, and he said ‘Yeah, that sounds like him’.

At this time a lot of things were starting to perk.  Someone from the boat had referred me to audition for another kind of riverboat show, which was lead by Steve Milloy.  I started rehearsing, and we were rehearsing in the basement of the St. Marcus Church.  Something happened, and I completely lost my voice.  Not for a few days, but for something like two months.  Steve and I became friends.

The Fox job came to an abrupt end, thanks to Gail the ‘PR’ person and the religious zealots.  This was when ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was being released.  The Fox was a live theater, only doing CLASSIC movies on Monday nights once per month.  When word of the film got out, the right wing whack-jobs (the predecessors of the tea party) started calling ad nauseum to threaten us with a boycott if we showed the film.  Well, I was the lowly receptionist.  They were NOT going to be happy talking to me, and after the first one or two calls, NO one else in the entire staff was going to talk to THEM.  Gail was the one who SHOULD have been handling them, but instead she played the aloof card, and dumped the responsibility to rid us all of the freaks…on me.  I tried EVERYTHING to convince the tunnel-visioned idiots that we were a LIVE theater.  We didn’t SHOW first run films.  They didn’t want to hear a word of logic from me (or anyone for that matter) and insisted that they be contacted by someone more important than me.  I took messages.  I delivered messages to Gail. Then I delivered them to Rich Baker, the general manager, explaining that Gail refused to call anyone, and that the religious fanatics were all getting pissed at me for ‘not giving the messages’.  Rich did what every good manager does, and dismissed me.

One day, a raving lunatic of a woman, whose voice I recognized from maybe fifteen other calls that she’d made, called and started screeching at me about talking to ‘someone else’ I gave her the bottom line about being a live theater, NOT a movie theater, and told her in a calm but point blank manner that because of the masses of calls from people who would not listen to what we were telling them, that NO ONE in the theater would take ANY of these phone calls.  She shrieked at me to GIVE her call to SOMEONE else!  I told her again that NO ONE else would TAKE her call!  She then screamed “I don’t care…just put me somewhere!” and I replied “Ok, ma’am, I’ll PUT you somewhere!” and I transferred her to a dead line and left her there on hold.

Well, apparently, this bitch wrote a letter, and all of the blame was put on me.  Gail fired me.  No logic.  No discussion. No admission that maybe she’d not handled things the way SHE should.

Before I depart the Fox Theatre though, I do have to finish off a few memories.  David Fay was a terrific guy who now runs Fox Theatricals.  He and his wife hired me to do some basic renovation work at their home.  Stripping paint from old woodwork, and then painting.  They’d bought an old house that was gorgeous.  Nice what money can do.  Not that I’ll ever know.

Steve Litman was also very cool.  He was the head producer and mover and shaker when it came to the music tours coming in.  He was a very small man that most people in the theater were afraid of.  Short, skinny, bearded, dark hair…very attractive in my eyes actually.  But Steve, who was often accused of suffering from ‘LMS’ (little man syndrome), was never anything but professional and friendly to me. He didn’t get close, but he didn’t belittle me either.  I always respected Steve, even though I never really knew him…nor he ever knew me.  I also recall a few times that Steve let me raid his demo box.  Every few months he would unload his demos that had been sent to him by bands wanting to be booked into the theater.  I still have a bunch of those cassettes to this day.  None of them ever went anywhere.

Fox Theatre Grand Staircase and Lobby

I remember coming into work one morning and hearing very loud music.  As I walked down the hallway toward the office and looked down into the lobby, there was a band set up on the grand staircase.  A fog machine filled the air with smoke, and a recording was playing, while a camera crew filmed what was going on on the staircase.  It was Chicago, lip synching a live telecast to Japan.

For a year, I had quit smoking.  I think it started with Godspell, trying to keep my voice clear.  I was vehement about not letting people smoke in my office.  Yes, I was one of those awful ex-smokers.  Scott Wolf always walked into the reception area with a cigarette in his mouth, and I barked at him to put it out, or finish it outside.

On the day that I was let go…I was on my way down the hall, and he was on his way up the hall.  As we passed, he told me that he was sorry to hear, and that it sucked.  I agreed, and said ‘Hey…Scott’.  He said ‘Yeah?’  And I said…

Give me a cigarette, please…

He laughed and said ‘Ohhh, you motherfucker!’

He gave me one of his smokes, and I said ‘Got a light?’

Well, it was time to move out of Chinsky’s, and I looked through the papers and looked at a bunch of dumps, or overpriced average places.  I finally found a place in the Hoosierama of South St. Louis, SOUTH of Gravois, on Minnesota Street.  It was owned by a woman named Sandy, who lived right around the corner.  The building was a duplex, with one space downstairs and another upstairs.  It was an amazing space, that was totally slumlorded, but Sandy claimed she wanted to renovate it.  I took the Upstairs. Somewhat battered hardwood floors, high ceilings, a full living room with a non-functioning fireplace, a full dining room, and the two rooms were separated by wooden columns.  A small front room that I started to use as an ‘office’, a bedroom, and a kitchen with no appliances.  I believe I had to find my own stove and fridge, and ended up with some serious vintage appliances.  The bathroom was really shoddy, but…the piece de resistance…an old fashioned clawfoot bathtub.  Some of the slumlording was quite severe.  At the bottom of the stairs, leading to the front door, was a five or six foot section of ceramic tile that has been polyurethaned.  We’re not talking brush strokes.  We’re talking DUMPED.  It was like a solid sheet of plastic covering the ceramic tike so that you couldn’t even feel the grooves between the tiles.  AND since the floor wasn’t even, it was slightly thicker on one side than the other.  This method was also used in the bathroom.  Old blue tiles, buried in polyurethane.  Around the toilet, I don’t think they cleaned before they polyurethaned.  They just sealed the piss stains right in.

The woodwork, as I have experienced in MANY of these grand old slumlorded rentals, had been painted BROWN to look like…wood.  Can someone on this planet explain this brainset to me?

The downstairs neighbors were about as white trash as you could get.  Man and woman, in their thirties I would say, screaming at each other, with two shrieking rugrats.  Loverly.

Sandy and I started out as friends.  She loved to bake.

The building had a huge front stoop, and a small back yard with parking, so my blue bug generally ended up in the back yard parked.  Occasionally I did park on the street out front.

There was a store in South St. Louis that was astounding, where I found a LOT of my furniture.  It was somewhere around Grand and Gravois, and I can’t remember the name of it, if it even HAD a name.  It was run by a skinny old man who would go into estate sales and buy everything up, and then just PILE it in his story.  Two floors.  Five or six aisles that were barely the width of a human…one often would need to turn sideways to clear something sticking into the aisle.  There would be a couch, with a coffee table on top of it in the cushion area.  A dresser on top of the coffee table, and chairs on top of that.  From antiques to garbage.  I found my dining room suit there, and most of my other furniture.  One day, I was squeezing my way down one of the aisles, and saw a serious antique dresser that was beautiful, although in need of some scratch cover and tender loving care.  As I looked closer, I noticed something sticking out of the side that was hidden by another dressed nearly pressed up against this piece.  It was a piece of metal…and as I slid the other dresser a few inches away from the object of my affection…I exposed…a CRANK.  This was an old cabinet style Victrola – INTACT!  SOLD for $25!

So my house was mostly full of antiques, although not the high end variety, no curtains or blinds on the windows, and I lived alone in the Hoosierama.  Now, for those who don’t know what a Hoosier is, it does not refer to people from Indiana when you live in St. Louis. A Hoosier is like a yahoo, a hick, or as we used to call them in Western Pennsyvania, a hoopie. Basically, white trash.

On the job front, however, I was kind of screwed.  I ended up getting hired by Roy at Purr-Fect Print, making copies, making deliveries, and other things around the office.

I also answered a call for an audition at the St. Marcus Church.  And this was about to open a whole new can of worms in my life.  Great big, slimy worms.

I started the rehearsal process at St. Marcus for some bizarre passion play that was going to be told in some odd way, being lead by the Reverend Dickson Beall.  Reverend Beall had no idea what he was doing.  He had a dream, and no ability.  But then, Reverend Beall was odd on many, many levels.  He had a cable low-rate evangelical show, was a big supporter of the arts, and apparently had quite a few skeletons in his closet, including something to do with the ‘closet’.

In the beginning however, Dickson was very helpful and supportive.  Can’t say the same thing for the rest of the church.  There were some old time bible thumpers who never thought the ‘theater’ should have anything to do with ‘the church’, and they fought everything anyone tried to do tooth and nail, even though they never actually came out to see anything that was done there.  One man in particular, Al Ura, put on a good face in front of those he wanted to throw out, but stabbed them in the back as soon as they turned around.  Just like the fanatics fighting the movie, they were rallying against something they’d never seen.  But then again, they live their entire lives for an invisible man in the sky that they’ve never seen.

Dickson wanted to turn the basement of the church, an old small rec hall of sorts, into a theater, and for some reason he chose me to be the one to help.  We did a lot of ‘gentleman’ agreeing, with nothing on paper.  Too bad only one of us would turn out to be the gentleman in the agreement.

Me and the Stage of The St. Marcus Theater

The space had a very small stage, its own entrance, a fully stocked kitchen in the back, bathrooms, and could seat about 50 people at small tables and chairs, or more with just chairs.  After some discussion, we decided to turn it into a coffee house/dessert theater of sorts, both producing our own and allowing other local groups to come in and utilize the space.  By allowing other groups to come in, we could piggy back off their marketing and gain more exposure.

And this is what we did, putting us on the map within three months in St. Louis as ‘The Other Fox’. Well, the big boys at the Fox Theatre took issue with the name, and of course had to prove their power and might by sending a cease and desist letter, making us have to change the name, which we did, to ‘The St. Marcus Theatre’.

At the same time, I was missing one big thing about Dallas.  S.T.A.G.E.  And all that they did for the performing arts community in Dallas.  I noticed then that no other city I’d been in had anything like it (except Chicago, which I would learn later), and I thought it would be great to start something similar to benefit the community of St. Louis. With Dickson’s blessing, Onstage St. Louis was born, and incubated at the St. Marcus Chuch.

Now, one BIG thing to bear in mind is that the state motto of Missouri is ‘The Show Me State’, and I learned FAST exactly what that meant.  In a nutshell it means that we aren’t coming out to try anything you have for us until you SHOW us that it works, which of course, creates a giant catch-22. Finding support for something unproven, especially when you’re an outsider, is like pulling proverbial teeth, and man, did I meet with GREAT opposition in the few years that the organization tried to exist.  The ironic thing is that the steadfast supporters that I had were all the ‘outsiders’ themselves.  The low men on the totem pole that St. Louis never took seriously.  Thank goodness for the other ‘underdogs’, or I wouldn’t have accomplished anything.

The dessert theater actually started out very well.  Sandy the landlady was a

St. Marcus Theatre Coffeehouse

cheesecake queen, and we offered a nice menu of affordable desserts and coffee/tea specialties, served before the show started and refreshed at intermission.  The agreement with Dickson was SUPPOSED to be that after expenses, we split the money between me and the church.  So I could make a little living.  I made nothing from Onstage St. Louis, and was surviving on the Purr-Fect Print job.  Well, expenses kind of ate most of what we brought in

The agreement with other arts groups using the space was that they paid a percentage of what they took in as their ‘rental’.  It was extremely simple, and somewhat popular.  Charge $5 to get in, pay the venue 50 cents per head.  Charge up to $10, and give $1 to the venue. No one paid more than they made.

I produced two shows, both scripts that I had worked with at Lounder’s in Pittsburgh. The Man With The Plastic Sandwich, and Wally’s Café.

Sean Ruprecht (seated) and John Larrabee

The Man With The Plastic Sandwich starred John Larrabee, who was a local radio personality, Sean Ruprecht, my friend Joan Bibeau, and Lisa Sword.  Violet Horvath directed, and did a great job, the whole cast did, and the show was reasonably successful.

Violet I got to know by volunteering at another small local theater, The Theatre Project Company, along with Chris Campbell. They were both on staff at that theater, and I would lend a hand ushering or staffing the concession stand.  The performances were held at the New City School, and it was actually a VERY good theater company. While at the theater I also met a guy named Bob Herman, who I would work for a little later.

I kind of dated Chris Campbell, who was THE whitest boy in the whole wide world. Milky white, from his hairs to his skin.  Blue eyes, hairy body.  VERY nice guy, but could be more sarcastic that I could ever be, and that’s actually saying something.  Chris was my room mate in the Hoosierama for a while, and then brought his ex boyfriend Shannon into the scene.  When Chris eventually moved out, Shannon stuck around.  Shannon was a painter, and a very stoned artist type, but not too bad on the eyes, and was the boy…well…endowed.

In addition to trying to keep Onstage running, and the coffeehouse and theatre running, volunteering at other theaters, I was also volunteering at the Gay News Telegraph, by helping with layout and typing, as well as monthly bulk mail sorting and delivering papers to the local news shops and bars.  Sometimes the activities would cross, and I’d be doing bulk mailing sorting and labeling in the basement of the church while attending to other things.

I hated delivering the papers to the bars.  I’ve never actually been a fan of bars at all.  Maybe it stems from my father’s addiction to the Cactus Lounge, or my disdain for the stereotypical gay ‘culture’, but there it is.  I had to rent a U-Haul truck to do the pick up from the printer in Illinois, and then deliver a bulk to wherever I’d be processing the mail and deliveries, and then deliver the rest to the local spots.  One day, while trying to maneuver a giant U-Haul through the Central West End, and rounded the corner by Rothschild Antiques, where the asshole owner, Pete Rothschild, had parked his Volvo directly on the corner, making a right hand turn by a large truck impossible.  As I slowly tried to maneuver the turn, I ended up with the front left side of his bumper in the middle of the U-Haul’s rear wheel well.  Nothing had actually made contact with anything, but I was stuck.  If I drove forward, I would have caught the bumper. I tried to get Pete the owner to simply back his car up, into an actual legal parking spot, and the man verbally attacked me, claiming that I had wrecked his car and done serious damage.  NOTHING had touched his car, but there were scratches on the RIGHT side of his bumper. The U-Haul was on the left side.  He actually tried to blame the scratches on the right on ME.  When I started screaming about the illogical statements he was making, when ALL he had to do was LEGALLY park his car, and back it UP five feet, he finally shut up and backed up the car and I could be on my way.

At the time, the Gay News Telegraph was run (and very effectively) by an incredibly nice man named Jim Thomas, with several people on the ‘board’ who were also pretty decent humans.  Including a man named Rudy, who owned a restaurant downstairs called ‘The Sunshine Inn’, which was a very earthy vegetarian place that was one of the best veggie restaurants I’d ever been in.  Jim also worked at UMSL for the local NPR affiliate.  One night I also ‘volunteered’ for pledge drive night, and it was the drive home that night that I discovered that it rained INside my car and the windows all fogged up in the rainstorm.  I also got to know Julie Davis, or Julie Morelli (she went by Davis, but I believe her name was actually Morelli – she actually looked like a nice Italian girl, albeit fem Lesbian) who helped with the graphic layout, and who also worked for the Sheldon Concert Hall.  Julie and I became good friends, or as good as friends as people tended to be in my life.  We would hang out for lunch or dinner at Sunshine Inn, she introduced me to some of her friends, and other people involved with the paper, and the Sheldon Concert Hall, and there was this whole little community cluster that kind of orbited around within this cluster.  Even Judy Sheer was mixed into it here and there.

I always admired Julie for some reason.  She kind of reminded me of a female John Kerr physically.  Similar face and eyes.  She was a very talented artist, and did really nice things for the Sheldon and for the newspaper.

Unfortunately, the church was taking offense to the Gay paper being sorted in their space, so I ended up moving it into the basement of my apartment building.

I started to discover a serious problem with the apartment.  Aside from the usual slumlording, which I had actually started to work on (removing paint from woodwork, and generally trying to make things look a little more normal), there were roaches.  It took me a month to get Sandy to do anything about it, or even look into it, but when the bug man finally came to visit, he ‘enlightened’ me as to what was happening.  Not only was I seeing roaches walking around in daylight, but I was finding the little empty egg packets in drawers and occasionally on counters.  The bug man informed me that for a roach to leave an egg packet out in the open like that, that it means the walls are too FULL for them to leave them in the wall.

YIKES!

He sprayed monthly for about three months and then Sandy stopped paying for it.

The white trash downstairs finally moved out, and Sandy wanted me to help clean it up a bit to enable someone else to rent it.  There was paneling in the front hall, which was buckling, and the nails popping from the wall.  I pulled it down, and it was like a scene from a Hitchcock movie.  Roaches everywhere.

In addition to all of the other volunteering, I ended up getting involved more with the Sheldon.  At that time, the Sheldon was managed by Walter Gunn.  Now, if there was ever a man that I met in my life who was truly to be ‘looked up’ to, it was Walter Gunn. Walter was a Maverick, with true ‘community’ in his psyche.  Walter ran the Sheldon as the community Jewel that it should have been.  The Sheldon was a concert hall, built to be a true concert hall.

The Sheldon was designed by the noted 1904 World’s Fair architect Louis C. Spiering, and was built in 1912 as the home of the Ethical Society of St. Louis. Musicians and public speakers throughout the years enjoyed the perfect acoustics of the Sheldon Concert Hall, earning The Sheldon its reputation as “The Carnegie Hall of St. Louis.” Well-known singers and ensembles performed at The Sheldon, and speakers such as Albert Einstein, Dwight Eisenhower and Ernest Hemingway had spoken from its stage. The St. Louis Chapter of the League of Women Voters was founded in The Sheldon’s Green Room.

When the Ethical Society relocated to St. Louis County in 1964, The Sheldon became a primarily music venue. Then, in 1974, a former singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra purchased the facility, transforming The Sheldon into a church and the site for many glorious jazz and gospel concerts. A California attorney with a love for chamber music purchased the building in 1984 at the urging of the Paganini String Quartet. He began operating The Sheldon in 1986 as a venue for concerts and community events.

Walter was loved by the community, which he embraced completely, with no prejudices.  He saw no racial boundaries, sexual identity boundaries, or social status boundaries.  Walter saw people as people.  Mostly good.  However, those in St. Louis at that time with the money and power did NOT see Walter as a good man, but rather someone who stood I their way of claiming the building and making it what THEY wanted it to be.  Straight and white bred.

Walter brought in some amazing performances, and I ushered many of them so that I could ‘afford’ to see them.  I saw Kate Clinton live at the Sheldon.  Donna Key was the house manager, and a very sweet gal.  Donna eventually trusted me well enough to be kind of the green room guard and refreshment guy on occasion.  I was backstage for some operatic performance by a student from UMSL, and Bobby McFerrin’s father was the master of ceremonies.

When the Sheldon needed money for renovations, Walter brought in a video team, headed by Dan Lebental, and for a week, we all worked on a music video that was aimed at raising awareness and money for the Sheldon.  Burt Lancaster made his final film appearance, as president of the ACLU to show HIS support for the concert hall and the work Walter was doing.  I stood 50 feet away and watched Burt Lancaster get out of a stunning vintage car, look at the Sheldon, and raise his hat to the jewel.  I worked as a set production assistant for the shoot.  I met Doree Wren, a local casting director, on that set, and we became friends, and would soon work together on a project or two. I also met Doug and Cami Middleton who would be great friends. Doug was a beefy dark Greek or Lebanese guy with a sweet personality, and Cami was a fun and fantastic black woman.  I will never forget having a discussion during one of our ‘hurry up and wait’ periods about the differences between the Northerners and the Southerners.  Cami nailed it as I was thinking it.  She said:

“I’m going to tell you right now the difference between Northerners and Southerners!  In the South everybody just LOVES you – why how have you been? We haven’t seen you for AGES – and what have you been UP to, and oh my, we MUST do lunch! I’ll call you next week!  Then you find out three people later how they’ve been talking about you behind your back and how much they really hate you.  THAT’S the Southerner!  In the North, either we like you, or we DON’T like you. If we like you, we REALLY like you, and we show it.  If we DON’T like you, we’re going to TELL you we don’t like you. And if we don’t like you, we’re going to tell you WHY we don’t like you, and we’re not going to waste out time with stupid pleasantries that are insincere.  BUT, that doesn’t mean we don’t respect you, and can’t work with you, and appreciate your abilities.  That is the Northerner!”

I remember spending a day at Doug’s family home in some far away suburb, and riding on his motorcycle to get there.  It was kind of nice…holding on (ok, for dear life), and feeling close to a great guy. He wasn’t really my type, being a little too beefy, and very straight, but it was a nice feeling nonetheless.

One of the days of the video shoot, I had been up almost all night.  I was

Thank you photographer, whoever you were.

exhausted, and I had spent the previous day standing out in the rain.  A photographer recoding the events on the set took a phenomenal photo of me.  I was soaking wet, and feeling like crap.  Cold and sniffly.  But this man, whoever he was, gave me one of my most favorite photos of me ever.  Too bad I wouldn’t last like this very long.

That morning, one of the bartenders decided I needed some orange juice to help ward off the cold.  She grabbed a karafe of OJ from the cooler, and poured me a huge glass and said ‘drink!’.  I did, and it tasted sour, like OJ going bad.  I mentioned that it tasted funky.  Doree took a sip and said “OH MY GOD!  Don’t drink that!”  I asked why and she replied “That’s a pre-mixed screwdriver!”

Out for the count.

I’m suddenly remembering a blind date.  We didn’t have internet then.  Just good old fashioned personal ads in the local alternative press, the Riverfront Times.  I can’t remember if someone had answered my ad, or I’d answered his ad, but we planned to meet at some Italian Restaurant.  We met, and he was nice looking.  Extremely queenie.  Not just feminine…queenie.  Another one who described himself as masculine.  We ordered our food, and conversation was ‘strained’ to say the least.  After some food had arrived, and the conversation grew even more aloof and bleak, I finally asked point blank what the problem was.  He looked at me sheepishly, and said in this little squirrelly girly voice…’I thought you be more handsome’.

I leaned back in my chair and looked at him. “Oh?” I said, “Sorry to disappoint you.” He just shrugged. I pulled out my wallet, put my money on the table for my portion of the meal, and said “Good night.”

So, back to the Sheldon.  Walter had put together one amazing video, with a gal named Denise singing the theme song ‘Sweet Sheldon.’  The entire building, and community were showcased in this video. The building was simply gorgeous. The concert hall was wood lined, which made it acoustically stellar. On the top floor was a grand old ballroom with a stage, behind it a kitchen.  Behind that was the bank of offices, and down on the first floor was an art gallery.  Even the green room was stunning, with old wood book cases filled with old books.

The video premiere party was amazing and fun, with the entire cast and crew turning out to watch the finished product of a lot of hard work, all done volunteer.  Not only was the cast and crew in attendance, but so was the board of the ‘Sheldon Arts Foundation’. This amazing video was shown only once – the night of its premier – the board that threw Walter out of the organization he had founded, shelved the video and vowed it was never to be seen again – because of the “drag queens and blacks and lesbians.” Walter, and all of the people who worked on the video…don’t own it. It belongs to the ‘Foundation’.  Burt Lancaster’s last appearance on film…he was there in solidarity to our push back against discrimination. It remains a powerful anthem to the time, never to be seen again, because of small minded and discriminatory St. Louis money elite.

I needed to take a trip out of St. Louis for a sanity session, so Kevin and I

The non-twins on the Lake - Kevin Moore and Me

planned a trip to Chicago.  This was a little while ago, when I was still working at the Fox, and I had learned a few tricks.

I think Kevin had a free room voucher for a weekend, or else it was seriously discounted.  I don’t remember what hotel it was, but it had a view looking out at the lake.

The first thing I remember is arriving, and heading out to seek food.  We ended up downtown and a Sushi place, and I will never forget it.  It had karaoke, with the Asian wait staff taking turns at the microphone.  There is nothing like hearing a rendition of a tacky song being done with fractured English.

Fearings…nossing moll dan fearings…tlying to folget my fearings of ruvvvvvv.

And:

The Girr from Ipanema goes working…

It was hilarious.

Sunday in the Park with

We took a tour of the Art Institute, and I got to stand before the gigantic Seurat painting that inspired ‘Sunday In The Park With George’, which is truly stunning.  I saw the original ‘Nighthawks’ diner painting, and ‘American Gothic’ is truly amazing up close.  It’s small, but the eyes are an amazing crystal blue that leap out of the painting.  There was a special Gaughin exhibit, and as I was walking around I ended up standing right next to an incredibly tall man.  As a short person, I notice when someone is towering over me in an extraordinary way.  I look up at his face…and it was Ed Begley Jr.  Damned handsome man…but TALLLLLL!  In one of my rare

Click to enlarge and see Ed Begley Jr. eat.

paparazzi moments, I had to take a picture of him, but didn’t want to get too close.  So I took a picture of him across the dining room, eating his lunch.

I made plans to meet up with an old fling from Pittsburgh.  Tony Tasso.  In the early 80’s, I met Tony either at the park or on Dithridge Street, when we were both feeling the need.  Tony was perfectly adorable. My height. Lean build. Furry in the right places, pretty eyes, and a cute head of hair.  Aside from pen-palling for years, and an occasional phone call, I hadn’t seen Tony since the early 80’s.  He was a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and a very talented artist.  He sent me a Christmas card one year, when I was living in the horrid basement apartment, and he had created it himself.  It was a genuine work of art, and I am actually sad to have lost it, along with other things that had been left behind that Darin was supposed to gather together for me, and didn’t.

Williams Secret

Tony was working as a bartender at the night club ‘Limelight’, which was a big woo-hoo in the

Kevins Secret

nightclub scene.  Kind of like Studio 54, but in Chicago. We planned to meet at the club, and he told me he’d be working at the back bar, wearing a white shirt and black jeans.

Kevin and I arrived, and wandered around a bit, and then made our way to the back bar.  My eyes couldn’t believe what they saw.  Tony had gone totally goth.

Long dyed jet black hair in dire need of conditioning, to the middle of his back.  Black eye make-up. Bracelets on both his arms, and rings on every finger.  Skulls, spiders, and a variety of other ‘dark’ representations.  Black jeans and black boots, a white shirt and black leather jacket.  He saw me and recognized me immediately.  He came out from behind the bar and gave me a big hug, and after he hugged me he looked at me and said “You smell the same, I recognize your smell.”

He told us that he was working for another hour, and would meet up with us at the end of his shift, and he’d take us to another place.  He then walked back to the bar, and I looked at Kevin and Kevin looked at me. I said “Oh my god, when I knew him in the early 80’s he looked…he looked…” and Kevin said “Did he look like a GUY?”  I had to admit, the answer was “yeah”.

We met up with Tony after his shift, and he took us to another bar he sometimes worked at called Berlin, which was a little less tourist attraction club and a little more hard core party boys.  We talked, reminisced, and it was great to see him again, even though the new look was a shocker.  He was still the incredible creative type, a good man, and kind of sexy in the soul.

The highlight of our trip was what I had arranged from the trick I’d learned from working at the Fox.  There is ALWAYS a block of seats held back, in the most prime seating location in the theater as ‘house seats’.  These seats are usually for VIP’s coming at the last minute, for the press, or for other ‘special guests’.  We held that block at the Fox, and they generally weren’t released until the day of the performance.  Well, I used this knowledge to call the Rialto Theatre, and using being employed by the Fox in St. Louis, to get two prime house seats to see Lily Tomlin in her “Searching For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe” one-woman show.  We had seats in the 7th row, center, to see this amazing woman do an astounding performance.

Every character was rich and unique, and the writing was deep and brilliant.  Lily would wrap up one character piece, leap into the air as if shooting a basketball through a hoop, and land as a new character.  Seamlessly.  After the intermission, and the second act began, Lily stopped the show, in the most polite manner, and asked for the air conditioning to be turned off…so that the audience would be able to hear the entire show.  She then thanks the invisible man who complied, and WHAM…right back into character as though nothing had happened.  It was one of the best evenings of theater I’ve ever seen.

Back to St. Louis, for the constant uphill battle of trying to grow and promote Onstage St. Louis.  I DID have a few supporters who believed in what I was trying to do, as I’d mentioned before.  Walter was a huge help, and even gave us the ballroom of the Sheldon to do a membership party.  Roy at Purr-Fect print donated the copies for the newsletter for like two years.  After a year or so, it started to look like people were much more interested in what they could take from the organization, than in what they might be able to do to HELP the organization.  Violet Horvath came onto the board, and a few others.  And Chris Campbell helped whip up some support.  But I also had some serious opposition.  I remember talking to someone about the organization when Agnes Wilcox actually walked up and dragged him away, telling him that she was going to show him something DIFFERENT.

The other opposition was that local bumpkin Charlie Milburn decided AFTER I’d gotten Onstage started, that HE was going to do it as well, but only the newsletter, and only for ‘non-professional’ theater.  This is what Agnes was dragging someone away to show them.  After a while, I approached Charlie and suggested that we join forced and create one unified resource.  Well, Charlie huffed and refused to have anything to do with ME. He was just fine on his own.  Well, the bottom line is that the entire community really wasn’t all that fine on its own, but as I would discover in years to come, arts people are just notoriously self-absorbed.  There is very little ‘we’ in the arts until someone threatens to pull the plug on their money.  That is about the ONLY time you’ll see the arts community come ‘together’ as a ‘we’.

I was viewed by more than many as the outside trying to crash their party. The hell with the fact that I was trying to THROW them a party.  The party at the Sheldon was free for members, and $5 for non-members, included free entertainment, free food that I had gotten donated by about seven different local restaurants, and one hour of free bar donated by Walter.  We had about 50 people show up the first year.

The organization was based on what I’d experienced with STAGE in Dallas.  And with the support of St. Marcus, we could do a lot of what STAGE did. Several companies used the space for auditions.  Joan Lipkin and her ‘Uppity Theater Company’ used the service for everything she could get out of it.  She used the space for auditions, used the newsletter for auditions, used the files for performer referrals.  Michael Agnew was with a theater company that auditioned in the space, and did a performance in the space.  I believe the show was ‘Josephine The Mouse Singer’.  I did mailings once a month with the newsletter listing all auditions I could get advance notice of, performances, and a few theaters gave members discounted tickets, and in a few cases, free tickets.  I listed classes.  Several people asked why Onstage didn’t do ‘reviews’, and my response was that the organization wasn’t created to judge…it was there to support.  Once a month I borrowed the automatic stapler from Roy and assembled the newsletters, labeled them and stamped them in my apartment.  And once a month, the white trash downstairs bitched to the landlady about the noise the automatic stapler made.  I certainly didn’t bitch every time they screamed at each other, otherwise I never would have gotten off the phone with Sandy.

Membership in the organization was $35 per year, plus four hours of volunteer service. The volunteer service could be ‘donated’ to arts groups.  So we also had a pool of volunteers when arts groups needed help.  I was really running all of this alone, in addition to everything else I was doing…the Gay News Telegraph, the Sheldon, The Theatre Project Company, the Coffeehouse and trying to also earn a living.

Bob Wilcox, the arts writer for the Riverfront Times AND the husband of Agnes Wilcox did show more support than other local media.  Although I do find it ironic that his decision to announce the existence of Onstage was to

Bob Wilcox said:

pair it with the announcement of Charlie Milburn’s newsletter.  It was one very small paragraph in the Riverfront times, with NO details about the organization.  It only mentioned the newsletters and the costs. Click that picture to make it bigger and see how ‘supportive’ people in St. Louis were.

Next up for me was another production at the Other Fox…oops…St. Marcus Theatre.  Once again I took the script from a show I’d loved doing with Unicorn at Johnny Lounder’s, and produced ‘Wally’s Café’, which is a fun little show about three people in a desert diner/burger joint called Wally’s Café.  Wally, his wife Louise, and a passerby who ends up staying, named Janet. Wally and Louise are a New Jersey couple who open a diner in the middle of a desert in California near Las Vegas in 1940 and their first customer from Quincy, Illinois who wants to become a Hollywood actress. The show is done is three acts, following their exploits in 1958 and 1981.

Mica Letizia, Tony, and Violet Horvath in Wallys Cafe.

Tony played Wally, a big, kind of dopey Italian guy.  I can’t remember his last name, and can’t find the program.  Violet Horvath played Louise, and was the perfect worn down housewife. My fellow cast member from Godspell, Mica Letizia was the dippy Janet.  They did a great job on the show, and they got a very good review.

One night, around 5:30 pm, I was leaving my house to go to rehearsal.  I crawled into my little POS Superbeetle, started it up, and went to the end of the block, stopped at the stop sign, and continued up the next block.

Flashing red lights.

The police had been waiting for me outside my home.  They pulled me over, told me to get out of the car, handcuffed me, and made me stand on the street like that a block away from my home…why?  Remember the ticket I tried to pay twice? The one where a badge had been shoved in my face demanding my parking space?

YES!  Over an out headlight on a 1972 Superbeetle, and an unpaid $12 fine. As I stood on the street with my hands cuffed behind my back, wearing blue jogging shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt, the big bad St. Louis officers ransacked my car looking for drugs.  I had long hair and a 1972 Superbeetle…of COURSE I must have drugs.  They found no drugs.  What they DID find were several lunch bags of garbage, some soda cans, and about 20 bundles of the St. Louis Gay News Telegraph which were awaiting delivery.  Well, that was all they needed to become arrogant and antagonistic, suddenly calling me ‘killer’ and condescending to me.

They took me to the local precinct in South St. Louis, took my shoelaces, belt, earring, rings and watch, and allowed me my ‘phone call’.  The first call was to Kevin who wasn’t home. The second call was to the St. Marcus church, to tell the cast to go on without me.  Violet answered the phone, and I told her in a calm but somber voice, ‘You guys just go on without me tonight.’  Violet paused a second and then said incredibly seriously ‘WHAT’S WRONG?’  I just repeated ‘You guys just go on without me.’  And She repeated ‘WHAT IS WRONG?’  So I told her.

The delightful ‘justice’ system wouldn’t take a check or credit cards, I had no cash, and so I couldn’t pay the $200 to bail myself out.  Yes…BAIL MYSELF OUT…from an unpaid ticket from an out fucking headlight!  What we decided to do was that I would write a check to Violet, and she would go to the ATM and get cash.  So they told me they were on their way.  Of course, I couldn’t ‘see’ them, so I wrote out the check to her and left it with St. Louis’ finest, and they locked me alone in a cell.  6:00 pm.  Violet, Tony and Mica came and got the check. 7:00 PM. Nothing. 8:00 PM. Nothing.  Three hours now I’ve been sitting in this cell waiting for them to return and get me out.  No word.

At 9:00 pm, the officer came in and said ‘let’s go killer, we’re moving you.’

WHAT?  You’re WHAT??

Apparently this precinct closed at 9:00 PM, and all of the hardened criminals were transferred out to the BIG HOUSE downtown.

“We’re moving you to the big house downtown” is ACTUALLY what they said. I asked about my friends, and they told me that they’d be told where I’d gone and they’d have to find me there.  They unlocked me from the cell, and took me to another room with a very large and angry looking black man (although I’m sure he thought they brought him to a room with a very small and angry white guy).  They re-handcuffed me, and CHAINED my feet TO this large black man!!  Then they took us to the police van, shoved us in the back, locked us in, and headed downtown.  They were listening to the radio, and the voice of St. Louis car huckster George Weber will forever be imprinted in my brain, as his cheesy radio commercials ran a couple of time during the fifteen minute trip. “Hi, this is George Weber, and have I got a deal for you on a new Chevy.”  George was bald, bespectacled (not that there’s anything WRONG with that) and had a monotone voice reminiscent of the character from the old Looney Tunes cartoons who said “I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George.”  It was kind of a Pavlov’s dog kind of moment for me, and every time after that that I heard “Hi, I’m George Weber” I was thrown back into that van.

We arrived at the ‘big house’ downtown, where I was herded into a holding cell with about eight other people.  One got caught with a joint in the park.  He’s the only one that I can recall hearing what he was ‘in for’. But here I am, a victim of poor auto mechanics, sitting in a jail cell with people who are honestly saying things like ‘Oh Man, they really changed things around in here. That door used to be over there, and they painted that.’

What kind of system was this?  Hmmmm…let me think. OH YEAH! The ‘justice’ system.

We sat there for about a half hour, and then they crammed us all into an elevator that really was a ‘cage’ with standing room outside the cage for the guard, and they took us upstairs to the ‘big room’.  We all stood in a line, still handcuffed, and they…very slowly…called out our names one by one.  And one by one, off the ‘inmates’ went…but to where?

My name was called and I stepped forward.  They took hold of my arm and said ‘this way’.  I said ‘Excuse me, can someone tell me what’s happening?’  And the young cocky guard barked ‘You’ve been arrested dude’.  I took a deep breath and replied as calmly as I could “I understand that. But please understand that I’ve never been in this situation before, and I would really like to know what’s going to happen now’

The guard said that I was going into the holding cell where I would wait for my friends to show up, and if they didn’t I’d be spending the night. Then they took me to a cell, that had about five other people in it, as well as several sizeable roaches that had perhaps followed me from the apartment, and slammed the door shut.  I looked around.  Stainless steel seatless toilet on one end. Two rows of stainless steel bunks.  WAIT…a girl?  This cell was CO-ED???  One slightly inebriated man said I might as well just go to sleep, that they’d let me go in the morning.

Um, that’s okay, thanks…

VIOLET! Tony! Mica!  Where the fuck are you and my money???

At 11:30 pm, a guard came to the cell door and called my name.  I jumped up…’YES!’  “Your friends are here and bailed you out”

I walked out to the car, and there they were.  And here’s the ridiculousness that happened from THEIR end.

They took the check, and went to Violet’s ATM.  Violet had enough to cover the check, but JUST enough.  Tony said that Violet should sign the check over to him, and that he’s get the money from HIS ATM.  So off they went to Tony’s ATM, only to discover that Tony had left his ATM card at home…in St. Charles!  So they drove the 45 minutes to St. Charles, go Tony’s card, and drove back to his ATM, only to find he did NOT have enough to cover the check.  Mica didn’t have enough in any case, so they ended up returning to Violet’s ATM to get the money.  Then they drove off to the South St. Louis precinct to find it closed, and it took forever for anyone to come to the door to tell them that I’d been moved.  They then headed downtown, to go through all of the hoops and waiting in lines to even get to an officer to tell them why THEY were there, let alone why I was there.

Finally, all of the pieces were put together, and I was ‘free’.  A court date was set for a month later.

They dropped me off at my house, and I thanked them for helping.  I walked in the house and Chris was on the phone in the kitchen.  I walked into the kitchen, took a glass from the cabinet, and pulled a bottle of brandy out of the cabinet, and poured a large glass without saying a word. I heard Chris say ‘I think I need to go, I’ll call you later’.  He hung up the phone, and asked what was wrong.  There was NO hiding that something was wrong.  Very wrong.

I went into the bathroom to take out my contact lenses.  The usual process?  Rinse out the lense case under the running water in the bathtub (there was virtually NO water pressure in the sink), fill them with saline solution, and pull out the lenses, put them in the case, and drop the case on the shelf in the bathroom.  Put on glasses.

This evening’s process?  Pull out contact lenses, put them in the case, and run the case under the water in the bathtub to rinse…

OH SHIT!!!!

A month later, I had to appear in court for this stupid fiasco of an out headlight on a 1972 Superbeetle.  When I was called before the judge, I told him this whole basic story, including the part about the two days I TRIED to pay the ticket, along with the officers flashing their badge and demanding the parking space.  He looked at me, and then looked unbelieving at the guards and then said to me “Just go pay the original $12 fine and get out of here!”

After Wally’s Café, we had a few other theater companies come into the theatre.

I also had a re-entry of an old flame into my life.  David Kear decided to move to St. Louis to be with me.  David was the adorable guy from the renaissance festival that I was doing just as I left Dallas.  David packed up his pick-up truck, and headed to St. Louis.

Try as we may, David and I were doomed.  We lasted about a month.  I really liked David, but I didn’t know what to do with him.  I have always had a problem with real monogamy if I wasn’t completely satisfied in the bedroom, and David left a lot to be desired in the bedroom.  Good guy, cute, though his body was changing from the 20 year old skinny guy to the later 20’s chubby, a good and creative writer, with a penchant for classic style.  But in bed, David wasn’t even real vanilla.  He was more like artificial vanilla, like bland pudding in a box.  I’m a Scorpio true to the core, and need passion and sensuality, and most importantly, an uninhibited partner.  David would never be that.  So after about a month, David moved out.  But he had helped me a bit with the newspaper delivery and processing, and he became friends with some of my friends, like Julie Davis. I think he even may have done some writing for the gay newspaper.  I recall about a year later David calling me to tell me he was leaving St. Louis and going back to Texas.  I never heard from him again.

The last show I worked with at the St. Marcus Theatre was an attempted fundraiser by Kate Cuba Stewart.  She had lost her proverbial shirt on Godspell, and was desperate to make money.  So she assembled an evening of cabaret to help cover some of the costs.  I don’t remember anything about the show.  What I DO remember are the knives in my back.

As I’d mentioned previously, the rental scale for the theater was CHEAP.  You never paid more than you made. Only $1 per person, or slightly more, depending on what you charged for your tickets.

After the show finished, Kate acted as though this arrangement had NEVER been discussed.  She threw a fit, accused me of scamming her, trying to rip her off, and then wrote a scathing letter to the CHURCH about how underhanded and unprofessional I was.

The church, with the exception of Dickson Beall, was already looking for a reason to shut the operation down, and I became the scapegoat.  I was called into the office, and dismissed.  I never had a contract.  Never made any money.  Grew the space into a viable venue for performing arts. Put them ON the market.  And I was thrown out like yesterday’s trash.

Thanks to Kate Cuba, I no longer was running a space aimed at benefitting the community, and Onstage had to find somewhere else to operate.  Yeah, gotta love the ‘me’ generation.

I talked to my landlady about using the space downstairs since the white trash had moved out.  She agreed to let me rent it for $200 per month.  This became a trial.  No one was coming to South St. Louis to drop by. The place was far too bug infested to use for rehearsals or auditions, and I wasn’t making enough money at any endeavor to afford it.  She was no longer making cheesecakes and goodies for the coffeehouse portion, and she was not happy.

I still kept trying to plod on.  I ended up auditioning for one of the listings in my own newsletter.  It was an original production, based on the Tomie DePaola children’s book ‘The Clown Of God.’ Tom Kavanaugh and Peter Hesed

The Clown Of God

had created a truly original and beautiful production. It was very unique as well.  The story was of a small boy who learned to juggle for his dinner.  He becomes a famous juggler and entertainer in Italy, until age takes over and he loses his ability to entertain.  Down and homeless, he crawls into a church one night, which turns out to be Christmas eve, and he is awakened by the sound of the procession bringing gifts to the statue of the mother and child.  After everyone is gone, he looks at the statue and sees sadness on the child’s face, and being poor, has only one thing to give to the child.  His juggling.  He juggles better than he had in his whole life, and collapses dead. When the priests find the body, they look at the statue, and the child is holding the golden ball, and smiling.

The entire show was done in pantomime, with the story read by the narrator Father John Walsh, who was a priest, and came from the Chicago Art Institute.  The music was written by Tom and Peter, and a chorus of locals sang the songs.  The chorus was amazing, as were the songs.  This was a gorgeous show, and Tom and his wife Maureen, along with Peter music directing, produced and directed the show.  I was honored to be taken in by this amazing family.  All of the Kavanaugh children were also in the cast. Tom Junior was the Clown of God as a boy.  John was several other characters, as was Jenny.  They cast me as the Clown of God as an adult.

We did a couple of weeks of performances, and the show was VERY well received.  Click here to see the TV promo.

But of course, I had to have one of those theaTAHHHH people moments.

One night after the performance, Maureen came running into the dressing room.  She grabbed me by the hand and said ‘You have to come downstairs right now!  There are some friends of Father Walsh in the audience from the Art Institute and they REALLY want to meet you!’  I was flabbergasted, but followed Maureen down the stairs into the crowd, where she lead me to a couple of those artsy fartsy fossilized types from the ‘our city is SO much bigger than YOURS’ attitude.

Maureen introduced me, and they said “Oh, we thoroughly enjoyed your performance!  Your motions were so fluid and concise, and you really brought the emotion and life to the character!”

I smiled, and thanked them, always feeling awkward by compliments.  Then they asked:

“And where did you study?”

Well, I told them…I hadn’t.

Suddenly their faces turned blank, and the woman said “Oh…well…it was nice to meet you.” And they turned and walked away.

I looked at Maureen, and she looked at me, and I said “What the hell was THAT?”

Maureen paused for a moment, then looked at me, and she said “The NEXT time someone asks you that question, you tell them that you went to the same school as William Shakespeare!”

I asked “Where did he go?”

Maureen looked at me and said “HE didn’t!  He went to the school of hard knocks, just like YOU!  And look what happened to him!”

About a year later, I went to an audition for some show on the Goldenrod Showboat.  I think it was for a job as a singing waiter during the holidays.  They listened to my audition and were pleased.  Then they started scanning my resume, and inevitably, out came the question.

“We don’t see education listed on the resume.  Where did you study?”  I remembered Maureen’s advice, and I used it.  I told them I went to the same school as William Shakespeare.

Their eyes grew wide, and they seemed genuinely impressed. “Oh REALLLLLY!  Wow!  That’s great!”

So here I was, being judged by theaTAH ‘professionals’…who had no clue that Shakespeare hadn’t gone to any schooling.

And for once, I was able to deep down inside, look at these blowhards and think “What asses”.

The Kavanaughs were an amazing family to know.  Each and every one of them talented.  Tom Sr. ran a design firm. I believe Maureen was a school teacher, and all three of the kids were as nice as could be and talented.  Little Tommy was a bit shy, Jenny was mature and together, and John was very musical, and cute as could be.

The one thing that Maureen was lacking was in the cooking department, which the whole family readily acknowledged.  They invited me over for dinner one evening, with the warning to not expect too much.  It was all pretty much a boxed meal, but sharing it with them was absolutely fine.  Maureen kept apologizing, but it really was a non-issue.  And then Tom shared a story from when they were dating.

Maureen had invited Tom over for dinner.  He showed up to find no lights on, only a single candle, and Maureen placed dinner on the table.  He started to eat and asked if they could turn on a light.  Maureen was insistent that they NOT turn on a light, and that the candle light was romantic.  He ate a little more, and asked again for some light, and Maureen said ‘NO!’ So he once again conceded, but after eating a bit more in the dark, he finally insisted that he would not eat without a little light.  Maureen got flustered, but finally went to the light, and warned him against saying ANYTHING.  She then turned on the light.

Tom looked at his plate.  He looked at the mashed potatoes.  Then he looked at Maureen and asked ‘Maureen…why are the mashed potatoes green?’

Maureen went into a tailspin, almost on the edge of tears.

“I followed the recipe, but it called for milk, and I didn’t have any milk, so I looked in the cabinet and all I had was green goddess dressing!!  OK????”

And as he told this story, after three kids, two in their teen years, you could see that they still adored each other.

I was also fortunate to be involved in another one of their amazing endeavors, that shows what cool humans they were to be around.

Every summer during the kids school years, the Kavanaughs would have auditions for the neighborhood kids.  In three groups.  Elementary school (young), Middle School, and Senior High.  John, Maureen and Jenny (and perhaps a few others) would put together a ‘show’, with a thin plot, and LOTS of music.  All summer they would rehearse the three groups, with John’s band leading the music.  Toward the end of summer, they would block off the street, the neighbors would come in droves with their lawn chairs, and all the immediate neighbors would find other places to park their cars.  They set up lights and a sound board in the street in front of their house, and on their front lawn and front porch, they did a three act show featuring all the kids from the neighborhood.  Admission was a donation to Children’s Hospital.  It was phenomenal!  It was adorable!  It was all heart.  They did a collective amazing job bringing the community together and doing something good.

I discovered at this event though that I am a horrible photographer.  They asked me to take pictures, and handed me their camera.  Now, I don’t know if it’s my horrible eyesight, cheap glasses, or what…but you could tell that the blurry people were all framed very nicely.

Kavanaugh Joy

Fortunately, another friend, who Kevin had

Jenny Kavanaugh Directs - the story

introduced me to, who kind of became my surrogate mom (at least in MY eyes) while I lived in St. Louis, Sandy LaRouche, brought along or convinced her hubby Bob (a photographer at the St. Louis Post Dispatch) to come and cover the event.  So all was not lost, and the photos were in the newspaper.  Ok, so my existence did a minor good thing for once.

Sandy mom LaRouche

Sandy LaRouche really did kind of become a surrogate mom to me.  I remember meeting her daughter Laurel through Kevin.  Laurel was one hard nosed self-absorbed brat, but she seemed to be Kevin’s best friend.  Laurel could occasionally be nice, and my intro to Sandy came when she invited me to come along with Kevin to Sandy’s annual Christmas gathering.  My entrance into Sandy’s life started with a simple entry into Sandy and Bob’s home.  They lived in a gorgeous brick home in Shaw Circle on the edge of South St. Louis, and Sandy called it ‘Everafter’.  It really was a fascinating display of Sandy’s spirit and whimsical nature.  Sandy and Bob were very connected to a lot of artsy people, and in the dining room, furnished with gorgeous antiques, was a full portrait of Sandy in a gorgeous red gown.

In the sitting room, the ceiling had been painted in an angelic mural, with naked cherubs that represented the entire family.  Blue sky and clouds, and naked Sandy on one end, with her angel wings, and naked Bob on the other end, with his own wings.  In between them were all of their children…little cherub angel babies, each one with a representational item to tell who they were.  Brandon, the boy, with his bow and arrow.  Laurel wearing laurel.  Holly wearing holly.  Robin with a little nest full of blue eggs. And there was another, whose name I can’t recall, who lived in Australia…her cherub was upside down.  It was truly beautiful.

Everything about this house was warm, classic, steeped in tradition, and incredibly welcoming…and it perfectly represented its hosts.

Sandy was warm, Sandy was classic with a twist of eccentric, LOVED her traditions, and she welcomed all.  Including me.  I became a regular for a few years at her orphan holidays.  She even had a stack of wrapped uncommitted gifts under the tree…no one left without a gift, even if she’d just met you.  I still have the coffee table book on JFK that I got from her that first Christmas.  I don’t remember other gifts, as I might have sincerely asked to not receive any.  As we may recall from my childhood, gifts don’t really make me feel good unless they are incredibly well-intended and aimed at me, by someone who knows me deeply.  But I do still have that book.

Sandy hosted a variety of gatherings, from some kind of Midsummer’s Night enormous party, complete with dance floor, catering, and performing mummers, to small gatherings for play readings.  Sometimes, I’d just hang out there.  I remember one night sitting around talking, I don’t remember who all was there, but it had gone down to just a few people like family, and Sandy fell asleep on the sofa.  Snoring…from both ends.  We laughed like madmen, but we adored her.

A memory of one the huge parties involved me and Kevin walking around and chatting with people.  Suddenly, there was a couple standing before us, a young, reasonably attractive couple.  Both of them were dressed very nicely, and very well coiffed.  A little on the nerdy side, but very pleasant.  We had a nice chat, and they walked away.  No idea what their names were, but Kevin and I both couldn’t stop staring at their huge and very thick eyeglasses.  After they walked away, I looked at Kevin and he looked at me.  I thought it, but he said it ‘There’s a match made at the optometrist!’.

Another one of Sandy’s ‘traditions’ was that she was (and probably still is) St.

Sandy as Polera The Snow Queen

Louis’ officialSnow Queen.  She was the beloved character in parades, Mardi Gras, and other public events.

Sandy’s big gatherings were usually a mini who’s who of the arts community, and occasionally, I would run into one or two who had already screwed me over.  One of the big ones that comes to mind was the local newspaper ‘critic’ Joe Pollack.  Joe Pollack was a big, fat, sloppy, cigar smoking, brillo haired arrogant prick.

The man who dictated taste for St. Louis readers.

Almost always sporting food stains on his bargain basement pull over golf shirts, which were straining to contain is ball belly, and the tacky zanzibelt type pants.  Even his glasses were circa late 60’s.  This mess of a human was the food critic, the wine critic, the film critic and the theater critic for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  It was because of this man that I later banished reviewers from writing reviews of anything that I produced, realizing that ability had nothing to do with the reviews…it was all about kissing the critics asses and playing their politics.  He REFUSED to review non-union theater.  I got into a telephone argument with him on one occasion while at the St. Marcus in which he basically said that all non-union theaters and actors were really just hobbyists, and he had no interest in furthering anyone’s ‘hobby’.  Nice support for the local community.  He cited the fact that he grew orchids as a hobby, but didn’t expect anyone to review his hobby.  My response was ‘I hope one day you grow a prize worthy orchid, and you want to tell someone about it, but no one gives a shit!’

End of conversation, and end of accepting criticism from blowhards in paid positions of politics.

To make things lighter, I had a brief visit from an old friend.  Michel Blaine came to St. Louis for a weekend.  I really don’t remember much about the visit.  If I recall, it seemed awkward, more than likely my fault from the bullshit I’d been going through, but it was nice to see him…and it was the last time I ever saw him, or heard a word of him.

White Palace

While volunteering at the Sheldon, Doree Wren was having a cattle call audition for extras for the film ‘White Palace’ which was being filmed in St. Louis with Susan Sarandon and James Spader.  I was actually naïve enough to ask Doree if they needed a stand in for Spader.  All I had seen of him was the one appearance in the John Hughes film, and in Sex, Lies and Videotape.  He was thin, and had long hair.  I had no idea he was TALL and thin, and that the long hair had come off.  Doree just told me that the height was the issue.  But, in some way or another, I’m not sure if it was attributed to Doree, or someone else, I was accepted as an extra in two different scenes.

The first scene was of Spader taking Sarandon to see her favorite movie, “Some Like It Hot”.  We sat in a dark movie theater all day, watching the last five minutes of the film over and over and over…and in the end, the scene was cut from the film. No big deal, really, you wouldn’t even see the back of my, or anyone else’s, head.

The next scene was filmed in a restaurant in the Central West End, and involved Spader coming to see Sarandon in ‘New York’, where she’d run off to get away from him and be a waitress.  In the scene, Spader enters the restaurant and confronts Sarandon, who is working, as well as dating the owner/bartender who I believe was played by Dennis Farina.  She tells him that they don’t belong together, and he replies by pointing out different couples in the booths.  “Who’s to say who belongs together?  Them?  These two?  Them?”  Then they argue, and Dennis Farina throws Spader out the door.

First, let me say, that the camera does more than add ten pounds.  Susan Sarandon was a stick in a black skirt and white shirt.  Unbelievable how amazing she looks on film seeing how incredibly skinny she is in person.  And Spader, who looked hot as hell in the John Hughes film and especially hot in ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’, didn’t look like much of anything in person.  And neither of them were necessarily nice to be around. In Susan’s case, I will give

Luis Mandoki

her the benefit of the doubt since both she and the director, Luis Mandoki, had colds.  They were aloof and stand-offish.  Susan did try to lighten the mood at one point, or at least displayed a snippy sense of humor, if that’s what it was. At one point in the scene she stepped on her fellow waitress’ foot causing some actual pain (and I’ll be damned if I can figure out how a feather could hurt a rhino).  The director stopped everything for technical reasons, and we sat around and waited (which is basically ALL you do when you’re an extra) for close to an hour.  When we got back into the scene, the waitress asked where we were starting from…and Susan responded “We’re starting from where I step on your foot.”

There were three couples I the booths.  A chubby 30-something business man with a young punk girl.  A black and white couple (of course).  And…me…and Michael Arsenault.  Michael was adorable, and he knew it.  Skinny, dark, prominent nose, black hair and big brown eyes, and furry arms.  Ding, ding, ding…my ultimate downfall in life. He flirted and flirted, and played me like a violin.  Then I realized that he was basically just very devious, and was saying whatever I wanted to hear.  The hair on his forearms was incredibly sexy, and when I told him this he replied that this was exactly what he was thinking about ME.  A supreme bullshitter.

So, we were the token gay couple in NY in the late 80’s.

We spent two days filming in the winter, and the second day was disaster.  The first day went fine, but that night, it snowed two feet of snow.  Kind of put the stopper on camera shots toward the windows.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter though.  Once again, the scene I was in was scrapped.  Why?  They thought Dennis Farina was much better looking than James Spader, and that it wasn’t reasonable to think that she’s leave him to go back to Spader.  So they completely rewrote the scene, and filmed it on a soundstage with Spader coming into the restaurant, grabbing Sarandon and basically doing her on a table in the full restaurant.

The amazing red and white leather seating unit they’d had sex on in another part of the movie ended up in the lobby of the Theater Project Company.

That was one way of earning a few extra bucks at least, although it was a boring and frustrating way to spend a day.  When you’re wanting to be an actor, it’s frustrating to sit in close proximity to those who have somehow managed to slide their way into the big circle, and see people doing what you dreamt of doing.  Even more frustrating is the stark realization that being an extra is NOT going to get you noticed unless you are UNBELIEVABLY unique or stunning.  I was neither.  And frankly, even being stunning isn’t such a good thing…especially if you look better than the stars.

I still needed to make extra money, or in this case, JUST MONEY.  There was no ‘extra’ in the equation.  So I ended up following a lead (and it may have been Sandy who made the referral – I honestly can’t remember the original connection) and reverted to my Andrew The Elephant days of Dallas.  And I became…Dinomite The Dinosaur – the official mascot of the St. Louis Science Center.

Dinomite was a seven foot tall green fur dinosaur, with a giant fiberglass head, a tail and great big feet.  He didn’t talk, but he definitely was animated, by me.  They put me in the costume, and most people inside just stood there and waved.  I did not.  I danced, and did everything I could to entertain and draw attention.  Dinomite became a very popular staple of the Science Center.

The costume itself was a bit grueling.  It was HOT (and man after a few hours, it smelled pretty bad inside) and the head was attached to a harness of sorts that lowered over your head like an old diving helmet. The eyes were black painted screens, but were on top of his head, and my vision was actually via a screened and furred square in his neck.  The head was HEAVY, and on occasion just to lighten the load, I would stand against a wall and just lean the back of the head against the wall.  There was a fan screwed into the top of the head, but it never worked the entire time I played the part.

But, it really was a fun job.  Also very eye opening as to the general behaviors of children.  My favorite kids to deal with were very young Asian children.  I never once had an issue with an Asian child.  Polite, mannered, and most usually shy.  Little doll children.

Black and white kids ran the gamut. Generally speaking, the under 9 crowd were the best.  They hadn’t yet developed their mean yet.  Over 9, and look out.

Dinomite and the youth

I recall being sent to the Muny for the Children’s Art Festival.  I was to meet and greet them getting off the buses, and then later say goodbye as they got on the buses.  As one of the buses from an ‘urban’ school was getting ready to board, one of the little brats came up behind me and sucker punched me from the back.  It hurt like hell.  I spun around to watch the little shit run onto the bus while his friends laughed.  I immediately went to my escort who hadn’t seen it, and whispered what had happened.  She went to the teacher who was furious, and she pulled all of the kids off the bus, and asked Dinomite to point out who had done it.  So, there we were…a seven foot tall green dinosaur, and a police line-up of ten year olds, without the one way mirror…a ‘guard’ called teacher, a prosecuting attorney (the escort) and the dinosaur pointing to the perp.  Now THERE’S a sight you don’t see every day.

The most fun I had was during the Holidays.  They would put Dinomite at the local Children’s Hospital gift shop at the malls, where he was expected to greet and entertain the children.  Well, I could do better than THAT!  I convinced the staff to fill the window with a variety of stuffed animals, putting Dinomite in the middle of them.  I would stand perfectly still in the window, and at first, they were a bit miffed that I wasn’t doing more to interact with the children.  But I had a plan, and they quickly stopped being miffed when they saw what I was doing.

I stood in the window, completely still.  I just looked like another one of the

Making change for Childrens Hospital

stuffed animals, albeit in giant size.  People would walk past the window, and look in, look at the stuffed animals, look at the dinosaur, and then I would quickly move something.  A flick of the wrist, a tap of the foot.  They would stop…blink…look at each other and ask ‘Did that thing move?’  Then they press their face closer to the window and I would jump back and wave, and they would jump three feet in the air and scream…followed by three minutes of giggling laughter.

After a few victims had been scared, and then laughed, they started hanging out outside the store, waiting for the next schmucks to come along and fall victim.  Next thing you knew, we had crowds of people hanging around waiting for the next laugh…and at the same time, drifting in and out of the store to buy things.  My little misunderstood plan was a huge success for the fundraising effort.

The least fun I had as Dinomite was during the Fourth Of July Parade.  We had a huge float with an inflated – well – I guess it was something like an Apatosaurus – with a truck pulling the flatbed that we were all on.  About one third of the way into the parade, which was about a four mile route, someone decided that Dinomite needed to get off the float and interact directly with the crowd ‘for a few minutes’.  I crawled down the ladder to the street, and started dancing and shaking hands and hugging children.  The next thing I knew…off went the float.  The truck started driving on.  Dinomite could NOT ‘run’ with any kind of success, and the more we tried to catch the float, the further away it got.

Another Holiday Parade

I ended up walking the last two miles of the parade route, in the dead heat of summer, in a seven foot tall green fur costume.  By the time we reached the end of the route, there was nowhere to escape the crowd to take off the head, so we had to wait a few more minutes to find a secluded spot.  When we finally ducked behind something like a trash dumpster, and took off the head, I was white as a sheet, and this close to passing out.  I was fine after about 15 minutes with some air and a LOT of water.

We did a lot of school visits as well, and one of my escorts and I became great friends, and we are actually still friends to this day, although from quite a distance.

Melissa Roth was from Pennsylvania, as was I.  I believe she was from the Lancaster area, and was a very jolly and fun gal.  One day as we were driving to a Dino appearance, she missed a turn and yelled “Oh, MAN!” to which I responded “Oh ROTH!”

She looked at me and said “Huh?” and then she burst with laughter. “I never thought about that” she said.

Melissa became my prime theater pal.  Through Onstage, I would get free tickets to a lot, and she was my companion for a LOT of theater in St. Louis.  I miss having a theater pal like her.  I miss having a pal like her.

This work, sporadic as it was, was my main bread and butter at this time.  Purr-fect Print and I had to part ways mostly because of Roy’s wife, Jan.  Think back to elementary school.  Remember the little fat girl who was all prim and prissy who sat behind you?  She would flick her fingers on the back of your head, and then sit there like nothing happened. Flick, flick, flick, flick…over and over and over…until finally you’d had enough, and you turned around and smacked her on the arm and said ‘Cut it out!’ to which she responded by screaming bloody murder as if you’d just stabbed her in the neck with a kitchen knife, and made YOU out to be the bad guy.  You got punished, and she got away smelling like a rose.  That was Jan…that little fat girl grown up.  Jan decided she did not like me, and made life miserable to the point that I think I spoke up. I spoke up, and I was the bad guy.  Roy continued to help with the newsletter, but I couldn’t work for him with Jan the warden calling the shots.

I have one funny memory of working there though.  I was given a print job to deliver about five blocks away, in a more modern building, with revolving doors.  I had a dolly with maybe three boxes on it that were not taped shut, or criss-cross flap closed.  I couldn’t take the dolly through the revolving doors, so I had to use the regular door and get buzzed in.  The buzzer buzzed and I opened the door and started to push the dolly in.  There was an astounding wind-tunnel effect that whipped the top of the top box open, which was filled 1/3 with Styrofoam packing peanuts.  Those peanuts blasted out of the box and into the lobby of the building, swirling around in the wind like a snowglobe.  It was humiliated…and hilarious.  I ran my dolly to the elevator and got to my floor, and then quietly snuck out of the building when I was through.

So, without work, I was taking any goofy job I could find, and the costume character gigs paid pretty well by the hour.  There just weren’t a lot of hours to be had.

As a result of Dinomite, I was referred to a gentleman named Eddie Jackson, who worked in PR for Union Electric.  He needed someone lively to fill his costume character, a national ‘branded’ character, Louie The Lightning Bug.  Louie was created to provide simple electrical safety tips to young children, and he had comic books, nighlights, and made public appearances.

Louie The Lightning Bug

Louie’s costume was basically a jumpsuit with a head, big feet, four arms that were strung together like a marionette, and a giant plexiglass bubble butt…the ‘bulb’ of the lightning bug.  It was supposed to light up with a string of lights inside, but like the fan in Dinomite’s head, it never worked.  It was basically like a big fish bowl but with holes on the top and bottom, for your waist and your legs.  But the hole for the legs was a little smaller, kind of like wearing a very tight skirt.

I made public appearances at all kinds of events.  One memorable (and painful) occasion came at the big ‘Light Up St. Louis’ holiday festivities.  It was held in an outdoor mini-amphitheatre downtown, and included local news personalities, a band, and every organization in town that had a costumed character, had the character there.  Louie the Lightning Bug had to compete with Snoopy from MetLife…I mean, come ON!

It was the big night that all of the holiday lights were blazed to glory, and thousands of people were there.  So the show began, and the news personality hosts were on the stage making their announcements and such, and then one by one they started introducing the costumed characters.  I watched as the spotlights hit each character, and watched how lame those ‘performers’ were.  They basically just stood there and waved.  No live.  No verve.  Nothing to make anyone remember them (well, ok, no one forgets Snoopy).  So I decided to do something a little different.  When they called my name and hit me with the spotlight, I was going to run down the center aisle, up the three steps to the stage, give the talking head news person a big hug, encourage rah-rah from the audience, and then run back to my original spot.

So, here it came!  “And from Union Electric, here’s Louie The Lightning Bug!”

I ran down the center aisle.  The audience clapped and cheered.  I ran to the three steps up to the stage, up one, up two…and tripped on number three, going down like the Titanic, with my big plexiglass bulb butt to the audience.  WHAM!

Then, I tried to get up.  The little tight-skirt effect was impeding a quick recovery of getting back on my feet, and additionally, the plexiglass had dug into my knee.  I made it up, the audience roaring with laughter, hobbled over and hugged the talking head, turned and hobbled back down the steps and up the aisle to my original position.

The rest of the night was spent walking around with the plexiglass bulb banging against my banged knee with every step.

Well…it was memorable at least.

The big woo came when Louie was invited to participate in a series of spots for the local Fox affiliate (this was before the Fox network was know for plain old misleading and right wing faux news) and their ‘Kids Club’.  Mark Fox (real name Jeff Cox) was the Kid’s Club ‘host’, and we did a series of 12 somewhat generic spots that were designed to alert kids in the early mornings as to what the weather was expected to be for the day. Hot, cold, rainy, cloudy, etc.

They brought in a variety of children to also be in the spots, many of whom were the local Fox affiliate employee’s kids.  Especially the higher-up employee’s kids.  Some of the kids were great, and some needed more than a little guidance.  There was one kid on a tricycle, that was supposed to ‘pretend’ to ride, but every time they called ‘action’, the kid rode the tricycle right off the set.  I ended up having to hold on to the handle bars to keep the kid on the set.

The spots ran for a long time.  Click here to see them on YouTube.

Jeff Cox and I became friends, and we’d hit movies and dinner occasionally.  On the air, he seemed like the typical over the top loud radio announcer trying to be hip to kids.  Off camera, he was a very sweet guy.  One day he took me along to Six Flags where he was appearing as the representative for

J.D. Roth

the local Kids Club with the Fun House Tour hosted by J.D. Roth.  This was the show infamous for the call “Let’s get messy!”

Jeff and I hung out with J.D. a little after the show, and Jeff (who had met him several times before) was mesmerized.  He was in awe of this show biz success and his LA attitude.  Quite frankly, he was about as cocky and arrogant as could be.  One afternoon was more than enough for me.

And yet another costume character gig arose from one referral to another.  This time for Target.  Moostletoe and Holly, Pointer Pencil and some other bear or dog.  Target introduced a new holiday stuffed animal for a few years, and these were the costumed characters built to represent them to boost holiday sales. These were totally unique costumes in that they were inflated.  You stepped into what looked like a large white body bag, zipped up, turned on the fan (which actually DID work in these costumes), and the body bag blew up like a balloon. I was basically standing in the middle of a giant balloon. The arms popped out and I put my arms in to maneuver them, wiggled the head and body around and walked.

Moostletoe was, well, a moose…and I believe so was Holly.  Pointer Pencil was bizarre.  It was a combo pencil and dog.  The eraser was his butt, with legs out of the side, two arms, and the point of the pencil curved over to become his nose.  VERY odd choice in design for a stuffed animal, but then Target has been making a lot of odd choices through its day, especially recently.

I did a handful of appearances with them, and had one aggravating but hilarious incident. We were at some school, and I was Pointer Pencil.  We walked around and greeting and hugged and shook hands, and all that good stuff, and at one point my escort, some guy who I can’t remember, walked off and left me alone.  I was standing against a large flower box, kind of like a brick raised garden, which was full of flowers.  I had some bad kids who decided to pick on the Pencil, and they started smacking my arms.  Pointer was missing one very important thing that should be necessary for all characters (and usually is)…fingers.  Fingers to indicate NO! Well, no one around to stop them, and I was getting a little miffed, but at least in these costumes I could pull my arms into the body of the balloon and just stand there with my arms folded over my chest while the fan blew the costume arms out. All of a sudden, one of the little shits…err…I mean mommy and daddy’s little darlings…SHOVED Pointer Pencil hard enough that I lost my balance, and having my legs up against a short brick wall that came up to the back of my knees, I went over backwards into the flower garden.

Now, I’m laying on my back, inside a giant balloon.  I can’t reach high enough to get my hands back into the arms.  I can’t get my feet back on the ground.  I’m basically rolling back and forth in the flower garden, trying to rock my way back into an upright position. Finally one of the parents came by and helped, and at the same time someone had gone in search of the escort who was SUPPOSED to be watching over me.

The escort was in the school chatting with a few teachers.  When I got into the building and into a save zone, the costume came off, and nearly did the escort’s head as well.

That only last two seasons I believe.  But I did get to haul the old man puppet character out of the mental storage closet for one more show.  Ron and Elery worked for Shattinger’s Music, and they’d been hired to do an industrial show for a Knights of Columbus convention.  They put together a kind of cheesy musical about the history of St. Louis, and I think it was actually me who suggested that they make the narrator the old man puppet.  They loved the idea. First, we had to find a puppet.  Smudge had gone back with John Hardman.  So we found a simple hand puppet, altered it, and put him onstage.  Click here to see a snippet of the show with the puppet doing his thing.

Now the Knights of Columbus. Interesting crowd.  During the intermission…NO ONE bought anything at the bar.  But it was astounding how many trips to the ‘bathroom’ were made during the show.  According to the bartender, when the show was onstage, that’s when he made the most money.  One by one, the hypocrites snuck out to down a scotch and soda, or a Bud.

We only did the show once.

Through Doree Wren, I did another uber cheesy independent film called ‘The Charm’. This was a local guy named Dan McGee, who fancied himself quite the scary film maker and writer.

The story was of a girl who buys a vintage coat, and finds in the pocket, a locket.  She discovers that the ‘charm’ has the power to allow her to control people, through some kind of hypnosis, and goes on a second hand murder spree. I play the boyfriend of the girl, who was played by the very pretty but mildly talented Lisa Erin-Allen.

Terrible script.  Terrible just about everything.  But Doree was there as the assistant director, so I had a pal around to commiserate with. We filmed at the SIU campus, and at Dan’s house, which was the total bachelor pad…for a scary movie nerd.  Doree once mentioned the ‘layer of grime’ that pretty much encased the entire interior.

The dialogue was cheesy too.  Sometimes making it difficult to keep a straight face through it.

She says: “Kiss me Mike” (while controlling him with the charm), and Mike sits up, gives her a quick peck, and goes back to the sleep she has forced him into.  She then says “Oh come on.  Mike…you’re a man…I’M a WOMAN!  Now KISS ME!”  I could NOT keep a straight face.  On one hand, I’m a homo, and on the other, kissing girls wasn’t in my repertoire.  She finally had to clamp her hand on my chin to keep me from laughing.

But the REALLY funny part came AFTER the kiss had finally happened.  A little Lisa Erin-Allen got all huffy because she thought I was ‘getting into it a little too much.’  She actually got mad.

Now remember, this was in the late 80’s, so not EVERYONE knew about me and my sexuality, but Doree sure did.  And when Lisa threw her fit, I looked at Doree, and Doree looked at me, and we almost spit as we burst into an inside joke fit of laughter.

Lisa just didn’t think it was funny at all.

Click here to see the scene on YouTube.

In the odd job department, and thanks to Walter Gunn, I started doing a little work for Dan Johnson, who was the manager of another property that Walter was responsible for, the Beaux Arts Building, around the corner from the Sheldon, and across the street from Powell Symphony Hall. The building was old and shabby, but Dan was doing his best to keep it running.  He had a basement full of old furniture and antiques, which got shuffled around somewhat regularly, although I can’t remember what for.

Beaux Arts Building in St. Louis

The building was originally the Carter Carburetor Building, which also contained the Knights Of Pythias Hall.  It was an art deco style building that was labeled ‘Beaux Arts’ somehow.  In the day, it must have been magnificent.  It had something like six or seven levels of parking garage, topped by the Pythian lodge. The lodge was a series of huge meeting halls, sleeping rooms, and a gorgeous ‘lodge’ with a fireplace and hardwood floors.  It had a shower room just off the top level of the parking garage, and when at its peak, people would apparently park their cars at the garage, take the trolley into town for work, return after work, shower, hang out at the lodge for a few drinks, then get in their cars and go home.

The Knights of Pythias had long moved out, and the building was decaying.  The Late Knights of Pythias were a group of gay men and women, most of whom were artists, who started out having a big Halloween party in someone’s home.  The party eventually outgrew the home, and they moved it around, until someone made a connection with Walter, and the party was moved for several years into the former Pythian’s lodge in Beaux Arts.

Through this, I became involved for one year with the ‘Late Knights Of Pythias”.

This was the decadent party to end all decadent parties.  Caligula might have blushed.

First, take a very large space, with many, many rooms, and seven levels of parking garage.  Next, add local artists who planned and created, and turned the entire structure into a Halloween attraction (for one night only).  Bring in the local DJ, sound equipment and lighting structures.  Build a 20’ by 20’ ‘box’ that was nothing but a line of beer taps on all four sides, and fill the box with kegs, and a couple of guys to change the kegs.  Advertise basically underground, sell tickets for $17 in advance and $22 at the door.  Make

Late Knights of Pythias Party Invite

costumes mandatory, with a best costume contest for individuals, duos, and group.  Start the party at 10 pm on the night the clocks change back an hour (for an extra hour of partying), then get the party started.

I’m not even sure where to start.  The parking garage I guess would be the place to begin, since it was the only way into the party.  And yes, walking up seven levels of parking garage was required to get in.  The elevators didn’t work.

On one level, there was an abandoned wrecked car.  One artist took the car, and pushed it up against one of the structural support columns.  Painted the column to look like a dinosaur’s leg, and painted skid marks coming from the wall of the garage. On the wall was painted a mural of a hole in the wall where the car had supposedly just crashed through a hole in time. Through the hole we could see a city landscape.  He scattered some cinderblocks around the hole as well for effect.  Brilliant.

On the level I worked on, we were split in two.  One side of the level had about a half inch of water from the rain.  So a couple of guys hung black trash bags glued together, and created a maze, with votive candles placed through the maze in the water on the concrete floor.

A friend and I, and I can’t for the life of me remember his name…it might have been Jerry? A short, dark haired chubby and slightly nerdy guy.  We created a living room using things from Dan’s furniture basement, hung a mannequin by the neck in the middle of the living room with a chair overturned beneath her, a laundry basket on the sofa and a pile of laundry, and a TV playing white noise in the corner. And a small lit Christmas tree in the other corner.  In her hand was a note that said “I saw Daddy kissing Santa Claus.”

And we were the LEAST creative in the bunch.

The former shower room had been turned into the orgy room, and was nothing but a line of mattresses (none of which I would ever want to lay on, but were indeed used through the night).  As you entered the main hall, you went up a set of blacklit stairs, and into what had once been the lobby of the Pythian’s Hall, where the elevators USED to come.  Someone had created a full scene of an astronaut tethered on an air hose extending from the space capsule, both of them floating in space, with the earth floating off in the distance.  This was NOT hokey Amusement park style.  This looked real.

In the giant main hall, there was scaffolding set up for the lights, and the main DJ booth.  Off to the right of the main hall was another very large ‘smaller’ hall, where two guys that I knew at that time (but again, can’t recall names), had created the Mapplethorpe room, with a slide show of Mapplethorpe’s kinkier and more erotic photography, with chairs around the room for lounging.  In the rear of the main hall was yet another smaller hall, which had been converted into a space ship landing strip.  Complete with the space ship hovering above, containing the lights for that room’s alternate overflow dance floor.

One the second floor was a balcony overlooking the entire grand hall, with was lined with what used to be the sleeping rooms for the lodge.  Each room had been decorated by an artist.  Dungeons. Cages. A room of razor blades.  Up a few steps from the balcony was the old lodge, which was kind of deemed the ‘quiet space’ which actually had tables and chairs, a fire in the fireplace, and lead to the rooftop.  Coffee was available here.

There was a doctor in the house, in case of emergency, albeit ‘unofficially’.  If something happened, a phrase and direction would be announced on the loudspeaker, the doctor would arrive, take care of immediate business, and if it was something drastic, he would do as much damage control as possible, call the emergency services, and then vanish as they arrived.

On the balcony behind the grand hall was the private room, where those who worked on the event could go to privately party.

And…let the party begin.

Now, I’m going to preface this with a couple of things that I learned too late in the game.

1)      When going to a decadent party where gay men are a-plenty…don’t go in drag.

2)      When going to a party where the only way in and out is by walking a seven story parking structure…don’t go in drag.  Heels suck.

3)      When hoping to meet people that might be interesting, and interested in YOU…don’t go in drag.

Connie Manncis comes out again

Yes, I brought out the same chartreuse Connie Manncis outfit that was the only full costume I had, not to mention could afford on the non-existent budget that I had.

The party was unbelievable.  Decadent.  Hedonistic. Sex, drugs, drinking.  The hosts provided beer, the guests brought EVERYTHING else. And I MEAN everything else. If it was illicit, it was pretty much being done at this party.

The costumes were fucking amazing!  The winner of the costume contest for ‘individual’ came dressed as the Medici Fountain.  And I am NOT kidding.  The best group was the ‘Laundry Women’…a group of men in house frau drag, strung together by a laundry line, carrying laundry baskets, with clothes hanging on the laundry line.  I don’t remember what won the ‘duo’.  One of the guys who worked on the party was St. Francis, with bloody arrows sticking out of him.  There were little boys wearing fig leaves, and nothing more. In all, around 1,000 people showed up throughout the night, which started at 10 pm, and finished at dawn.  The highlight of the night was when the clock struck 2:00 AM, and the clocks officially were turned back one hour, the DJ cranked ‘Time Warp’ from Rocky Horror – for like an half hour!  It’s just a jump to the left…

All in all, I was astounded. It was a spectacle to behold, but I didn’t really feel like a ‘part’ of it.  I kind of figured out firmly at this point that I really didn’t have a lot of commonality with the gay ‘culture’.  I’m definitely not a party boy, and although I do enjoy good sex, I can do it without costumes and additives like drugs and role playing.  I ended up having someone call me a taxi around 4 AM and went home.

But the upside was that after expenses, and most of what happened was donated, a couple of thousand dollars was given to local gay and AIDS charities.  Other than just being decadent, there was a purpose to the party.

The Pythians also held an annual Mardi Gras party that was much lower key than the big bam boom of the Halloween bash.  I only went to one, and only for a short time.  There was a guy that I knew named Bill. Slightly taller than me, older, could have been close to 50, but from a 25 year old’s perspective, who can say for sure? Dark hair, pulled back into kind of a greasy short pony tail, mustache, glasses, nice build, but with a bit of a paunch.  He’d occasionally give me rides home from working on the other Pythias things.  Bill was at the Mardi Gras, dancing away.  Bill was reknowned for his fan dancing.  He LOVED fan dancing, and did it at most gay functions, especially at the Pythian’s functions.  I left the party early and went home.  Might have gone home with someone, that vague recollection is lingering, but not forming.

The next day I heard that Bill had collapsed and died of a heart attack while fan dancing after I’d left.

While working at Purr-Fect print, and needing lunches downtown, I used to go to a small sandwich shop where I met Jay Wirtes.  Baby doll, blonde, blue eyed, big nose, sweet as could be…and 19.  He flirted, I flirted.  He was involved with an ‘older’ guy at that time who didn’t seem to be very nice to him, so at some points he came to me.  We ended up having a fling that turned into a friendship.  Jay was from Chicago, and ended up moving back to Chicago in about a year’s time from our meeting.  We kept in touch though.

Pretty much ALL of the Admiral friends had completely vanished, but I do recall one afternoon that Rocky came to visit.  He was the red head that shaved my back and got a boner.  Well, we explored his curiosity at my place this day.  He definitely enjoyed it, but seemed indifferent afterwards, and then vanished.

Even Sunny Deterding, who had written on a napkin that was autographed by a handful of people at a ‘goodbye’ gathering when the Admiral closed “I know you’ll keep in touch – we’re too close – we’re too much alike!  Love you!! Literally – Sunny”…she vanished.

Through my involvement at the Sheldon, and the music video, I also met Caryn Swinko.  Caryn was a very talented singer…that is, great voice, but her presentation was always a bit ‘housewife over the top’.  She and I did become buddies, and tried to do a few things together.  We performed in the fundraiser for the Sheldon, and sang ‘The Tennis Song’ from ‘City of Angels’, and she helped me to sing ‘Million Dollar Secret’ by constructing the music to sing with.  She tried to get me involved in another band, but they were too ‘professional’ and I was too green for them to be bothered with.

I also worked for a brief time on the Goldenrod Showboat, where I’d auditioned as a singing waiter.  The boat was owned by Frank Pierson, and was run by he and his son Will.  Will was a decent guy, young, very cute. Not ‘completely’ one of those kids who was rising on daddy’s money, but on the edge of it.  Daddy was a bit of a scheister and NOT a nice man.  He was very political on the outside, with the smarmy smile, the hearty handshakes, and a knife poised to thrust into your back.  His wife was a matronly type, but a lady with true class.  Of course, Frank was screwing some other gal behind his wife’s back.  Everyone knew it, and I think even his wife knew it, but she was too dignified to acknowledge it.

The band at the Goldenrod had been recruited from the Lindy’s Cabaret show on the Admiral, which was headed by a guy named Brian.  Brian was a fairly decent showman, if you could stomach the condescending attitude, but as a human, he was fat, catty, and had one of those faux superiority complexes.  He was NOT easy to work with, he was NOT supportive, and he had very little interest in much of anything beyond promoting himself. Once again, I was hired, but no one could be bothered to work with me.  Rehearsals consisted of ‘here’s sheet music, sing.’  I don’t READ sheet music, and rarely could I get them to play the damned song more than twice in order to be able to learn it.  I believe the only song I ever ended up singing on the boat was during Christmas, when I was ‘allowed’ to sing ‘The Christmas Song’.  That’s the only bone they threw me.  After I sang it my one time, several of the other singers sincerely complimented me. But all I could do was shrug my shoulders and say ‘thanks.’  That was all I ever got from the Goldenrod, except for attitude from Frank.  I did receive one compliment from his wife.  I was standing at the service end of the bar waiting for an order, feeling miserable, and I saw his wife standing a few feet away at the front of the bar, looking like she was feeling equally miserable.  I can only imagine what was going through her head, knowing Frank as I did.  She looked in my direction, and I smiled at her.  She looked back and very quietly said ‘You have such a warm smile.’

I worked there through two shows.  Nunsense and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Schlepping low end food and drinks.  During Ain’t Misbehavin’ was my first experience with someone asking for ‘Cognac and Coke’.  Seriously?  That’s like spreading Foie Gras on a slice of Wonderbread.  Money does NOT denote class.

One day Will decided that during the daytime, for some extra money, he’s hire a few guys to help him clean out the hull of some old stored crap.  And just where was it going?

Overboard.  Yep.  Dumped in the winter muddy Mississippi.  Including an old Xerox machine!  Dumped overboard.  The great thing is (and I know, it’s hard to find a great thing about this) but the damned machine landing upright on a giant chunk of ice…and went floating on down the river.  Shortly thereafter, Daddy Pierson let me go.

My favorite memory from the Goldenrod, aside from Frank’s wife’s compliment, was the ‘last call’ shout that the female bartender would bark out at 1:30 am.

“Last Call ladies and gentlemen!  You don’t got to go home, butcha gotta get the hell outta here!”

Joanie Bibeau was working at Bissell Mansion doing murder mystery dinner theater.  That kind of audience participation, no deep mystery, but lots of silliness and fun for the audience.  I think we’d started out working together, but she ended up working with another guy.  Joanie and I just had creative differences as I’d mentioned before.  If it wasn’t the latest thing on TV, Joanie really couldn’t relate.  In the long run, it was Joanie who knew how to pander to a mindless audience.  My tastes were always rooted in Vaudeville and older entertainment, and as the years went on, if it wasn’t schtick that related to reality TV, the audience was lost.

But Joanie Manager, Rich, knew that I had something, and he recommended me to another venue he was working with called ‘The Flaming Pit’ that also wanted to start up a mystery dinner theater.  So I met with the owner, and Rich, and we decided that we were going to do it.  I called up the Lisas from the Man With The Plastic Sandwich, Lisa Helms and Lisa Sword.  We set out to write our own show, make it musical, and do it for the Flaming Pit.

We worked for about a month, and created a show called ‘Extra Cheese, Hold

Extra Cheese, Hold The Murder review

The Murder’.  I was Bugs Moroney, cheesy nightclub owner, Lisa Helms was Sophie Simple, the chanteuse, and Lisa Sword was the very special guest.

Act one was set-up.  Hors D’oeurves and drinks, and handing out name cards to the audience as they came in.  They were seated, where they’d find their ‘character’ descriptions.  Lisa Sword came in with the audience, dressed as the audience, and was seated with the audience.  Her job was to just blend in and ‘be’ part of the audience.

Lisa helms and I sang and set up the show.  We had all gathered for the reading of the will of the some late great pizza magnate, and the first act just welcomed everyone, and explained who they all were to each other (friends, relatives, etc.) and who was rumored to get what in the will.  Second act was reading of the will, which ended with a blackout, a hail of machine gun fire, and when the lights came back up, Sophie and Bugs were sprawled in unusual positions appearing dead.  Then we’d slowly start moving, get up, look for bullet holes on ourselves and each other, and shrug it off that we were fine.  At that point, Lisa Sword, seated at a table as ‘audience’ went face down on her hors d’oeurve plate.

We had the most fun with Lisa’s ‘body’.  During the serving of the next course, the salad, Sophie would come in with Lisa’s plate, lift up Lisa’s head, remove the last course, put down the next course plate, and let go of Lisa’s head, which would fall right into the next course.  One night a man sang out loud ‘back in the salad again…’

Third Act was doing crazy things with the audience to find the ‘killer.’

The manager, Rich, had ‘designated’ our pianist and music director.  The official big fish in the St. Louis small pond, Chris Jackson.  He did a good job playing for us, but was never as great as he thought he was.  He was just willing and available, and so the vultures in the ahhhhhts community of St. Louis took full advantage of him to the point that his ego exploded.

Our show opened with ‘This Joint Is Jumpin’, and after Lisa was killed, Sophie sang ‘Time Heals Everything’, which of course culminated with her poking Lisa and saying ‘Well, maybe not EVERYTHING.’

The big finale was Lisa Sword jumping up from her seat and singing ‘If they could see me now, that little gang of mine…I’m wearing fancy chow and wearing fancy wine.’

It was hokey, but they loved it.  And the food was pretty good too….at first.  Then the owner, Harry L. Hilleary Jr, decided he wasn’t making enough money and started cutting corners.  The show stayed the same, but the food quality went from good soup, to a powdered version of the soup.  As the food went downhill, so did the attendance.

We ran the show for about six months, received a nice review, and then we were all dismissed.

About a year and a half later, I was looking though the newspaper, and there, under performances, was listed ‘Extra Cheese, Hold The Murder.’  The show was being done at some other venue!  No one asked me, or the Lisas.  It was OUR show.  I called them, and said ‘Hey, you know you’re doing the script that I wrote, and even using the name of MY show?’

Oh no, they said, it was CHRIS JACKSON’S show.

Uh…no, Chris Jackson was the piano player and that’s ALL he had to do with creating the show.  I wrote it along with the Lisa’s.

The guy gave me a scanty apology, and sent me a couple of dollars as royalties.

Well, when depressed, what else is there to do but do something to cheer up an old friend?

My beautiful friend Phil Elliott was having love troubles.  I think he’d just lost a girlfriend or something.  I called him up and said ‘Hey, how about dinner?’  He agreed that it might be good to get out and have company, and we agreed to meet at some Italian restaurant in the Central West End.

On my way, I stopped by a local drug store, or grocery store, I don’t remember which, and I bought a giant coloring book, and a big pack of crayons.  I took them to the restaurant, and once we met up and sat down, ordered our food (probably ‘Toasted Ravioli’ which was one of my St. Louis faves, that I’d never seen anywhere else to that point – Ravioli breaded and deep fried and served with marinara – YUM!) I pulled them out and gave them to him.  I made Phil color…we colored together, and Phil cheered up a little.

I also remember Phil being a great art film buddy, and we went to several films in University City at – was it the Tivoli?  I remember seeing a festival of short films, where I first saw Luxo Jr.  Pixar hadn’t made it big yet, and this was one of the funniest animated pieces I’d seen to date.  Who knew what was to come?  I also remember seeing ‘Bellman and True’ which was a UK suspense film, and both of us being balled up in our theater seats about to jump out of our skin during the climax.

I miss having a buddy like Phil.  Add him to the list.

I don’t remember exactly which friend came to my rescue this day, but someone had to come and do some driving for me.

I was in the bedroom getting dressed to go somewhere.  It was late morning I think, and just a run of the mill day.  I was showered and dressed, and all I had left to put on were my shoes.  I bent over to pick up a shoe, and WHAM!

I threw my back out.  I had never experienced pain like that to date in my life.  Even getting whacked on the head with the rock when I was an elementary school kid didn’t hurt like this.  Sharp, screaming, agonizing pain.  I couldn’t stand up, I could barely move at all.  I laid down on the bed for about twenty minutes, and then grabbed for the phone.  The pain wouldn’t let up, and if I tried to move it was worse.  What was I going to do?  There was no going to the hospital.  Insurance?  In the arts?  Surely you jest.

Someone that I called recommended a very good and gay friendly chiropractor who charged by a sliding scale.  Dr. Blalock at ‘Blalock and Sullivan’.  Whoever it was that I called, picked me up…after I made my way down my huge flight of stairs, down the front stoop and finally to the curb, and off we went to Blalock and Sullivan.

So…Blalock and Sullivan.  And their assistant John.  Dr. Greg Sullivan…tall, built like a proverbial brick you-know-what, kind of auburn hair, chiseled jawline…the all-American hetero quarterback type.  The kind of man you’d drool over if he touched you.   Dr. Blalock. Middle-aged, slightly rounded, kind of a Tom Bosley type. John, nicely built, a little queenie, but not over the top, sandy brown hair with tie dyed blond stripes, probably 40-ish, and as it turned out, Dr. Blalock’s partner.

After filling in all the paperwork, John took me in for a quick X-ray, and then sent me off to…

Dr. Blalock’s waiting room.

Dr. Blalock came in and examined me…thoroughly.  The hernia probe seemed to take a lot longer than it should have.  He asked lots of questions, and then began the back cracking.  Dr. B was as gentle and painless as could be, turning me here and there, guarding my neck, bending my shoulders, and CRACK!  No pain.  He completely realigned everything, and gave me some natural pain remedy, and scheduled another appointment the next week.

My back returned nearly to normal in that week.

At the next appointment, John showed me my X-ray, and I discovered that I apparently have a slight birth defect.  My lowest vertebrae is actually fused to my…well…butt bone for lack of the right word.  Which explains why massive amounts of sit-ups would never get rid of that layer over my lower belly.  I couldn’t bend up far enough.

Another session with Dr. B, and I was doing really well.  Then we set another appointment for a two month follow up.

I showed up for my two month follow up, and Dr. B. wasn’t in.  This was IT!  Dr. Sullivan was going to play with my body! Tall and gorgeous Dr. Greg!

I got onto the table, in my undies…and Dr. Greg took me in his arms!

CRACK!

OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!

CRACK!

OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!

MOTHER FUCK!  That dude hurt like hell!  I couldn’t wait to get out of that room!  Every time he cracked me, I felt like I was being tackled by the entire football team!

Ok!  Dr. B.  You may have a Tom Bosley thing going on, and you may have fondled my two friends for a little while longer than would be considered normal (which would NOT evoke a complaint from me today!), but your manner was gentle and kind, and you were a decent and generous man!

And…he fixed my back, and didn’t rake me over the coals for a small fortune, which I definitely did not have.

Somewhere around this time, I met Bob Herman.  Bob was a lawyer, who

Steambath Program

had a desire to explore producing theater.  He was starting a production company called ‘Dangerous Visions’ and his first show was ‘Steambath’.  Steambath is a bit of a risqué play dealing with God’s waiting room…a steambath…several dead people in towels, and even involved a nude shower with the one woman in the show.  God was a Hispanic steambath attendant/janitor, played by Carlos White.  Carlos was half Mexican, half gringo, and was to become probably my greatest friend in St. Louis.

The play was performed in a nightclub, that allowed us to use the space before they opened at 10:30, called Zone 1, which was located in Maryland Plaza in the Central West End.

The play was directed by Michael Brightman, and some of the performers were Matthew Caulley who, with his wife Mary, I became very good friends.  Matt was the jolly type, and Mary the school teacher type, but they were a lot of fun. Steve Eliasson was the hunky gay character, though he was very straight, but was a stage fighting pro, and had the body to show it.  Marisa Cody was the sweetheart who had to get naked in the shower right next to the audience.  I was the stage manager, and I was the one trying to keep a huge bucket of water hot enough to pour through a hose attached to a showerhead, from the balcony, so that she didn’t burn, and didn’t freeze.  I think I got it right most of the time.

One night, she intentionally dropped the soap which flipped into the audience.  She asked a man in the front row if he could pick it up for her and hand it back.  He turned about seven shades of red.

Michael Brightman was a pain in the ass.  He had talent, but an ego that went far beyond.  He was attractive, but one of the typical gay men with that nose in the air thing going on. Carlos and I both hated him, and in the end sat down and chatted about him. We couldn’t stand him because he was such an arrogant bastard…but we both agreed that we’d love to just bend him over the end of the couch and…

Wendy Eberhardt was our prop master, tech director, and more.  She built an amazing giant five foot tall ‘glass’ that looked like it was full of liquid, which God would suck down with one swallow through a straw.  When god drank, a plug was pulled from the bottom, and the double-walled glass drained the liquid into the reservoir in the bottom of the glass.  It didn’t always work, but when it did, it was spectacular.

Bob Herman was an amazing guy to know, and I would know him through several more productions.  Just and overall good guy, with a great wife (Katherine), and a giant heart.

Of course, Joe Pollock came to see the show, and ‘suggested’ that if Dangerous Visions wanted him to take them seriously, they’d better go Union.

The show was terrific, and got very good reviews, although the one from Joe Pollock was with his venom in the background.  Venom that I would soon face again.

Caryn Swinko was asked to participate in a fundraiser at a local gay bar to raise money for some AIDS charity, and she asked me to go along, along with her friend Angela.  I’d met both of them on the Sheldon music video shoot.  This wasn’t some big swanky hoity toity fundraiser, just a bar show with donations being made.  Caryn was going to sing a couple of songs, and of course what gay evening wouldn’t be complete without drag and strippers? (another one of the reasons I never quite could gel with the gay culture)

I don’t remember what Caryn sang, she sounded fantastic, but she was so over the top with her motions, and her wardrobe was always kind of tacky, so she ended up looking like Desperate Housewives Do Vegas.  And it really was a shame…this woman had a fantastic voice…if someone could have just helped her with some stage presence.

The stripper…typical.  We not talking Chippendales here.  We’re talking St. Louis.  There was one drag queen that stood out though.  He came out in some leather teddy type outfit, with long blonde hair and a riding crop, and synched to some German version of ‘Money, That’s All I Want.’  It was actually impressive in a disturbing kind of way. He was very good.

Caryn sang again, someone made a speech, another strip, and then the drag queen came back.

This time, it was a song I’m totally in love with, from a musical called ‘Closer Than Ever.’  The song is ‘Miss Bird’, about a lowly secretary that everyone just thinks of as that ‘Miss Bird.’  But what no one knows is that she has hot sex hook-ups during her breaks.  It’s a FUN song.  So the drag queen comes out and is seated at a stenographer’s desk and a rolling chair.  Business suit, hair in a bun, glasses. NOT looking ‘camp’, but looking like a legit business secretary.  The music started and I about burst.  He did a fantastic job, sitting all prim and proper and then letting loose, letting his hair down, and going total sexy.  At one point he looked at me and winked, and I just kind of thought ‘Oh brother’.  Then, as the number was about to end, he fixed me with a stare, and raised an eyebrow.

NO!

I looked at him again with a furrowed brow and it hit me…I looked at him wide eyed and mouthed ‘No!’, to which he replied with a nod and a ‘yes’.

It was Michael Fulks who I’d had a very brief fling with back during Kate Cuba Stewarts gig with Carousel at The Muny.  He was the eldest of the Snow children in Carousel.  Adorable, skinny, blonde, and we almost had a good time in bed except for the pot smoking, which as you know by now, is a turn off.

But let me tell you…one hell of a performer!

At one point in the evening, Caryn sang something I was really familiar with, and I started singing low in Angela’s ear, just to sing.  She told me that it gave her chills…that I should be singing.  Why have I been told that so many times in my life, but never by anyone willing or able to actually help me DO something about it?

The next show for Dangerous Visions was ‘Sexual Perversity In Chicago’ paired with its companion piece ‘The Duck Variations’.  Another very good cast, with Matt Caulley as the hilarious old man in ‘Duck Variations’ and Stelli Siteman as the old lady. Stelli was a St. Louis lesbian socialite with minimal talent and all the airs of theaTAHHHH people.  Michael Brightman again directed, and was again a nose in the air pain in the ass to deal with. Carlos and I seemed to be team stage managers, and Carlos and I bonded further.

Carlos was an amazing human being.  Smart, simple, but man, the choices he made in his life…

Carlos was a true ‘functional alcoholic’. Now I know a lot of anti-drinkers are rolling their eyes and muttering ‘there’s no such THING’, but I’m here to tell you from direct experience that there IS such a thing.  I’ve never known any OTHERS, but I have known one. I never saw Carlos without beer. And although I ALWAYS saw Carlos drinking, I NEVER saw Carlos ‘drunk’, or even slightly impaired in any way.  In FACT, as a friend and a stage manager I could rely on Carlos 150%, whereas many ‘sober’ people I knew up until that point I couldn’t count on at ALL.

Carlos was kind.  Carlos was funny.  And like me, Carlos saw the dark side.  Carlos had LIVED the dark side much like me, and maybe even a little more so. I had made some bad choices up until this point, like my Achilles heel to try and HELP people, which has pretty much left me bitter and broke to this day, but Carlos’ bad choices came in the men he dated…and latched onto.  Or they latched on to him, and regardless of how bad they were for him, they stayed latched to him.  Each and every one of them was a nearly unemployable loser that Carlos supported with what little he earned as a mailroom and file storage clerk at Stifel Nicolas.  You know, one of those multi-million national stock firms that rakes it in, but doesn’t like paying it out.

The first I knew of was George.  A NON-functional alcoholic who was attractive, but from what I recall abusive.  He and Carlos had split by the time I met Carlos, but the torch was still lit, even though Carlos had his current ball and chain, Bob.  Bob was cute, but a scrawny little bitch of a thing, and he and Carlos lived in a tiny little shoebox of a house literally up against the highway in South St. Louis.  It was four rooms, ‘master bedroom’, with a king sized bed and a couple of dressers that allowed for approximately two feet of walking space around the bed, a ‘guest room’ which had been turned into a plant room, with just enough space to place a twin mattress on the floor for ‘guests’, the living room that was mostly a couch and entertainment center, and a kitchen that was also another plant room.  Smack dab in the middle was the bathroom, the smallest room, and probably the room with the most moving around space.  In this house were two people, two dogs, two birds, I think a cat, and two humans.  Carlos seemed to thrive on being ‘surrounded’.

We were never lovers, but we were occasionally ‘friends with benefits.’  Never at his house, of course.  But I do recall playing at my home in the hoosierama, as well as in the record warehouse once.

Carlos had introduced me to one of his co-workers who was ‘higher up’ in the office, who we called ‘little Stevie Myers.’  He was short, blonde, skinny, and some fun in bed, but a total flake when it came to making any kind of actual human connection.

Carlos was also good friends with Linda Lawson, who was a local Lesbian earth mother queen type, with a partying habit, a butch girlfriend and a child.  Linda was also a local lighting designer for theaters and music shows.  Linda helped out with some of Bob Herman’s gigs too, as well as at the Sheldon.

Speaking of the Sheldon, and some of the work I did at the Beaux Arts building, I have a vivid memory of one day helping Dan Johnson hang banners on the side of the Beaux Arts building.

We began around 9 in the morning.  Dan and I assembled TWO sets of scaffolding, one on top of the other, and stacked them up against the side of the building.  Dan drilled holes in the building and attached chain and cable to secure the scaffolding to the building.  The banners were rental banners that were to line the corner of the building, sticking out about three feet on rods.

Did I mention that I am terrified of heights?

So there we were up on the top of the scaffolding, Dan drilling away, and me holding on for dear life, afraid to move a muscle.  He’d ask for a screwdriver or some other tool, and it would take me almost a minute to bend down to the toolbox and get it, then without moving, one hand white knuckled on the tubing, the other hand would slowly extend toward him with the tool.

Across the street from the Beaux Arts Building was Powell Symphony Hall, and they’d apparently had a lunchtime concert that day.  The concert ended, and the crowd came pouring out around 1 pm.  It was mostly senior citizens.

Dan and I had come down to street level for lunch, and as we stood on the sidewalk, two little old ladies came walking past, and started to cross the street.  They stepped off the driveway into the parking garage to the street, holding onto each others’ arms, and one of them stepped on the little one inch ‘lump’ that is created by the driveway as it joins the street, lost her balance, and they both hit the pavement.  One fell directly onto the pavement, and her friend fell on top of her.

We helped them up, and they seemed fine, but soon the one who fell on top of the other started to get dizzy, and passed out.  Emergency services and the police were called, and the police arrived first, helping the woman into the back seat of the car until the ambulance arrived.  She was out cold, and eventually threw up in her unconsciousness.

The ambulance arrived and took both of them away.  We learned the next day that the unconscious lady had died at the hospital.  Of course the family had to launch a full investigation to see if there was wrongdoing on the part of the building, but it was all dismissed as the freak accident that it was.  I’m sorry that someone lost their family member, but seriously folks, put your lawyer away!

Back to Carlos, and the shows.  Carlos had lost George.  George, drunk out of his mind one night, solicited a couple of straight guys while walking past their house, and they proceeded with beating him to death with a hammer.  Carlos was pretty broken up by it, but finally the torch could go out.  He still had his other mess at home to comfort him.

Bob Jett

I had met a guy via personal ads, who came to visit from somewhere in Southern Illinois, whose name was Bob Jett.  Tall, skinny, big nose, black hair, adorable.  Yes, there is a type forming here.

Bob was a student, and an aspiring artist, and one of the nights of the ‘Sexual Perversity’ shows, the club held an art show, and he brought some of his paintings along to show.  He was sweet, but the paintings were kind of high school.  We ended up only seeing each other two or three times.  Although he was adorable, he was another one of those who was afraid of sex, thanks to ‘the disease.’  If we could have completely wrapped our entire bodies in condoms, he might have relaxed SLIGHTLY, but it looked like that was never going to happen, so we parted ways.  I’ve always wondered where he’d gone off to in life, and what he looks like today.

While running the St. Marcus, I’d also met a guy named Kirk McNamer.  Kirk was involved with ‘The Little Theater On The Square’ in Sullivan, Illinois.  They used the St. Marcus to hold their St. Louis round of auditions, one of those useless things I made available for local arts groups.  Kirk and I became friends, and on one weekend he actually took me to Sullivan to experience the theater.  They were presenting the musical ‘Baby.’

Kirk was a great guy, in an on again, off again relationship with the guy who founded the theater, Guy Little, Jr.  The theater was fantastic.  It really was the ‘Little Theater On The Square.’  ‘Town’ consisted of…a square.  In the middle was the courthouse, and it was surrounded by four streets and little tiny buildings.  An old fashioned small town in the middle of nowhere, with a truly outstanding theater.  I stayed in Kirk’s apartment, which I can only remember as quaint, and I do recall thinking that Kirk was way out of my league, being the polished ahhhhhts type on the board of the theater, but he was a huggable and loveable type.

This production of ‘Baby’ was one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Excellent cast, excellent direction, the music was perfect, funny as hell…and in the middle of freakin’ nowhere in Sullivan, Illinois.

Back in St. Louis, Doree Wren opened her own casting office, and she took me in once in a while as her helper.  Her partner was a rather sketchy woman named Deborah Sylvester.  Deborah was divorced, a couple of kids, fooling around with some married lawyer, who claimed to have big connections to Hollywood.  She supposedly was buddies with John Goodman, not that any of us ever saw proof of this.

I remember one day Deborah took me for a walk with headphones, and had me listening to music while reading text to explore how my voice would maintain without being able to hear myself.  Huh?

Doree and Deborah offered some camera classes, and did a little extras casting, but nothing ever came out of it for me.  Eventually, Doree had to shut down the office and throw out Deborah, who was draining funds from the business, and not bringing anything in.

Deborah was also a chronic pothead.  She gave me find next and final attempt at smoking it.

I did another independent film, a student film, by a guy named Mark Pennebaker.  I was cast as a loser drug dealer.  I had one day of filming, and two scenes.  The first scene took place in an apartment, as the loser drug dealer gets threatened by thugs that he owed money to.  They come into the apartment and threaten him, then in the second scene, which we filmed the same day outside the building, he gets roughed up by the same thugs against a chain link fence.

I got yelled at in the apartment scene.  I thought the set designer/decorator had done a phenomenal job.  This was supposed to be a drug losers apartment, and the place was a royal disaster.  Pizza boxes and old food containers, empty beer bottles, ash trays overflowing with cigarette butts, newspapers and magazines all over the floor, and a layer of dust that I couldn’t imagine HOW they got it that way.

I commented out loud on what a great job they’d done making the place look like the mess of a loser…I said it was pretty damned gross.

Mark yelled at me…they hadn’t dressed the set.  They just borrowed their friend’s apartment.  He was in the next room.

Yikes.

A few months later, I was invited to the screening of the finished film at Webster University.  I couldn’t find anyone free to go, and Deborah agreed to go.  We went and watched this god awful student film, with me in it, and when we went out to the parking lot, we got in the car and she lit up.  I asked for a hit, and took ONE puff.

We went to a pub in the Central West End afterwards, and sat down at a counter along the wall, on a couple of high stools.  I ordered a vodka martini, and we split a plate of nachos.  I took two sips from the martini, and ate a couple of nachos, and as we chatted, I started to feel it…the slowing down of the senses, the dropping of energy and muscle control.  I told Deborah that I really had to get out of there, and she agreed.  I excused myself to the restroom before we went, and as I made my way from the stool toward the bathroom, it hit me.

The bar was on the left, the length of the room, and on the right was a short wall that separated the bar from the table area.  I walked no more than ten feet and went down like the Titanic…I just lost all capacity to stand.  My mind worked fine as I heard Tim, the bartender, another local actor say “Uh, hey Deborah, we have a little problem over here.”

A couple of guys picked me up, and carried me down the long set of stairs to outside.  It was quite cold, in February I think, and the second I hit the cold air, everything snapped back to normal, and it was if nothing had happened.

And that was THE last time I have ever touched the stuff…and I really can’t even stand being around it.

Mare Winningham and cast of She Stood Alone - I was there when this photo was taken.

I had another movie experience around this time when Disney TV came to St. Louis to film a historical piece which was originally called ‘A Mighty Fortress’ but was eventually entitled ‘She Stood Alone.’  It starred Mare Winningham, and was about a white teacher in the 1800’s who ran a school for girls.  She allows some of her black workers to study with the other students, and creates an uproar.  Ben Cross was a newspaper man who lent her a hand.

I was hired as a set production assistant.  This job began at 5 am, and finished at 1 am, for about $100 per day.   I was the one who had to make sure that Mare and Ben got their directions, meals, to and from the set, paperworks signed, to and from wardrobe, and just generally took care of them during their time on the set.

It was an exhausting experience since the hours were insane, but it was truly a very interesting experience as well.

First off, this was my first REAL time actually working with ‘stars’.  Mare Winningham, not a problem.  She always played the kind of ordinary gal in her roles, and this is indeed what she was.  A very nice, down to earth, regular gal.  She just ate a banana and some granola for breakfast, wasn’t fussy or diva like in any way whatsoever.  She was a gem and a breeze to work with.

Ben was the eccentric one.  A very handsome man, one of the stars of ‘Chariots Of Fire’, and at that time, he was in a prime time remake of the old

Ben Cross

daytime cheesy soap opera ‘Dark Shadows’ playing Barnabas Collins.

I also lent a hand here and there with a woman named Laurel who was part of the Disney PR team, as we arranged for craft service and photo shoots.  She was very nice in that PR rep kind of way, and even took me to dinner one night at Balaban’s which was a high end eatery in the Central West End to thank me for a big day at a photo shoot at some historical site that they were using as Mare’s house and school.

We filmed in Soulard, a few blocks from where my first apartment had been.  By this time, Carlos had helped me, and I’d moved out of the roach infested hoosierama, and into my last residence in St. Louis on McPherson Street in the Central West End.

The services were in a parking lot somewhere near the Preservation Hall, and that’s where Ben and Mare’s trailers were, the wardrobe trailer, which was headed by a woman named Rosalie Wallace who had also done the wardrobe for ‘Dark Shadows’, the catering wagon, etc.  One day I had to go to Ben’s trailer to call him to the set, and seeing a ‘star’ as a real person occurred. Ben answered my knock at the door shirtless, in his costume pants, and a foamy toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.  I told him we were ready to head for the set in ten minutes, and he responded with ‘Alright, I’ll just take a pee, get dressed and be right with you.’

On another occasion, I was told to let Ben and Mare know that they were going to take about an hour and a half to two hours to reset lighting and camera at the set, and to make themselves comfortable until we called them.  Mare said ‘Fine’ and thanked me for the information.  I went to Ben’s trailer and told him, and he replied “Well, you know William, where I would be most comfortable would be at that little pub at the end of the block, and that’s exactly where I’ll be.  So if you hear chairs flying and glass breaking, please do come and get me.”

I half smiled, not quite sure if he was being for real or pulling my leg.  I thanked him, he closed the door, and I RAN across the gravel lot to the wardrobe trailer, to ask Rosalie, who knew the guy a little better, and asked if he was joking or being for real.

Rosalie said “Oh no, I know my Benji, that’s exactly where he’ll be.”

An hour and a half later, I had to call him to the set, and there indeed he was, in the pub, in vintage 1800’s costume, drinking coffee and reading a book, seated at a high-top table, surrounded by South St. Louis hoosiers who were clueless that he was even there.  I just walked in the door, he saw me, nodded, gathered his things, and came outside.

I was in charge of keeping Ben supplied with his tea.  Again, this was sometime in the winter, and Ben wanted his Earl Grey Tea, ‘piping hot’ with lemon and honey.  I had a military trenchcoat with giant pockets, stuffed with Earl Grey tea bags, a honeybear, a zip lock bag of lemon wedges from craft service, and a handful of paper cups.  The only thing I couldn’t carry with me was the ‘piping hot’ water.  And in winter, with craft service’s table set up on the street, their water was never ‘piping hot’ either.  I actually had to find someone in the neighborhood with a microwave to zap it to the right temperature.

I only occasionally needed to fetch a banana for Mare.

I remember one afternoon, standing on the front porch of the house in Soulard that was supposed to be Ben’s newspaper office, and Mare talking with other crew members about her time on ‘St. Elmos Fire’, having a huge crush on Rob Lowe, and being referred to as the woman who looked like a ‘mole.’  Sad what the media does.  Mare really was a genuinely sweet gal.

I worked the job for one week.  A young black guy named Bryan Denegal was my ‘supervisor’ of sorts, I think he was the 2nd assistant to the director. Very nice guy, supportive, and patient.  He was the first I saw in the morning, and the last I saw at night. He always looked tired, and quite frankly, I don’t know how ANY of the underlings survive a long term schedule like that.  I was about half dead after one week.

Another afternoon at Ben’s house in Soulard, and his filming had ended.  It was between 2:30 and 3 pm, and there was an elementary school at the end of the block, with a main entrance that capped the end of the street.  I was walking him to his van, and a couple of people started to approach for autographs, and I started to do my assigned routine of warding them off.  Ben stopped me and said it was fine, and made me kind of look like the bad guy, but he chatted with them a little and signed their autographs. Suddenly, I heard a bell ring, and looked up the street towards the school.  It was letting out.  A zillion kids and adults started pouring out the front door, and heading in our direction.  They were about two blocks away, but moving fast.  I muttered in Ben’s ear, ‘Um, Ben, look to your left.’  He looked, saw the crowd clamoring toward us, and said ‘Yes, well, that’s all then. Thank you for stopping by, got to go.’ He hopped in the van and was gone.

Ben’s last day on the set arrived.  He called me to his trailer and told me “William, you have been such a tremendous help to me, that I would like you to have this.”  He pointed to an enormous fruit and cheese basket that was sitting on his table.  I was flattered, and probably blushed.  I said “Oh my, thank you Ben, that’s incredibly kind” to which he replied “Besides, the producers keep giving me the fucking things and I have absolutely no use for them.”

The day passed, and his filming wrapped.  Around 10:30 at night, we were waiting in the parking lot for the van that was taking him to his hotel room.  He came to me again saying “You know William, I have a question for you.  I don’t really want to ask the others around the set, but I feel like I can trust you.  You’ve been really good to me this week.  I was wondering though, if you might know where I might find some…well…combustible refreshment?”

I looked at him, and I think my head actually tilted to one side like a confused cocker spaniel.  I started to reply, but then stopped, stammered, and said “Um…I’m not sure…what do you mean?”

All my brain could think of was little flaming drinks…

He looked at me again, and said ‘You know, of the SMOKING variety!”

My eyes flew wide open, and I said “Ohhhhhh!” and then tilted me head again and said “Well, um…not really.  I mean, I have a couple of friends that I could call, but I…” and he cut me off with “Not really your scene, eh?”

I said “No”, and he told me not to worry, not a big deal, and turned to walk toward his van, which had pulled into the lot and was waiting.  He opened the door of the van, turned to me and yelled “William, you’re very refreshing!”

Translation: William, you’re a naïve motherfucker.

I found out after Ben left that I was being fired.  They told me that I had too limited experience and they had too limited budget to make things efficient.  I could understand, it was after all my first time doing this, with the exception of the volunteer gig at the Sheldon’s music video shoot.

Chad Campbell

However, I had made a new friend on the set, an extras wrangler named Chad Campbell.  Chad was the all-American squeaky clean type.  Big blue crystal eyes, baby face, enormous toothy smile, very clean cut, skinny little body, and we ended up dating a little after the shoot.

Chad informed me the week after I’d left that he’d found out that the reason they fired me had nothing to do with me.  One of the producers had a niece who was trying to fill some off time from college with something ‘fun’ to do.  She not only had ZERO experience in the business, but had no interest in pursuing it.  She just wanted to have some fun.

But that night, I went home depressed, with my second hand fruit and cheese basket, and pockets full of enough Earl Grey tea, honey and lemons to get me through a month.

So I had moved from the hoosierama to McPherson Street in the Central West End.  My 1972 Superbeetle had died, and I just left it in the back yard of the old apartment, and that was the end of my driving.  I did have one very nice weekend with a Volvo wagon, which a guy I briefly dated let me use when he’d gone out of town.  It was probably the nicest driving experience I ever had. He was a VP for one of the battery companies, either Energizer or Duracell…I think it was Duracell, because I remember him getting mad about my mistakingly relating the bunny to his company.  He was kind of a closet case, very attractive in that corporate way, with one of those Ivy League/Hamptons silly names like ‘Griff’.  I remember driving this wonderful machine to St. Charles for an audition on the Goldenrod Showboat after it had moved out of the hands of the Pearson family, and was becoming a theater on the river in St. Charles.  I walked in, and there behind the director’s desk was Brett Lassiter.  When I worked at the Plaza Theatre in Dallas, the house manager was a sweetheart of a gal named Eileen.  Brett was her room mate, and a friend to Preston Bircher.  He was also one of the uppity A-list gay wannabees who couldn’t be bothered with the likes of someone like ME.  Well, this carried over several years to this particular day and this audition.  There was no point of me even auditioning, but I did anyway…of course, nothing came of it.

Carlos and his truck helped me move into my new place.  It was a great apartment.  A little rough around the edges, but within my budget, and TONS of old world charm.  Hardwood floors throughout. Non-functional, but very pretty fireplace in the living room.  French doors that separated the living room from the dining room, and another set closing off the dining room from the hallway, and the dining room had a huge bay window with a window seat. The view was of the brick wall of the next building, but it was a great window. There was a small sun room in front of the living room, a butler door between the dining room and the pantry…and yes…it had a pantry.  The kitchen was small, but functional, and a small bedroom.  The closet in the bedroom had a little issue with leakage from the room, which was oddly two floors above, and there was another little issue with roaches.  Not the little kind, but the TEXAS kind – Palmetto bugs – and at night you could actually hear them walking across the stove in the next room.  It was close to many more things, and was a cozy little home for the rest of my stay in St. Louis.  The landlord was a nerdy guy, who was very slowly working to renovate the building, kind of hunky in his nerdy way, but very nice.  I think his name was Mark.

Upstairs lived a graphic designer named Joy Marcus, who was uppity, touchy, and bitchy. Anyone who knows me can verify that I’ve always been a pretty considerate neighbor, but my GOD that woman must have had superhero hearing, because she complained about my music more than any place I’d ever lived.  And it was NOT loud.  And, it’s not like I’m rocking out…I stopped listening to pop music in 1986 when I lived in Dallas, and switched to big band, swing, traditional jazz and Broadway.

I never really knew anyone else in the building, and it was a six unit, three story building.  I was on the second floor.

I do recall one hell of an ice storm one year living there.  There was like six inches of ice EVERYWHERE.  The entire area looked like a giant skating rink.  At one point, in order to get down the front yard to the street, we had to tie a rope to the door knob and slowly work our way down.

My exercise routine exploded during this time.  I think the night that Laurel took me to dinner at Balaban’s, I’d met some of the wait staff there, which included a very nice gal named Karen LaPlaca who was an aerobics instructor at the Maryland Fitness Club a few blocks away.  She invited me to join on the ‘poor man’ rate (which was offered to the staff at Balaban’s) of $25 per month. FINALLY something in my budget.

Well, my routine became (and being basically unemployed made this easy) getting up in the morning, and jogging six miles around Forest Park seven days per week.  Five days per week, I ended that jog at the gym, and took an hour aerobics class, which I basically sucked at, but persisted.  Dancing has never been a strong point for me, and we would go weeks doing the same aerobics routine, and JUST when I finally started to get it in my head, Karen would change it, and I’d be marching in place again.  Karen was the best instructor I ever had for aerobics.  Her music was fun, and not blasting a constant thud, and the crowd was basically a bunch of corporate raiders’ and doctors’ housewives, who were actually pretty down to earth.

Four days per week, I would go down to the weight room, and work two days on upper body and two days on lower body.  Working with the weights introduced me to Randy Ford.

Randy Ford

Randy was a 150% hunk, all the way around.  Not only was Randy built like the proverbial brick shithouse, but he was hairy, a gorgeous face, and one of the damned nicest gay men I’ve ever known.  Randy was NOT closeted, but Randy was NOT a queen.  Randy was in a devoted relationship with Charlie, and they were both optometrists.  Randy was just a complete great guy.  He became my motivator and work out partner, and through him I whittled and carved myself into a pretty damned good shaped guy. I did this workout routine for almost two years.

Randy had a license plate that read: ‘Buchar’

I asked him one day what the heck it meant.  Did it mean ‘butcher’, as in ‘more butch than you’?  Randy laughed and said NO!  It’s like in ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane’

I said ‘huh?’

Buch’ar…buch’ar Blanche…buch’ar in that chair!

Except in the gym, Randy did become kind of an arm’s length friend. He was very supportive, just wouldn’t invite me in TOO far into his circle.  But he and Charlie would come out to theater things that I was involved with.  I miss him.  I could sure use a workout partner like him again now.  Then again, I could use cheap access to such a nice gym like that now.

Living in the Central West End brought a lot of opportunities for meeting people.

Mariette Hartley & Alan Muraoka

The gym had a deal with the Muny, and the performers who were in town worked out there if they wanted to.  One day in aerobics, there was this incredibly hunky little Asian guy who flirted with me.  Short, very handsome, and an Asian guy with a hairy chest.  I was in lust.  We met after the gym and had coffee and chat.  His name was Alan Muraoka, and he was in town with the touring production of ‘Mame’ with Mariette Hartley as

Georgia Engel & Alan Muraoka

Mame and Georgia Engel as Gooch.  He, of course, was Ito.  We arranged a date, had a nice dinner.  He invited me to see Mame, and to join him backstage at the party, where I did get to meet Mariette Hartley and Georgia Engel.  Mariette was just cordial.  Georgia was as well, but more memorable…because she really DOES talk just like that!  In her little wispy quiet voice.

After that, Alan took me to his hotel room, and we made out…and passionately.

The next day…Alan wouldn’t even speak to me. Done.  He got his road fling, and I was flung.

It simply astounds me how charming guys can be BEFORE they get what they want, and how flat out cold they immediately become once they’ve gotten it.

So, once more into the fray. This time, I somehow connected with a little tourist attraction called ‘Poco Loco Western Town’ which was in some far off place outside of St. Louis.  I honestly can’t remember how the connection came to be.  It might have been through Ron and Elery from the Knights of Columbus, but I’m really not sure.  They were interested in doing the murder mystery musical comedy thing at their banquet hall, western themed of course.  So what better than to parody Phantom of the Opera and the Grand Ole Opry, with Phantom of the Opry?

I started the writing process with a woman who wanted to actually be a country singer, I think her name was Caroline, and she might have been a friend of Karen LaPlaca.  The cobwebs are making the memory a bit hazy initially.  Caroline, as it turns out was in some way connected to Tom Haefele in New York.  Either she, or her sister had been Tom’s room mate.  Caroline was a blonde, thin gal with a husky voice, but no too up on the creative scale, and she didn’t really have much to put into the writing or creation of the show, so she backed out.

I somehow got in touch with Terri Ferraro who had been one of the singers and dancers in the Knights of Columbus show (she’s the gal helping the old guy onto the stage in the video), and she and I became a much better creative team.

Me as Polly Esther Pardon and Terri Ferraro as Tammy Whine-It

Once again, we wrote a four act audience participation show, with each of us playing multiple characters.  I was Polly Esther Pardon and she was Tammy Whine-It.  We actually had a full country band to sing with, and the show was a lot of fun.  The food was pretty much country barbecue, but tasty, and the price was fair.

So what was the problem?  Complete and total lack of knowledge of how to promote a show on the part of the folks at Poco Loco Western Town.  We did ONE performance for an audience that was mostly friends and family, and I’m not even sure we ever even got paid for that one.  We put in over a month of work, and had costumes special made.  Gathered props and created an entire script.  Doree Wren came to the location and took photographs for promotion. Pulled together musical arrangements, rehearsals…for one performance…and not one dime of pay.

Drinking In America Poster - Joe Hanrahan

Meanwhile, back at Dangerous Visions Productions, we did a one man show featuring Joe Hanrahan.  It was the one-man piece ‘Drinking In America’ by Eric Bogosian.  Joe was fantastic.  The show ran its several weekend run, and the next gig up was mine.  Bob Herman agreed to let me direct ‘Making The Beast.’

‘Making The Beast’ was an original play by a guy named Doug Soderberg, and it was so off the wall I LOVED it!  It was set in the lobby of a porn movie theater, and dealt with the ‘average’ people who worked there, and the whack-job people who were the clientele.  They go about their daily rituals until a militant feminist Lesbian and her lipstick Lesbian slave girl burst in to take hostages in ‘protest’.  The script was totally hilarious.  Carlos was my stage manager, and I couldn’t have done it and stayed sane without him. The cast was a CHALLENGE to say the least.

The cast required three ‘middle aged’ women to begin with, something not usually an issue in ‘local theater’, and two guys, one who played multiple characters, the ‘clients’ coming into the theater.  Usually, it’s finding the GUYS that is an issue.  We pulled in Marisa Cody from ‘Steambath’ and Stelli Siteman from ‘Duck Variations’, but needed two others. And older black woman who was kind of house wife-ish, and the gal who was to play the manager of the theater.  We struck gold with the manager by finding Mary Knoll to play Ellie.  She looked right, and had all the right quirkiness and timing.  Marisa was absolutely fine as Nancy, the lipstick Lesbian.  We found the ‘hunk’ with Felix Spittler who was Tony, the projectionist, custodian and shill for the theater – dressed as a giant sperm juggling eggs.  Tony was pure beefcake, with an amazing chest that I actually incorporated into the show at one point when Ellie starts scolding him for something, poking her finger at his chest – and then pausing for a few seconds to feel how hard it was.  Mary’s timing and character were beautiful, but she could be a bit of a diva pain in the ass.  It was ok though, since she actually had talent.  Tom Clear, a local musician and ‘friend of the theater community’ was brought in as the ‘clients’.  He looked right…dorky, frizzy hair and slightly balding, skinny.  But he hated the play or me apparently, and no matter what I did it seemed I was met with arrogance and defiance.

This leaves us with the remaining two women.  Myrtle Davis, the older black woman, and Stelli-the-socialite-Siteman.

Myrtle, god love her, tried as hard as she could.  She looked perfect for the part, and if she had just relaxed and let herself go with the character, she would have been great.  But therein laid the problem.  This gal was uptight.  At one point, she needed to emit a B-movie scream.  We tried and tried and tried to get her to scream, but nothing that we did would convince her to just let go and scream.  She did it only ONCE during the entire rehearsal process, and it was immediately after Carlos asked me to hold everything a second, and asked if he could try something – and at this point I was game for damned near anything.  He walked up to Myrtle and whispered something in her ear, and she actually let out a shocked blood curdling scream.  PERFECT!  That’s IT!  Keep it Myrtle!  But she didn’t.  It was the one and only time it came out of her.

Later while driving home, I asked Carlos ‘Ok, what did you say?’

He said “I whispered ‘imagine that someone has just shoved a chain saw in your cunt!’ and that was it.”  Did I mention that I loved Carlos?

The biggest problem was with Stelli.  I think she was way too close to ‘militant Lesbian’ to be able to see ANY comedy in what the character of Sheila was supposed to be.  She fought me every step of the way when it came to finding the ‘humor’ in what she was saying, and I, frankly, was at a total loss for how to tell her.

I had three performers who couldn’t find timing if it were a digital clock nailed to their heads, two who were too St. Louis ‘darling’ to take direction from anyone, and the others just trying to get through the ride.

Wilcox review - click to read

Joe Pollock of course DESTROYED us in his review, since we’d done four shows and hadn’t yet gone Union.  And even now, going back and reading Bob Wilcox’s review, I can see what he’s aiming at (other than praising his two St. Louis sweethearts – Mary Knoll and Tom Clear) but when it comes down to brass tacks, he had no CLUE what we’d been through to make happen just what we’d made happen.  And he was also way off base with praising the divas who had given the most belligerence.  This was kind of my last straw with ‘critics’.

Wendy Eberhardt was once again our light and creative.  We concocted a very nice set for the space we had to work with, but my very favorite part was the hilarious set of faux lobby posters we had lining the set.  “ET – The ExtraTesticle” and  “Sperms Of Endearment” are the two I can remember.

Marisa’s boyfriend, Tom Seymour, designed and built an awesome costume for the character of Tony…the giant sperm costume which he wore to stand on the street corner and hail potential customer while juggling…eggs.

One of my favorite memories of dear Bob Herman involved needing supplies for the set and a particular scene in the play.  There was a candy counter, with a popcorn machine on the top (where Ellie kept her baby warm), and the shelves were filled with sex shop items, and candy.  And the candy had to be specific, because Ellie related their sexual connotations to the audience.  Mr. Goodbar.  Good n Plenty. Ohhhhhhh Henry.

So Bob and I head off one night to the local drug store for our candy counter stock up.  Four each of all of the candies mentioned in the monologue, sexual lubricants, and several boxes of condoms.

If you’ve watched any of my videos, you already know what I looked like then.  Bob was older than me, very tall, a little husky, and a rather Jewish ‘looking’ Jewish man, wearing his lawyer clothing, with the crisp white shirt and tie, and glasses.

The look on the face of the guy check out clerk at the drug store was priceless as this unlikely looking ‘couple’ approached the counter with a basket filled with candy bars, and enough condoms and lube to supply a small orgy.

I loved this play, but I really wish I could do it again with a complete cast that knew what they were doing, and who weren’t of the ‘local elite’ to the extent that they would make life miserable.

I needed a vacation, and it turned out that Caryn Swinko was toying with taking a trip to Chicago, and she invited me to go along. She ‘said’ that I wouldn’t have to worry about the room, that I could share hers, and that her friend Angela was going to join us.  We were going to fly up on like a Thursday or Friday, and come back on Monday, and Angela would meet us there the day after we arrived.  The three of us had all worked on the Sheldon music video.  Angela was a little bit of a pain in the ass.  She claimed that she was losing her eyesight (although she always seemed able to see what she wanted to see), and was a major attention whore about NOT being able to see, using it as an excuse to gain attention or get her way.  Angela was in her early 20’s.  Caryn was in her 40’s.

So Caryn and I packed our bags and flew into Chicago, staying at the Palmer House. I don’t remember our first night. I vaguely recall walking the Miracle Mile, and just kind of checking out the shops.  Marshall Fields.  Frangos. Orgasmic. I think we just kind of played sightseers.

Then Angela arrived.  I remember going to breakfast at some diner, and even though we had free continental at the palmer House, we opted for a diner experience to soak in some local color.  As always, my eyes were always bugging around the room at cute guys, and an annoying trend began to occur on the part of the girls.  If I dared mention that someone was cute, they would say quite loudly, ‘Well why don’t you go say hello?’ to the point that it became downright embarrassing. I learned to keep my mouth shut, even though my eyes were buzzing all around the room, the street, anywhere we went.  I hadn’t dated anyone in quite a while.  Flings yes, but no ‘connections.’

We spent the day together, and by the end of the day, they were truly driving me out of my mind.  They were the ultimate ‘tourists’ right down to museum tour planning, and going to the Japanese restaurant where you get the little drinks with umbrellas, the Japanese boy cooking your food at the table, and a cheesy Polaroid taken of your ‘experience.’  Well, I can only stomach about 30 minutes of that, and so I decided to strike out on my own.  I did some research, and knew where Tod Johnson has been working at some design firm or flower shop, and found the street.  So I decided to walk until I found the address.

Well, let me tell you, Chicago had some VERY long streets, and I probably walked an hour and a half to two hours before I found the address, and paid a surprise visit to Tod.  I think we went for coffee or dinner, and talked, but Tod wasn’t very interested.  He went along with it, but you could tell he would rather have been ANYwhere else.

After Tod, I went to a pay phone and looked up my friend Tony Tasso, and surprise of surprises, he answered the phone.  I told him where I was, and one way or another he suggested we meet.  Either he told me how to get to him, or he helped me get to a middle ground.

Tony was still all Goth and kind of freaky looking, but he was still the passionate artists sweetheart at heart.  I think we may have hit the bar where he was working, Berlin, and then he took me to his apartment in Boy’s Town.  Tony’s apartment was a little more than freaky.  He’d painted the bathroom black, and there were Barbie dolls with cigarettes burned into their boobs hanging on strings.  I seem to be recalling a cat, and a LOT of paintings, some of which were disturbing, and some that were really good.  Tony was still wearing all of his skull rings, spider rings, spikes, and ‘look how badass I am’ gothwear, white as a sheet, with the long fried out dyed black hair. But what the hell, for old times sake, I spent the night.  I did call the hotel and warn the girls I wouldn’t be home, but that I’d see them in the morning.

Tony and I made love for several hours, sensually and passionately.  And one of the biggest tinglers was Tony running his fingernails up and down my back.  God, it felt amazing.  I loved that night with Tony.

In the morning, I took some form of transportation back to the Palmer House, probably a taxi, and met the girls in the room, took a shower, and then went into the main room, where I took off my shirt, and changed it for a sweater.

I heard a horrified gasp come from Angela (who was BLIND, ya know) who said ‘Oh my GOD! What happened to your BACK?’

I said ‘Huh?’ and she said ‘what happened to your back???’ Caryn moved around the room to get a view and also blanched.  I looked in the mirror over my shoulder…and there it was…the tracks of Tony’s fingernails.  It indeed looked like I had been violently clawed.  I blushed and told them not to worry, that is wasn’t anything bad, and not nearly as bad as it looked.  Then I suggested that we use our Palmer House breakfast passes and just have our breakfast in house before striking out.  They agreed, and down we went to the Palmer house restaurant.

We settled in at a large round table, just the three of us, and a waitress came by to ask our beverage choices.  I had tea that morning, but was actually hungrier than for just ‘continental,’ and was wondering what the difference in price would be to actually have the brunch buffet they had set up.  But before I asked, knowing that a hotel meal was going to be WAY overpriced, I wanted to see what the buffet had to offer.  So I stood up from my chair, turned around, and WHAM.

I ran smack into a waiter.  He was short (several inches shorter than me), balding but black hair, the prettiest dark brown eyes, a big Italian nose, beautiful lips, a five o’clock shadow that was sexy as hell, a perfect little body, with hair showing in all the right places…we both stepped back, and said ‘Sorry, excuse me’ and then we stood there for maybe five seconds, which seemed like an eternity…like a scene out of a movie…with bells and chimes all going off…fireworks exploding…and then I stammered…’Um…I was wondering…what’s the difference in price between the continental breakfast and the buffet?’

He stammered ‘Um, I’m not really sure, let me go and ask…where are you sitting?’ and I pointed to our table.  He made a beeline for the kitchen, and I made a beeline for the table.  I sat down, and my heart was racing.  My GOD was he adorable.  And he looked at ME like I was adorable too.  But…what do I DO with these obnoxious girls who made a scene every time I mentioned a cute guy?  I don’t dare open my mouth about what had happened…or was happening.  So I just sat down and told them that a waiter was finding out the price difference for me, and slugged down some tea.

The waiter came to the table and told me the price difference, and I opted to go for broke and get the buffet.  He went back to the kitchen, and I went back to the mindless conversation that was being dribbled across the table.  They regaled me with their stories of the museums and the Japanese Restaurant, and of course pulled out the Polaroids to prove it. Oh yes, adorable, thank you. Just look at the two of them there in that photo with their little paper umbrella drinks. Thank GOODNESS I hadn’t been there.

All of a sudden, our waitress was replaced…by the waiter…who kept refilling beverages, and casting smiles and glances from across the table behind their backs.  He was OVERLY attentive to the extent that I was starting to worry that the girls were going to say something…but they were oblivious!  They just kept rambling on and on.  And inside my head, my brain was spinning.  What could I do?  How could I find out who this incredible little guy was?  How could I know him?  And how could I possibly do it without alerting these two chatterboxes as to what was happening.  So I devised a plan inside my head.  I will just sit hear, and keep eating and drinking tea until they were antsy enough to get their day started, come up with an excuse to stay at the table after they left, and then figure it out from there.

Well, so far so good, although I was getting awfully full, and this guy just kept that tea pot filled up, so my bladder was getting full too.  It has always amazed me how one cup of tea can turn into a gallon of piss.  Well, here I was downing a gallon of tea…you do the math.  They kept talking, he kept pouring.  I watched him go to the kitchen, and from the kitchen he watched me watching him.  At one point he went into the kitchen, and a few seconds later a waitress poked her face around the wall, looked straight at me, looked back behind the wall and made a ‘I seriously approve’ face, as she disappeared behind the wall.

FINALLY…the girls decided to move on.  I told them to go ahead without me, and I’d catch up with them at some point in the day.  At last, they were gone.

Now…what do I do?  He poured tea, asked if I needed anything else.

YES!!!!  Lightbulb goes off.  I asked him for a pen and a piece of paper.  Ok, I have no chutzpah, but I cover well.  My intention was to simply leave him a note telling him I was interested, give him my room number, and leave it up to him.  He said ‘Of course’ and ran off for a pen and piece of paper, and returned with it in a very few moments, and sat them before me.

And as I picked up the pen, he leaned on the chair across the table and started chatting.  ‘So are you from Chicago? How long are you in town? Are you staying at the hotel? Am I enjoying Chicago? And so on…as I sat there about to burst into a sweat with the pen tip poised on the edge of the paper.  Finally, that extra testicle presented itself…and I said ‘Look. I have to be honest, I wanted the pen and paper to write you a note to see if you’d be interested in meeting when you finish work and get to know each other?’

Without missing a beat he replied ‘I would love to!’

He told me when he got off work, but said that he wanted to go home and get cleaned up and change before we met, and would 6:00 pm be ok?  I told him of course.

I have no idea what I did the rest of that day…but I was showered and changed and waiting in the hotel room at 5:30 pm.  And promptly at 6:00 pm, there was a knock on the door.  I opened it to see a freshly showered, gorgeous young man in a dark button up shirt, dark jeans, and a full length dress coat…smiling at me like I was a prize.

‘Hi’ he said…

And that was the beginning of knowing the love of my life…John Bonny.

John had a car, and took me on an actual real date.  First we went to dinner. I was, at that time, vegetarian, albeit a horrible one.  A vegetarian who didn’t like most vegetables, who thus ate a lot of pasta and grains, along with the pseudo proteins.  John was also very food conscious, so he took me to The Chicago Diner. The diner was a completely vegetarian restaurant that did what I always wanted to find in a veggie meal…make them feel and taste like MEAT meals.  We had a great dinner, and amazing conversation, although I couldn’t help being mesmerized by his beaming face.

After the meal, we walked across the street to a bar called Roscoe’s, where we continued out conversation, and just kept getting closer and closer.  Roscoe’s had the huge dance floor packed with people, and they also had a little lounge with a working fireplace.  We opted for more chat and sitting on the hearth in front of the burning fireplace for a cozier and more romantic feel.  And it was.  I had never felt such an immediate and intense attraction

Pre-bald John Bonny

to a guy like this.  John was another wannabee actor, very smart, very creative, incredibly appealing to look at (in my eyes…not everyone saw a balding short Italian as the ideal, but I guess there have to be more than just ONE Rhea Perlmans out there) and engaging to talk to.

We talked for a very long time, and it started to get late.  We didn’t want the evening to end…but what now?  John lived with his mother in Naperville, and I shared a hotel room with two crazy women (and thank goodness this was the last night).  We wanted to be together.  We made out a little in his car, and it became clearer that we NEEDED to go somewhere and be together.  We scouted a few motels, but either they were closed, full, or wanted more cash than either of us had.  So we drove around a bit more, and then John decided to call his Uncle, who was also gay (and partnered) living in some other Chicago suburb, to ask if he might be able to come over and stay in the guest room for the night…OH, and that he was bringing a friend.  His Uncle laughed, and told John to come on over.  So off we went.

We went in, and I can’t recall every detail.  My head was spinning in emotions.  I was 250% smitten.  All I can remember is an average size, a furry normal body, and kisses that sent me to the heavens.  John had these curly little lips that make me melt, and to this day when I see someone with similar lips, they send me back to this feeling of love.

We spent the night together at his Uncle’s, and in the morning took a quick shower, and John dropped me back off at the Palmer house where I had to quickly pack and get ready for the flight back to St. Louis.  Of course I was met with raised eyebrows by the girls, but we made meaningless small talk and headed off to catch the taxi.  As I sat in the taxi, all of a sudden it popped into my head – my Bonny lies over the ocean…my Bonny lies over the sea…

Snippy Angela looked at me and said ‘Why are you singing THAT?’

At that moment…they didn’t need to know.  But I couldn’t wait for the plane to land, to get to my home, and to the telephone to hear his voice again…to plan the next time I would see his face…and kiss his amazing curly lips.

Back in St. Louis, I had found a weekend job that proved to be quite challenging as well as entertaining, at a Lutheran (I think) Convalescent and ‘retirement’ Community, as a weekend receptionist.

My job was basically to babysit the old folks on the weekends, when the regular nine-to-fivers were off. The big manager was a woman whose name I think was Jeanne.  A short little woman in her 50’s with an overteased bubble hairdo, who gave me one of those limp fish handshakes the first time she met me. That handshake which is basically just sliding her hand into yours without squeezing or gripping at all…like trying to shake hands with a statue.  I don’t remember the full time secretary’s name, but she was the very generic but pleasant housewife type, probably also in her 50’s.  I did paperwork through the weekend, listened to music, read magazines and watched the craziness of the old folks, occasionally helping out with movie days, or other activities.

The residents were a riot!  I can remember a small handful off them, each of them as quirky as could be.  There were the Harms sisters.  Twins I believe, both the old maid former school teacher variety.  They were Harm-less, but the ting I most remember about them is their undying attention to whatever plants were being slowly drowned in the main lobby area, which was just outside my office door.  Every day, each of them independently brought pots and pans full of water, one at a time (as it was all they could carry) and watered the plants.  It didn’t matter that one had just watered them an hour before.  At Christmas, the beautiful vibrant red Poinsettas that were brought in by the management to decorate the lobby turned from vibrant red to sickly yellow in one week’s time.

Next was John brown.  I actually felt sad for him, and kind of figure I’ll end up BEING him if I live past 55.  He was completely alone.  No one ever paid him a weekend visit.  An ancient, hunched at the shoulders man, who just wandered around the building all day long.  My most hilarious memory of John was the day he simply walked past my office door, stopped about fifteen feet away from the door, turned, looked right at me, let out the loudest fart I think I’ve ever heard, turned his head back to the direction he’d been walking…and walked on.

Then there were the two Virginias.  Both of them were suffering from Macular Degeneration, and were losing their eyesight.  One of them was a raging attention whore about it, and the other didn’t want to make one iota of a spectacle about it.  The attention whore would stop as I was changing the activity sign for the day, and in as loud a voice as she could muster she’d say “What’s that say?  I can’t see, I’m BLIND ya know!”  She came complete with the unnecessary white cane, which she swung around with great pride.

The other Virginia would come sneaking silently into my office, trying to walk a straight line and not bump into things, never quite looking directly at me…either looking just slightly past me, or over my head, and hand me an envelope.  She would ask in a very quiet and timid voice if I would mind reading a note that her daughter had sent for her.  She was a doll.

Mr. and Mrs. Brennan were the heartbreakers.  A lovely older well-to-do couple.  Mrs. Brennan had once been Dorothy Lamour’s secretary, and she had that older Hamptons look about her, like the 70 year old who still hit the links every weekend.  Mr. Brennan was in the beginning stages of Altzheimers.  For the most part, he was fine and functional, but every once in a while he’d give us all a scare.  One weekend Mrs. Brennan came in and was scared to death because Mr. Brennan had gone out to the store for something simple, and hours later had still not returned.  I think I had to call the big managers to find out what to do, and they took it from there.  Several hours later the police escorted Mr. Brennan back to the home. They’d found him just sitting in his car in the parking lot of the store, not knowing where he was or how he’d gotten there.

The queen bee of quirky though was Mrs. Lillian Schott.  She and her husband, very wealthy, had checked in buying two units adjacent, and tearing out a wall between the two to create one huge suite, and then Mr. Schott died.  So Mrs. Schott was trying to play the socialite with her enormous penthouse like suite.  She told me the craziest stories, and then managed to prove them all.  Like how she knew Ronald Reagan back in the movie days, and how she hung out with Bonzo.  Then, she’d whip out her photo album, and there she was, young and beautiful, sitting on a fence with her arm around the monkey.

One day Mrs. Schott called me to her suite in a panic because her Xerox machine wouldn’t work.  Yes, Mrs. Schott, the retiree in a retirement community had a full sized Xerox machine in her home.  I looked it over and discovered that it wasn’t turned on.  Once I got it working, Mrs. Schott INSISTED that she repay me in kind…with a partial bottle of screw top wine she had in her refrigerator.  I tried like hell to say ‘No, NO! Really, no!”, but she insisted.  So, I took the bottle, which she had ‘discretely’ placed in the brown paper bag with the top twisted around the neck of the bottle, back to my office, and sat it on the filing cabinet.

I didn’t know what to do with it.  I rarely drank, AND I biked to work.  It was over a half hour bike trip, and I had no way to carry it.  At the end of the day, I left, and forgot the bottle which was still sitting on the filing cabinet.  I completely forgot about it until my phone rang the next day.  The secretary told me, in a very calm yet cautiously suspicious voice “Um, William, Jeanne and I were wondering…we came in this morning and found and open bottle of…”

I gasped and said “OH my god, I forgot!”

The secretary said “So is it…?”

I replied with two words, and the secretary laughed and said “Ok, say no more.”

The two words were “Mrs. Schott”

The dining hall was a trip.  Some of the nastiest food, only slightly above high school cafeteria in quality, served three times daily, and the residents were required to attend two meals per day.  The other one they could make themselves.  I recall ‘Charlie’s Casserole’ being on the menu many times.  It was so low-end, it was delicious.  The kind of abject junk they’d serve for high school kids.  It was ground beef, in a casserole, mixed with a couple of cans of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup, and a couple of cans of Campbell’s golden mushroom soup, a lot of cheddar cheese, some onion soup mix, topped with tater tots and more cheese, and baked.  Revoltingly delicious.

I don’t remember how long I worked the job or why I left, but I seem to think I was ‘laid off.’  It was a fun little gig though.  I often wonder how everyone left the place.  I’m pretty sure the place was bought out, since I can’t find it even by Googling.  It was the typical old folks home scam.  Sign up, they take all of your money and ‘invest’ it, and when you die, the money is all theirs.

Speaking of scams…well, ok, not really a ‘scam’, but more of one of those Jeanne Dixon moments in life gone wrong, there was an enormous earthquake predicted for St. Louis and the New Madrid fault on Monday, December 3rd of 1990.  So what better a way to celebrate the impending doom than with an arts community party at the Sheldon?

John Bonny came in for the weekend of the party, and for one of the rare occasions in my life, I was totally in love, and working together with the object of my affection to create a party.  John and I worked together, using props and furniture from Dan Johnson’s basement collection at the Beaux Arts Building, and created the perfect living room set on the stage of the ballroom of the Sheldon, piano on one side, paintings on the walls, a huge bay window…all looking like it had been hit by an Earthquake.  Complete with a bloody mannequin are dangling in the window.

Once again, I’d gotten food donated by Rudy at Sunshine Inn and a variety of other places, Walter donated an hour of bar, and even though I still had knife wounds in my back, when Chris Jackson offered to play piano as ‘atmosphere’ for an hour or so, I resisted the urge to strangle him, and welcomed him as a member of the community.  Someone had found a DJ to play dance music for a few hours on donation, and again it was a fundraiser for Onstage St. Louis, and a gathering of the local arts community. Open to the public, free for members, $5 for non-members.  John and I danced, and my friend Kyna Iman commented that we seemed right together.  I said he’s so beautiful, and Kyna said ‘Well, he’s ok for a type.’  But he was my type…all the way.

All the work, all the begging for food and others such things, all the clean up…and maybe 50 people showed up.  I believe Caryn Swinko was there, and she had a friend with her who was a harpist and opera singer named Jim.

John left the day after the party, and I wouldn’t see him again until Christmas, but we talked all the time.

There was, of course, no earthquake.

Kyna Iman

Now I have to mention my friendship with Kyna Iman.  Kyna, pronounced like ‘kinda’ without the ‘d’.  Kyna ran an organization called “Missouri Citizens For The Arts”, and she actually was one of the few ‘higher ups’ who became very supportive of what I was trying to do.  Kyna was an adorable Irish gal, who was also a fellow Scorpion, who LOVED to party.  A true drinking Irish gal.  She was involved with an older guy named Perry, who she eventually married for a while.  He was a VP at Emerson Electric, and since Kyna had looks, a great personality AND status, Kyna could marry well.

I remember at one of the Dinomite parade appearances, I’d met Kyna and Perry at the Embassy Suite hotel where they’d been partying (it may have been the St. Patrick’s Day parade – I’m not sure) and hung out with them for maybe an hour, before they decided to leave.  Kyna had parked her car in mid-town, and Perry had his scooter.  I, of course, had no car by this time.  Kyna was going to give me a ride either home or to the next venue, but first we had to get to her car…which meant three on a scooter in a crowded post parade downtown.  As we scootered through traffic (and I was a little on the nervous side from the drinking that had been going on) we pulled up next to a limousine – it was Mayor Vincent Schoemehl – the window rolled down, and there were several young gals also in the limo drinking and having a giggle fest.  Perry and Kyna exchanged some funnies with the Mayor (even though we were seriously doing NOT legal things at that moment), and off we went to the car.

I got involved with Kyna and her organization, and did a lot of volunteer work, a lot of stuffing envelopes and prepping mailings, which I’d plenty of experience with from the Gay News Telegraph.  Kyna introduced me to a lot of people, and really tried to help me get connected, but it was becoming clearer and clearer that it just wasn’t going to work. The ‘show me’ state wasn’t interested in being shown.

Kyna also tried to introduce me to a few of her friends, including a tall skinny head case named Stan.  Blonde.  Don’t remember much else about him.  He vanished and I never heard from him again.  Apparently, neither had Kyna.

One of my favorite stories about Kyna, which I retell every now and again when odd names come up, is the true story of her room mate Amy trying to fix her up with a ‘great guy’.  Amy told Kyna that she knew a guy that would be perfect for her.  He was really attractive, had a great job, was very intelligent and well read, very kind and gentle, and they were the same age.

Kyna said “Wow!  He sounds great!  What’s his name?” and Amy replied “Tim Gross.”

Kyna thought for a second and then replied “NO WAY!”  And Amy said “Aww, but why?”

Kyna said “Because with MY luck we’d fall in love and get married and my name would be ‘Kyna Gross’.

But back to John Bonny.  John invited me to spend the holidays with him in Chicago.  He had moved out of his mom’s and into a condo in the Logan Square area, renting a room from another gay man whose name I can’t recall.

So I planned to spend the week between Xmas and New Years with this beautiful guy that I felt more deeply for than I had anyone before.

I don’t recall arriving, but I think I flew.  And Xmas eve was spent at his mom’s house in Naperville, with all of his family.  His uncle Robert who had

Perry Anzilotti

let us use the spare bedroom the first night we’d met, and his Uncle Perry Anzilotti.  Perry was another actor, and extremely similar to John in physical appearance, except Perry had hair on his head.  Perry had had a few spots on Fox comedies, and John said that Matt Groenig was talking about turning his Akbar and Jeff cartoon into a live action kid’s show, a little like Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and that he and Perry were being considered because of their brotherly appearance.  That never panned out though.

I remember a nice meal, nice conversation, just being happy in the company of John.  I also remember a very unusual Xmas eve movie showing…Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.’ Nothing quite like watching Tippi Hedren get pecked apart along with the trimming of the tree.

I don’t remember the rest of the trip, what we did during the weekdays, other than going to a couple of parties at his friend’s apartments.  I do remember hanging out at one girl’s house, and creating quite an elaborate picture on an etch-a-sketch that seemed to blow their minds.

I also remember trying to go out one night when the temperature was far below zero, and the car being frozen shut.  We went in the house and boiled a big pot of water, and took it out to pour into the door to unfreeze the lock, which worked. Then we drove for a little while to let the water evaporate with the heat of the car so that it wouldn’t freeze like that again.

I remember being with him at a huge party on New Year’s Eve.  We each had a bottle of champagne, and for the first time in my life, the countdown came…5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New Year!  And we kissed at the stroke of midnight.  It was the one and only time in my life that I was able to kiss someone I loved at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  We got quite drunk, and returned home in the wee hours, made love and woke up together.

For Xmas, John had given me a very small beaded bracelet that his friend had made.  It was black and deep green tiny beads on a black string with a silver clasp. I adored that bracelet for years.

On maybe the second of January, I returned to St. Louis, and we kept in contact.  But something started to ‘cool’ in John’s tone.  We kept talking, and he kept getting quieter, with no explanation.

Then, on his birthday, February 13th (yes, the day before Valentine’s Day was his birthday, something which would of course stick with me forever) I called to wish him happy birthday and to tell him that I missed him and loved him.  His response was to tell me that he didn’t think we were working out…and I was slammed.  “Why??” I asked.

His response was that he ‘Didn’t like feeling responsible for my happiness.’

Wow.

I finally meet someone who DOES make me feel incredibly happy…and he doesn’t want to make me feel happy.  He resents it so much that he dumps me, and sends me off into no man’s land with zero closure, followed by about a year and a half of depression.

Man, is that a familiar theme in my life.

Prior to meeting John, I’d gotten some new headshots taken by one of St.

The Suzy Gorman Headshot

Louis’ most prominent headshot photographers, Suzy Gorman.  She was supportive of the effort of Onstage St. Louis, and we’d referred many actors her way for photos, so she did me a favor and helped me with some new photos at a really cheap rate.  I was in about the best shape, the leanest weight, and feeling pretty good about myself at that point, even though life still wasn’t a bed of roses, it wasn’t a total and complete nest of pricks. MOSTLY, but not ‘completely.’

Suzy made me feel good, lit me, and it was actually fun.  Hair up, hair down, a few different outfits.  She made me look really good, and I thank her for capturing that time in my life so handsomely on film.

About four years AFTER John Bonny, and an intense bout of depression, I

Five or six years, and depression...

had to have new photos taken.  It’s amazing what such an emotional drain can do to a guy.  Aside from the fact that they were two very different photographers with two VERY different styles, and the new guy didn’t really do much to make you comfortable or to find your fun side, there is no denying what pain can do to a face after only four years time.

But, regardless of the pain, we try to go on, and the schmuck that I am goes on trying to do things for other people, like Onstage St. Louis, and I decided to try to do the MS 150. The MS 150 is a 150 mile bicycle ride to raise funds for Multiple Schlerosis, which had taken away my grandmothers legs.  So I set out to gather pledges, and I actually managed to raise $1,217.50 in pledges from all of the contacts that I had. Raising money for some other cause was a hell of a lot easier than accomplishing anything for myself.

I can’t recall exactly, and an e-mail question to the MS Society in St. Louis of course yielded zero response, but I think the trip either went from outside of St. Louis to Columbia, Missouri, or started in Columbia, and ended up somewhere else, took place in two days, with an overnight stop somewhere in the middle.  Terri Ferraro also went, but we ended up splitting up somewhere during the trek, with her finding some guy to connect with.  I made the bulk of the first day’s trip alone.  I do recall that within the first couple of miles Terri took off flying down one of her first hills in the countryside yelling “It’s so prettyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” and she lost her balance and tumbled off into a ditch.  She required the sag wagon within the first couple of miles, a few bandaids, and a chain repair, but off we went after all was fixed…and Terri finds a guy.

So I biked it alone.  Every seven to ten miles were fueling stations that hosted piles of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pre-power bar granola bars, and water, Gatorade and Kool-aid.  It was tremendous being out in the open air, biking along with a couple of thousand people.  For the bulk of the first day the terrain was reasonably flat, and they’d done a great job of keeping us on non-high-traffic roads.  Although there were a few sketchy patches where the typical ruralite pissed off ‘all about me’ types were flipping off the bikers for being in their way.  70 miles was the first day’s route, which included the ‘Seven Hills Of Herman.’ Which were supposed to be incredibly daunting to even the seasoned bikers.  Lunch was about 30 miles into the trip, and at some park.  They served up mounds of spaghetti, salad, and tons more water, Gatorade, and Kool aid. They did offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but there weren’t a whole lot of takers for them at that point.

After a short rest, and our lunch, off we went again.  I’m not sure that I ever saw Terri again until the halfway point that evening.

On and on, pedaling, to raise funds in honor of my grandmother.  After another twenty miles or so, I started seeing signs for Herman, Missouri, and the terrain was growing a bit more ‘hilly.’  Then a bit MORE hilly.  Then as we approached Herman, I encountered some major honkin’ hills.  One of the last hills was so rough I had to walk my bike up the majority of it.  There were supposed to be ‘seven hills’, but I’d lost count.  I thought I was going to die.  Then, after that last ball buster of a hill, the terrain seemed to be leveling out again, and I thought ‘Yay!  I did it!’

Then came the crossroads.  With a big sign.  To the left, the seven hills of Herman, to the right, the ‘alternate route’ which would add ten miles to the total route, going AROUNG the seven hills.  WHAT???  The seven hills were yet to COME?  What the heck had I just almost died on???

As I literally sat there at the Y in the road, looking pathetically left and right for about five minutes, a young teen boy pulled up next to me and said ‘If you’re having doubts, take the alternate route.’  Smart boy.  Not to mention an adorable boy.  Turns out his name was Adam Menne, he was fifteen, and this was his second or third MS 150.  He became my riding buddy for the rest of the trip, and he turned out to be a lifesaver as well.  He was about my height, an all-American blonde boy scout type, cute as could be, NICE as could be and became a nice riding companion.  So we finished the trek around the seven hills, and finally pulled into the half-way point around 5 pm.

During our ride the subject of overnight accommodations came up…and I of course…had none.  Terri managed to land a spot in the guy’s tent.  But I didn’t even have a sleeping bag.  Adam invited me to share his B&B which his parent’s had set up.  The funny thing about Adam was that either he had an overactive farting problem during the trip, or he’d actually had farts that should have been double checked at the next rest stop…for Adam’s biking shorts had a serious racing stripe right up the middle.  I didn’t inquire as to the cause, but I did point it out before we left for dinner so that he could do a quick rinse in the sink.

Dinner was a lot of fun.  They had a DJ set up playing oldies (and before the smart assed kids comment on 80’s music, NO, we’re talking fun 1950’s music.) and we had more pasta and salad.  Or wait…maybe lunch was sandwiches, and dinner was the pasta and salad.  We also had cake.

We felt great, so when the music kicked in, Terri, her guy, and Adam and I were ready to dance…we twisted, we mashed potatoed, we even hand-jived.  We had a blast, and then, around 9 pm, off we went to bed.  Well, Terri to her guy’s tent, and me to my B&B with…well…the underaged boyscout.

Slept like a rock.  Next morning, breakfast was kind of McDonald’s-esque, eggs, bacon and pancakes, coffee (thank god) and water, Gatorade and Kool-aid.  Stuff a few granola bars in the fanny pack (which also contained the Walkman and a few spare cassettes, along with a zip lock bag of spare batteries – I know MY priorities) and off we went – day two.

Somewhere within the first seven miles, all of a sudden, my legs said ‘FUCK YOU!!!’

Pain.  My knees felt like they were going to explode.  I pulled into the first refueling station, and was in absolute agony.  Adam pointed the way to the doctor, who was hanging out in a van in the parking lot.  I explained the unbelievable pain in my knees, and the doctor reached into his bag and produced a little white pill telling me ‘take this.’

It could have been cyanide for all I knew, but even cyanide would have been valuable at that point.  I grabbed a bottle of water and sucked it down along with the pill, and set off for the rest of the trip, wondering how I was going to finish.

Thundercrash.

Yep.  The next fifteen miles were done in a hellatious rain storm.  Ever flown down a hill on a bicycle in the pouring rain?  It’s kind of like riding behind someone with a garden hose on full power aimed at your face.  At least that this point I was still wearing contact lenses…glasses would have been a nightmare.

Wait a sec…my knees…no pain.  NONE.  Not just an easing of pain, an ERADICATION of pain!  What the hell was that little white pill???  Turns out, it was about 500 milligrams of Ibuprofen.  Thank you Doctor bike man, whoever you were!  The pain was gone, and I could finish the route.

Which I did.  We ended up wherever we ended up, clothes mostly air dried from the last ten or so miles in the sunshine. We were given a box meal, bikes loaded onto a bus, and we were bused back to the starting point, which took a couple of hours.  Terri had her guy, Adam had gotten a ride, and I was alone.  We got home around 9 pm I think.

I went to bed that night, worried that the next morning, after that pill wore off, I would be in abject agony from having pushed my legs medicated through another 60 miles.  Surprisingly, I had minimal pain, and went to my usual aerobics class (I did skip the morning jog that morning.)

A few months later, I decided to have a thank you party, and invited everyone who had pledged to come over for some stories and beverages and munchies.  I made some nice finger foods and some kind of punch…and I think maybe five people stopped by during the entire afternoon.

The truly amazing part of this entire experience was one other rider who completely stole the spotlight from even the first person to cross the finish line, or the person to raise the most funds.

It was this hunky little guy who did the entire trip…150 miles…on a unicycle.  As he crossed the finish line, the cameras were all aimed at him, and when they asked how he felt, his response was simply ‘Owwww.’

So I raised $1, 217.50 for MS, had a party that provided leftovers for a week, and received a pewter keychain…which I still have and use to this day.

Now, on to other acts of futility.  Onstage St. Louis found a new home.  The Old Post Office in downtown St. Louis had been converted from a grand central post office, to a small post office in the corner, and a failed attempt at a mall.  The building was huge and cavernous and…empty.  Somehow I managed to get in to speak with someone about what Onstage was about (and they actually listened, as opposed to the ahhhhhhts community that turned up their noses) and gave us a space with minimal rent, semi-decent exposure for anyone who came into the building, and somewhat open use of the space for auditions and such.  So Onstage set up office in a glass enclosed rectangle located just outside the doors to what was left of the actual post office.  It was a great location with a ton of potential…but only in St. Louis would ‘Field Of Dreams’ crash and burn.  Just because you built it doesn’t mean they’re coming.

I had a decent handful of volunteers who helped me.  Jenny Kavanaugh sat office hours on many occasions, and there was another couple whose names I can’t recall…two VERY California beach types.  She was Barbie to his Ken.  But she was an amazing help, and it really is horrible that I can’t remember her name.  I think maybe even Terri Ferraro came once in a while to help out.

We had files of resumes and photos, we had a very small script library, and I think even on one or two occasions, a theater company dropped off scripts for auditions they were going to hold.  In the windows, we placed posters for all of the upcoming shows that we could get our hands on.  Some of the republican types whined to the management that we were soiling the windows with the cheap posters, but management still allowed us to post them, as long as they were neatly posted.

We had several groups use the space for auditions, including something for the role of an art critic for a one-person piece that they were doing at the Art Museum.  During the auditions one of the guys auditioning came nose in the air to the office space, and I was telling him what the organization was about.  He huffed at me with his faux Hamptons accent, and called Onstage a ‘smarmy’ organization that he’d have nothing to do with. He got the role at the Museum…as a result of Onstage providing the space (free) for the auditions, and making the auditions known publicly.  But hey, I was ‘smarmy’ to this guy who’d never met me before, thanks to the badmouthing from the rest of the community that sat back waiting to be ‘shown’.

Joan Lipkin

One very specific memory I have from this time and space involved Joan Lipkin, the Lesbian playwright, who had been a member of the organization.  I was making my round of monthly renewal calls, and had to call Joan for her renewal.  Joan snarked at me that “She didn’t see why she should have to pay $35 for membership in an organization that really wasn’t all that useful to her, and that she was NOT going to renew”

This is a woman who had contacted me for names and numbers of performers numerous times, found cast members and music directors through Onstage, had utilized the St. Marcus space…but I was useless to her.

No more than one month later…a message on the answering machine: “Hi William, you’ve been such a help to me in the past and I was hoping you might be able to help me with a casting I’m trying to do…”

Uh-huh.  But my organization was useless to her when it came to $35 for membership.  Then of course she used the fact that I never called her back as an excuse to further badmouth me.

One bright shining moment to come out of that entire Onstage endeavor came when one of the local more broad scale entertainment companies came to us for a place to solicit auditionees for a USO Tour they were putting together.  Several of our members went to the auditions, but one girl got a

Peggy Harris Article

role.  Her name was Peggy Harris, an absolute sweetheart singer.  She was cast, and went off on a mini-world tour singing with the USO.  To this DAY, she is the ONLY person to really acknowledge Onstage for its part in her success.  One of the local papers did and article about her, and she mentioned Onstage and me for being the connector for her and the tour.  Thank you Peggy.  One other person in my life to actually say something nice about me, and for the work I did.

Through Onstage, I also met a short term room mate, a flight attendant named Rolf Rathmann.  Rolf was very involved in the community, and got involved with Onstage.  Rolf was attractive in a very chiseled gay way, and was extremely helpful and pleasant, though would never show me any kind of ‘attention’.  Rolf lived in my sun room for several months until he could get on his feet to find his own apartment.

Rolf Rathmann and I working Artburst

In the meantime, Rolf really helped me with a big bam boom event that Onstage produced at the Old Post Office.  The Kavanaughs and a lot of other people made this event really happen.  A three day multi-media arts festival called ‘Artburst.’

In the early 80’s I had volunteered at the Three Rivers Arts Festival (yes, once again, volunteered) as a stage manager.  At that time, the Three Rivers Arts Festival was truly an event to behold, unlike the chachki craft festival and chow-down overpriced food festival it de-evolved into.

I solicited artists from every medium, from visual to performing.  Tom

The Artburst Schedule and Roster

Kavanaugh, who ran his own design firm, created the graphics to promotion.  The Old Post Office gave us free reign in the open spaces.  And for three days we had an artist market indoors.  We had film art.  We had live bands playing inside and out.  We had hundreds of people come through.  Yes…in three days, we had a couple of hundred people come through.

The artist market folks complained that they

Lunchtime Concert at Artburst

didn’t sell enough ($15 for three days of space to set up?).  The business people downtown complained at the noise from the bands that were performing outdoors at LUNCH time to entertain people for free.

Overall, it was a good three days, but I was beginning to seriously lose my patience with the ahhhhhhts.  Hell, I was only ten years into the real world and the arts world.  I still didn’t cut my losses and run.  No-siree-bob.  I just stayed right in there for another twenty years of belittling abuse.

Next up was a staged reading of a play written by a really sweet and talented St. Louis guy named Grady Smith.  The play was called ‘Home Truths’ (which is kind of ironic considering what the next chapter of this blog will concern) and was about a family in the 1970 dealing with college students protesting the war, with a son IN the war, another son who hadn’t been spoken with in years, a college aged daughter and two boys courting her, one good boy, played by Steve Ramshur, and one bad boy, played by…me.  It wasn’t a full out play, but a staged reading, which often involved carrying around scripts.

Michael Agnew

The reading was directed by Abby Sullivan, who was a bit over the top in her directing, in trying to get actors to ‘dig deeper’, but I did learn quite a bit from her.  What seemed annoying at the time, and at time uncomfortable, ended up being a very good learning experience. It was produced by the St. Louis Actors Ensemble, which was Michael Agnew and Angel O’Brien.

Jenni Ryan played the love interest.  She was torn between the good guy who was nice and sweet and ‘squeaky clean’, and the guy who wanted to bomb the campus.

The reading was held at the Midtown Arts Center, which was an amazing old

The former Midtown Arts Center

building that formerly housed an insurance agency I believe. It was (and apparently still is) an architectural gem that of course no one wants anything to do with.  It had an amazing grand hall that had two winding staircases coming down from a second floor balcony, which ended in a huge playing space, a plethora of office spaces, and was located only a few blocks from the oh-so-uppity Grand Center. A lovely lady named Donna Charron had bought the building and was trying to renovate it into an arts center.  She had a lot of the same ‘community’ vision that I’d had, and we could have made a good teaming if I had been anybody, and I wasn’t getting completely burned out by the attitudes of St.  Louis.  This could have been a spectacular site for Onstage St. Louis, but frankly, I was beginning to wonder if there was even a point to trying to help this community.

But this building would play very prominently in one of my last huzzahs in St. Louis.

“Home Truths” played for a few staged performances, and we did questions and answers with the audiences, and Grady, the playwright took notes to perhaps improve the play.

There was a tiny bit of drama within the cast, mostly in my own head, and from my own sillyness.  I had a crush on Steve, but Steve was in his early 20’s, and being that I was almost 28, I guess I was the ‘over the hill’ gay guy in his eyes.  He gave me no attention, I was crushed, I adored him, and hated him.

The only really striking memory from the event came from an audience comment to me after one of the shows.  A woman was walking toward the exit with her teenaged daughter.  As she passed me she smiled and said the standard ‘Thank you, we really enjoyed your performance,’ which to most actors who have been doing it for a while, doesn’t really mean a thing.  For me personally, it’s kind of like applause at the end of a show.  Means nothing to me. Hearing gasps, crying, or extreme laughter DURING the show, THAT means something to me.  But the little niceties that come from strangers really mean nothing…unless, something pops out of their mouths out of the blue that rings of utmost sincerity.  After she told me that she enjoyed my performance she pointed behind her and murmured ‘and my daughter thinks you’re an asshole.’

YES!!!!  Score!  NOW I know that I did the job I was trying to do!

Grady Smith

This was actually a rather pleasant theater experience though. Michael Agnew and Angel O’Brien were always champions for what Onstage was trying to accomplish.  They were supportive without being abusive, used and recommended the service, and generally speaking were good people.  Grady Smith was a jewel also.  Just a damned kind hearted man.  I’d written a play of my own, about an elderly lady and young man who meet on a park bench in the winter…he’s suicidal, she’s dying of cancer.  He was kind enough to read it and told me that I had a ‘gift for dialogue’.  Another of the rare moments of kindness in my life.  Thank you Grady.

July of 1990 brought my invitation to the big bam boom gala for the Science Center.  They were building a new facility across the highway from the old Science Center, which was located in Forest Park.  A mini planetarium and a

Some guy, Donna, Melissa Roth and Me

few exhibit rooms.  They build a HUGE new Center directly across the highway, and the big gala was a party of the lawn as truck rolled the massive bridge down the highway, and a crane was supposed to lift it into place as we all watched.  Well, that didn’t happen.  The trucks brought the bridge a little later than expected, and the crane just couldn’t get the job done within the time constraints of the party, so the party was moved indoors, and we ate, drank, and danced.  Melissa Roth was my date, and we were joined by her buddy Donna and her date.  Donna was a pianist, and I had asked Melissa if maybe she could put the bug in Donna’s ear that maybe we could work up and act together.  Donna wouldn’t have it.  William was gay AND cute, and Donna liked William, so Donna couldn’t play for William.  And another opportunity lost to human B.S.

I also recall a bus trip back to Pittsburgh for the wedding of Melanie Smith and Gary Weinberg, OR the wedding of Marla Smith and her husband Kim.  I’m not sure which, and I can’t seem to get actual confirmation on that from anyone.

I rode the bus for like 16 hours, and stayed with Melanie’s friend Ray Cupples and his then partner Bill in their apartment in Wilkinsburg.  Ray was another theater buddy of theirs.  I remember arriving at the wedding late, and standing in the back.  After the wedding, either Melanie or Marla came up to me and told me that they saw this strange guy come in and sit in the back, and they wondered who this hot guy was that was crashing their wedding.  The gym time had paid off.

I don’t remember much else about that trip except for one evening with the entire group of wedding folks somewhere sitting around and playing Balderdash, which to date is my favorite board game, which I have found, bought, and have NEVER had enough people to play it with.  It requires a group.  I’ve never been able to assemble a group.  It’s a game best played with a group of creative types, where one person leads the game by saying a word that they have read off one of the game cards.  The word is a real word that most likely no one has ever heard of.  The group then sets out to do one of several things. 1) Come up with the actual definition for the word. 2) Come up with an imaginary definition for the word if they don’t know a real one, and 3) Get points for either getting the definition right, or for faking out enough people to make them think their fake definition might be a real one.  When you’re with a group of creative minds, the definitions can be pants-pissing hilarious.  And on a couple of occasions, I actually came close and had to run to the bathroom.

One work that I specifically recall was ‘Mopoke.’  The actual definition was something like the sound an Australian bird makes.  My definition was ‘What Mike Tyson yelled as she ran down the hall.’

But I digress.

Fall of 1991 brought the ten year high school reunion.  Ten years out of high school now, and what had I accomplished?  A lot, and I mean a LOT of losing efforts which lead me nowhere.  No real career success thus far. Broken hearted. Still poor. But hey, at least at this point, I still looked good.

I made arrangements with Sondra Lengyel to stay with her.  She had been married to an apparent red-necked variety loser who was slightly off the beam.  I don’t recall much interaction with him, but I do remember being in their space to change clothes for the reunion, and them getting into an uncomfortable argument.  I’m pretty sure I flew in for the reunion.

My swiss cheese memory of timelines is a bit unreliable at this point, but I do recall the reunion, and a few things outside of the reunion.

The reunion was held in true Hopewellian elegance at the VFW Hall.  I had been a vegetarian for a few years now since starting the workout program, so dinner for me was a bowl of cole slaw and a piece of cake, well worth the $25 to get in.  For the rest of the high brow of Hopewell elite class of 1981, it was ziti and sauce (meat,) fried chicken, and I can’t even remember what else.  I was kind of hungry.

The entertainment of the evening was DJ Jeff Giolotti, a classmate, playing all of the good burn-out songs that the parking lot weed smokers had listened to during high school. Led Zepplin, Steve Miller…BOOM…zapped back to 1981 without really wanting to be there.  There was no disco that I can recall, or much that was ‘pop’ during our last year of school, but we sure got the redneck tunes.

Carol Jumper, class president lorded over the event.  She kind of boasted about being involved with Cole Boyd.  I said ‘huh?’  Cole Boyd was a redneck, but a hot redneck. Carol was the big fat kind of smelly ultimate fag hag.  I didn’t get it.

Sheryl Bucklen came up to me and shook my hand.  She lived out in the sticks with me and my stepmonster’s delightful family, and she was from the family that had the most cars and truck propped up on cement blocks in their front yards.  As she shook my hand and made small talk I remembered her hands being incredibly chapped and rough…just as they had been in school.

Lenny Uhernik chatted me up like we’d been best friends, and I really barely knew him.  At one point I went into the bathroom, and was chatted up by a really tall guy with a bald head, a beard and pot belly who kind of looked like an accountant or insurance salesman.  He asked how I was doing, and I just said ‘Ok’, and he said ‘Thanks for coming back, it’s great to see you.’  I left the bathroom, and hunted down Carol Jumper, and asked ‘Who is that?’  She told me it was Mark Honkus.  Mark Honkus had been the captain of the basketball team, tall, skinny, blonde with a big nose.  He still had the nose, but nothing else was recognizable.  Karen Fluharty looked great, but had moved to NY and was working for some big make-up house, like Revlon, and had really turned on the big city airs, with a healthy dash of pretense.

I have to say…Sondra…the girl who resembled Miss Piggy in high school…who had lost the love of her life to Leukemia just after high school.  Who had had a major auto accident that forced her to learn how to walk and talk again. Sondra had blossomed into a gorgeous young woman.  Several people commented, and the word ‘fox’ was used.

I remember chatting with Jack Estel.  My wet dream farmboy from high school.  Heartbreaking.  He and Tracy Donavan had gotten married and had four or five kids.  And this stunning steel-eyed, square jawed, perfect farm boy body now stood before me looking like a Kenny Rogers clone.

It was astounding to me how many of these people never left Pittsburgh, and a great deal of them had never even left Hopewell.  Lori Holstein looked exactly the same…a boy in a dress.  Cheryl Bonato looked absurd in a red Mae West type gown that looked like it came from Costume World, leftover from Halloween.  Rege Durbin…was that a toupee?  Chris Powers was bold, and came with her then partner, and I was actually proud of her.  I still didn’t completely come ‘out’ at the reunion, just kind of keeping quiet about it.

When it came right down to it, the same old cliques stuck to their same old cliques.

The one to really catch my attention though was Richard Bucklen.  He was actually very striking and handsome that night.  He was wearing a very nicely tailored kind of electric blue suit, that would have been awesome for a night of swing dancing.  Most people looked at him as thought it was silly, but I saw an incredibly handsome guy, who looked great in an unusual suit.

The things I realized about the reunion were that there really was no point for them, except for the popular cliques.  They were actual friends in high school, and since most of them never left the neighborhoods, they stayed friends.  I was ‘fringe’ at best.  I had no friends en masse from that crowd.  And the few that I had kept in touch with were soon to fade away into their own lives and forget me too.  And quite frankly, most of them had gone on to live little suburban or rural lives that had no spark, no touch with the rest of the world, and I needed just a tad more than that in my own life.  I wanted to experience more of the world and other cultures.

Then I realized, and something I tell high school kids to this day who are social misfits, bullied, or otherwise ‘unpopular’…being in the company of this group of humans was not of my choosing.  It had absolutely nothing to do with me, and who I was, or was going to be.  It was basically a cattle pen for the children who had been popped out by a variety of adults, who, due to their own choices, social status, economic status and their own family histories, forced this particular group of kids to be in this location for a twelve year stint.

I had nothing much in common with any of these people, and pretty much never would.  Even those who shared my commonality in a minor way in school, would move on to evolve to something else, and in many of those cases, so far off there was no point in keeping in contact.  Dorrie Naugle, who was one of my supposed best friends in school, hasn’t spoken to me since school.  So really…what’s the point of the reunion?  Just keep it to the cliques, and leave the rest of us out of it.

No new friendships came of it.  It really was not much more than a chance for the popular kids to hang out again, and a chance to gather and explore the morbid curiosity of seeing what had happened to the others we had been forced to endure for twelve years.  Not enough to pay for travel, and a really crappy meal…one reunion was enough for me.

The evening ended as Mike Mutkus got totally drunk and started a fight.  Ok, time to go.

Sondra and I were about to embark on another adventure.  A drive to the old neighborhood where I’d grown up, and a surprise visit…to my father.

After the reunion, Sondra and I decided to go out.  We headed into downtown Pittsburgh and hit Pegasus, the oldest gay bar in the burgh.  We walk in, and there on the dance floor is my first fling from high school…Joe George.  Still looking pretty much the same.  And the funny thing was, he introduced me to his then partner.  Can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his appearance.  He looked almost exactly like I had when Joe and I dated ten years earlier.

I also got hit on by this Venezuelan guy.  Jimmy Arrunategui.  He came on strong, hot and heavy, and begged for me to come back to the bar the next night and meet him again.  So what was a guy to do?

The next evening, Sondra and I decided to take a trip down memory lane and drive out to the country neighborhood where I’d been forced to grow up.  I don’t remember where all we went, but I do remember where we ended up.

When I was in high school, it had been pointed out to me by a slow girl on the school bus that some people on her paper route had been asking about me.  She told me who they were, and as we drove past, pointed out where they lived.  In a mobile home on Route 18, just near Holt Road, where my step uncle Everette had lived.  Uncle Everette, Aunt Babe, and their kids Stan, Charlie and Michelle.  Aunt Babe had once told me that I was really short, but in proportion.  She said that if I was photographed against a plain background, that I actually looked like a tall guy…but that I’d have trouble if I was next to a fire hydrant.

So, knowing where this trailer was, as Sondra and I drove into the vicinity, I decided that maybe I should drop by and see if he still lived there.

We pulled into the gravel driveway and parked the car.  Somewhat hesitantly, I opened the car door, and Sondra encouraged me to go on.  So I walked up to the door and knocked.

I can’t remember if my father answered the door, or if Brian answered the door and called my father to come to the door.  In any case, thus began the reunion with my father.

He looked a little older, but was pretty much the same as I remembered. Thin. Full head of hair. The same glasses. Jeans and a plaid or flannel shirt.  He hugged me and invited me in.  He introduced me to Brian and Fred.  Brian said ‘hey’, and then was off to his own world.  Brian was stunning.  Lean and built, great head of hair, beautiful face but with a dash of anger.  I kept looking at him and thinking, man I wish I’d have gotten THOSE genes.  Then again, I’ve always wished my dad’s thin genes had made it my way, but alas.  Fred just kind of sat in the background and was very quiet.  Brian was sixteen or seventeen and little Fred was 13.  Neither of them seemed very interested in the fact that their half brother was sitting in the room for the first time ever.

We made some small talk, and then came the big questions.  I asked what had happened when he left and they were divorced.

According to him, my mother had cheated on him, and with the man she eventually married…the stepmonster.  Now ordinarily, this would be his word against hers…but in this case, there never WAS a ‘hers’ to listen to.  She banished him from our lives, would not allow us to even speak his name, had the stepmonster adopt us to avoid having to hear his name, and never, EVER spoke of what had happened.  Now, take this behavior, and couple it with the fact that my father was at that moment going through the process of getting a divorce from his second wife, because she had cheated on him, AND the kids had witnessed it, and suddenly his side sounds pretty damned viable.  I know that as an alcoholic, he wasn’t easy to deal with from a relationship standpoint, but he was never a mean drunk.  He wasn’t overly warm and affectionate, but he’d never been mean.  I can understand getting a divorce on the lack of warm and fuzzies, and the alcoholism, but I never understood the complete banishment of the man who was my father.  And as a kid, I did love my father.

At this time, he told me that he had stopped drinking when he ‘accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.’ Hmmmm.  Red flag. Not a good combo for a dad and a homo son.  But he hadn’t had a drink in many, many years.

He lived very simply, in a small mobile home with a few added rooms, with his two kids.  I had no idea where the mom was, and I didn’t ask.  He drove a red pick-up truck with a cap on the back, still smoked (it was nice to be able to smoke with my father – my mother would shit her pants – she’s the type of affected non-smoker that will start coughing at the sight of an unopened pack of cigarettes in a machine a block away) and we chatted a little more.  We talked a little about the days when I was working at Billy’s Restaurant and they came in, and that my mother was still too closely in control of me for me to let go and accept a family connection.  She still terrified me.

He invited me and Sondra to lunch the next day at Pappan’s in Beaver, we said goodnight, and planned to meet for our lunch.

Sondra and I then returned to Pegasus for the rendezvous with the Venezuelan.

We went, we danced, we drank, and there was the Venezuelan waiting to drool all over me.  He and I danced, and he wanted to out and out make out with me while we sat at the bar.  We spent the evening in the ‘getting to know,’ and then we gave him a ride home back to beaver where he lived.  We went into the hallway that lead up the stairs to his apartment, and that’s as far as he would take me.  He practically wanted to have sex then and there with Sondra waiting out in the car, but I told him no, gave him my contact info, and headed back to the car, and back to Sondra’s place to sleep.

The next day, we met up with my father and little Fred at Pappan’s, had more small talk, ate, and at one point my dad asked ‘So what does your mother think of your lifestyle?’

My heart kind of sank, and I pretty much blew off the question with a nothing answer.  ‘Jesus Christ as his personal savior’ and ‘lifestyle’ didn’t bode well for a deeper connection.  We all know how the Christians treat homos.  So I didn’t have a lot of positive feelings for the future here.

After the meal, we hugged goodbye, I gave him all of my contact info, and Sondra and I headed back to pack the bag for the flight back to St. Louis.

Sondra dropped me off at the airport, and I found my way to my gate.  As I’m sitting there waiting for my flight, there across the aisle from me sat Elaine Scoumis.  My party pal from high school.  I said hello, and she acted like she was seeing her best friend for the first time in a decade.  Well, she was seeing me for the first time in a decade, but the best friend thing, I don’t know.  It turns out she was living in St. Louis, working for a hotel as a night accountant, and had been for a few years.  We flew back together, chatted about the old times, traded numbers, and I heard the standard ‘we’ll have to do dinner and hang out.’  It wasn’t the last time I’d hear that from Elaine.  But it was the first time that she didn’t follow through on it.  Something that would become a backstabbing pattern later in life.

I had no idea that this would be the last time that I would ever see my father.

I tried calling him a few times after my visit home for the reunion. Every time I called, he was very quiet, seemingly aloof and disinterested.  I put all of the pieces together in my own mind, the religion, the ‘lifestyle’ comment and the silence, and left it at that.

I even tried talking to Brian once when he’d answered the phone, but he was pretty indifferent as well.

I was still working out like a fanatic, and was in as amazing shape as I’d ever been, and either got lucky a lot, or got snubbed.  I had a young guy, maybe 20, chasing me down in the Central West End, I don’t recall too much about him except that he was the very young, clean cut, all-American type, with the 20 year old perfect little body, a sweet face, and a little on the ‘I live with my parents’ side.  I remember us fooling around at his housing complex in the pool after hours, and crawling into the tunnel that water ran through to

Paul in later years.

feed the pool and making out in there.  I also remember his friend Paul.  Paul Matarrese.  Tall, average build, pretty eyes, big nose, adorable.  We ended up playing a few times.

Paul had a wicked curve downward.  And I remember one day when Carlos gave us a ride home from somewhere, and we were maybe dropping Paul off that Carlos had to learn for himself about the curve, and from the back seat, Paul obliged him with a viewing, to which Carlos responded by sampling briefly. Carlos wanted Paul to do the real thing, but that never happened.  Paul was a top, I’m a top, end of story.  For now.

Back to the Midtown Arts Center.  I was about to embark on quite an endeavor.

Jerry Rabushka’s soon to be ex, Frank Weltner, had written an AIDS play.  He gave me a copy of the script, entitled ‘Limbo’, about a group of men and women who had died from AIDS, who were in Limbo in the cemetery where they’d been buried.  I took a couple of days to read it, and I loved it.  It was unique, funny, stabbing, tear jerking and maddening all in one.  With Carlos as my stage manager, I set out to produce it.

I secured the Midtown Arts Center for a three weekend run, and set out to cast.  I designed the set and directed/produced, brought in Carlos’ friend Linda Lawson to run lights, accompanied by Zach Anthony.  A 15 year old electronics whiz who actually owned a bulk of his own theater equipment.  Mary Preisack, who worked with Bob Herman at Dangerous Visions came in to run box office for us.  All in all, we had a good production team, and a really cool location.

The hard part…the casting.

The play used some pretty foul language, and dealt with some pretty raw and controversial material.  The cast required 15 actors, one of them a 15 year old boy (hemophiliac) and three women.  It also required a drag queen who could really act.

I held auditions and found the majority of the cast, but then rehearsals began, and diva personalities and a dislike for the subject matter came into play.

My top four nightmares initially were the guy playing the lover of the lead character, one of the women whose role was actually quite small, the local drag queen I’d cast as the drag queen, who was NOT an actor, and of course, the fifteen year old.  NO mother was going to let her little boy play the role in this play.

Let’s start with diva number one.  The lover of the lead character.  Gorgeous, manly, good actor, and totally phobic.  Also, quite influenced by diva number two, the woman.  A woman named Lynn Deerfield who had

Lynn Deerfield

apparently been on Days Of Our Lives for six years as ‘Holly’ in the 70’s, was a drunk, didn’t like the play, couldn’t memorize the play, and questioned everything like she couldn’t read English.  Then stud boy started getting drunk with her, and falling under her resume spell (forgetting the fact that she was no longer in NY or Hollywood, but was schlepping around St. Louis as a failure) and they decided to quit together.

Recast.

Michelle McCausland aka Michael Shreves

Then comes diva three.  The drag queen.  St. Louis’ own Michelle McCausland, better known as Michael Shreves.  Well, not really a diva (believe it or not) but just not comfortable with the challenge of the role, since he really wasn’t an actor, but was a lip synching drag queen.  He was a drag queen but couldn’t play one onstage.

One of the characters was a theater director who was overly dramatic, and I had cast Michael Tobias in the role.  When Michael

Michael Tobias

Shreves backed out, Michael Tobias came to me and asked to be given a chance to play Francine.  Michael was a cute boy, and I hadn’t seen him in the role, but man was I wrong.  Carlos stepped in as Gary the director, in addition to stage managing, saving my ass, and Michael Tobias slipped into Francine like Audrey Hepburn into a little black cocktail dress.

Miguel White

Carlos also saved my ass with the fifteen year old boy.  He brought in his little brother Miguel who was sixteen or seventeen, but very young looking, who stepped up like a real trooper.  He really hadn’t acted before, but we melded him, and he did a terrific job.

I had to have an actual additional audition call to replace the lover of the lead.

My lead was Chris Campbell, my old room mate, and

Chris Campbell

the assistant to the old New City Theater.  He was Donald, and I cast a guy named Larry Sparkman as the lover, Ernie.  Larry was much gayer appearing than the last guy who’d quit, but he did a very good job.  I didn’t necessarily want the leads to be ‘gay’ appearing or sounding, but there ya have it.  My pseudo mom Sandy LaRouche played Donald’s mom, and a guy named Hal Samberg, whose family had just opened a truly amazing bagel shop in the Central West End (and it was about damned time!), played Donald’s homophobic brother Mitch.  My musical pal, and another friend of Linda

Steve Milloy

Lawson, Steve Milloy, played Sean.  The two grave diggers, comic relief of ignorance, were Chuck Byington and Chuck Frier, the minister was an adorable and sweet blonde named Joe Tracy, and the former drug dealer Vincent was played by the Art Center’s handyman and manager, Geoffrey Pruitt.  Rounding off the characters were Theresa Mozewlewski who replaced Lynn Deerfield, the first woman to appear in the cemetery at the end, Drake, her

AW Shade

ex-lover, played by Michael Lucido, and the big bam boom final monologue of shame, delivered

brilliantly by the oh-so-cool black woman, A. W. Shade.

The set presented as many challenges as the cast.  We needed an open grave (lots of dirt), seven headstones that looked real, and a hospital bed. Not only were these things needed, but they had to be carted from their location to the set.

The hospital bed came from the SLU Medical Center basement.  They were glad to get rid of one.  The dirt came in three or four jumbo trash barrels from the landscape department at Forest Park.  Seriously?  Dirt.  For this much dirt, we had to go to a dirt place.  We couldn’t just go out and dig up some dirt somewhere. The headstones were a miracle. I had called a couple of memorial companies and was told no, no, no.  Then I called Rosebrough Memorials.  Unbelievably, they had seven headstones that had been RETURNED by the family they belonged to, because the cemetery only allowed markers OR stones, and the family had gotten both, decided to keep the markers, and actually returned the headstones!  How creepy is that??  The line from Pirates Of Penzance kept coming to mind each night the play went on: “I don’t know whose ancestors they were, but I know whose ancestors they ARE!”  Fortunately, the kind folks at Rosebrough let us just ‘borrow’ them, and didn’t make us keep them.  We returned the good family back to Rosebrough afterwards.

The set was together, the cast was assembled and rehearsed.

Promo Photo For Limbo

And the drama began.

That summer, before the reunion, I started working at a tanning salon in the Central West End called ‘Midnight Sun’ that was run by a somewhat shady woman named Mary Ann, and her daughter, whose name I can’t recall.  Mary Ann was the short, bubble bleached blonde with giant boobs (real or not?) raking in money off of pale midwesternites.  Not an especially nice gal, but not as horrid as some of my female bosses yet to come.  She was kind of the ‘breaking in’ type of bad female boss.  My job was simple.  Answer phones and set appointments, let people in and out for their appointments, collect their money, turn on the machines for them, clean their nasty sweat off the machines after they’d left, give them towels, and mostly…sit and read.

The clientele was a hoot now and again, some had that uppity faux superiority complex that many small city denizens have, some were just neurotic, some came for medical purposes, and some were simply…trying.

Mary Ann was big on testing the employees by sending in odd cases.  One day a very dark young black man came in to ask about tanning packages.  I felt like I was on candid camera.  I was flabbergasted at first, and then just went on and told him about the tanning packages.  Yes, turned out he was a friend of Mary Ann.  There was another young black woman who came in who was a kind of light dusty color.  After a few sessions the tanning added a truly lovely golden glow to her skin.

Through this job, I met Jim Josue who was a hair colorist for a beauty salon called ‘Façade.’  Jim was part Philippino, with an amazing head of hair, and great coloring, trendy Harold Lloyd glasses, and a very kind nature.  Jim and I became friends, and then kind of dated.  I have a few very fond memories of Jim.  When I went home for the reunion, Jim gave me a bag with condoms, and said ‘Just in case.’  I think it was for my birthday that year, he gave me a gift.  It was a simple little thing that I couldn’t really appreciate until years later when it was too late.  I opened a gift bag to find a little light blue box with a ribbon holding it closed.  I opened the box, and inside was a crystal heart.  Very sweet, but my practical mind thought ‘what the heck am I going to do with this?’  Since my disastrous childhood and my mother’s useless and meaningless ‘gifting’ (like toothpaste and deodorant in the stocking – and undies giftwrapped under the tree) I had become a horrid faker when receiving gifts.  To this day, I prefer not to, unless they’re coming from someone who REALLY knows me.

Recognize this?

Additionally, never having been a logo whore…what did I know?  It was just a little blue box, and a glass heart.  Before I left St. Louis, I think I gave it to Carlos who gave it to one of his disastrous exes.  No one had ever taught me about Tiffany blue.

Jim jumped in and helped a lot with Limbo, and sold ads for the program, and what he pulled in completely paid for the program printing, as well as the postage to send out the PR to a borrowed mailing list.

He was also there to watch the drama from the show.  First off, many of the cast were pissed at me from the beginning because, after my experiences with the local critics and their attitudes specifically toward me, I opted to announce before each performance that if there were any ‘critics’ in the audience, that though we appreciated their attending, that the evening’s performance would hereby officially be ‘off the record.’  Instead of getting shredded by a fat, sloppy critic with an attitude toward anyone not holding a union card, and a big dagger in hand for me, my comment was that I would prefer that the audiences decide for themselves what they liked or didn’t like.  Well, is you’re in the arts, and no ahhhhhtists and their egos, that was a big slap in the face for dire attention whores.  But, I would much rather they not get reviewed at all, than to be destroyed because of some jerk’s vendetta against ME.  And although they didn’t appreciate it at that time, I was really saving them from being unnecessarily shamed.

Then came the drama from within the ranks.  I really did work to have an excellent performance of what I believed to be a really unique and decent piece of theater that had something to say.  Frank Weltner was thrilled that someone had taken to his writing, which was rough around the edges, but good.

A little of the drama came from my being a perfectionist, and to some extent, although I learned from the mistakes, being a control freak.  The best lesson I learned came from Linda Lawson and Zach Anthony, who were running the light board.  Every night during the performance, I placed myself in the light booth.  I became a hovering pain in the ass, and they were constantly making little tiny mistakes that made me nuts, but that no one in the audience would ever notice.  Then one night, I couldn’t be in the light booth, having to attend to something else.  Every time one of those moments came up that they had consistently made mistakes on with me hovering behind them, I clenched my jaw waiting for the mistake.  And voila!  Not ONE of them happened.  Everything went beautifully and smoothly.  And that was when I learned to trust the people I’d trusted to hire in the first place, and let them do their job.

A little drama also came from me directing.  I was bound and determined to get what I wanted out of people, and used every trick in the book that I’d learned up to that point.  Some of the best had come from Abby Sullivan, which had made me excruciatingly uncomfortable in the rehearsals of Home Truths.  She pushed my boundaries to find depth and reality in my performance and interactions.  So I used the same tactics to pull the same out of my cast members who weren’t ‘feeling.’  Larry and Chris could NOT find a visual or chemical ‘closeness’ to their relationship, so I put them through an exercise that made them uncomfortable, but that Abby had done to me.  Again, voila, they still didn’t seem to like each other as people, but on the stage they came a hell of a lot closer to showing it as characters.

As usual, interpersonal relations became another source of drama, and I admit to my part. Chris and I had our past, Carlos and I had our ongoing present, Steve Milloy had expressed interest at times, and although I thought he was an amazing human being, and a huge musical talent, he just wasn’t my type – and I thought Joe Tracy was cute and sweet, and Michael (as a boy) was very cute.  One of the grave diggers had a thing for Chris, and they ended up dating.

But the REAL drama came from the very thing that the play was about…the fear and loathing of those with HIV.  One of my cast members told me that he had recently been diagnosed as HIV+.  And after years have rolled by, and other informations came to light, I honestly can’t remember which one.  I believe it was one who was friends with Linda Lawson and Sandy LaRouche.  Apparently, neither of them had been told.  One night, in a very personal conversation with Sandy about attitudes and stresses in the cast, and clearly stating that what I was about to say was strictly between she and I, I told her that he was positive, and that the subject matter of the show was very hard for him.

Well, ‘strictly between you and I’…famous last words.

Wildfire.  And then I was the dirtbag for saying anything at all.  For YEARS a grudge was held against me for opening my mouth to anyone.  Another lesson learned.

I also learned many years later just how many of the actors hated the show…and why.

Within the next year or so, Chris Campbell was diagnosed, and died almost immediately.

The gravedigger who dated Chris drank himself to a heart attack.  He survived.  And about a day and a half after Chris died, Charlie Robin, who I’d gone out with twice, called to virtually rip my head off for not telling HIM that Chris was HIV, because he and Chris had dated too.  I didn’t even know Chris was positive until AFTER he died.  I was shocked that he died.  And saddened.  Chris Campbell was a good guy.  WAY heavy on the sarcasm, but a good and intelligent human being.

Charlie Robin was the manager of the theater at Washington University, and was a 6’6” skinny flaming redhead.  He was a very nice guy, cute in that uber white flaming redhead kind of way…but after two dates we knew we were doomed when a kiss goodnight required him standing down two steps on the staircase to kiss face to face.

Now, all the drama aside, Limbo pulled decent crowds, great comments from the audiences, and had a flush run. No money earned, but no money lost.

Click HERE to watch the full play on YouTube

I had such a great time with AW Shade.  And as always it was a godsend to have Carlos as the right hand. One night, the three of us went to some gay bar together, I think it might have been Magnolia’s, but I really can’t remember.  We went up stairs to the small room so that we could sit and talk.  AW was very politically charged, and we got on the subject of ‘minorities,’ namely that we were BOTH in that collection.  We bickered about who was in the worse position as a minority.  She insisted it was she.  She said that if William or Carlos walk into a room, no one can immediately tell that they’re gay.  But when AW walks into a room, the FIRST thing that they see is that she’s black.  I had to hand her that one.  I recall her once telling me that I would be the ‘quintessential mate.’  THAT was flattering as hell, but dammit if I never ONCE heard anything event remotely similar coming from ANY gay man.

But my fondest of the fond memories of AW came that very evening in the bar.  We were upstairs, and unaware that that was where the strippers were going to be performing.  We were sitting along the runway.  Suddenly the show began.  A couple of typical small town lame ‘dancers’ came out and giggled their not so buff parts around, and then out came…

Well…do you recall the blind date I’d had at the Italian restaurant with the really queenie guy who said ‘I thought you’d be more handsome’? The one where I dropped my money on the table and left?  Uh-huh.  Here he was taking off his clothes for money.

OH MY God – I said to Carlos and AW, and shared the story of the horrid blind date with them.  AW looked at me, and then proceeded to stop guys from trying to put money into the stripper’s undies.  It was noble and hilarious.  I have always adored her from that moment on.  Now, the irony is, that all the while the twit was ‘dancing’, he kept making eye contact with me in a ‘lustful’ manner.

I had been working out fanatically for almost two years.  I was working in a tanning salon.  NOW he seemed to think I was ‘handsome’, and even made eyes at me and said ‘Hello’ in the hallway as we were leaving. Carlos and AW and I laughed as we left.

Just goes to show you.  A plain jane CAN improve…but an asshole stays an asshole.

Of course, before Limbo was even over, we had to endure more ranting drama from the next theaTAH company due to use the space.  A booming

Darryl Maximilian Robinson

and blustering black man by the name of Darryl Maximilian Robinson who had a Shakespeare Company was scheduled up next, and he just couldn’t whine and complain MORE about the graveyard set interfering with his rehearsals.  As a result, I had to redecorate the set before each performance after each of his rehearsals.  They’d sweep up the dried leaves to leave the bare stage, and shove things around, which meant shoving granite headstones back into place.

When Limbo was over, I can’t even remember a cast party, but I’ve been told that there was one.  Apparently, it was at Michael ‘Michelle McCausland’ Shreve’s apartment, and he and Carlos had a fling during the party.  Michael apparently had a thing for a few years over Carlos, but Carlos was with his loser Bob.  Honest to goodness, I can’t recall a party at all.

I can recall after the show was over, having to take dirt back to the park landscaping place, dumping the leaves in the woods, returning the seven headstones, and…then there was the hospital bed.  I had NO idea what to do with it.  The hospital didn’t want it back.  I ended up donating it to the Midtown Arts Center, and they kept it in the basement storage area.  Joe Tracy and I did make minor use of it one night.

Jimmy Arrunategui was being kind of persistent about me coming back to visit and be with him in Pittsburgh.  He was calling almost weekly, and certainly no one else had been, so I took it as sincere ‘like’.  Melissa Roth was planning a trip back to Lancaster, and was in fact investigating moving back there, and I believe I ended up doing a road trip with her, and she dropped me off at Jimmy’s ‘Pittsburgh’ apartment, where I stayed for like a day.  He rented a ‘city’ room in an old house in East Liberty so that he could go bar hopping and not have to worry about getting back to beaver.  I don’t recall much about the destination time of that trip, but driving across country with Melissa was too much fun.  I dragged my old briefcase of Broadway cassettes, and we drove and sang until I was hoarse.  I introduced Melissa to the world of showtunes.

One of the funny moments included listening to ‘Oil City Symphony’ and as we were driving through Ohio, on came ‘Ohio Afternoon.’  We laughed hysterically because everything that Debra Monk was singing about in the song was visible around us.  We also got quite a laugh out of stopping for lunch at McDonald’s…and this little Podunk McD’s in the middle of nowhere Ohio was apparently a test market for their new, and soon to be banished ‘pizza.’  Not good.  I guess they couldn’t bio-engineer it quite right.  That, or maybe people just weren’t quite dumb enough at that time to buy pizza from a burger place.  Nahhhh…they were (and now especially are) quite dumb enough.

I spent my day or so in Pittsburgh, and I can’t remember Jimmy being there for more than two hours. One quick lay and he was gone.  Melissa picked me up and back we went to St. Louis.

I was still working at the Tanning Salon, and still kind of seeing Jim Josue.  Preston Bircher, from Dallas, was driving from Texas to New York, and decided to stop by St. Louis the week between X-Mess and New Year’s.  I remember going to see ‘For The Boys’ with him at a nearly abandoned mall, and having sex.  That’s about what I recall from the visit.  He left New Year’s Day, and I went into work at the salon to find I was being fired.  Why?  One of Mary Ann’s spy friends had walked by and looked at me through the window, and didn’t like the way I looked back.  Yep, that was that.

Jim Athens

Jim Athens had come back to St. Louis in the touring production of ‘A Chorus Line’ and we met up.  This time around it was for like an hour.  He commented that he hadn’t noticed it before, but that there was something really ‘off’ about St. Louis.  Like it was trying to be all ‘Leave It To Beaver’ but had a very cold and hollow feeling to it. Bingo.  Jim hit the nail right on the head.

St. Louis was extremely segregated, to the extent that they built highways strategically to keep ‘them’ over there, and ‘us’ over here.  They wanted nothing to do with outsiders, unless tourist dollars were involved, and in recent years they seem to have killed off all of the attractions that brought people to St. Louis to visit in the first place.

Onstage St. Louis was driving me crazy, and I wanted out.  I had assembled a board of directors, which included a VERY small handful of people, including Violet Horvath, a woman named Susan, and a few others, and we held a meeting in the lobby of the Beaux Arts building, where I announced that I was stepping out.  I quoted the line from ‘She Devil’ where Meryl Streep tells her hubby that ‘I’m taking back my life BOB!’

Kyna Iman had lost her secretary, and had found a guy to replace her named Brad Harris.  Brad was a squeaky clean kind of college frat boy who had a strong interest in politics, loved to go drinking, lived with his college room mates, and was a great match for Kyna.  I did a lot of volunteer work in Kyna’s offices, and she even took me by train to Jefferson City for some big arts day.  It was pretty cool, with live performances by Missouri companies in the rotunda.

Brad and I became hang out pals, as much as I was with anyone else (usually meant about once per month) but he was a cool straight guy who would even go to a gay bar with me for happy hour.  They’d opened some gay bar in the Central West End that was aimed more at a respectable crowd (usually meaning older), and we went a couple of times just to have a drink and hang out.  He and I would also hit other happy hours where food was involved.  Can’t remember the names of the places, but he, Kyna and I did some serious grazing after the office.

Jimmy kept calling and wanted me to move back to Pittsburgh. My involvement with Onstage was dead. I had lost my job. My ‘care’ for the arts community had died.

Me and Kathy Sitzer - note: they got my name wrong.

I did have one stupidly fun moment on recommendation from Sandy LaRouche when they dedicated Shaw Park as a historical site.  She assembled four performers to represent Henry Shaw and his wife, Queen Victoria, and William Shakespeare.  I was William Shakespeare, and another theater pal Kathy Sitzer was Queen Victoria, and we basically just bantered off each other for the day, including in front of a couple of news cameras.  When asked what I thought of the park, all William Shakespeare could muster up was ‘Two thumbs up.’

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the event, and did nothing Shakespearean.  Hell, I was never even a fan of Shakespeare, and still pretty much can’t stomach sitting through any kind of performance of it.  I’ve seen so few actors in my life who could recite the

Shakespeare, Victoria, Shaw and Mrs. Shaw

words in a way that I could actually understand what they meant.  Even on film, I give Kudos to Patrick Stewart and the woman who was Lady in the filmed version of MacBeth.  But even THEY were the only two in the film that ‘spoke’ as opposed to reciting.  So I had zero Shakespeare under my belt, and nothing to play with but ‘to be or not to be,’ and even at that time I didn’t know what the hell THAT meant.  But now, man do I ever understand THAT monologue.

I was also developing a dislike for doing direct audience interaction, which was only going to get worse.  I noticed it a bit toward the end of doing Smudge on the Admiral.  Audiences were starting to no longer comprehend the line between audience and performer, and they were starting to cross those lines in inappropriate ways.  Ways that were uncomfortable and difficult to deal with with dignity.

I had another such experience with the woman who hired me to be Dinomite at the Science Center.  She hired me to play an Amadeus type character at a debutante ball at some country club.  First off, this was the typical uppity country club of a small city clientele – more attitude than substance – but at first I roared into the part in full wig Amadeus costume and white face make-up, trying to be the goofy slightly inappropriate that Tom Hulce had been in the film.  I was asked to announce the debs as well.

This crowd was horrid.  Rude, about as condescending as could be, and they pretty much ignored the bulk of the performers who were hired to entertain them.  One woman actually walked past me with her friend, and as I tried to engage, put her hand on my shoulder, turned her head to her friend and said ‘What a nice touch to the party.’  Then they walked away like I wasn’t even there.  After about fifteen more minutes of this, I retreated to the locker room, removed the costume and make-up, wrote a note to Susan, and left.  There was no reason, not even money, to submit to that kind of condescending humiliation.

I did do one more play before leaving.  I auditioned at the Forest Park Community College for a production of two Eugene O’Neill one acts that were related to each other called ‘Bound East For Cardiff’ and ‘In The Zone’, both set on a cargo ship, and dealing with the claustrophobic setting with a bunch of sailors.

Bound East For Cardiff Cast

The cast included a couple people from the ‘Clown Of God’ show, Tom Beaird and Terry Hibdon.  The two main leads were Tod Luethans and Charles Baumann, Richard Salamon who was the director Dennis Rau’s partner, Paul Fleming and Robert Doyle, and C.O. Buddy Hilgert.  The show was pretty darned well done, albeit with drama, and of course, in St. Louis style, those creating the drama were the critic’s local darlings.  Mainly, in this case, Tod Luethens.  Tod was the ultimate middle aged mama’s boy, whiny, big baby Huey.  He was hot, he was cold, he was sniffly, he was uncomfortable, ow, this pained him, ow that pained him.

The inside drama came from me, Hilgert and Hibdon.  Hilgert, I had run into a few years earlier, without realizing it until he pointed it out.  At the cast party for ‘Godspell’, he had been a friend of Mica Letizia’s that tagged along.

Buddy Hilgert

I vaguely remember him saying something to me, and vaguely remember simply being quick and polite and getting away from him.  At that time, Buddy scared me.  Blonde mullet haircut, a little pot belly, and extremely straight redneck looking. I don’t know in retrospect if he was just complimenting or trying to hit on me, but at any rate, his appearance was flat out scary to a little homo.  Who knew that a few years later I’d find out that HE was a homo.  He also worked with Karen LaPlaca the aerobics instructor at Balaban’s, and asked her one day if I was ‘sick’ because I’d lost so much weight.  She told him no, that I worked out like a fanatic and was actually quite HEALTHY!

But during the O’Neill plays, we both had the hots for Terry Hibdon who, if he was gay, wasn’t sure of it, or hid it well.  If he was, and any affairs were going on, it was with him and Buddy.  But who knew for sure.  The certainty of the situation was that suddenly I got the cold shoulder from both of them.

Me as Cocky

The two nice things to come of that show were one comment from the dialect coach, and one comment from Tom Baeird, which I’m still not sure if it was a compliment or a criticism.  I was Cocky, the Irish lad, working the ship.  There were several accents involved in the characters, and mine was Irish.  Well, I had done Irish with the Scarborough Faire experience, twelve hours per day, two days per week, for three weeks.  After watching a couple of rehearsals Patricia McLaughlin, the dialect coach pulled each actor aside to work with them.  When she came to me her comment was ‘Go away, you’re absolutely fine.’  She needed NO work with me.

However, when Harry Weber posted his review in the Riverfront Times, my

ONeill Review

name and performance didn’t make the review, however, after glowering on Luethens and Baumann, and a little drooling over Hibdon, he DID make the following comment: “The rest of the cast are also at ease in their parts, and are a credit to their acting and dialect coach, Patricia McLaughlin”

Now I should mention here that Harry Weber was another St. Louis creepy old closet case. I had placed a personal ad in the Riverfront Times once, and in the mail arrived a response…from Harry, accompanied by a shirtless photo.  Harry was kind of a tall and intellectual Addams Family ‘Lurch’ looking guy.

I sent the letter back anonymously, with a note saying ‘With this kind of thing floating around, he might want to be a little nicer to the people he reviews.’

Tom Baeird’s compliment/comment was that I was very ‘dependable’ on the stage.  I always did the same thing, and they knew what I was going to do.  I’m not sure if he really meant that as a good thing, or as a dig to being boring.

I have a couple of other theater memories from St. Louis, aside from seeing lots of it.

Villa Duchesne - The Boyfriend

A friend of Doree Wren, Brian Welch, was looking for male actors for a high school (yes, high school) production he was directing of ‘The Boyfriend.’  The school was Villa Duchesne, and all girls private school.

One thing you need to understand about the weirdness of St. Louis.  In ‘regular’ social gatherings around the country, ‘getting to know you’ conversations usually involve the standard questions of ‘where do you work?’ or ‘where did you go to college?’  Not in this weird little burgh.  They didn’t care if you went to Yale or the local community college. The standard question asked to establish your importance in St. Louis was ‘What high school did you go to?’

If you were a girl, Villa Duchesne was one of the top few.  It showed, of course, how much money your parents had. That was your key to success in St. Louis.

The ‘boys’ for the show were imported from a local all-boys school, I believe it was called Chaminade.  I was the oldest cast member.

For the most part, it was an enjoyable activity.  It was very weird being in a room full of teens, awkward boys and even more awkward girls, and the trappings that came from being, for the most part, spoiled brats.  This was a private catholic school.  The nuns had final say on what was and what was NOT going to be said and seen on the stage.  Fortunately, The Boyfriend is pretty innocuous, with only hints of innuendo.  The nuns only had one qualm, and that was that they thought they could detect one of the girl’s nipples through her costume.

Yep, leave it to closet lesbians…

My partner in the show was a gal named Cindy Desloge, who was a bigger gal, which made her more matronly to play the leader of the – all girls’ school – which was the main setting of the show, to my ‘older’ father of one of the girls, the lead Polly.  She and I really did become the most buddy buddy of the group, and it was kind of necessary, but seemed sincere on her part.

I think the show only ran three performances, and I don’t remember a lot about it except sexual tension from Brian (I think we gave it a go once, and that didn’t work out so well), and trying to cope with the neurosis of the teens, imposed mostly by their parents (and of course, a room full of nuns.)

I do remember one of the moms.  Not by name, but definitely by attitude.  UBER Bourgeois, new money, married some contractor type who made a decent amount of money.  Not millions, but enough for a typical bourgeois to try and show off as hard as they could.  She had been a nail girl in a hair salon from what I recall, and was the typical hair salon gal, with gigantic bleached out hair, the screaming fingernails, enough jewelry that she jingled when she walked, and a screeching type of ‘that’s MY daughter!’ attitude.  Why do I remember her?  Because one of the nights of the curtain call, she was sitting dead center in the audience…in the direct path of the follow spot…which created a giant bleached blonde halo in the middle of the spot…and an eclipse on the stage.

For rehearsals of this show, I did a LOT of biking.  It took me an hour to get there.  I don’t recall getting home, if it was by bike, or if someone gave me a ride.  I had some pretty amazing legs back then.

Another theater memory came via Bob Herman again.  Bob was involved with the ‘Family Musical Theater’, which did an annual summer show in a high school auditorium to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House.  This

George M!

year, they were doing ‘George M!’  Bob asked me to be involved as the production stage manager, and I took to the job with all seriousness.  Linda Lawson was the carpenter and light gal, and a lot of the stage crew were made up of the high school A/V geek squad.  Matt Caulley, who had been in ‘The Duck Variations’ at Dangerous Visions was in the show with his wife Mary, and a couple of people involved in the planning were employed by Stifel Nicolas, where Carlos worked.  I really don’t remember much about the rest of the cast, except for Michael Hulsey.  He was an adorable ‘older man,’ who kind of looked like your friendly school teacher type.  We went out a couple of times, but absolutely nothing happened.  I thought he was handsome as hell, and he thought I was too weird, and blew me off. Story of my life.

The high school A/V geek squad was pretty cool…all but one.  A chubby little blonde boy who flat out didn’t give a shit, was trying to reach the popular kids, and was more interested in watching the cheerleaders rehearse outside than to do what I needed him to do, which was operate the fly system.  During tech rehearsals, I’d look for a cue, and it wouldn’t happen.  I’d look for the boy…nowhere to be seen.  I’d ask his other high school pals, and they’d point to the outside door.  I’d go out and call him in, he’d huff and moan, then return to a delayed cue and a stopped rehearsal.  This happened over and over and over.

Finally, during one of the afternoon rehearsals, he went missing again, they told me where he was, and I found him, indeed, sitting on his fat ass watching the sheerleaders from the front steps of the school.  So I walked up behind him, slid my fingers into his hair on the top of his head, took hold (but more mime, not actually grabbing or pulling anything) and said “Are you coming back inside where I need you to be, or are you going to sit out here yet again ignoring what we need you to do?”  He shrugged his shoulders, and schlumped back into the building to the backstage area.

A few rehearsals later when I arrived, I was met quickly in the doorway by Bob Herman, who took me into a side room, and told me that the boy’s father was accusing me of ‘molesting’ his kid.  I said ‘WHAT???’

We went into the lobby, where the boy, his daddy and mommy, and a crowd of people had gathered.

Daddy, was a real bible thumping type…the scrawny, bespectacled balding whiny “I’m gonna sue!” type, probably in his late 40’s.  Mommy was such a doormat, I couldn’t even tell you what she looked like.  Daddy started ranting and accusing, and demanding that I be removed from the school, or he was going to call the police and a lawyer.  I explained EXACTLY what had happened, including the part about him constantly being missing from rehearsals to watch the cheerleaders, and demonstrated what I’d done on a friend standing nearby.  I asked ‘Am I pulling?  Does it hurt?’ and she said no.  Daddy started to rant some more, and for once in my life, someone actually stepped up from the crowd and defended me – sort of.

He told the daddy “I can’t say exactly what happened with William, because I wasn’t there, but I CAN tell you, that I’VE had to hunt your son down a few times myself, and found him outside the girls’ dressing room trying to peek in!”

WELL…

Daddy sputtered and stammered like an old Buick running on fumes.  He and mommy stomped out of the lobby, dragging their darling with them.  And that little fat boy didn’t come back.  Of course, he was going to try to get in one last hurrah.

On opening night, after the show, Bob and a few others came to me and TOLD me that they were going to escort me to the car…that the boys had told him of a plot to attack me in the parking lot.

The attack didn’t happen.  The show went well.  And Bob and pals raised quite a bit of money for Ronald McDonald House.  I made very good friends with the Caulleys.

Now I can’t remember specifically which cast party is plopping around in my brain, ‘The Boyfriend’ or ‘George M!’…it strikes me as George M from the people around, but The Boyfriend because of the house.

The cast party was held in a fairly newly built McMansion, in a McMansion housing plan.  You know the type – bourgeois central – strip out ALL

McMansion example

vegetation from a twenty acre plot of land, and build rows of McMansions, all in that modern characterless style, plant twigs in the front yard with perfectly lined sod strips as a lawn and massive driveways leading through the barren landscape to the three car garages.

Two things I recall from the party. One, two many damned kids being stupid, and one guy who was a high school student who thought I was hitting on HIM because I kept looking at his eyelashes.  They were THE thickest black eyelashes I have ever seen that didn’t involve a ton of mascara and eyeliner, or flat out false eyelashes.

The result of the too many stupid kids was that me and a few other techies moved out of the family game room basement, and sat in the museum type parlor window seat talking.

The mom of the house came to us in a condescending tone and informed us that the party was restricted to the game room, and the rest of the house was off limits.

Oh.

That’s okay.  We gathered ourselves and departed the party altogether. The house was NOT that impressive (in fact, it looked exactly like the other ten houses up and down the block) and the hosts were just a little too – well – unhostly.

Now, I know this is going to seem absurd, but it’s true.  Months after that show ended, I had a dream.

I was in a church.  And a scrawny, bald, bespectacled man in a tacky blue seersucker suit stood up from the seat next to me, and started beating me over the head with a bible…

The job prospects were minimal, the social life was dying.  I found a job through a friend of Linda Lawson, a gal named Denise who was running a little slipshod café downtown.  She was one of those kinda-wanna-be-granola lesbians, offering up a minimal menu lunch, a daily special and salad bar, with wannabee Indigo Girl, Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang singers in the evenings, with an occasional bizarre show by another guy who worked there who wore more make-up than most early 80’s punk bands. Can’t remember his name.  Some of the girls were good, but none of them especially memorable.

I got Carlos’ boyfriend Bob a job there, working as a dishwasher, but all he did was bitch and complain about it, and didn’t last long.  Denise wasn’t making much money, so really, none of us lasted long.

In the meantime, Jimmy Arrunategui was really courting me hard to come to Pittsburgh again.  He offered up his city apartment for free until I could get on my feet.  I finally seriously considered it.

Kyna Iman’s assistant was going to leave her to move to Kansas City for a girlfriend and a job, and I filled in for him for two weeks.  I might have stayed longer, because Kyna was a doll to work with, but my welcome was already clearly overstayed in the ‘Show me’ state…and no one was looking.

I took Jimmy up on his offer, had an estate sale, ended up giving a big chunk of it to Carlos, including a couple of antique park benches I’d bought in Dallas, and some other things, Jim Josue agreed to take over my lease and move into my apartment, with the blessing of my landlord, I rented a U-Haul truck, and set the date. Carlos drove, since my license had expired, and I just didn’t care about renewing it.  I bought him a flight back to St. Louis.

Looking back, although St. Louis was a horrible experience overall, it was also one of the best experiences as a general chunk of life.  Even though absolutely NOTHING succeeded, I tried…and I tried a lot of things.  I failed at all of them.  But I did make some somewhat decent friends that I’m still in sparse contact with. Carlos is still the top buddy from that time, but Melissa Roth and I kept in touch up until today.  Sandy LaRouche and I kept in contact, though strained.  I used to buy her an annual angel snowglobe, since she collected angels, but after a few years, I started to feel somewhat ‘out of sight, out of mind’ with her.  Then came the holiday form letters talking about all of the people in her life during the holiday seasons, and I wasn’t one of them.  So that faded slightly.  I always looked up to her, and thought Bob was amazing.  But like most people in my life, I ended up being the person trying to maintain friendship and contact.

Kevin Moore hadn’t really spoken to me in a few years, and if he did, it was on my initiation. And all of the theater people that I’d busted hump to try to help, to them I may as well have not even have existed.  Phil Elliott had moved away, Julie Davis had vanished, Sunny Deterding as well, and I never heard from Karen Millatti or Rocky, or anyone from the Admiral, or Joanie Bibeau.  Except for Carlos and Melissa, I almost always felt alone, and if I wanted to do anything, I did the calling.  And after a while, that got really old, and started to make me realize that I was of little importance to anyone, really.

I had taken one other road trip to Chicago, trying to meet up with John Bonny and Jay Wirtes.  Michael Tobias, the cast member of ‘Limbo’ did the driving, and we went up I think for one night.  I don’t really remember much about it, except John being very distant and cold, and Jay being a bit detached as well. Don’t remember anything else about it, not even the drive back.

So that pretty much winds up my time in St. Louis, Misery.  Now, into the U-Haul once again…

Ah, but before I head to the burgh of Pitts, I just remembered another hobby that died in St. Louis.  It was a silly thing, really.  Back when I lived in Dallas, I was on the phone one day with a guy who rambled incessantly and said nothing, and as he chattered away, I was doodling on a pad on the drafting table I’d gotten from the Club Clearview pilfer.

First, I just drew a shape – hmmmm – looks like a sock.  Then, as the guy rambled more, I turned the sock into a bird’s head.  Continued drawing a body…and thus, Sockhead was born.  I went to the art supply store and

Click image for the full strip

bought a drawing pad, and created a comic strip, that was about a bird with a pessimistic attitude (gee, I wonder who that was based on) his little bird friend who was gay, and a recurring old lady character.  I basically just used themes in my life, bits from the news, and ended up with a hobby drawing this comic strip.  I did about four drawing books of the strip, and would occasionally enjoy showing them to friends.  Several of them commented that I really was good and that I should try selling them.

Not knowing the first thing about submitting them, I brushed it off.  Then Sandy LaRouche told me that I REALLY needed to get them out there somewhere and try to earn some money from them.  Well, Sandy was a writer in publishing, and her husband Bob was a photographer for the local newspaper, so maybe I should listen.

Click image for the full strip

So I did some research, and found a handful of places that would accept comic submissions.  I received no responses.  I spent a small fortune making copies, and doing mailings, and heard not one word.  Then I found one new local paper that was an entire paper dedicated to local comic artists and writers, so I submitted the pile of my Sockhead.

A month went by, and suddenly, I received a letter.  They were going to publish ONE of the strips.  I called the number, and talked to a younger sounding guy, who told me that they’d really only wanted the one, and that there was no money involved.

I asked the guy why they’d only chosen one, and he responded that it was

Click the image for the full strip

relevant to the theme they were going to do in the next month’s issue.  I asked about the rest, and he said ‘No, they couldn’t use any more.’  I asked why, and he brushed me off, and then I pressed again, trying to get some kind of feedback or advice.  Finally, I was able to drag his truth out of him.

‘They’re lame’ he said.

Lame?  What do you mean by that?  The drawing, the text, the idea, what?

He dismissed me with a curt ‘Look, they’re just lame, ok?

My mind flashed back to the moment that my mother smashed the toothpick village I’d made for the model railroad.

Click image for full view

And Sockhead ceased to exist in my mind.  He was never drawn again.  What was once a fun hobby that I could be proud of in my own mind was no longer valid for any purpose whatsoever.  It is now just another stack of papers in my collection of scrapbook junk.

The Burgh Of Pitts – Part Two…

The house on Beatty Street was owned by Tom Mulvey, Jr.  It was a somewhat run down but potentially gorgeous old row house Three or four

House on Beatty Street

floors, an old greystone in what is now known as Alpha Terrace, a historical district in the middle of East Liberty, right behind Peabody High School.

It was hard to believe that a group of gay men occupied this amazing old house considering the condition it was in.  Not so hard to believe once you got to know the occupants.

Tom, in his 40’s at that time, was a drunk, and a bit of a lech, with a desire to screw anything that moved and would have him.  Since he had money, many would.  Tom had a partner, Steve, who looked like a homeless guy, with thick old glasses that always needed a cleaning, greasy dark hair and a too long fuzzy beard.  Steve actually might have been kind of hot had he not been an old dorky loser…very lean and somewhat furry body, not unintelligent…he just looked like a guy who lived in a cardboard box in an alley.  I think he worked for some grimy convenience store on Baum Blvd., or in the vicinity.  The kind of place that was really there for cigarettes, lottery tickets and Mountain Dew.  There were other people who came and went, and I actually was so not sure of who they were that I put a padlock on my door just to be safe.  I didn’t have much, but I didn’t want to lose it all.

Jimmy Arrunategui turned out to be a real piece of work.  He’d assured me before I moved that I could stay in his room rent free as long as I wanted.  He couldn’t wait to see me again.  Jimmy visited me once.

Carlos and I rolled into town in the U-Haul and were to meet Jimmy’s friend Nestor at some pizza place downtown where Nestor worked, and Nestor would give us the keys to the place.  Nestor was a chubby Venezuelan or Bolivian that managed the pizza shop.  He met us and gave us the keys and we then went to Beatty Street where we unloaded the U-Haul and officially met the landlord.  I don’t remember if Carlos stayed one night, or if he went to the airport that evening and flew back.  I’d bought him a plane ticket to return.

At first, Tom didn’t seem too bad, except for the fact that he was pretty much always drunk, and when he wasn’t he could be a little mean.  This wasn’t a house full of queens.  This was a house full of drunk loser fags.  And for all my hetero pals out there, there is a BIG difference.  Queens are all prim and proper and pissy with each knick-knack in place, and they would NEVER do anything to be seen as trashy or gutter.  They tend to BE trashy and gutter behind closed door, but they would NEVER be ‘seen’ as such.  They would prefer that all assume that they are like nuns, but with money and freedom.  If you touch the magazines on the coffee table, you’ve ruined their perfect designed arrangement.

Fags on the other hand don’t give a shit.  They fuck who they want, when they want, act like street trash, and own up to it.  Shove the magazines off the coffee table to make room for the ass, and then maybe pick up the magazines next week to swat a fly off the two week old beer cans.

Kind of like the difference between suburbanites in McMansions and denizens of a trailer park.  One set pretending they’re something they’re not, and the other group being real, but somewhat revolting.

Tom was a spoiled boy from a somewhat successful family.  His father had started a business that had them rolling in the dough…literally.  Pizza dough.  Named after two brothers who had started the biz, the Irish guys started a pseudo Italian venture. Tom and Eddie formed Tomanetti’s Food products, specializing in…pizza dough.

They made soy cheese and spelt pizza shells for the granola crowd, and then the regular pizza shells and pre-packaged cheapo pizzas…the kind high school groups try to sell as fundraisers, at their little plant in Oakmont.

Tom did do some good with his money though by giving quite a bit to the gay community for social causes.  Besides, it made him look a little like a sugar daddy to draw in the young ones.

I worked for about two weeks at Tomanetti’s after learning the truth about Jimmy, and needing to find some work to pay for the room.

After Jimmy’s singular visit, and several phone calls trying to understand why, and then a few conversations with Tom and Steve, THEN the truth came out.

Jimmy Arrunategui

Jimmy was basically an illegal from Peru who was a kept boy by a low level wannabee politician in the little town of Beaver, Michael Jackson (yes, believe it or not, that was his name,)  where I’d had my first apartment.  Let’s see…hang with cute poor guy, or stick to politician daddy…well…we all know how that plays out now, don’t we?

At first, Tom invited me out a few times to meet up with he and his buddies.  Again, at first, not so bad.  Although I started to realize that his ‘buddies’ were a tad on the old lech drunk side, like Tom.  On one occasion, Tom left me with one of his friends, who kept feeding me drinks.  An old, chubby, bald (kind of like I am now) drunk.  He got me completely wasted to the point that I had to rely on him to get me home.  And he did…to HIS home…where he totally took advantage of my wasted state.  Where most of my body wouldn’t work or function, he found the one, that when touched, regardless of condition, WOULD function, sat on it until he got what he wanted, and THEN found me a way back to MY home.

Within the week, I ended up with a urinary tract infection, and after talking to Tom, basically admitted that I was kinda sorta raped by this friend of his, and that I’d ended up with an infection.  Tom’s reaction was ‘You mean he has gonorrhea in his ASS?’

Well, no, he didn’t, but I had a UTI in my part, and had to find a care facility with as usual, no insurance.  I think I went back to Planned Parenthood where Marla had worked and they got me the antibiotics that cleaned it up.  But I pretty much stopped hanging out with Tom and his friends.

I made a few old connections, Bob Kwaitowski, and one guy who had gone to the same high school as me, who Rich Shyan, the music teacher had introduced me to in the early 80’s at Pegasus, named Wayne Gancarz.  Wayne was a few years older than me, so I’d never known him in high school.  In the early 80’s we’d dated briefly, but there was something about Wayne and his superiority complex that was a major turn off.  He wasn’t really smart, but he wasn’t really dumb, he was just kind of typical of Pittsburgh…small town with an attitude…and very little to back it up.  He thought his physique was the pinnacle of his success.  He has a decent body…a little mannequeened, but ok.  The issue that I had with him while dating was his overbearing ‘I’m right and you’re wrong – and I need to show you how to BE right like me’ attitude.  Didn’t work for me in the eighties, and guess what, eventually, didn’t work for me in the nineties either.  We went out maybe two or three times again in Pittsburgh

Oh, and in the 80’s he changed his name from Wayne…to Julian.

Bob started getting me reacquainted with the theater community and a little foot into the door with the film scene which was going on in a very minor way in Pittsburgh.  One of the first things I did was be an extra on a mini-series called ‘The Fire Next Time’ which starred Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, and Justin Whalen.  Is was set in an apocalyptic future where global warming had pretty much destroyed the United States, and people were trying desperately to migrate to Canada for cooler weather.

Pittsburgh 16th Street Bridge

Initially I was called in to be a border crossing guard, and I was going to be doing it with Bob, and a handful of others.  They chose the 16th Street bridge in Pittsburgh to represent the border crossing into Canada.  I was wardobed in swat team style cop wear, and the six or eight of us headed to the set.

Well, guess what.  I was the ONLY guy there who was 5’6”. All of the other six or eight were 6’ or over (Bob was like 6’3”.)  The director took one look at me, and I was sent back to the cattle herd of ‘refugees’, demoted, recostumed in survival gauze wear and a big floppy had, with a backpack, and was herded around for several days as a refugee.  In one large warehouse in the Strip District, they had created a refuge ‘camp’, with a social work office assigning refugees to locations or meals, or whatever.  The head social worker, who actually smiled at me and said ‘Hi’ was Marla Gibbs, the maid from The Jeffersons.  She actually

Marla Gibbs

seemed like a very nice lady.  Craig T?  Aloof.  Bonnie B? Even more aloof. Justin Whalen?  A little typical teen idol diva with a major attitude.  But Marla Gibbs was friendly and said hello to me.

So did Joe Pauley.

Joe was another of the ‘refugee’ extras, and we ended up being drawn to each other and partnering during the several days in the refugee center.  We played cards in scenes and between scenes, even though I never knew how to play cards.  We chatted, we laughed, we flirted.  Joe was adorable. A little taller than me, skinny, black hair, great eyes, glasses, and a beaming smile.

During one of the days of filming we all got a good laugh out of one guy who fell asleep on his cot.  He must have been having some mighty good dreams, because there, for all the milling extras to see, was a serious tent affect going on in the crotch of his pants.

Joe and I started dating.  He took me to his place, since mine was obnoxious…and I then had to flip a coin as to whose home was more obnoxious.  Joe lived with a bunch of college art students.  The house frau was a girl in a wheelchair who had lost the use of her legs.  I can’t remember her name.  Joe was kind of her caretaker.  I can’t remember how many room mates there were in this space. I can remember an Asian guy named Brian who was a total headbanger.

Joe’s ‘room’ was more or less a large closet, with a twin mattress on the floor, a couple of dumbbells, and not much room for anything else.  I vaguely recall sleeping overnight there once, and Joe acting weird in the morning.

Meanwhile, back in drunk central, Tom and Steve were always fighting.  Tom had a little makeshift fuck den in the basement, and would often just sleep down there, which would send Steve off the ballistics chart.

It really was a shame that the people here were such a mess, because this

Antique Stove Depilatory

home could have been absolutely amazing.  It bears repeating.  I remember they had an antique gas stove/oven that was beyond cool, albeit dangerous.  I tried lighting the over one day, which had to be done with a match, and I truly blew all the hair off my right arm.

I was getting a little stressed over this living situation, and Tom was getting meaner (and drunker) and informed me that my free time was up.  When I questioned Jimmy’s original offer, I was told that they hadn’t paid Tom in months.  Seems I was the scapegoat for both sides.

Around this time, Bob Kwiatkowski made the decision to move to New York City, and asked me to help him.  I would help pack and load the truck, drive with him to New York, where he’d already found an astoundingly cheap rent-controlled apartment, help him unload and arrange, spend a few days, and then he’d fly me home.  It would give me a much needed rest from the housing situation, as well as a little trip away.

Bob had moved out of his mother’s house, and was living in a townhouse in Moon Township.  I’d visited him a couple of times.  One memorable occasion was trying to help him put together an Ikea magazine rack that involved two oval rings, and about ten dowel rods that were supposed to fit into round notches.  Well, this little sucker needed about one hand per dowel rod, one hand to hold the top oval in place, and another hand to work the screwdriver.  The dowel rods kept slipping out and falling over, and we were both about to throw the thing out the window.

So the trip was planned, and packing day came.  Bob’s friend Mark Hall was there helping as well.  A very gymmed all-American looking type.  One thing lead to another, and before the packing was done we ended up in a threesome on the living room floor.

THEN the packing got done.  I don’t remember where we (or I) slept that night, but we got into the truck early in the morning, and started the drive across Pennsylvania.

My only direct experience with New York City had been in the early 80’s with the layovers at the bus station on my trip to Cape Cod.  My only OTHER experiences with New York City has been what I’d seen in movies and TV…drugs, gangs, mean people, guns…in short…fear.

We finally made it across Pennsylvania, and were inching our way toward the city. Literally.  We arrived in the city at rush hour.  Traffic was not moving at all, and we were approaching the tunnel, with our gas gauge horribly close to ‘E’.  As we inched our way through the tunnel, I found myself slowly sliding down into the seat,  with all of the visions of the TV shows and movies playing over and over in my head.  I felt like there was going to be a gang of thugs with guns greeting us at the other end of the tunnel.

Well, they weren’t there.  We got out of the tunnel, and into Bob’s area, somewhere around 45th and 9th, basically across from the theater that was doing the revival of Guys and Dolls, in a building that was called the ‘Camelot.’  First, we went somewhere and got gas, and then Bob parked the U-Haul in front of his building, opened the back door of the U-Haul, and told me to ‘watch his stuff’ while he went in to get the key from the concierge.

There I was with my media induced terror, standing in the back of a U-Haul with all of Bob’s earthly possessions, watching hundreds of strangers rush by, terrified that someone would jump in the truck, knock me out, and steal his TV.

Well, that didn’t happen either.  We made trips up and down in the service elevator for the next few hours. Boxes. Furniture. Appliances. That damned magazine rack (which ultimately looked great) and finally…the last thing in the truck…the sofa.

The sofa…was wider than the door.  We turned it, we twisted it, we angled it.  Finally, we got it as close to wedged into the doorframe as closely as was possible, and the both of us body slammed it through the door.

We were in.

For the next couple of hours, we arranged furniture, and then it was dinner time.  Bob took me to a cute little Chinese restaurant a few blocks away from where we were to drop off the U-Haul, and had a very nice Chinese dinner.  The restaurant gave free wine with the dinner.

I think we may have also cleaned up and gone to a bar that night, but it may have been the next night.  In either case, I know we went to two places.  ‘Don’t Tell Mama’, which is renowned for its cabaret performers…which were not happening that night…and to Splash, which was a bar designed like a swimming pool. UBER plastic people, which made me feel about as uncomfortable as I’d ever felt, with the excruciatingly loud thud-thud-thud music that I loathe to this day.

Finally, we went back to his new place, and went to sleep.

The next morning the plan was to assemble as much of the apartment as possible.  It was very small, but very cute.  An ‘L’ shaped studio, with a miniscule kitchen, a bathroom, and one big window the length of the apartment.   Walk in the front door, the kitchen to the left, straight ahead to the window, about 20-25 feet was split dining table and sofa/living room.  The ‘L’ turned to the right and that section was the bedroom. A right out of the ‘L’ and there was the bathroom.

I was hungry, and there was no food in the apartment yet, so I thought about NY bagels, and decided to venture out and find one.  Well, I wasn’t quite brave enough to go wandering aimlessly.  I looked out from the window, down the street, located what looked like a deli, and plotted the walk from the front of the building to the deli and back.  And that is basically what I did.  Found the place, bought a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee for way too much money from my bumpkin perspective, and then went right back to the building.  Ok, that wasn’t totally as scary as I thought it would be. Scary for me, yes, but not terrifying.  My first two block walk alone in NYC. Well, FOUR if you count to there and back.

Bob and I spent the day hanging blinds and curtains, and some big poofy things over the curtain rod.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the afternoon, but I did make a couple of calls while I was there, and made plans to meet up with two old ‘friends’ from days gone by.  The deal was that I really wanted to see them, but they had to meet me at the building and return me to the building after. This was the plan for the next two days. THIS evening we planned to go for dinner somewhere.  Before we started getting ready, Bob got a phone call from one of his Pittsburgh acting buddies who had also just arrived in NY to attend Julliard, David Conrad.  David wormed his way into being invited to go to dinner with us.  I had never met David in Pittsburgh, but I had just gotten back, and what had happened in those seven years that I’d been gone hadn’t caught up with me yet.

David Conrad

David was a pretty boy.  Blue eyes, dark hair, and a perfect head of it, a square jaw, and a lean body.

David was hitting the big time with Julliard.  David was hitting the big time in NYC. David was…David was…

David was talking about himself nonstop for three hours.

We took a taxi to some Italian restaurant somewhere near the piers where the giant antique ships were docked in the harbor, and waited in a little line for a table.  And David talked.  We finally were seated, ordered our food, and David talked.  Our food arrived, which was pretty good, and in between bites…David talked.

At one point during the chat…err…meal…no, chat, I had to get away from the table before I reached out and strangled someone…having my doubts that I would sufficiently be able to get my hands all the way around the ego…I stepped outside for a cigarette.

Finally dinner was over, and we paid the bill and left, walking a few blocks to some destination I can’t recall.  I do recall vividly the walk.  We were approached by a panhandler, who decided to walk with us and continue begging for change, and thought I would be a good shoulder to lean on…literally.  And he did, for a block and a half.

The TV and media images started to creep back into my mind, and I envisioned being beaten and robbed by some random bum on the street in New York.

Didn’t happen.

And as for the rest of the evening, I don’t remember that either, except that possibly Bob and I went somewhere, and David hung out in Bob’s apartment for a while, which apparently turned out to be a hook-up for David.  Bob commented the next day about finding condom wrappers under the bed…and since he’d only been there two days, and I was cramping his style…

I think that may have been the night that I met up with Tom Haefele again.  I think Bob may have lead me to the location that Tom had indicated, and Tom took me from there.

Tom now lived on one edge of Central Park in a somewhat roomier apartment than Bob had just moved into, with two room mates.  I seem to recall one interesting German guy maybe, and that there was a girl who might not have been in that evening.

Tom kind of took over where David had left off. Tom talked all about Tom and how faaaabulous Tom was.  Tom went into the shower, and came out wearing just a towel to show off how faaaaaabulous Tom was. Tom talked about having worked in the studio where Liza rehearsed. I was feeling like an ugly potato, and couldn’t take much more of the me, me, me.

Then Tom shifted gears, and decided to take a little trip down memory lane.  He started pulling out mementos that I had supposedly given to him. He gave me some coffee in a mug that had some kind of animals in various sexual positions all around it.  He asked if I recognized it.  I did not.  He said that I had given it to him.

Ok, so if I meant that much to this guy, then why did he keep clamping on to his ‘ex’ Jim back in Pittsburgh, and make me walk away from him on the street in downtown Pittsburgh?

I felt like shit.  I was tired of having his superb life shoved down my throat when mine had pretty much sucked up until this point, and all I wanted to do was go back to Bob’s and get away from him.

Tom took me back to Bob’s, and grabbed me and hugged me like it actually mattered to him.  All I could do was apologize, and explain that I don’t know WHY I tried making this connection again.  I guess I was having a mid-life crisis in my early 30’s, one which would not be the last.  I said goodbye, and went back into Bob’s, feeling like a bag of potatoes…and took my depressed spot on the couch for the night.

The next day was my reunion with Michael Rager, and my trip to the Newark Airport to fly back to the drunk tank.

Michael Rager was a beautiful guy.  Perfect little body, pretty face, dark hair, a cute Brooklyn accent, even though he was from the Pittsburgh area.  Michael had been a kept boy with some rich guy in NY for years, even though he would return to Pittsurgh and play with either Bobby McGrogan or John Aiken…I don’t remember whose boyfriend he’d been.

Michael also did drag in NY, but a specific drag.  And if you were able to see his face back then, you would be able to see it once it was mentioned to you.  Michael performed as Lena Horne.

At this time, Michael was living on Long Island in a little town called Sayeville.  The plan was that Michael, who had a car, would pick me up at Bob’s around 10 am and take me to his place, and we would spend most of the day.

Right around 10, the concierge rang and said that there was a guy there to see William, and we told him to let him in.  A few minutes later there was a knock on the door.

I hadn’t seen Michael in about eight years, but we had kept in touch via telephone and the occasional letter or card.

I opened the door…and my heart sank.

Michael had AIDS.  This beautiful young guy had turned into a walking skeleton.  He gave me a big hug, and I turned and told Bob that I’d see him later, and Michael and I walked to the elevator.  I don’t know if he was being honest, or if he was easing the tension about what I was probably obviously thinking, but when the elevator door closed and we were inside, he looked at me and smiled and said ‘You look like shit!’

Well, I did look like shit in my own mind, especially in NY.  I’ve never really been the trendy fashion whore, and I wasn’t feeling very ‘fit’ after the St. Louis fanatical workouts followed by a whole bunch of months with no access to a gym.  I was still jogging, but the aerobics and weights had stopped, so I felt like a lump.

I was also thinking that Michael looked terrible.  It wasn’t that Michael ‘looked’ bad…Michael just looked deathly ill.  He was skin and bones, and pretty much literally. His joints bulged because they were bigger than his arms and legs.  His cheeks were sunken, dark circles under his eyes, extremely pale.  Michael was dying.

Geez, a miserable evening with the walking ego one in David Conrad, a second miserable evening with ego number two in Tom Haefele, and now a completely heartbreaking afternoon with a sweet and sexy man whose life was ebbing away.

He drove to his little apartment in Sayville, and we spent an hour or so talking and remembering the early 80’s, and then he decided to take me to Fire island.  I’d heard many stories of Fire Island, but had only really seen anything of it on film in Longtime Companion.  We drove to the pier where the boat took you to the island, and discovered that the next boat wouldn’t leave until about an hour before I had to be back in Manhattan to pack.  So we stopped at some little restaurant and had lunch, stopped back to his place and picked up something he needed, and drove back to Bob’s.  It was heartbreaking, but wonderful to see an old friend again who was NOT a complete prick.

I got back to Bob’s, packed my little bag, and Bob and I headed to the train that took us to the Newark airport.

The Newark Airport was a pit!  A huge cinderblock building.  I wandered around until I found my gate and found that my flight was slightly delayed.  So I sat with my bag on the floor against a wall, listened to my Walkman, and watched people zoom by.

One of the people who zoomed by caught my eye.  And I yelled ‘Larry!’

Larry Sadecky had also been in New York, and was flying off to some other place like Florida.  We had a quick reunion and he had to run off to his flight.

I got on the plane, which I really can’t remember, and made the flight back to the burgh of Pitts.  The only other thing I remember that day was running into Elaine Scoumis in the damned airport again.  She was there with her husband, and they were living back in Pittsburgh.  I didn’t mention the fact that she’d completely blown me off back in St. Louis, and left without even saying anything.  But of course, I got the routine handing of the phone number, the ‘we have to meet up for dinner’, and the complete and total blow-off.  Again.

Now it was back to the drunk tank on Beatty Street.

I’m not sure who is was through – either Wayne – oops, I mean ‘Julian’ Gancarz or one of Marla and Melanie’s old friends Roni Weiss, but I was introduced to the East End Food Coop.  It was one of hippy-dippy kind of places where vegetarians (which I was still trying to be after doing it for five years in St. Louis) and earthier people were supposed to gravitate and be earth-wise and socially responsible.  The food was decent, and the grocery store was pretty good with the healthier things you couldn’t find reasonably in a grocery store.  After going a few times, I put in a job application, and was hired as café help.  A woman named Karen, a very attractive black woman, was my manager.

The staff was a mish-mash of social misfits and outsider types, who really pushed their status as such to extremes.  The big managers of the entire operation were the worst.  Uber dorks, and pseudo earth mothers, who had been granted a power of ‘position’, who were going to utilize that position to the utmost degree.  I think Rob and Angela were the big managers.  Rob was a chubby hippy wannabee, and Angela was the closet Lesbian wannabee, both of whom had little clue about what they were doing, but certainly did the managerial strut to make it look like they did.

There were some real characters who were amazingly good humans.  A man they called ‘Water’ who never wore long pants…event in the most bitter cold of winter…there he was in shorts,  legs looking a little on the raw pork purple side from the cold. Probably early 40, long pony tail, belly, but the nicest man.  Maggie, the little butch lesbian nerd. And my favorite, Arletta. A tall, extremely thin black woman who was VERY earth mother, into herbal remedies and homeopathy, smudge pots, and drum circles. Not a terribly attractive gal, with dreadlocks and one of those smiles that was more gum than tooth, but she had a heart as big as a mountain.  She and I also shared the same birthday.

For the most part, those were the good folks, aside from a group of volunteers, Roni Weiss being one of them.  As part of membership in the co-op, people could volunteer to get additional discounts on shopping.

The kitchen staff was insane…in some cases, certifiably.  Amy was the little chubby lesbian, with that attitude.  I used to wear my Walkman as I chopped veggies and such, and would occasionally sing along, and one day she gave me an attitude for ‘trying to emulate’ whoever I was listening to.

Gary was the worst.  He was a genius with organic, vegan and macrobiotic baking.  He created cookies and cakes and brownies with no dairy, no eggs, and made them truly yummy.  However, Gary was the walking ‘Bi-Polar’ poster child.  He was beautiful, with pretty eyes, and long dark hair, a skinny body, and a nice smile…when that particular personality came out and allowed him to smile.  He would be nice to me almost to the extent of flirtation and then his poles would flip, and the next minute he was treating me like useless trash.  I always wanted to grab him by the next and shake the living insanity out of him…but instead, just bottled up the hurt and anger, as usual.

Brian was a slacker gay party boy who looked a hell of a lot like the old cartoon character ‘Henry’ with a pseudo trendy twist.  He was the cash register boy.

The clientele was a little on the questionable side as well.  We had some customers who came in daily for a giant glass of carrot juice, which was probably one of the most wasteful uses of a vegetable I’ve ever seen.  And a couple of these people were actually tinged orange from drinking so much of it.

It was nice to be working finally, and not in the big vulturous corporate world, and with some people that were pretty ok.

However, back at the house on Beatty street, things tanked.  I was finally working, and about to earn money, and Tom started drunken threats.  The bottom line was that if the rent wasn’t paid by Friday, then I would be ‘sucking his dick’ in exchange.

I called Joe Pauley, who helped me get my things out, and let me crash at his place.  The commune of crazies had moved into Oakland into a huge rowhouse, added a few more crazies, but it was somewhere to go to escape the drunken letches on Beatty Street.

After only a few nights at Joe’s place, I was about to go out of my mind.  The noise all night long prevented me from getting any sleep.  I’ve always been a very light sleeper, and I was in a room positioned just off the kitchen.  Joe was not sharing the bed with me, he was over that after the night I’d spent at his old place.  Yeah, made me feel real special.  The rest of the room mates would gather in the kitchen eating and talking at full volume all night, with ZERO consideration for anyone else perhaps trying to sleep, or just used to the idea that they were all kindred spirits who could sleep through a world war. I was not a kindred spirit.  One night, I was so miserable around 3:00 am that I hauled off and threw my shoes at the door.  This was unnoticed, and they simply didn’t care.

After a few days, no sleep, and the utmost aggravation leading me almost to tears at work, Karen the manager came to me and said ‘Follow me.’  Arletta joined us, and we walked out of the store, and started walking away from the Co-op, up the block.  I asked where we were going and she said ‘Don’t worry.’

We stopped one block away in front of a cute little house, and they lead me inside, and up a set of stairs to the second floor.  The hallway smelled of warm and welcoming burning sage.  Then they talked.

This was Karen’s house.  She lived on the first floor, and Arletta lived on the third.  Karen offered me the second floor for really reasonable rent, and I’d finally found a home without nightmares in da burgh of Pitts.

So now I’m working, and I have a home.  I settled into Karen’s apartment, and really liked the space and the ‘neighbors.’  Buses were close, and I worked in a food store.

Thom McLaughlin

Before Bob left town, he’d taken me to an audition for the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.  It was a festival of very short plays, presented by multiple theaters and directors in the town, performed in a two week cycle at that time at the Upstairs Theater, which was run by a guy named Thom McLaughlin.  Yeah, Thom, not ‘Tom’.

I went to a cattle call audition, and was called back by Thom McLaughlin himself to be in his entry into the festival, a play called ‘Tiara Tango’ by a Puerto Rican playwright named Rane Arroyo, who was also a professor at the University Of Pittsburgh.

It was basically a two person show, about a paraplegic in a wheelchair, his

Rane Arroyo

kept boy, a Hispanic street hustler, and their toxic and abusive ‘relationship.’  I, the balding dark blonde hairy white guy, was cast as the Hispanic street hustler…I was still jogging, and in good enough shape to appeal to Thom’s tastes, which I would learn about a little later in this game.  An older local wall street tycoon wannabee named Rick Applegate was cast as the guy in the wheelchair.  Rick was a VERY handsome All-American republican looking type.

Rick Applegate

This play was weird.  It required simulated masturbation, and being sexual in every step of the text, including being sexual with a wheelchair.  Through the rehearsal process, Thom and his little boy assistant director, some Hitler’s wet dream blonde and blue eyed twenty year old, kept trying to convince me to be  ‘more sexual,’ and aside from taking off all my clothes and sticking it in their faces, I couldn’t figure out HOW to be any more sexual.  At one point I remember shifting my weight from one foot to the other, and the blonde boy made a comment about THAT being really sexy…I had no idea what I’d done, but ok.

For the role, they wanted me to shave off all my chest hair. *sigh*  Ok, whatever you want. So I mannequeened myself for the big boys, nicking myself with the razor in one very tender spot…my left nipple.  I was jogging to rehearsals to try to keep the fat off to make myself hustler-like, and ended up having to wear bandaids over my nipples to keep them from bleeding spots onto my t-shirts from the rubbing of the cotton poly blends against my hairless flesh, and the nick, which opened up at will.

They also insisted that I go to their recommended hairdresser and have my hair cut and DYED.  Black.

You do NOT dye a balding man’s hair BLACK without it looking absolutely ridiculous…like an old guy trying to cover up his aging.  I also ended up with THE worst haircut I’d ever had on top of the awful dye job.  From that point on, I would NOT leave the house without wearing a ball cap or a bandana covering my entire head.  This mess on my head was for the play, and the play ONLY.

I was living in Point Breeze, and jogging to Garfield, just on the edge of Bloomfield/Friendship.  So it was a pretty good hike.

Before the play officially went up, Thom asked me to be in his next Upstairs

Alan Turing

Theater production of ‘Breaking The Code,’ which is the story of Alan Turing, who was a gay man who was a numbers genius, who broke the German Nazi ‘enigma’ code, and ended up helping the allies win the war.  Then, in 1952 he was ‘convicted’ for being a homosexual by the Brits, and was chemically castrated.  In 1954 he committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

I was to play a Greek boy that Turing visited on Mykonos for a little fling.  In the script, the photos from the original production showed the Greek guy wearing a pair of overalls with no shirt.  The script description said he came out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.  Thom had other ideas.

So the New Works Festival ran.  We did Rane’s piece.  There I was onstage with my hands down my pants, while Rick sat in his wheelchair, his hands in his pants, and we’re yelling at each other.

We did the play three or four times, I don’t remember.  At the end, there was a woman who appeared in the window.  No one knew why. I can’t remember who plated the woman either.

What I CAN quite vividly remember were the handful of audience members who came up to us after the show to tell us how much they enjoyed our performances.  My friend Melissa Roth came in from Lancaster and saw it and was gushing about my sexuality, even to the point of stroking the spokes of the wheelchair.  What made all of this attention memorable was the number of times we were asked ‘We were wondering if you could kind of tell us…what was the play about?’

And the hilarious thing was…we couldn’t.  We had NO clue what the point of this play was. We never got an answer from the director, the playwright, or anyone else definitively, what the play was about, nor who the woman in the window at the end was.  We, who had just spend six weeks rehearsing, and two weeks performing this play…could NOT tell anyone what it was actually about.

But, for once, my performance was noticed by several people. Oh, now I wasn’t mentioned in reviews, and I received no awards (but we’ll get to why in a few paragraphs,) but I did get pulled into Thom’s next show, and my phone will ring again with an offer I will accept, which will open a whole OTHER can of theaTAH worms.

So we’re rehearsing ‘Breaking The Code,’ and we’re either invited to go see the current play running at the Upstairs Theater, or we go to see a second entry in the New Works Festival that Thom had directed.  Another show involving a guy of about my stature, with more gym time, body completely shaved, walking around in his underwear.

And then Thom decides that William will not be wearing overalls, nor will he be coming out of the bathroom wearing a towel, as the script called for…but that William would perform the role…nude.

Um…no he will NOT!

This turned into a heated debate for weeks.  I was terrified.  There was absolutely NO reason for it, solely gratuitous, and I really believe it was mostly for Thom’s own benefit.  I was beginning to notice a trend in Thom’s M.O.

So, while still debating my willingness to do this his way, I started jogging harder.  I could NOT face a room full of audience members nude and fat…wasn’t going to happen.

THEN Thom pushes the button one step further.  He decides that he wants the cast members to be seated IN the audience. I said WHAT????  Instead of making logical entrances from the wings, he wanted us to get up from seats in the front row and join Alan Turing on the stage.  I said WHAT????  You want me to sit next to an audience member totally nude when I only have one scene in the entire play??  No fucking way! He agreed that this might be pushing me too far, and said that he would just have me enter the stage through the audience.  And I said…WHAT????

I was inside out.  Do I dump this play and run the risk of being seen as a poor sport who doesn’t fulfill his commitments, and get bad mouthed?  Or do I get an ulcer in the utter terror of being pushed beyond my limits?

I jogged harder.

One night, I put on my blue bandana to cover the crappy haircut that was only beginning to grow out.  Put on my sweat pants, a t-shirt, and a grey hooded sweatshirt (this was 1992, we didn’t call them ‘hoodies’ yet), and left my house on Meade Street in Point Breeze for the jog.  I jogged down Penn Avenue into Shadyside. Took Ellsworth through Shadyside, running hard, up to S. Aiken, and then turned right to jog to Friendship Avenue, where I cut down a side street through Friendship, and came out back on Penn Avenue at the intersection directly across the street from the Upstairs Theater.

It was 6:30 at night in October, and it was already dark.  I waited at the corner for the traffic to go by, under the glow of the orange street lights, and saw a group of eight to twelve young black men standing on the opposite corner outside a corner mini-mart.  The car passed, and I started to jog across the street and into the parking lot of the theater.

Suddenly, the gang of boys was running toward me.  They surrounded me. ‘Yo, yo man, why you wearin’ dat cullah?’

Huh?

Dat rag on yo head…why you wearin dat cullah?

I realized that they were referring to the bandana that was covering my shit haircut.  I started to speak, and I was immediately tightly surrounded, shoved down to the pavement in the parking lot, kicked, punched, and a hand ripped the bandana off my head.  The gang ran away almost as quickly as they’d descended upon me, except for one boy who looked all of thirteen, on a bicycle, standing their with his hand down the front of his pants.  He threatened me to not move.

I looked him in the eye, stood up, and said ‘Fuck you, asshole!’ and I limped toward the door of the theater.

As I limped to the theater, I noticed that there were holes in both of the knees of my sweatpants, the Walkman had been cracked apart, and my elbows were bleeding. My adrenaline was on overdrive, and I was angry.  Too angry to feel much pain.  I was taking a chance walking away from the twelve year old, for who could know why his hand was down the front of his pants.  As I reached the door, he zipped away on his bicycle.

I walked into the theater, walked to the office and met Sandra Mellen, who was kind of the secretary and marketing person.  I explained what happened and we called 911.  I went to the bathroom to investigate the damage, and discovered that in addition to scraped knees and elbows, I also had claw marks from my temples into my hairline from where the animal had ripped the bandana off my head.  I splashed my face with water, and drank some from cupped hands, dried my hands and then went back to the office to wait for the police.

The police arrived, and after a brief chat, they asked me to ride with them in the car around the neighborhood to see if we could recognize and catch any of these juveniles.

We rode around the block a couple of times, and suddenly, there he was. The little punk on the bicycle, in front of the store on the corner again, with a group of boys, some of may have or may not have been involved.  I pointed him out to the officers, and they got on their radio to request back-up because they’d located one of the ‘actors.’  I said “No, I’m the actor.”  It was then explained to me that this is what they now called suspects that they are pursuing.

How flattering.

Another car came and got the boy on the bike, and as they pulled him in, they pulled in another kid who was hanging around.  Well, two of the dozen were down.  And that’s all they could do for the night.  They took my report and information, and asked if I needed to go to the hospital.  Since I had no insurance, and had no clue who would end up paying for whatever they were going to do, I told them no.  Then they asked where I needed to go, and I told them back to the theater.

I got back into the theater, and was met by a pretty cold air.  One of the other actors, whose name or face I can’t recall, said that I might as well go home, and that he’d take me.  It was very kind of him, whoever he was.

I walked into my home, and told Karen what had happened, then went upstairs to bed.  Cold.  Shaking and scared.

When I woke up the next morning, I tried to get out of bed.  I discovered that I couldn’t move my left leg without an excruciating pain.  I couldn’t use my knee to motivate motion.  I had to lift my own leg with my hands and drop it to the floor to swing myself out of bed.  I could stand on the right leg, but I could put zero pressure on the left or I would feel a pain like a spike being jammed into my kneecap.  The right leg didn’t feel all that great either, but it didn’t have the same incapacitating pain as the left.  I needed to go to the bathroom, and get ready for work.  I couldn’t sit on the toilet and bend my leg.  I couldn’t get into the bathtub without sitting on the edge of it, stabilizing myself inside and standing on the right leg.  My left leg would not bed without pain, and I couldn’t stand on it and apply any pressure whatsoever.  I lived on the second floor, and only had to walk one block to work. That took me an hour.  I couldn’t walk.

I got to the Co-op and called for Karen, and explained that there was no way I would be able to stand for eight hours, to which she kindly responded by sending me home.  One hour later I arrived.  The pain shot up through my leg and back, and I could feel it in the back of my neck.  And other than lay down in bed, after climbing the stairs to the second floor, there was nothing else I could do.  I had no doctor, uninsured, and knew no one that would give a shit.  So I crawled into the bed…and the depression set in.

I called the theater, and explained to them that there was no way I was going to make rehearsal, and it was extremely unlikely that I’d be able to do anything for at least a week, and the show was scheduled to open in two.  I had to leave the show.  And thus, the nudity debate ended.  Thom would have to find some other boy to see naked.

Ralph Iannotti

Late that afternoon, my phone rang, and it was Ralph Ianotti from KDKA TV, our local CBS affiliate.  He wanted to interview me at the theater about what had happened.  I told him that I couldn’t get there, and what the attack had done to me.  He assured me that his crew would pick me up and take me home, so I agreed.

They didn’t offer to HELP with any of the pain that I couldn’t afford to do anything about, but they had their ‘bleed and lead’ story for the night.

They picked me up after dark, and drove me right back to the theater parking lot, where they interviewed me twice…once from the normal point of view from the camera, and then they actually turned the camera around and repeated the interview so they could get Ralph’s reactions on camera, as well as his brilliant questioning.  I don’t remember the questions, or the story, but it did run at 11 that night.  And the theater was NOT happy.

WHY did I expose their neighborhood as unsafe?  WHY did I go on TV and talk about it.

Um, perhaps because your neighborhood IS unsafe, and maybe because they called me after hearing a police report or something?

And thus began the cold shouldering and mini-blacklisting.

My current events lesson for Pittsburgh at that time was that there were two factions of wannabee gang bangers, trying to be all cool like the big boys in L.A.  One group wore red, the other black. And how did they wear their colors? With red and black handkerchiefs, or bandanas.  Now I know we’re not dealing with the intelligentsia here, but why use something that ANYONE could have in their dresser drawer at home to ‘mark your territory’?

My Court Summons

The two boys caught that night were Damien Dennis and JaJuan Hamilton.  On November 9th, 1992 I was summoned to court to ‘give pertinent information’. They actually moved the first date quite quickly.

I went to court to identify the two and give my side of the story.  I gave my side, and the boys gave their side, with the younger of the two saying that he and his friends (present) had done it. Then the judge set a court date.

In the meantime, I was hurt.  It took me over two months for the leg to heal to the point that I could walk ‘mostly’ normally.  I went back to work after two weeks, but could only stand for about twenty minutes at a time.

Several customers gave their condolences after having seen the news.  One of them in particular was very nice about it.  His name was David Summers.  Tall, blonde, thin, and very nice.  We became ‘friends’ as much as I had with anyone at that point.  He would come into the café for lunch, and linger and chat, but it never really built steam.  We tried hanging out a few times, and I even helped him move at one point, and stayed the night and nothing happened.  He had a best friend named Gary Pletsch who was a local pottery artist (who was absolutely stunning) who just kind of gave me the Pittsburgh snub.  I was starting to get to know this Pittsburgh snub fairly well, and I hadn’t been back that long. I didn’t quite understand it, and it was a bit intimidating, or more aptly, belittling.  I thought that was the point though…at that time.

There were a few other regular customers in the mix as well.  A young guy named Kris Rust.  He was a music education student at University of Pittsburgh. Skinny, giant grin, and he loved to flirt.  He didn’t MEAN it, he just loved to flirt.  I’ve never understood that.  To me, it’s just cruel, especially when you know you’re flirting with someone whose self-esteem has been crushed.  If you’re an average guy, and you’re going to flirt mindlessly, then go for the big boys.  Go for the challenge of an uber stud who won’t give you the time of day, and leave the ‘average’ guys alone.  It hurts.  At first it’s flattering, because we actually might think that you’re sincere, and might LIKE us, but when the truth comes to light, it just fucking hurts.

Another regular was Rich Cummings.  My date from the early 80’s.  Rich looked amazing at this point, with Auburnish hair down to the middle of his back, obviously doing the gay sheep thing and doing his appointed gym time.  Rich was no longer a school teacher, but had moved into psychology, and was heading up the Pittsburgh Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, as well as being heavily involved with several local AIDS charities.  Rich was now ‘A-List’, and I couldn’t get much more than a condescending ‘Hi’ out of him, let alone an actual rekindling of a friendship.

As I’d mentioned, the Co-op was a haven for misfits, and I have to mention one more.  His name was Dan Van Tassel.  Dan was a truly beautiful man. Slightly taller than me, sandy brown hair, a movie star face, and a body to match.  A gentle, kind and troubled soul.  I can never think about the destruction that capitalism and corrupt corporations have had on American society without thinking about Dan.

Dan didn’t fit.  He was a terrific human being, who did not fit into ‘structured society’.

Every time I have to take another shitty ‘job’ for the sake of putting a roof over my head and food in my fridge, I remember Dan, and think of what his life, and mine, could have been, if life in this country were as it was supposed to be.

Dan couldn’t work for very long for any company.  He wasn’t the ‘fit within the structure of the team’ type.  Dan was a total independent type…with zero opportunity and resources to be independent.

Dan was the type of guy who would have been the most content getting up in the morning and making a cooler of sandwiches, going out to a street corner, selling the sandwiches, taking the money that he’d made to buy supplies to start all over again the next day.  A simple, self-reliant life.  A basically free life with no power mongering idiot running him down constantly.

The way corporate America and government has legislated and lawed all of us into basically being not much more than cogs in a corporate wheel…licenses, insurance, inspections, government fees, blah, blah, blah…none of us…let alone the misfits like Dan can do what would have possibly made Dan happy.  Not we poor people anyway, without the skills to kiss ass and play political games, and without the resources and funding to ‘adhere’.

It was horrible to see such a kind soul and beautiful man always sad and down.  People like me, who are average, no one gives a shit, really.  But Dan had everything that common people find desirable.  Such beauty.

I was extremely alone at this time.  After the attack, I spent two weeks in bed.  I would NOT leave my house alone after dark for almost a year.  If I didn’t have a ride, I went nowhere.  And since I had few friends, barely even acquaintances, I pretty much went nowhere.

I laid in bed, depressed and scared, and tried making contact with some old friends.

I called John Bonny, who basically didn’t give a shit.  This man who had burrowed a permanent spot into my heart, had no interest whatsoever in talking to me, and certainly wasn’t the least bit caring about what I’d been through.

I tried calling Michael Rager, and found that his phone had been disconnected.  I ended up finding an old letter from him that he’d written while being the kept boy, and wrote a letter to that address hoping it would be forwarded.  Whoever received the letter apparently communicated with Michael, who had moved to San Diego for better health care for AIDS.  He called me after a couple of weeks, and we had a nice talk and he promised to keep in touch.  I never heard from him again. Michael died almost one year later, on October 6, 1993, in California.  He was buried in a cemetery in Pitcairn by his family.  I wouldn’t know that for many years.

I was getting desperate for some human contact.  I dug through my address books from the past.  Ah…there he was.  The guy who would make me feel better.

Greg Asbill!

I dialed the number, and an older woman’s voice answered the phone.  ‘Hello?’

I said ‘I’m trying to reach Greg Asbill, did I get the right number?’  There was a pause on the line. And the woman asked in a somewhat curt tone ‘Who IS this?’

I apologized for disturbing her, and told her who I was, and that I had been friends with Greg in the mid-80’s in Dallas, that we’d done a play together, and I was trying to reconnect.

After a pause, her voice slightly trembling, she replied ‘We lost Greg in 1989.’

I gasped.  ‘What do you mean?’

She replied ‘Greg died.’

I certainly didn’t want to start the third degree, but I had to know.

‘I’m really sorry. My god…how??’

‘Greg took his own life.’

I started to choke up.  Greg was vibrant, sweet, attractive, creative, open minded, smart, and an incredibly kind person to have as a friend.  What the hell?  And he was a year younger than me.

After gentle questions, his mother told me that Greg had driven himself out into an isolated part of the Texas countryside…and shot himself.

I gave her all of the condolences I could muster up, having brought this back into her mind after four years, and hung up the phone.

The next call I made was to Brad Harris, Kyna’s former assistant, and my brief drinking pal.

I actually got him on the phone, first try, and said ‘How are you?’ to which

Brad Harris

he replied with a sullen grunt.  I said ‘Yeah, me too’ and Brad said ‘Ok, you go first.

So I gave Brad the basic rundown of the last year with the drunks, the dumps, the housing situation, the jobs, the theater, and then the attack.  After I got it all out, I said ‘Ok, you’re turn.’`

Brad responded with ‘Well, it all started when I told my fiancée that I was gay…’

I was floored.  I mean, here was this guy that I’d hung out with AT a gay bar or two in St. Louis, who never felt comfortable enough with me to talk about it, even though I was totally out, but not extremely ‘gay’.

Brad is having a traumatic experience with his now ex fiancée and feels a little depressed.

However, what happens to Brad?  Brad goes to a bar in Kansas City.  First time out.  Brad meets a guy.  The guy’s name is ‘Cliff’, and he’s a photographer for Associated Press, who had a photo featured on the cover of something like Time Magazine after the Mississippi had flooded and he captured a photo of some guy up to his waist in muddy water.

Cliff Schiappa and Brad Harris

I had been going to bars my entire life up to this point, and hadn’t met a guy named Cliff who was a photographer for Associated Press.  Oh no.  William goes out and meets Bubba the gas pump attendant.  William meets every slumming slack job, or he meets guys with no real intention of doing anything that requires clothing.

But Brad goes out ONCE and meets the guy he will spend something like the next ten years with.  They go on vacations, they buy a house together in Kansas City.  Brad plays the piano, they have their two dogs, a gorgeous house, and a spiffy life.

And William is stuck back in Pittsburgh, beaten up, snubbed by the theater community, working as a kitchen wench for a coop.

The next year is kind of a blur. I didn’t do very much except work, and hide at home. I did have to leave on one particular evening…for the New Works Festival’s season finish party and awards night.  I don’t remember where it was, or how I got there.  I know I had to go with someone, because I still couldn’t walk completely right, wasn’t going to bus, and I was still too afraid to go out alone after dark.

Of course, I had to sit at the table with the folks whose entry I was in, and I had been nominated for an award, although I think two people from EVERY play had been nominated for an award, especially if the plays only HAD two people in them.  I sat at that table for an hour and a half. Through dinner, and through the awards.  And not ONE of those people would speak a word to me, except for Rane Arroyo.  Tom McLaughlin wouldn’t even look at me.  What a joy of a night that was.  I didn’t get an award, and after that was all over, and the cold shoulders were turning into a line of icebergs.  The party was beginning with drinking and dancing, and I went home.  I was still in pain…and now I felt like shit.

Rane actually gushed all over me.  He was partnered with some older guy, so nothing was going to happen in that way, but he seemed to genuinely appreciate my talent.  Although the bizarre theme of ‘Tiara Tango’, a paralyzed man in a wheelchair trying to be sexual with a young ‘bought’ stud, made me wonder about their relationship.  He had written another one man play called ‘Prayer For A Go-Go Boy’ that he thought I would be perfect for, and he got a copy of the script to me.

I don’t remember much about it, other than it was kind of the same bizarre gay writing that I’d experienced with Tiara Tango, and that it involved another young hustler…which, I’m sorry kids, but I was not a hot stud hustler type, and what traces I had of the work out routine were starting to fade.  Hell, I couldn’t even walk now, let alone jog.  It also involved a drag queen, and a few other really pissy gay characters, all of which were types that turned me off in real life, so playing them, especially at that point in the early 90’s, wasn’t going to happen with me.  I had no problems playing a gay man…well…obviously…but I wasn’t so much into glorifying the fringes of faggotry.

Thus ended my involvement with the New Works Festival, my one shot, and it ended my involvement with the Upstairs Theater, and pretty much anyone who was in any way associated with them and their clique.  I was mini-blacklisted.

Well, since I’m now black listed, what better an ad to answer than one looking for a stage manager/light board operator for a black theater company?  The Wilkinsburg Arts Theater was looking for just that, volunteer OF COURSE, and since Wilkinsburg was just one neighborhood away from where I was living, I offered and was accepted.

For Colored Girls Program Cover

I did two shows with the theater, and I honestly can’t remember which was first.  One show was ‘The Black Nativity’ which was a very gospel type holiday show, and the other was ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enough’.

Both of them were really terrific productions, especially considering their

Alice Sapienza Donnelly

non-existent budget.  A lovely older woman named Alice Sapienza ran the company, and she was followed by a great team of volunteers.  ‘Black Nativity’ was directed by Tome Cousin, and ‘For Colored Girls’ was directed by Lamont Arnold.  Lamont was friends of Melanie and Marla Smith back when I knew them in the early 80’s. Lamont had been in a few films here and there in minor roles, including ‘Silence of the Lambs’ which I saw with Chad Campbell, when we were dating, and a girlfriend of his when I lived in St. Louis. In the scene where the swat team is surrounding the house in Calumet City where they have learned that the killer was living, as Jodie Foster is also approaching the back door of the place that she has discovered is where the monster is living, it’s Lamont who goes to the front door with a flower delivery and rings the doorbell, which is mirrored by the ancient doorbell ringing in the house where the monster is.

So there I was in St. Louis watching a Pittsburgh acquaintance in a hit film, albeit in a minor momentary role, and Chad’s girlfriend was freaking out because she though I looked like the actor that played the killer.

Tome Cousin

Anyway, ‘Nativity’ went very well, with very

Black Nativity Program Cover

good audiences.  Tome Cousin was a sweetheart and one hell of a sexy little guy.  I kind of crushed on him a little, and he’d even invited me to his apartment one night, I think it was on Mount Washington.  But once again, I felt this disconnection from him, his life, and the people around him. He also informed me that he was HIV positive – and in the early 90’s, that wasn’t something you actively pursued. Aside from that, Tome was kind of live theater A-List, a phenomenal dancer, a choreographer, smoking sexy, and extremely popular. All of the things I was not, and was never going to be.  And just like with Jimmy Spodnik, I had to bow out gracefully from a discomfort zone. The planets were both amazing…the satellites were the issue.

Somehow I think ‘Colored Girls’ came first.  Because during ‘Nativity’, the

Lamont Arnold

stage manager, a woman named ‘Char’ was creating a bit of drama.  The theater was in the Wilkinsburg town hall, and they discovered that someone was making some serious long distance…like international long distance…calls during the times the shows were running.  Lamont Arnold also ended up in the hospital, and Char kind of started the rumor that Lamont had AIDS.  I tried to confirm this story with Marla Smith, who denied it. She told me no, that he definitely did not have AIDS, that he was just sick with something else.  I blasted Char for lying.  After the production ended, we never spoke again.

Turned out it was Marla who had been lying.  Char had been visiting Lamont in the hospital and helping him.  Marla was just covering up the inconvenient truth.  But hey, that’s what people did in the early 90’s.  Just like they had during Limbo in St. Louis.

I did have a great time with both of those shows though. Fun, warm, and talented people, all pulling together with very little to make something really great happen.  That’s what I’d missed from the New Works Festival and Upstairs Theater.

Learned a few things too.  Like the back story to ‘Saggin’.  We got on the subject of ‘fashion’ one night, and the ridiculous pants-hanging-off-the-ass that was so popular with the black boys in the early 90’s (and apparently never left Pittsburgh).  One of the older women explained it.

She said that when the kids go to prison, they are stripped of their belts, shoestrings, and everything else.  While they are in prison, they tend to lose weight, and when they get out, they are given their clothes back, but all of their ‘lose ends’ (like belts, shoelaces, etc.) are in a plastic bag.  So they walk out of prison with their pants too big, and no belt to hold them up.  They get back to their ‘hood’ and the sagging pants and no shoelaces became their way of saying ‘don’t fuck with me, I just got out of prison’.

And all of the young children thought the ‘style’ was cool and adopted it.  Nice attitude to emulate…eh?

After the shows were over, I was back to being alone.  And I was feeling especially isolated.  I worked with a lot of people, and saw a lot of customers, but none of them were ‘pals’.  After being on the news I did get a call from my old high school pal Jeff Franz who wanted to ‘hang out’.  What Jeff really wanted was someone he knew he could explore his closet sexuality with. He was now married, but had that ‘urge’ anyway, and decided that I would be a good candidate to engage.  I was hoping for a friend to hang out with, he was hoping to get off behind closed doors where no one would see him.

And so he did.  He was just as dull in bed as he’d been years earlier.  No kissing, no oral, just lay on top of me and dry hump until he got what he wanted, and then ‘oops, the wife may suspect something if he’s late’ and out the door, never to be heard of again.

Hitting Home program cover - my design

David Summers came to me with a proposition.  He had a small arts organization called Arch Productionsthat was a kind of ‘social theater’, taking issues and turning them into somewhat inspirational stage pieces aimed at teens, partially created by teens, with his guidance.  His latest project was called ‘Hitting Home’, and dealt with gang issues and youth violence.  David felt that because of what happened to me that it might help me vent my frustration in a positive way.  It didn’t.  I helped David, volunteer OF COURSE, with some marketing and design, none of which were ever good enough, and tried to work with he and the kids in the creative process.  I was the oldest person there.  I had nothing in common with these

Hitting Home Article

inner city youth.  I couldn’t communicate with them, I certainly couldn’t find any appreciation in what they were interested in ‘creating’, and as if most often the case with young kids, they DID have something valid to say, but they had NO clue how to say it, and wouldn’t listen to anyone’s advice when trying to find their way to say it.  I helped David a little longer, but wasn’t ever quite A-list enough for him, once again, and I faded from his view.  I didn’t even see the show.

I started answering personal ads in the Pittsburgh alternative rag, and had a few dates.  One painful memory involved a reasonably attractive Jewish guy from Squirrel Hill named Jay. Although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, he displayed what I would years later find out to be so with a LOT of gay men in Pittsburgh.

Jay was average. Average build. Average intelligence. Just kind of average everything. Mid-40’s, dark blonde, but OHHHHHHH so full of himself.  He bragged about being a swimsuit model in the window of some men’s shop in Squirrel Hill. I thought ‘Really? With that body, you’re standing in a window in Squirrel Hill wearing a bathing suit?’

We never got too deep into an actual conversation, for that would have required both of us talking.  Instead, I just listened to his bravado and self-importance until it came time to crawl into bed for the exploration of the last frontier of his ego. And indeed, even that was all about him.

And goodness, he couldn’t spend the whole night…his pets were waiting, and he had an important early morning.

Work was just as lonely.  I didn’t really have any friends.  Karen, who was also my landlord, was getting kind of uppity with me, and would snap my head off if the beans cooked too long.

After about a year, my leg was finally back to normal, and after about a year, there was a second court date for the gang bangers who injured it.  I showed up for the date, and after we got into the courtroom, it was discovered that someone forgot to bring the transcripts from the first hearing in which the younger kid admitted to everything and implicated his cohort that was also caught. Because we didn’t have the initial incriminating evidence, another court date had to be set.  I wasted yet another day with no pay to have to set yet another date to go in for a day with no work and no pay.

Karen was now impossible to deal with as a boss.  In yet another overcooked bean episode, she actually said to me ‘What do you expect me to do, get down and suck your butt?’  It made no sense, but it made me start looking again.  I went to Kate Robertson back at CMU and asked if there were any openings in the old Faculty Club, and Kate took me back.  But the politics and ridiculousness were even worse this time around, with many of the old timers still being there.  I think I lasted about a month.  One of the waitresses was a total backstabber, who actually would set up those she didn’t like to find reasons to get them fired.  She started in on me, but I quit before she could do all the dirty work she’d planned.

I found a nice little temp agency downtown called Pancoast Temporaries, and signed up.

Pancoast was a very nice little no-frills office in downtown Pittsburgh run by Anne Pancoast and her husband Scott.  There were several gals in the office, but the only one I can recall is Karen Obusek (now Dottle) who was a thin little bird of a gal, and I believe their main secretary.

Pancoast sent me to a few little mindless jobs for a while.  Mostly data entry.  I can’t even remember where they all were.  One that comes to mind involved sitting at a computer all day just entering numbers.  A week or so of that, damned near drove me batty.  Into the office, click clack, click clack, out for a cigarette, back in, click clack, click clack, out for a sandwich, back in, click clack, click clack, one more cigarette, click clack, click clack, and out for the bus.

Then I moved up to a law office as a receptionist.  Had to dress all fancy for that.  Don’t ask me what law office it was.  I don’t care.

Then for several months I was a filing clerk for some big office, and I can’t even remember what the hell they did.  Might have been real estate, or development.  But they sure had a lot of filing to do.  This one was a little more memorable because of some guy named Jim that worked there. Another ‘average’ Pittsburgh guy who thought he was spectacular. Again, at this point in time, I still couldn’t put my finger on what the deal was.  Jim was decent enough, reasonable (and I do mean reasonably) attractive in a plain Jane kind of way, but man he sure was full of himself.  His intention was to get relocated to Guam to work for the company.

Guam?  Really?

One week from hell involved being sent to Catholic Charities to be a receptionist for their ‘Therapy’ offices.  Catholics handing out ‘therapy’?  That was a terrifying thought in itself.  But I never felt so completely uncomfortable and on edge during ANY temp assignment I ever had like I did at this one.  The people were nice enough in that fake ‘christian’ way, but I always felt a hatchet looming over my head waiting to fall, or daggers poised at my back.  One week of that was more than enough.

Another week from hell involved some seafood company in the Strip District, with a matronly bulldog of a boss secretary named ‘Bobbi’.  Bobbi was probably early 50’s, with a big bubble headed brown wig, stearn glasses attached to the chain around her neck, and always dressed in drab secretary shades of brown.  Brown skirt, brown blouse, brown sweater wrapped around her broad shoulders, and brown ‘sensible’ shoes…were they actually ‘Earth Shoes’?  She should have been a military sergeant – her attitude was perfect for the job.

I don’t recall much of what I did for them…all I can recall is stinking to high heaven every night when I left.

I do recall a lunch excursion to the Mexican store one day.  I went to Reyna Foods, and they made lunch burritos fairly inexpensively.  So I ordered a bean burrito with cheese, and the gal who worked there, who kind of looked like a blonde worn out biker chick, asked if I wanted hot peppers.  I said ‘Sure’, and she asked if I wanted jalapenos, or habaneros.  I have never been shy of spicy foods, and asked for the habaneros.  I paid, and took the burrito back to the fish hut.

I sat down at my desk, took two bites of this burrito, and felt my throat almost swelling shut.  One more bite, and I was running for the soda machine.

When my eyes stopped watering, and my throat started to open up again and I could breathe, I looked into the burrito. This gal had practically cut an entire habanero into eight chunks, and sprinkled it over the beans before she rolled it up.

The next day I went back to Reyna and asked for a burrito.  She asked if I wanted hot peppers.  I said ‘sure’.  She asked if I wanted jalapenos or habaneros.  I said ‘Habanero.  But could you kind of mince it a little finer this time?’  She obliged.

I again paid, and took the burrito back to the office, and munched it down.

Perfect.

Of course, no matter what was eaten here, it all smelled like rotting fish anyway.

That job lasted about a week.  Man, what was it about me that made me a magnet for mean angry women as bosses??

Then came a first long-term temp assignment.  I was sent to Mellon Bank, working in a basement vault – complete with the giant steel locking door – filing paperwork for Fannie Mae mortgages.  For months.  I don’t remember the boss.  I do remember having to wear casual ‘dress’, complete with a tie, to work in a windowless, customerless basement, literally sitting at a table within a vault, shuffling piles and piles of papers.  The logic of corporate America always HAS escaped me.

I worked with some lunatics.  Raj…and Indian man in his late 40’s or early 50’s, who always had a bottle of water on hand, but who would NOT touch the bottle to his lips.  He instead poured the water into his mouth, making a god awful slurping and gurgling sound every ten minutes.  He was also an angry little man.

I remember some other guy, who was possibly involved in theater, who was pleasant…FAT…but a nice guy.  He might have been the friendliest person there when it came to interacting with me.  Until Beverly Owings came around.

Beverly Owings was a short, gruff voiced 50-ish gal, who also wanted to be an actress.  We would end up kind of working together in a year or so.

The final court date for the wannabee gang bangers finally came around, and I had to take another day off from temp-ville to attend the court session.

It was a complete and total joke.  Once again, no transcripts from the first hearing, no proof that the kid admitted to participating and giving up his friend as a co-conspirator.  I didn’t even get to speak.  I just sat in the back with a couple of officers that I’d never seen before, and listened to abject bullshit, and case dismissed.

Absolutely nothing was done for me.  I had no justice.  About the only justice served my way was when one of the officers said that I didn’t have to worry because one of the kids was being seen by the judge for another crime he’d committed which would be putting him away for a long time.

Great.  But somehow unfulfilling.

It was at THAT time that I was given a pamphlet on ‘Victims rights and compensation’…none of which applied to me or my case two years after the fact.

The majority of this year or so is a blur, with only spotty memories.  I didn’t have much social life, and would basically just head out walking.  I remember a discovery on one long walk that lead me through Frick Park that took me back a few days later, and several times throughout the years.  I walked all the way to the end of Frick Park, which ended under the highway that came out of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.  I headed for a wooded area, and followed the paths rather blindly, and found myself on an old service road that was once used for the slag heaps from the steel mills.  At the base of the slag heaps was a stream, and once in a while I’d come across a dump, or an old gutted car rusting from years buried in the weeds.  Motorcross bikers would use the paths for fun, and sometimes I’d encounter a jogger, or a biker.  Usually I would just stumble across the remnants of some kids’ party night, empty beer cans and booze bottles, garbage, the remains of a firepit, and sometimes a few condom wrappers.

The Lilies

As I made my way down the paths and service road, along the bottom of the ginormous slag heap (which was a marvel to behold in itself – a mountain of metallic gravel, that looked like an average gravel pile – but it wasn’t loose gravel – it was solid), I discovered oodles of orange flowers, some kind of lilies, as well as patch after patch of blackberries!

I picked some of the lilies to take home, and planned my return with a bucket to pick berries.

I went home that afternoon with a bundle of gorgeous orange lilies, took a vase from the cabinet, filled it with water and put the lilies in it, set on the table by my kitchen window.  Then maybe I took a shower, laid down and watched some TV, and sometime after dark I went into the kitchen to get something to eat.  I turned on the light, and there in my vase was a big bundle of wilted dead lilies.  I sighed, and just planned to throw them away in the morning.

I woke up the next morning – and they were once again in full bloom!  And voila!  William discovers ‘Day Lilies’.  Who knew. Well, most people, except William.

I returned for my trek in the woods by the slag heap with a bucket, and picked a bunch of berries that I made something sweet out of, probably a pie.  Not too from scratch though at this time.  I think I bought a pie crust.  I washed the berries and let them sit and drain in a colander.  The next day, I discovered that I’d also brought home quite a collection of ants.  That was when I discovered Taro.

Another crazy memory I have from this time is the glorious day I lost my keys (again).  I had gone out during the day on a Friday, busing around and running errands.  Went into Oakland and checked my P.O. Box, which I’d gotten after the house on Beatty Street nightmare.  I stopped somewhere and ate, and was out most of the day.  I got home just before dark, and went to open the door, digging though my backpack or fanny pack, whichever I’d had at that time.  Gone.  What the hell had I done with my keys???

I tried ringing the doorbell for Arletta upstairs, and got no answer.  Karen had gone away for the weekend to Hershey with her soon to be fiancée, but where was Arletta?  She was always home.  I waited on the porch for an hour or so, and then walked down to the East End Food Co-op, where I knew Arletta might be hanging out with her friends.  I found one of her friends, who did some checking.  Arletta was out for a retreat of some type, drumming or holistic medicines, or something earth-motherish, and wouldn’t be home until morning.

CRAP!  I had absolutely no one that I could call, and no phone to call from anyway.  I had no one in my life at this time – no reliable friends, no dates – nothing.  The guy that told me that Arletta was out said he’d keep trying to find her and get a hold of her and let her know I’d be waiting on the porch.

Night came.  I sat on the porch and waited.  No one came.  The house had a four by four foot entrance/doorway, with a screen door, and I slipped inside there, and with my contacts in, ended up sleeping in the doorway all night.

Across the street from the house was an apartment building that was Section 8 housing, and actually sleeping wasn’t an easy task with ghetto thud music coming from cars that would occasionally stop through, and shrieks and woo-hoos from those sitting out in their lawn chairs all night long drinking to pass their Friday night.

As I laid there, I kept retracing my steps in my head, trying to figure out where I might have left the keys, and in the morning, I headed back to the bus stop with bloodshot eyes from the contacts being in all night, and retraced my steps…back to the post office.  And they had my keys.  I got my keys, bused back home, took my contacts out, a quick shower, and spent my Saturday curled up in bed.

Arletta knocked on my door in the afternoon to make sure I’d actually managed to get in.  She was such a sweetheart, and we laughed at my pathos.

One day, out of the blue, I received a phone call from another local small theater company.  Since I was technically once again ‘new’ in town, albeit it tarnished from the Upstairs Theater experience, I’d never heard of the company.  It was the Acting Company of the Laurel Highlands Regional Theater.  They were located in a small old church in Lawrenceville, so what exactly it had to do with the Laurel Highlands escaped me.  The director had seen my WORK in the New Works Festival, as opposed to rooting around for gossip and politics, and wanted to ask if I’d be interested in being involved in their upcoming production.

Well, aside from hiding in my home, alone, and without friends to hang out with, I certainly could use something to do, and I agreed to an audition.  My only stipulation was that I get rides to any rehearsals, still being quite gun shy about going out alone after dark.  They agreed, and offered a ride for an audition as well.

Glen Z Gress

They picked me up for the audition.  They were Glen Z Gress and Eddie Kinchley Evans, partners of almost 30 years, and two of the most eccentric humans I have ever met, in the truest definition of the word.  They basically looked like Appalachian hillbillies.  Eddie was tall and thin, smoked a pipe, had long greasy stringy grey hair tucked under a ragged fedora, and a beard to match, with the brown spot around the mouth from smoking the pipe, and spoke with a touch of a Southern drawl. Glen was slightly less severe, but nonetheless Hillbilly-esque. Smaller in stature, grey hair and beard, although his was a bit more trimmed, and a face that showed the long lines of a Bohemian life.  Eddie was a playwright, and Glen acted and directed.  Together, with a somewhat bizarre and ragtag board of directors, they ran this little company in the church, doing very off the wall plays, many of which were written by Eddie.

Fortunately for me, this time, they were doing their own adaptation of a play called Brecht On Brecht.  They asked me to read for the role of Brecht.

Bertolt Brecht

In the play, Bertolt Brecht is on trial before the McCarthy hearings.  As he is grilled by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee to prove that he was not a communist, Brecht reminisces about his escape from Austria to survive the Nazi regime, his writings and their meanings, now only to have to face this absurdity of the American witch hunt.

This was my introduction to the work of Bertolt Brecht, a man who clearly saw and comprehended, as well as acknowledged the dark side of humanity.

After the audition, they offered me the part, and I gladly accepted.  I took the script home, and devoured it.  It was not going to be easy.  Monologue after monologue, with a Bavarian accent, seated through the entire play on a chair center stage. And it was also a challenge to play a man who actually existed, as opposed to creating an original fictional character.  I kind of thought memorizing was going to be difficult, but found that to not really be the case.  Not so much because my brain or discipline, because I still had my issues with those.  It came to me somewhat easier because I could completely relate to this man’s words and sentiments.

I SAW and comprehended the dark side of humanity.  I had experienced it first hand as you’ve read up until this point. Things would only get worse along those lines, but now I had the tools to really recognize it and analyze it. I was learning the brilliance of Brecht to guide me.

Then came the big surprise, and this play became the beginning of what would change my life completely to this very day.

The theater company had been doing workshops with the visually impaired community, and this production was to be kind of their ‘recital’ of sorts.  I was the only ‘sighted’ actor in the show.  All of the other cast members were either blind from birth, or had lost almost all of their sight due to various circumstances.

The cast members were Joe and Tina Wasserman, an older married couple, Tina’s sister Joanne, Jeanne Kaufmann, Tony Evancic, and Ilene Sirocca.  Joe and Tina, Joanne Ianuzzo, and Ilene were all born sighted, but they were born at a time when the medical community didn’t know that the amount of oxygen in an incubator needed to be regulated.  The result was that they were placed in the incubators as infants, given too much oxygen, and their retinal nerves were destroyed.  Tony still had a slight bit of sight.

This was the cast that, to this day, was the absolute nicest group of humans to work with in a play.  I was totally and completely judged…for who I am.  NOT for how I looked.  NOT for how trendy I was or was not.  Not for how thin or fit I was.  This small group of people really ‘saw’ me for who I was…and not one of them could ‘see’ me at all.  They also were a treat to work with because none of them had the full out theaTAHHH people divatudes (ok, maybe Jeanne had a little) and they really worked HARD to make the words they were speaking real.  Glen was an incredible guiding hand in bringing that to life out of a group of people who didn’t rely on how things ‘looked’ to get through their days.  They really ‘felt’ the words they were speaking, and the reactions from their faces were more ‘natural’ in essence than someone mugging for the audience.

Again, in the play, Brecht is seated upstage center in a court room chair, on trial to appease mindless politicians.  Behind him, on the right and left, were two tall chairs.  Behind my right shoulder was Ilene Sirocca, and behind my left was Jeanne Kaufmann.

On the floor in front of Brecht were two small cocktail tables, one left and one right. Joe and Tina were seated at one, and Tony and Joanne were seated at the other.  In  between Brechts trial sessions, the other characters brought Brecht’s writings to life.  They did scenes and monologues and songs from Brecht and Brecht Weill’s works.  Jeanne and Ilene did the songs.

And this particular casting was brilliant on Glen’s part.  The blindness brought an extra edge of darkness to Brecht’s already very dark view of humanity.

We rehearsed for six or eight weeks, with plenty of time to get to know some

Shelagh Collins

of the ‘others’ involved with the company.  Our stage manager was Shelagh Collins. Shelagh was a nerdy, chubby, zero self esteem gal, with about as much talent as self-esteem.  She had long black hair, with bangs that almost covered her eyes.  She was somewhat mean spirited, like a snarling distrustful bulldog, while at the same time trying to be ‘girly’ and flirty. She treated me with some respect as a performer up to a certain point, and I thought that maybe she’d be a nice friend.  But once the boundary between job and friends was crossed, Shelagh would eventually become a nightmare to deal with.

Gary Craig

Gary Craig, who was a very good friend of Bob Kwiatkowski, was on the board, and was around the theater quite a bit posing as someone important.  Gary was a very attractive guy, with young salt and pepper hair, a nice face, a lean furry body, and a decent dresser.  But Gary was a backstabbing, game playing, pissy A-List wannabee queen, who really was in the minor leagues, but played up ‘being on the board’ for all it was worth, even though he was ‘on the board’ of an astounding dysfunctional theater.

Gary was typical Pittsburgh, something that I didn’t necessarily recognize at that time. So much more important and impressive in his own head than in reality, and that mirror seriously had two faces.

I remember being at an audition with Bob (possibly the New Works auditions) and while we were sitting there, Gary made a somewhat loud comment about ‘So when are we going to have a threesome with Bob?’  Obviously, Bob had shared the moving experience with his friend Mark Hall with Gary, and Gary just couldn’t wait to use it to embarrass.

I also recall running into Gary cruising the bathrooms at Pitt…and then giving me attitude because I’d seen him there.

There was also a little cloud of satellites who hung around the theater, either admirers of Glen’s, former performers of other shows, or friends of the biggest nightmare of the bunch.  David Carney.

David was 30-something, tall, dark, handsome in his own creepy way, and typical Pittsburgh…David was BEYOND full of himself.  David did have talent in design, albeit dark and foreboding.  David created the sets, which were always dark and gloomy, and he also set up the spread for the cast and patron parties, which were elegant, but in a kind of Addams Family way.

David was Glen and Eddie’s right hand assistant.  David ran the box office.  David ran the marketing.  David ran the theater.  David even lived in the upstairs apartment of the old church that was the theater.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that David also ran Glen and Eddie.

David had a little collection of misfit friends.  Claire Fraley, Jerry Clowden, George, Richard Cavallucci, Adrien Wehr, and a variety of others…the satellites.  All of whom were just all a-gush over David and his ‘brilliance’.  I didn’t quite understand what they saw in David…not until much later.

Claire I really only knew in passing, and George I barely recall at all.  The only reason I can recall him at all is from something that happened in recent years.  Adrien Wehr was a wannabee director/producer, who worked with someone I was going to know in a few months, and she also had a foot in the door at WQED TV. Jerry was one of David’s ‘best friends’, and soon became a friend of mine, much to David’s chagrin.  Jerry was a short, adorable guy with gorgeous eyes, a strong nose, and a very sweet personality.  Jerry had more of the actual decorator talent that David THOUGHT he had.  Jerry and I found ourselves attracted to each other and started dating, in the middle of this cesspool of personalities.

The rehearsals were a little challenging, but nothing torturous.  The cast was a ton of fun to hang out with in the dressing room, and we would laugh and talk, and just generally really enjoyed each others’ company. I could make them laugh, and they made me feel more human than any other cast had.

Adrienne Wehr (L) and Ilene Sirocca (R)

I clicked especially with Ilene Sirocca.  She was sharp, smart, a very clever smartass, a terrific singer and pianist, and quite frankly, for a novice, she was a pretty good actor.  She had a keen mind, and we discovered many things that we had in common in terms of ‘tastes’, from music, to movies, to food, and hell, we were both even General Hospital watchers.  She was the easiest to talk to, the most fun, and could get down to brass tacks with a serious discussion.

Little did I know that I was about to form a bond that would last the rest of my life.

The bond would be with Ilene.  It certainly wasn’t going to be with Jerry.  David would see to that, as I would find out later.  Jerry and I dated for a little while.  I helped him one day as he was decorating his kitchen, painting with some kind of orange-ish paint laced with cornmeal to give it texture.  I think Jerry worked for a florist at that time, and had a cute little house – where exactly, I can’t recall.  I remember going one day to the post office with him.  There was a blonde guy in line, kind of thin and haggard looking. Like he’d partied way too much.  He saw Jerry and they knew each other, and they spoke.  I don’t recall the conversation, it wasn’t deep, since the guy was at the counter, and we were still waiting in line.  It was more a ‘how’s things?’ kind of quick exchange.  After the guy left, I asked Jerry who it was.  And Jerry said it was his friend Tommy Watson.

THAT was Tommy Watson?  The gorgeous surfer looking boy who hung out with Jimmy Spodnick??  The one who intimidated me way back when?  I looked at Jerry in disbelief, and said it out loud ‘THAT was Tommy Watson?’  Jerry rolled his eyes and said ‘Yeah, he parties a little too hard.’  I then, of course, wondered what happened to Jimmy Spodnick.  No way to know.

After a few weeks Jerry started to pull away.  I never understood why.  Then he started pretty much avoiding me altogether, except for minor pleasantries and an escape if we ran into each other at the theater.

What I learned later was that David had talked him away from me.  Here was David’s routine.  David surrounded himself with low-self-esteem people, whom he was able to mesmerize with his lofty attitude, creative ability that was better than theirs, for they had little, (except Jerry, which I never understood) and fake Hamptons accent.   He kept them around because he KNEW they would never know any better, and he could keep them in line at his feet.

Well, I DID know better, and I didn’t fall for the ‘act’, and the creativity didn’t wow me in the least – nor did the attitude. Therefore, I was NOT to be accepted into ‘the circle’ by any means.

As we performed the show though, Glen and Eddie did take a liking to me.  I was reliable, a hard worker, had enough talent to please them, and actually got somewhat decent reviews from the Pittsburgh papers for the role.  The mentions were flattering, though brief…after all, one reviewer was Ted Hoover, who had been heavily involved in the New Works Festival, was buddies with the Upstairs Theater, and…well…need I say more.  Others weren’t bad.

Hoover Says

Post Gazette Said

Tribune Review Said

They liked me enough to ask if I would stage manage the next show, which was one of Eddie’s originals called ‘Philadelphia’ which was about a young girl during the Atlantic City Boardwalk or Coney Island side show days on the depression era, in which a young girl (the role was written for a black girl) who was somewhat unattractive, but who could sing like a bird is sold off by her Aunt or guardian to a side show, and then basically kept prisoner by the creepy show producer.  She is in lock-up when she’s not on stage, and shares a compartment with another side show attraction, who was played by Ed Cain – the Sidney to my Clifford in the long past Comtra ‘Deathtrap’ days.  The Aunt or guardian was played by my Mellon Bank basement vault co-worker Beverly Owings.  There was some odd side story within the play that I barely recall, but it involved a gay couple, or a guy who liked to play with guy in a somewhat dominant situation.  At first, the pair was Richard Cavallucci as the dominator, which was completely absurd.  Not only could he not act, but he was far from macho.  The sexual interest was played by a young and beautiful guy who had to drop out of the show when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.  This kid was in his early 20’s.  They replaced him with the couldn’t act his way out of a bag Gary Craig.  The leading role, and title character, the one who was supposed to sing like a bird…after searching for a young black girl, and coming up with nothing, considering the REST of the subject matter of the show, they gave in to the begging and pleading of…Shelagh Collins.  She who had NO talent.  Glen Gress himself played the side show producer.

Thank goodness for Glen and Beverly, and to some extent Ed Cain – the three of whom could act.

Rehearsals were painful.  ‘Brecht’ was winding down the performances.  We only did like three or four weekends.  Audiences were sparse to say the least.  No one was really doing marketing.  No mailings, minimal ads – and ads that were designed by David, which really had no visual appeal at all for ‘ads’. We didn’t have internet then, so there weren’t a lot of avenues for promotion except the old standbys.  I think our biggest audience in four weeks was fifteen.  And of course, all the work for no money.

Ilene was the prize from that whole event, and the connection with the blind community that I’d made.  Well, one really shining moment was having to teach Ilene how to ‘flip the bird’.  The silly things we sighted people take for granted.  Ilene had to flip the bird after one of her monologues, and having never seen it done, she had no idea what it was supposed to ‘feel’ like.  So there we were, coaching this nice blind gal how to extend her arm, bend it at the elbow, ball her fingers into a fist, with the middle finger extended, pointing ‘up’ (not out, or to the side, or like pointing a finger), and the slight upward motion that accompanied the pose.

After one of the final shows, Shelagh came up to me in a very sincere tone, and told me that I was a joy to watch perform.  I thanked her sincerely.  Then later, at the cast party, I was standing by the food table with a Styrofoam plate of cake with white frosting held in front of my chest, and she came up babbling some nonsense, and then proceeded to flip the cake flat into my chest…she thought it was cute.

And now, I had to spend another six weeks with this woman.

‘Philadelphia’ was an experiment in futility.  Or more accurately, a train wreck of self esteem and ego massaging.  Richard had to have every line fed to him by the director so that he’d ‘know how to say it’.  Shelagh just simply didn’t have enough talent to have any clue how to play the role.  Glen spent most of his time trying to get the two of them to find an elevator to reach the top floors.  Beverly, Glen and Ed just breezed through and got their parts.

The biggest nightmares of all of it were dealing with Richard and David and their petty bullshit, which was irritating, but minor; and the wake-up-from-a-cold-sweat-nightmare…Shelagh singing.

Beverly just had a handful of scenes, mostly with Glen, and then would spend the rest of her time sitting in the basement reading a book and smoking.  When I didn’t have anything to do during scenes, I was usually right there with her.  I was DEFINITELY right there with her during the agonizing ‘song’ portion.  What was supposed to sound like a child blues performance came out more like Bette Davis singing in ‘What Ever Happened To Baby Jane’, and I (as well as a few others who were not trapped onstage) made every effort to get the hell out of earshot.

By the time this show was finished, David had done everything to put me in bad favor with Glen and Eddie, and I was never asked back.

Additionally, I wanted to strangle Gary Craig.  It just astounded me that Gary gave me the snubs that he did, while at the same time reporting my every move to Bob, now in New York.  If I had a conversation with Bob, Bob started off by asking about X, Y and Z, which Bob wouldn’t have known had someone not told him other than me.  Bob knew about Jerry.  Bob knew about the strain between me and Richard Cavallucci. Anything that went on in that theater, Bob already knew about.  There was no point in really having a conversation, Bob had already gotten his reports.

Beverly had a work friend come to one of the shows.  I do not remember his name. We ended up going out a few times.  What I can recall is that he was an adorable, dark featured white boy, with gorgeous brown eyes, black hair, an awesome nose, furry body, and an enormous you know what…but…we were both tops.  That ended that.

One of my very favorite memories of Beverly Owings though came around as a result of having seen what would become my favorite Almodovar film, “Kika”.  I had seen the film as part of some film festival, shown in the back screening room of the old Fulton Theater, which was, of course, renamed after someone with more money gave money for the renovation, and now, instead of the original name the theater was actually given, The Gaiety, it’s now the Byham.

“Kika” is an amazing piece of art on film, a wild script, and amazing visuals.  One of the funniest scenes involves, dare I say it…a rape.  I laughed my ass off.  When I went back to work in the basement bunker at Mellon, I told Beverly about this amazing film that I’d seen that had the funniest rape scene…

Beverly fixed me with an abject look of scorn.  “Rape is NOT funny!  Rape is NEVER funny!  How can you even SAY that!!??”

I told her…come with me next weekend and see the movie.  It took some convincing, but she finally agreed.  When it came up to the scene in question…she sat and giggled through it with me.  After we left the theater, I asked “So?”  Beverly agreed…she said “Ok, so it WAS funny!”

So basically, my time with THAT theater company was over.  Didn’t really have any regular friends, but the friendship with Ilene was blooming.  I remember her coming to my place and me making some kind of food and watching ‘Wild Palms’.  My VCR was antique, and I only had the rabbit ears for TV reception, but I managed to recordGeneralHospitalevery day, and ‘Wild Palms’.  A few things here and there.

I remember Bob Kwiatkowski coming into town and dropping by for a visit.  It was brief, as all of his future visits were going to be, and he never asked me to go out anywhere, like to eat, for coffee or to just hang out.  Bob was also always going out with a group of ‘friends’ after he paid his half hour visit to me.  Out to dinner with Bronwyn and C.T. William never got invited out.  Bob didn’t have to ask much about William at that point because Gary had already filled him in. Bob filled me in on all the fabulosity of New York.  He was working as a dresser for Cats, and trying to find acting jobs, making new friends, and going to orgies.  He did have to come back at some point and help Jeanne Donovic clear out the Unicorn Productions storage bin.  I went along and helped.

My time was pretty much spent working, at home alone, watching TV, and wondering what the hell I was going to do next.  My phone didn’t ring much.

One night, I was waiting at the bus stop near home.  By this time, I wasn’t quite as terrified to be out alone after dark.  As I stood waiting, listening to my Walkman, a car drove by, and a guy did a rubberneck head spin to look at me. He then drove around the block and came back to a stop at the bus stop.  He said ‘Hello’ and asked if I needed a ride.  I don’t remember where I was going, but it was something I had to do, and I told him that I was waiting for the bus to go there.  He said he’d take me, no problem.  He was a guy, around my age, maybe a year or two older, dark blonde thinning hair, nice build, nice face – and he introduced himself as Mark.  I told him that I’d rather wait for the bus, but would be cool with getting to know him.  I gave him my number and he gave me his, and we went on our ways.

I can’t recall exactly, but we connected by phone that night when I got home, and I think he may have even come by that night.

Mark was a very attractive hairdresser, who lived with a rich old guy inMonroeville.  Basically, he was a spoiled kept boy.  He wasn’t very smart, but he was cute enough to be a trophy boy for an old queen.  Mark took a liking to me, and I can’t for the life of me understand why.  I wasn’t rich, nor would I ever be, or have any designs to be on the A-List.  Mark was cute, but not SO stunning as to be intimidating.

Mark’s father or brother worked for some distribution company that provided juices and other things to grocery stores.  I remember Mark bringing me TONS of ‘past sell date’ food and juice items, which kind of helped me get through tough times.

Mark and I started dating.  Mark was sexually open, and we had some fun, but after a while the ‘dumb’ factor just got under my skin.  He was another typical ‘in the box’ Pittsburgher.  We shared very little in common except eating and sex, and conversations were a moot point.

Mark also helped take care of a little old Jewish lady named Eleanor Perl.  Eleanor lived somewhere nearPenn Hillsin a small apartment complex, and Mark was also kind of HER kept boy.  Or he was the fagela that the little old Jewish lady adored.  He did her hair, helped with her house, and ran her errands.  Eleanor was on an oxygen tank for emphysema, and still smoked, and had that ultra raspy gruff voice that went along with it.  She really wasn’t a well lady, and Mark did take good care of her.  At one point he asked me if I would be willing to cook meals for her.  He liked me vegetarian food, and thought it might be good for her.  Well, I think I may have tried once, and she didn’t like it.  I’m really not a great cook, I just like to play in the kitchen and make stuff I like to eat.  Ilene liked my cooking.  But I would never go so far as to say I should cook for a living.

One night, Mark and I were out somewhere, and a guy in the next car at a traffic light was cruising us.  We ended up talking to him, and then he came back with us to my place.  He was a Doctor who lived inRobinsonTownship, can’t remember his name, but he was MY wet dream on legs.  Black hair, my height, good nose, hairy body, extremely hairy legs (which has always made me weak) and a very good bottom.  I really liked him.  More so than Mark.  Alas, so did Mark, and Mark came from a much more ‘spoiled’ background than I did, much more fitting to be a doctor’s trophy boy, even though they were about the same age.

My TV was crap, and Mark had given me his TV from storage as a ‘gift’ so that we could cuddle up and watch better TV together.

Mark started disappearing and not returning phone calls.  Mark moved in with the doctor.  He had more money.

About six months later, Mark called to say that Eleanor had died.  He thought I might want to know…oh…and he wanted the TV back.  I told him to fuck off…he’d given it to me as a gift, so he’d said, and now he’d run off with a guy we’d had in a threesome, and wanted it back?

I held onto that TV for a year.  And a gal that I’d met found out that he’d changed jobs and was working at Monroeville Mall for some cheesy salon.  She agreed to help, and we packed the fucker in a box, and she dropped it off at his workplace.

They come, they cum, they go.

I really needed to take some time to look back and reconstruct the next year in this weird little life.  Thank goodness for Ilene, who helped me put many of the pieces together.

All about the same time, I answered two ads in the newspaper.  One was recruiting members for an improvisational comedy troupe, and the other was a personal ad. I was still working temp assignments for Pancoast, and I believe I was still in the awful Mellon basement vault, still hanging out once in a while with Beverly Owings, but needing something creative to do.  I’d had a few other dates here and there, and even one thatBeverlyhad kinda sorta introduced me to.  I don’t remember his name, it might have been Paul, and he was adorable. Taller than me, thin, furry, big nose, great voice, but once again we were doomed in the bedroom due to sharing the same position orientation. And as huge as he was, that wasn’t going to happen…once again.

So I found the two ads, maybe even around the same time, but I’ll start with The Flying Pigs.  The Flying Pigs were a group of kids, mostly from CMU (but NOT dramats – more like wannabee dramats) who were doing improvisational comedy here and there around town, and they’d advertised that they were looking to audition new members for the group.  So I called, I set a date, and I went to audition.

I vaguely remember auditioning with a few people, one was Laura Lind, one of the ‘founding members’, and we seemed to have a fun time.  I ended up being accepted into the group.

The group was run by a CMU spoiled brat name Tamar Copeland (yes, Tamar – couldn’t be a CMU student with a normal name like TamarA), who was also a manager at a Mad Mex restaurant in the North Hills. Tamar was the typical uppity spoiled kid with an ego that didn’t quite match the ability, but this was becoming more and more obvious as a Pittsburgh general trait.

The cast members – well, I can’t remember their names for the most part.

Frank

There was Frank, tall and reasonably funny. Another guy and his girlfriend, although he certainly was gayer than I am, and I’m a homo.  They did end up getting married from what I’d heard.  There was one other gay boy, but he was one of the drool-afters, and in the closet.  Amanda Cohen was in the group, a frizzy haired Jewess geek who thought Gilbert Gottfried and Weird Al Yankovick were ‘hot’.  She wanted to be a stand-up comedienne. There was Dave, who was more of the corporate raider type than the comedy type.  His type of ‘funny’ was the type generally reserved for drinking games with the fellow frat boys. Then there was the fat guy, who was sissy, sloppy, and quite frankly, stinky. Karen Merrit was another gal involved, and was very nice.  In fact, she and Laura Lind were the two saving graces. I thought Amanda was a ‘friend’, but Amanda was way too into Amanda to really be a friend, and she could truly be one of the meanest backstabbers I’d ever met.  And there was never a reason for it.  She just felt she had to cut down someone around her.

We rehearsed and rehearsed at a room at CMU, and then started doing a few shows at a college type bar onEllsworth Avenuethat no longer exists.  It had been Café Steven B’s, and way back when Bob Kwiatkowski had taken me there for lunch – it was uppity bistroid before uppity bistroid became ever so popular. Didn’t last long.  Then it became this college bar, and we did shows there either every week or every other week.

Laura Lind

This was NOT an easy group to work ‘with’.  In fact, out of all of them, I recall Laura Lind and Karen Merritt being the only people who

Karen Merritt

were genuinely ‘nice’ to me.  The members who had already been in this group had no interest whatsoever in getting to know ‘the new people’.  They also weren’t very good at working ‘together’. It became clear that this was a group of ‘hot doggers’ as they were called.  Each one thought they were a star, and screw really getting to know anyone else to enable ‘us’ to work ‘together’ as a team.  That’s what improve is supposed to be to ME, but apparently it wasn’t to them.

It became a struggle to get to know them, and they certainly had no interest in knowing me…which would of course enable ‘us’ to work off each other better.  Instead, the ‘new kids’ got shoved to the sideline in almost all scenarios, and the ‘old school’ just took over, and mostly in typical sophomoric humor – fart jokes and such.

One of the routines that we did was having the audience yell out names of playwrights or entertainment genres, a subject matter, and then we had to act out the subject matter in the various genres.  So perhaps we’d be doing something mundane, like hanging wallpaper, but we’d have to do it in the style of film noir, or a Roger’s and Hammerstein musical.

Almost inevitably, one of the more theatrical audience members would shout out ‘David Mamet’ as a ‘style’.  The ‘old school’ would equally inevitably resort to ending every sentence with the word ‘fuck’, as is pretty frequent in David Mamet writing. Not ONE of them (and no, we ‘new kids’ weren’t allowed into this scenario often) were hip to the OTHER aspect of David Mamet’s writing – that would actually require troupe members to really work TOGETHER.  In Mamet’s plays, more often than not, one character starts a sentence, and another character finishes it.

The Flying Pigs never – and I mean NEVER – got that aspect of Mamet.

And I would never be the one to clue them in, after all…who was I? Just one of the ‘filler’ new kids.  I couldn’t possibly add anything to their brilliance.

I remember being set up for a fall (literally) at one of the last performances I was involved in, and the one that made me say ‘enough of this bullshit’.  They set me up as the ‘girlfriend’ of one of the other characters, by putting me in a dumb blonde wig.  They started off in some murder mystery mode, and then I was literally shoved to the floor in the background, and told to shut up while the two ‘stars’ took over the scene. Frank was one of them, and this other guy, a redhead with an ego the size of a Bush family member, was the other.  Me and one of the other new kids were literally kept on the floor in the background.  And that was that for me.

Ilene and her mom and dad came at least once to see the show, and I think maybe Roni Rossi. But I didn’t exactly have a big ‘following’.  That would have required having friends.

The baffling thing to me on a profound level was the fact that it seemed to be becoming more and more impossible to find a ‘group’ of people to work ‘with’…not ‘for’.  In my apparently deluded mind, an improv ‘company’ should be working ‘together’ as a team…a unit.  They should know each other inside and out, to know definitively how to play with and off of each other.  Later I would watch a group like ‘STOMP’ perform, and I actually got goosebumps thinking about how truly close they had to work together as a unit to create the magic they did.  And it made me sad to think that perhaps finding this type of close knit committed ‘group’ would be forever elusive.  I wouldn’t mind a little fame or recognition, but I would actually prefer to obtain it by ‘teamwork’.  Almost everyone that I encountered was in it for ME, ME, ME.   I’ve never been in it for me, always trying to help the ‘greater good’. Hasn’t gotten me much up to this point.

The other person to come and see me in a few of these shows was Russell Howard.

Russell was the other ad that I had answered in the paper.

I answered a personal ad in the local ‘alternative’ rag. By ‘alternative’, I don’t mean ‘gay’, but rather the smaller tabloid type local paper that USED to feed the minds of the ‘alternative’ crowd that the mainstream local newspapers had no use for.  This is where you’d find more of the theater and art mentioned. Nowadays, they are primarily ads with local garage bands glorified. But once upon a time, they were a good tool for the ‘local’ community.

In the backs of these rags, before the internet, there were very short personal ads. Straight and gay.  I’d placed ads, and got weird responses. Story of my life.

Now in the case of Russell, I can’t say 100% that he or I placed the ad.  He might have responded to mine.  It’s always a little more encouraging to me when someone responds to what I’VE written, instead of taking the big chance on rejection by saying ‘hello’ to someone who snubs me, which is more often than not the case.

So first came the letter in the mail, and then came telephone conversations.

Russell had a great calm voice, and a calm and intelligent demeanor, and sounded masculine without being macho.  We talked a lot, and shared a lot of the same opinions on a lot of things, as well as sharing similar tastes…although his tastes were a bit more broad than mine, as mine were narrowing by the year.  He had a dog, lived in his own house in Shadyside, worked in local television, wanted to be a film maker, was involved with Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  The only ‘bad’ thing that we conflicted on was that he smoked pot.  And as we’ve already discerned from my past experiences, THAT wasn’t going to be shared.

So we talked on the phone for several weeks before meeting.  I had no idea

Bert Convy

what he looked like.  I asked the question “Has anyone ever told you that you look LIKE someone in the celebrity world?”  His response was that a few people had told him he looked like Bert Convy.  Ok, not so bad…better than, say, Ernest Borgnine.

So after weeks of telephone chats, we made the decision to meet face to face in a public place.

But before I get into that big change, a few other things happened while living on Meade Street.

First, In January of 1993. My grandfather passed away in his apartment in Monaca, apparently in his sleep, in the armchair before the television, alone.

My grandfather had been the second most sane family member in my life, second only to his sister Helen.  The funeral was planned for some funeral home in Beaver, and it was completely up to me to get there.  Since no one was offering a ride, I would have to bus from the city to Rochester, and then walk my way to the funeral home.

I tried to find someone in Beaver County that I might be able to bus out the evening before, stay the night at their place, go to the funeral and bus back the next day.  I tried calling Carol Jumper, the class president I’d taken to the theater in Dallas, helped run for class president, and baked the cake with Linda Wyke for the congratulations party.  She hemmed and hawed and actually claimed that they had just had their furniture reupholstered, and she just COULDN’T let me sleep there.  I called Rich Shyan.  He hemmed and hawed, and claimed that his lovebirds were nesting and that he couldn’t possibly have anyone in the house as it might disturb them.  Sondra Lengyel had moved to Philly.  Linda Wyke had moved to Philly.  I couldn’t ask Jeff Franz…his wife wouldn’t understand. John Kerr was dead.  I had no idea where Elaine Scoumis was. And I certainly did NOT want to go out the evening before and have to stay at my mother’s.

So I took the early morning bus to Rochester, and walked to the funeral home in Beaver.

The funeral was abstract to say the least. The old guy who officiated, a Clarence Eugene Smith, I had never heard of in my life.  He was a gasping little old man, who could barely speak four words without taking a breath.  He said all of the words that were said at the funeral, while the remains of my grandfather sat behind him in the little marble urn that looked like a Kleenex dispenser.

A few people talked to me briefly, and just like the ten year reunion, I had to ask who some of them were.  One was Uncle Bill Baker, my grandmother’s brother.  The GERMAN one, who had swooped in when my great-grandmother died, and cleaned out every last nail from her home and stashed it all in a warehouse somewhere before anyone else in the family could even get a glimpse of it.  He spoke to me, and I honestly had no idea who he was.  I really don’t remember much of anyone else being there, except Aunt Helen and the other (and much better) Uncle Bill McComb, and my brother and his then wife.  I don’t recall her name.  They pretty much looked like a couple of country bumpkins.  I do believe that at this time, in the early 90’s, he was still sporting a mullet.

After the funeral was over, I don’t remember a damned thing.  Except that a month or so later, Jeff Franz did help me with his pick-up truck, to go to my grandfather’s apartment with my mother and brother to see if there was anything we might want before it was all pitched.  Of course, anything of real value, she had already taken. I took home the old blonde nightstands that he had pulled out of their original mobile home after my grandmother had had her stroke, and he moved into the trailer behind our house in Raccoon.  Some of his cooking pots and pans, and that was about it.  In his will he had left me ten $1,000 US Savings bonds, which he’d bought in September of 1988.

My grandmother was still alive, but she’d been in the Geriatric Center of Beaver County for thirteen years, after having to move out of Louise Conti’s private care facility.  There she laid for thirteen years, unable to speak, or do anything other than smile and slightly motion with one of her hands. She would live another year and three months after my grandfather passed. She died on May 15, 1994.  My mother told me not to come to the funeral.  No one would be there.

The other thing that happened while I was living on Meade Street was another little play that took place at CarnegieMellonUniversity.

I somehow responded to an audition notice that was posted by a student who was producing and directing his own play that was called ‘Macho, Manly Men’, a very simple and light comedy that had no real redeeming qualities – it was just a mindless sophomoric comedy.

The macho guy (believe it or not, me) was goading the wimpy little guy (played by Timothy Meadows), in order to win the affections of the girl, (played by Stephanie Riso). There was a fourth character who was a kind of ‘extreme sports’ coach or announcer who was the mediator between the wimpy and the macho (played by Andrew Paul).

We rehearsed for a month or so in classrooms at CMU (it really wasn’t more than a staged reading), and did maybe one or two performances.

I kind of crushed on Tim Meadows. Little skinny guy with great hair and a good nose, gentle and unassuming.  He actually came to my place one day and hung out.  I think we kissed.  Nothing came of it.  He seemed to have some odd relationship with some woman, which almost seemed like a ‘kept’ situation.

I did have a bigger crush on the straight playwright/director, who was a nice Italian boy from Jersey.  He introduced me to his writing teacher, who raved about my performance.  I never heard from either of them again.

But Jersey boy did give me the one Jersey joke I’ve ever known. I never really got it, but people from Jersey seem to.

“So?  You’re from Jersey?  Which exit?”

Nobody but people from Jersey get it.

Ok, so now I need to move on to meeting Russell.

I don’t exactly recall where we met, other than it seems to me it was outdoors and at an event of some sort. I remember Russell buying either coffee or sodas, and we sat and talked at a picnic bench.

Russell was a very nice and decent man. He wasn’t overly ‘gay’, culturally speaking, which was really nice.  Russell worked for KDKA as a news promotional producer, he created those little teasers for the upcoming news broadcast, and he also had dreams of being a filmmaker of some type, and was on the board of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

He did kind of look like a younger Bert Convy, with curly hair, and a similar face. He was lean build, and a very non-Jewish looking Jewish boy.  He lived in a three story house on Lehigh Street, the opposite end of the block from where Darin Carney used to live…and where I used to live with Kevin the narcissist, where I had left a pile of stuff in the basement, that Darin was supposed to get out, and never did.

So Russell and I started dating. I was drawn to the fact that he was a nice change of pace. Stable. Humble. Unpretentious. Rational. Kind. All of the things I’d really not had before.  What he didn’t have that ended up being the downfall, was the look that I found attractive. But I decided to go forward and try ‘stability’.

I came home from a job one evening and discovered that I had no electricity, and a patch of water stain going from my ceiling to the floor, right down the wall next to the light switch.  I tried to contact Karen downstairs, but she wasn’t in, so I went up to find Arletta.  She didn’t know what was happening either, so I spent the night at Russell’s house.  The next day I learned from Karen that we all had to move out of the house on Meade Street.  The roof had leaked, and the house was deemed uninhabitable until the roof was fixed and the wiring corrected and inspected.  NOW what to do?

Amanda Cohen told me that she had a friend, Matt Nelko, who also worked at KDKA, but in radio, who was looking for a room mate.  Matt and I talked, and Russell and I talked, and I ended up renting Matt’s spare bedroom basically for furniture storage, allowing Matt to use my living room and other furniture.  One of his room mates had just moved out, and taken pretty much everything with him, and I had a full apartment full of stuff.

Matt and I talked on the telephone, and met for the moving in, and the occasional drop by for something I was storing, but we never really hung out or knew each other.  He was kind of nerdy and feminine in a very odd way…kind of queenie, but not really.  Kind of Cole Porter without the social standing.  He was a dorky guy originally from Economy Borough who had worked his way into the local CBS radio affiliate.   He was pleasant enough, but we never clicked for the draw to actually hang out.

Amanda had invited me one evening to accompany her to Graffiti to see

Bobcat Goldthwait

Bobcat Goldthwait do his stand up routine.  We watched the show, which was very funny, with a couple of things that stuck in my mind. One was his making fun of the yinzer accents with the phrase ‘we’ll make yinz somp’n good in the crackpat Bab’, and for making fun of the fact that Pittsburghers don’t seem to aspire to any level of greatness…even the masthead of the local paper says ‘one of’ the countries finest newspapers.  He was definitely on to something there.

The best part was that Amanda got us into the green room between shows, and we got to sit and actually chat with the loud and crazy Bobcat Goldthwait…who, as himself, was anything but loud and crazy. Bob was incredibly shy and unassuming sitting there in the armchair of the green room, and actually incredibly pleasant and honest.  Nice man.

So my furniture moved into Matt’s apartment, and I moved into Russell’s.  Russell owned the building, and rented out the first floor to tenants.  The second floor, which was big and airy and roomy – was empty.  He planned to eventually do something with it, and rent it out.  Russell lived on the third floor ‘attic’ apartment, which was a bedroom, with the dormer window and angled ceilings, a living room, with the same dormer windows and angled ceilings, and a step down into the ‘dining’ area/kitchenette/bathroom.  It was filled with a variety of plants and knickknacks. Russell collected Inuit art and African masks, amongst a few other things.  Some of it was a little bit creepy, especially in the bedroom.  A straw haired angry looking jungle man was always looking down on the bed.

I did love Russell’s dog, whose name I can’t remember.  I can’t even remember much what it looked like. I loved the dog, but hated the walkies, and the never ending ‘plip, plips’ as it licked itself.  Was nice to cuddle up with though.

Russell had a large circle of friends, mostly the eccentric variety.  I can’t remember the names of all, but I recall the red-nosed alcoholic lawyer with the pony tail and the license plate that read ‘banter’, who lived with his adorable wife or girlfriend in an adorable little carriage house either in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside or Regent Square.

He was friends with a photographer, who had photographed, just for fun, Russell and one of his groups of friends. The photo was enlarged and framed and hung in the dining area. It was a very nice testimonial to a group of friends.  Later that year, this photographer would do a new headshot for me, gratis, as a favor to Russell.  That was the photo that is paired with my St. Louis headshot above.  The one in which I aged and turned into my grandfather in only a few years.  But now that you’ve read this far…I think you’re starting to see why.

The friends that I knew the best were Leah and Dan.

Leah was a bartender at Moondog’s in Blawnox, and also was a jewelry artist, while her hubby, Dan, was a kind of do-nothing.  Dan gardened and smoked pot.  That was pretty much Dan’s life.

Russell and I would go to dinner at Dan and Leah’s, and have a lovely meal, which would usually include something grown in their back yard urban garden, then they’d pass a joint or three around, have a drink, and Dan would start talking…and talking…and talking.  He was the type that became an authority on everything once he was stoned, which was pretty much always.  I remember him going on and on about peppers, hot peppers, all varieties of hot peppers, for an entire evening. The shame of it was that Dan was absolutely adorable…dark hair, long, kind of furry, a neat trimmed beard, long and lean.

Leah was just plain cool.  A short gal, with an extreme mullet haircut, salt and pepper, very smart and down to earth. Of all of Russell’s friends, I really liked Leah. I liked Dan too, but he just wasn’t ‘there’ when he was there.

One night, Russell and I, and a few of his friends, and possibly Ilene, went out for an evening to Gallagher’s Pub in Market Square. I had recently discovered it as a sing along piano bar and quite a charming place to go. I sang several songs, including ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret, which I aimed at Russell, kind of making us both a little moony eyed, and the pianist made a comment to me saying ‘You have a really good voice…don’t waste it!’ That felt good, though no one through my life ever seemed very interested in using it.

So Russell and I have been together several months.  The sex isn’t great, but it’s there. It’s nice to have someone to ‘come home to’, to make dinner for, to go out to dinner with. And for once in my life, it was nice to have a BF that actually invited me IN to his circle of friends. That had never happened before.  Russell even liked Ilene, and invited her into the circle.

There was one friend who clashed.  Caroline. I don’t remember her last name. A semi-butch little Lesbian of a straight girl, who was a painter/artist, who lived in angst, and was even darker in her point of view than I could be…if that is humanly possible.  Caroline went with us to an event or two, and even Ilene, who can usually tolerate just about anyone, couldn’t stand her.  She contradicted for the sake of making conversation, was mean, snarky, and just a bigger cloud of doom that actually shadowed my own.  Ilene actually bowed out of a thing or two when she found out Caroline was going to be there.

I was working my downtown temp job, and coming home to domesticity.

Then came the big question. “Have you had an HIV test?”

Russell was part of a study, and thought that it was very important to go and get tested.  I was terrified, but I agreed. So with Russell’s coaching, I set an appointment to go in for a test.  I contacted the Pitt Men’s Study at the University of Pittsburgh, and set the date.

I can’t remember if Russell dropped me off and waited outside, or if I went alone filled with the fear of being told that the end was near, but I showed up for my appointment scared (nearly) to death.  I was handed a set of paperwork to fill out while I waited in the waiting area for my name to be called.  I filled it out, the usual questions, address and statistical info, plus the added joy of recreating a ‘sexual history’.  Oy…that was daunting in 1982.  We’re now into the mid-90’s, and I have NOT been a nun.

Safe Sex Poster

I glanced around the office.  A few others were also waiting.  I don’t remember faces at all.  Just the blurs of other humans waiting to find out whether they’re to live or die.  I do, however, remember the walls being lined with ‘safe sex’ posters…provocative images of mostly young hairless boys, in various states of undress…holding up condoms with a look in their eyes that said ‘model’, and not much else.

I went into the office, no real small talk, not many questions that I recall, and sat in the chair as the vials, the rubber tube and the needles came out.  The needle slid into my arm and I swooned, but for once, did not completely pass out.  The blood flowed into the tube, and I watched what I felt was my life ebbing away.  One vial.  Two vials.  Really?  They needed that much?

And basically I was thanked, informed that they would contact me when the results were ready, that it would take about two weeks, and they ushered me out the door.  I left that office and went back home, either with Russell or alone.  I truly can’t remember if he was there or not.  All I knew was that my brain was planning my funeral.

Russell tried taking my mind off things by taking me on a hiking day trip in some woods somewhere. McConnell’s Mills?  I have no idea.  Headstones. Illness. Death. The end.  That’s all I could think about for two weeks.  He thought it might be fun to be frisky in the woods.  Don’t you mean deadly, I thought.

I spent the next two weeks in absolute depressed torment.  It was a horrible two weeks. NOT ‘the’ most horrible two weeks of my life, for there were far many more of those to come, but to this point, I hadn’t quite endured such emotional turmoil.

Then, the two weeks passed, and the telephone call came announcing that the results were in, and that I needed to come in to get them face to face.  The person who called was superb at hiding ANY inflection whatsoever to indicate dread or rejoice.  I set the appointment, and once again headed into the office on the selected date.  This was it.  The death knell. I arrived, and once again sat in the waiting room for my name to be called.  This time the semi-porn posters were even MORE revolting – the sneering looks on the only slightly post pubescent faces wearing not much more than band-aids, looking even more like horny twelve year olds than they had before.  This really wasn’t great imagery to be surrounded by at this point.

My name was called, and I was taken into the office by yet another person who was superb at hiding any hints of ‘yea’ or ‘nay’.  He sat me down in the chair, and fixed me with a look of troubled concern, and asked ‘How do you feel?’

HOW DO I FEEL???  How do I FEEL?  How do you THINK I feel???  I feel like I’m about to be told I have six months to live!!!

Well, that’s what was being screamed very loudly in my head, but not what passed my lips.  What came out of my mouth was something to the tune of ‘I feel ok, but should I be worried?’

He asked a few more questions which were not leading in a good direction…it was almost like he was enjoying leading me into the dark channel.  And when he reached that point of abject terror, he said:

“Well (and one VERY long pause)…you’re negative.”

My eyes must have bugged open wide like two dinner plates, and I looked at him like a confused cocker spaniel and said:

“Really?”

And so, life went back to ‘normal’, whatever normal has ever been for me.  Back to domesticity, making dinners, walking the dog, and working temp assignments.

A lot of things did happen with Russell. Nice things actually.  And the great thing was that he usually included Ilene in the plans.

He got us some amazing seats to see Harry Connick Jr. at what was at that time the Starlake Amphitheatre. Media connections can be sweet, as we sat in like the fourth or fifth row.  When I saw Harry, for the first time I understood why women behaved the way they did over Sinatra. His voice, manner, and looks were so smooth and melting…swooning was not out of the question.  The sad thing about this was that for the first time since I fell in love with his music, he STRAYED from his known music into some odd funk music, and this was the bulk of this concert.  The only time he delved into what we’d come to love him for was when an upright piano popped up from the front of the stage and he sat down and sang and played for about three or four songs.

We also got tickets to see the Manhattan Transfer at Station Square.  The Transfer was amazing as always, but they were the ‘opening act’ for George Benson. Huh?  We didn’t stay for all of George Benson, but man it was awesome to hear the Transfer.

One night Russell had a ‘surprise’ for Ilene and I, and took us to the Balcony in Shadyside.  We had some yummy appetizers (I do believe it was a roasted garlic bulb with crackers and brie cheese) and drinks, and we still didn’t know what we were there for.  Then the announcer came on…and out came

Jon Hendricks

Jon Hendricks (formerly of Lambert Hendricks and Ross) and his family to put on one amazing concert.  I will never forget Ilene’s glee when she went to the bathroom (I had to lead her), and just as she came out, Jon Hendricks had just stepped into the hallway.  I whispered to her that he was standing right in front of her, and she practically shrieked ‘Oh Mr. Hendricks I just HAVE to hug you!’ And she threw her arms out, and Jon Hendricks graciously stepped into them!  He was an amazing man, and a genuine cool human being.

Another hoot during the time of Russell with Ilene was a trip to the Three Rivers Arts Festival to see Queen Ida Zydeco.  Zydeco has been a favorite of mine since Ron and Elerie in St. Louis got me into their presentation of Buckwheat Zydeco as the Casa Loma Ballroom.  I have never danced so hard in my life…Zydeco gets into you that way, and if it doesn’t, I worry about you.  I looked out over the sea of humanity scattered amongst the lawn of Point State Park when Queen Ida was going at it, and 99.9% of that crowd was moving something.  Either clapping, swaying, shaking their shoulders, or even just their feet tapping.  But something on them was moving, driven by the infectious rhythm of the high powered music.  The 1% who were NOT moving anything?  Well, I realized that these were not people I would ever care to know.

The music even seeped into Ilene’s bones, and Ilene, who had never really danced much at all in her life, had to start moving. She stood up from her chair, and started just kind of kicking her legs and clapping her hands.  She kind of looked silly, like she was doing a living room exercise to a video, but she was having a blast!  She even found a dance partner.  Some older, obviously a bit drunk, man stepped before her and started dancing ‘with’ her (even though she didn’t really realize he was there initially) by doing the same silly motions that she was doing.  They certainly put on a very odd little show. But Ilene had a great time.

One other fine evening at The Balcony when Russell and I went to see Mark Murphy. When I lived in St. Louis, Bob Herman had introduced me to the music of Mark Murphy via a copy of a cassette tape.  I had no idea what this man looked like, but his voice and the piano conjured up imaged of a man with longish brown hair, and one of those tweed jackets with the elbow patches.  His voice was warm and enveloping, like being swept up in a satin hammock.

A few years earlier, some guy that I dated a few times, who had been friends with Darin Carney at some point, named Rich or Richie, had taken me to the Balcony to see Mark.  Apparently, a female friend of his was a friend of Mark’s, and when he came to town to play, Mark would stay with her.  When Mark came out on the stage and I saw him for the first time, I was kind of

Mark Murphy

shocked. The image I had in my head was NOTHING like the reality.  Mark looked like a fading 70’s disco nightclub queen, with the open shirt and the gold chains, the cheesy porn mustache, and a hairdo that really did look like an only slighter better than bad toupee.  I was shocked by the image, but ohhhh, when he opened his mouth, and those tones rolled across his tongue…and across the floor, up the chair legs, and soothingly up my spine.  I was in heaven.  This man was going to be one of my musical heros.

And speaking of the Balcony, Bobby McGrogan was the host. Still working in the same neighborhood he’d been in since the early 80’s.  He was still a very cute guy, but he still had that pissy angry gay man look on his face.

Anyway, at this show with Russell, I had the opportunity to shake Mark’s hand and thank him.  One of his songs was called ‘O Cantador’, better known as ‘Like A Lover’ and is one of the most gorgeous love songs I’ve ever heard. When I was in love ‘with’ John Bonny, to try to tell him how much I adored him, I left the song on his answering machine one day. I told Mark about this and he responded jokingly ‘Ok, you owe me five bucks for that’.

And one more rave for the Balcony. They had THE best brunch in da burgh.  They either had the Duquesne University big band playing, or a blind guy named Keith who would play the piano (Ilene knew him, and he’d actually hit on her a few times in their past – she tended to not want to make contact with him while we were there) providing an awesome atmosphere while we ate an amazing brunch.  Their deal was – you order one item from their menu – and that was what you paid for brunch – after that, it was all-you-can-eat, ordering from the same menu. All they asked was that if you wanted either of the more expensive trout or salmon dishes, that you order that first.  Other than that, they brought a platter of pate and cheeses to your table, and there was a pastry table.

Great food, and the chance to see some true jazz legends not only on their stage, but up close and personal enough for handshakes and hugs.

Russell had a party in his back yard one weekend, and Ilene was invited.  I think it was at this event that Caroline worked Ilene’s last nerve, and I also got into some hot water with Ilene’s mom, without really knowing or understanding why at that time. Ilene’s mom, Mildred asked for Russell’s phone number. I had no problem giving it to her, but asked why she needed it?  It just seemed silly to me. Well, Mildred went off the deep end angry with me.  I just could NOT understand what the big deal was.

Then as time and experience rolled by, I grew to comprehend the over-protective nature of Mildred and Chuck (Ilene’s father).  We got past it, but it did take some time.

I made some eggplant dish that I’d found a recipe for that people seemed to like.  It was fairly simple, just a pie crust, a layer of browned onions, a layer of sliced tomatoes, a layer of sliced eggplant, and heaping pile of asiago cheese, and a repeat layer, baked.

I also seem to recall some friend of Russell, who I can’t really remember, who almost seemed to be hitting on Ilene.

Another interesting evening with Russell involved an art/multi media installation he’d presented as part of an evening fundraiser at Rosebud nightclub in the Strip District.  It was an interesting concept that I vaguely recall helping him set up for.  It was a living room setting, with a big TV, where the patrons were allowed to walk in, sit down and watch TV.  The concept was very good, but it was poorly executed, either for lack of budget, or lack of the proper technology.  The concept was…there was an endless loop of war and other violent images playing on the TV.  On top of the TV was a camera aimed at the sofa, which put those sitting and watching right in the middle of the screen in a separate square, smack dab in the middle of the violent imagery.  It was a great idea, it just didn’t really work out too well. Imagine what could be done now.

The big bam boom of the Russell relationship came next. Vacation!  Russell took me for a week in Sarasota and Orlando!  And oh, what an adventure it was!

The travelers were me, Russell, and his friend Leah. We flew from Pittsburgh to Orlando, and again, for some reason, I can’t remember flying at all. I do kind of remember getting the rental car, and finding out motel room.

I had talked to my friend Chad about getting into Disney, and he set us all up very nicely.  I know we went to two different parks, but I really only have a few memories of the park. The Back To The Future ride, which at the time kind of blew my mind, and a hilarious it-could-only-happen-to-William moment on the ‘It’s A Small World’ ride. But, of course, it didn’t just happen to William, but it did happen to everyone else there that day. I really don’t remember most of the ride, just another silly little boat ride through puppetland. But, when we got into the big room, surrounded by the animated little people, with the song itself blaring over and over, the ride suddenly broke down…and for between ten and twenty minutes, we were trapped in ‘It’s a small world after all, it’s a SMALL world after all, it’s a small world AFTER ALL, it’s a small, small world’.  Over, and over, and over again.  Talk about a Twilight Zone moment in life.  I know that we did have a nice time at the park, riding the rides, and seeing the sights.

I’m not sure how it happened, if we all went to dinner together, or if it was a planned ‘later’ thing, but Chad dropped by the motel room that Russell and I stayed in (Leah had her own room) and we all ended up having a little carnal recreation together. After Chad left, Russell expressed his dismay that Chad had finished too quickly, and that he’d hoped that Chad would have gone a little further and topped him.

The main goal of the trip was to eventually visit Russell’s grandparents in Sarasota, which would be a day trip in the car.  And I don’t know the order of our events.

After we made the road trip to Sarasota and had a very lovely brunch with Russell’s grandparents, I was craving a little karaoke action, and Russell knew this, and scouted out a place on Long Boat Key that had karaoke on the night that we happened to be there, so off we went.

We arrived in a rather large nightclub complex, and again, I have no idea what it was called.  It had a very large dance floor club area, and once you passed through it, there was a separate lounge for the karaoke.  We arrived and settled into a table, ordered a few drinks, and grabbed a karaoke book and some slips to choose a few songs. Well, I grabbed the book and slips, Russell and Leah were NOT going to be singing. The karaoke seemed to be on a break while all of this happened.  I chose ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ as my first selection, and turned in the slip to the waitress, then scouted for a couple more to do. I don’t remember what all I did that night, maybe only three songs in all.

What I do recall vividly was what happened when the break was over. Soloists, duets, small groups, all got up and showed their stuff. After hearing them all I thought holy crap!  What is this?  Disney’s night OFF? They were all absolutely amazing singers. THIS was definitely NOT ‘scary-oke’ as we’ve since come to call it, but these were top notch singers, including one guy who got up and belted out Michael Bolton songs left and right, and if you closed your eyes, you would have sworn it WAS Michael Bolton.  As each person got up, I sank lower in my chair.

As I sat shaking, a guy walked up to the table and asked ‘Who is William?’ and Leah and Russell both pointed to me…I looked at him and said ‘Yeah, me’. He said I was coming up very shortly.

Michael Bolton got up again and belted something out, and all I could think is ‘Please god, do NOT make me have to follow him!!!’ Then a girl got up and sang some country song.  And then a weird thing, and a magical thing happened…the DJ called out for ‘Russell’.  I looked at Russell, and he looked at me and said ‘Nuh-uh! Don’t look at me!’

The DJ repeated ‘Russell?’ and a man got up from the crowd and took the stage, grabbed his microphone, and the music began.  I don’t know what the song was, and in this case, it’s not because I can’t remember it.

It was because as this man sang it, it honestly could not be identified!  I was going to follow the one human in the place who honestly could not carry a tune in a bucket!

YESSSSSSSS!!!!!

And I did.  I got up there, and did my best Patty Andrews, chucking out Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy!  I received a healthy round of applause, and I sat down when it was over, shaking like a leaf.

I did a few more that evening, and then magical moment number two happened!  Michael Bolton suddenly appeared before me, and said ‘Hey! You did a really great job tonight!’

That may have been the second most flattering moment of my life up until this point.  Michael Craver sneaking out of the dark at the Plaza Theatre in Dallas and saying ‘I wish I could sing like that’ was number one.  Now I’m getting complimented out of the blue by this Michael Bolton guy.  I thanked him shyly, and had to say ‘All I can say it that I’m glad I didn’t have to follow YOU!’

We drove back to Orlando that night, and looked for a place to eat, and I can vaguely recall ending up at this kind of biker bar resort. We had some food, and then bunked for the night.  I’m pretty sure that was the end of our trip, and we flew back the next day.

That was one of the few actual vacations I ever took in my life, and had a nice time, thanks to Russell.

Jean Claude Van Damme

Now all was not play and no work during the Russell year, although the work was very odd.  I did get called in for a movie audition.  Jean Claude Van Damme was in town filming a movie called ‘Sudden Death’, in which he played a fireman who takes his son to a hockey playoff at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, where coincidentally the Vice President is also in attendance in an exclusive box. Bad guys try to kill the Vice President, and Jean Claude has to come to the rescue.

I was cast as a secret service helicopter pilot, with one line – “Look out!”

In the scene, a helicopter is trying to land a secret service guy on the roof of the Civic Arena by lowering him on a cable.  The bad guys are holed up in a nearby apartment building and fire a missile/rocket at the helicopter, which near-misses.  The pilot sees the rocket, yells ‘Look out!’ and dodges the helicopter, causing the guy on the cable to fall and land on a car in the parking lot of the Civic Arena.

Ok, so I’m cast as Mr. ‘Look out!’ I have to go in for a wardrobe fitting, and I’m Taft-Hartlied, which meant that I am now a Screen Actor’s Guild ‘must join’. That meant that this was the one ‘freebie’ I would get to work on a Union film. The next role offered would then require me to join SAG before I could accept the role.

The wardrobe supervisor was a guy named Dan Lester.  He did my fitting, and said ‘I’ve worked with you before a LONG time ago. I saw on your resume that you’d done extra work on ‘Dallas: The Early Years’ I worked on the wardrobe for that too!’ I laughed, and commented on ‘small world’. There were hundreds and hundreds of extras for that, I know he didn’t remember me, but it was cool making that connection. It had only been about ten years.

My date for shooting was set.  Basically, my role was already memorized.

Me in costume for Sudden Death

I arrived on the set on the South Side, in some warehouse area, around 4 pm, and after checking in, I was taken via a van to my very own trailer out in a large parking lot somewhere.  My wardrobe had already been left in the trailer – camouflage fatigues, gloves, boots and a hat.

And thus I began my ‘sit and wait’ in the trailer, alone, for a VERY long time. Hours went by, and finally between 10:30 and 11 pm, someone came to my trailer to get me. For dinner.

They took me, again by van (and a distance that I could have easily walked) to another warehouse where the dinner spread was set up. And OH what a spread it was. We are talking about an enormous buffet of food. I can’t remember everything that was there, but I do remember vividly a gigantic round platter of crawfish…mounded almost a foot high.  I ate like a swine, and I ate WELL…this wasn’t a Ponderosa buffet. This was like a VIP tent at some swanky event.

Then, briefly back to my trailer, and I’m starting to wonder if this is actually going to happen.  Then around midnight, they came and picked me up to go to the set.  I was part of the ‘second unit’, which is responsible for filming the ‘peripherals’ that don’t usually involve any of the stars.  They lead me

Powers Boothe

through part of a first unit set, and I recall Powers Boothe walking toward me, not making eye contact or acknowledging me, but he did spit on the ground just to the right of me. Acccck-tooey.

Through to the second unit were two sets. One was a mock portion of the roof of the Civic Arena set before a giant green screen.  Jean Claude’s body double, Mark Stefanich,  was there, and except for being a bit more muscle stocky than Van Damme, his was a spitting image of Jean Claude. At first, I thought it WAS him, but then he introduced himself and we made small talk briefly while the other guys prepped my set.

My set was a small helicopter on a platform with about four or five steps leading up to the cockpit.  There was minimal lighting involved.  They didn’t even do any make-up on me, not even powder, which is usually piled on me like mad, because my skin tends to oil up and shine. Plus, if it’s warm, I sweat like a madman.  But – this wasn’t going to be a problem in a warehouse in the middle of December.

They finally put me in position, and we rehearsed a few times.  Not a whole lot to rehearse, really.  There was a guy standing to the left side of the helicopter on the ground, holding a Fresnel light with an orange gel, and when he did a flash wave at my face, I yelled ‘Look out!’ and acted like I was veering off.  Once we’d rehearsed it several times, then the assistant director or cameraman had to call the big director, Peter Hyams, over to the set to inspect and make sure all was ok with it.

After about ten minutes, the director came in and stood by the cameraman.  He looked at the set, he looked at the helicopter, he looked at me…then he looked at the cameraman, and pointed his thumb in my direction and said in a rather snarky tone “THIS is supposed to be the secret service helicopter pilot?”

I’m glad it was dark. My face must have drained of all blood, and it was like a pool drain was sucking the life right out of me.  My heart was crushed.

Then, still looking at the cameraman, the director said ‘You got him in the wrong helicopter!’  Well, I can’t say my heart jumped back to life, but after some deliberation the director said to go ahead and film it.

So we did. And we did about four takes. Flash. ‘Look out!’ Dodge.  Flash. ‘Look out!’ Dodge. Flash. ‘Look out!’ Dodge.

And…we were done.  I turned in my costume, gathered my things, called a cab, and went home.

A year later, they did a screening of the film in Pittsburgh for the local cast and crew.  I sat through the film, which was typical action cheese, and waited for my big scene.  Suddenly, the helicopter is arriving at the Civic Arena…with THREE guys in it…and there were not any other guys in the scene with me. Then came the flash, the ‘Look out!’ (but not my face or voice) the dodge, and the slam of the man falling from the cable onto the roof of the car in the parking lot below.  Once again, I was crushed.  The film ended with the body double sitting on the roof of the civic arena, and the attempted escape helicopter crashed backwards into the open roof of the arena and onto the ice below.  The credits rolled.  And I wasn’t in them.  I was now totally crushed.

When the movie came out of video, I rented it, just to see what the hell…

And if you hit pause REALLY quickly as the helicopter is crashing backwards into the Civic Arena when you see a flash of the pilot’s face (and we’re talking a split second flash) you can almost tell that it’s me.  They used those few images of my face (sans credit) and added imagery of hands struggling with gears and such, as well as a bleeding leg from a bullet.

And that was my big entry into the film big league.

*sigh*

Well, the good news is, that I will receive residuals for this in the rough amount of about $15 per year from doing this film, even though I’m unseeable and uncredited.

Another one of my fine moment in da burgh came from getting a call for a voice over audition.  I needed to submit a tape, which I didn’t have, so I called Amanda Cohen who made arrangements with Matt Nelko I believe, to so a studio quick tape at KDKA.  Then the tape had to be submitted to WQED.

I was called into WQED, and was given the script.  They were preparing to take an Australian kids show called ‘Johnson & Friends’ about a bunch of toys, and re-dub it with American voices (because, y’know, those Amuricans can’t handle those strange furrin accents) and then put it on the air in the U.S.

I did my thing, and created about eight different voices for the different toys, the lady leading the audition gushed all over me, and I went home to wait.

Nothing.  Not one word for one character.  Ordinarily, I would dismiss this as the usual audition process…however…

Several months later I ran into another lady who had been present at the audition, who had heard from the lady that lead the audition that she could not understand why they didn’t call me in for anything.  The lady had apparently said that ‘He could have done ALL the voices! I just don’t understand.’

The only thing that I could deduce was that someone connected to the Acting Company Theatre AND The Upstairs Theatre, Adrienne Wehr, was working at WQED in production.  Well, need I say more?

The next show on my schedule came during the Russell year. I went to an audition at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill for the show ‘Minnie’s Boys’ which is a musical about how the Marx Brothers came to be the Marx Brothers, and how their stage mother Minnie drove them to it.

I auditioned and was cast as Groucho.  Ray Cupples was to direct, some guy named Kurt was the choreographer, and the cast was a broad collection of hits and misses, community, pro and wannabee.  Myrna Paris played Minnie, Michael Fuller was Harpo, Eric Chancey was Chico, Linda Stayer was the Margaret Dumont character, Mrs. McNish, Michael Salamon was Zeppo and Kevin Delaney was Gummo.  We had a chorus of housewives and children, and newbies, including my friend Ronni Weiss, and a gorgeous gal who was as sweet as could be named Joelene Ashker.

The rehearsal process was a trip.  Ray ended up taking a role in the show when someone dropped out, so he was a kind of ‘bare bone’ director, and to be honest, many of us ended up directing ourselves. I tended to drive the choreographer batty, but then none of them ever believe me when I say ‘If you want me to learn a routine that you want me to do on opening night, start teaching it to me NOW! And whatever you do, don’t change it a week before the show.’  Well…he did.  Of course, and it took all that I had to try to remember footing, lyrics and dialogue, now that the footing had been thrown at me at the last minute.

Myrna was a diva.  She sang opera, and was actually getting paid to do the

Myrna Paris and the kids - Benjy Shaw (right)

show, where no one else was.  She was an excellent performer. But not what I’d call a sincere person.

Eric Chancey

Eric Chancey, Michael Fuller and I were the best of the brothers, and we really worked together well. Eric was absolutely adorable, and an incredibly nice guy, and working with him kind of sent me crushing.  Straight, of course though.  Michael Fuller was VERY funny, and had an amazing voice. His love song to Mama sent chills up your spine.  The other two brothers, quite frankly, were a little weird. Mike Salamon was a nice guy, VERY nice to look at, as he was a swimmer with an incredible body. But the boy wasn’t very bright, and had a really nasal voice. Kevin Delaney was this scrawny nerdy looking guy with pretty eyes who seemed to think he was one step from Broadway. The weirdest thing about Kevin was his voice. For this scrawny pipsqueak of a guy had a tremendous deep bass voice…the kind of voice you’d expect to come out of a 6 foot big guy was coming out of this little nerd.

Al Bonati was in the ensemble, and was apparently the dream child of the Apple Hill Playhouse, community theater extraordinaire. He played several of the Vaudevillian characters, including the drag queen.  He was a bit on the Pittsburgh gay uppity side.  So was Stanley Wilson, who played the Marx brothers’ uncle Al Shean. He had a nice voice, though extremely stiff in his delivery, and not the greatest actor, very attractive, but very aloof.  BUT, always with the big fake smile on his face.

Me and Linda Stayer

Linda Stayer was one that I really liked. She had a gorgeous voice, and tremendous and supportive personality, and she was just a ball to play with. She and I had so much fun in our duet ‘You Remind Me Of You’, even the one night that we BOTH ended up with bronchitis and crappy voices, not to mention diminished lung capacities. At one point in the number, she held a note for a really long time, as the brothers were sneaking their luggage out of the apartment behind her, including me, who left her side, ran to one wing, grabbed a bag, ran it to the other wing, and then sauntered back to pinch her ass, which made her stop the note.  This night she asked if I could REALLY hurry and pinch her quicker than usual.  I obliged.

We had a couple of damned cute kids in the chorus too, Benjy Shaw and Dustin Fitzharris.  Benjy I would end up being around about a year later. Nice little Jewish boy with huge brown eyes, and a sweet, sweet kid personality.

Dustin was a beautiful 13 year old, who kind of looked like k.d. lang’s mini-me, with an infectious smile and giant screaming blue eyes…and a

Dustin Fitzharris

killer head of hair. I was definitely not crushing on these kids, but they definitely stood out. Dustin also was a clear cut frontrunner for the Gays Of The Future club.  His parents were also incredible people, and so totally supportive of Dustin.  It really made me a bit more than just a little envious. I wanted to smack mine.

Audrey Glickman

Audrey Glickman and Gary-something were the JCC’s producers, and Audrey and I became friends.  I would have become friends with Gary, but he was one odd duck.  Nice looking and gay, but very Aspberger-ish, and this was before Aspberger’s Syndrome came into the public vocabulary.

Audrey was an itty bitty teeny tiny gal, maybe all of 5 feet tall, and she gushed all over me for my performance.  I think she was ending a marriage and had a small son.

All in all, the performances went pretty well.  I made some very nice

Minnies Boys Review

acquaintances out of it, and a few not so nice.  The reviews were good for the most part, and I actually had nice things said about me. Nothing especially spectacular happened during the show, except that Gary lost the album cover to my copy of Minnie’s Boys.  I also felt very condescended to by Myrna Paris, pretty much the entire run, and especially outside of the theater. I recall an evening at Gullifty’s for dessert and a few drinks, and she just could NOT be bothered with the likes of me.  Even though I admired her talent. But, I guess that’s the point of being a Diva…admire me…just don’t expect any sincerity in return.

This show went up during the month of my birthday, so I thought I’d have a gathering at Gullifty’s to celebrate, something I NEVER did, and to this day, have never done again.

Ilene had been doing Three Penny Opera at The Acting Company, with a guy

Gregory Stuart

named Gregory Stuart. I invited them to come.  Gregory was a gorgeous diva boy with a great voice, but a definite divatude.  About twenty people showed up, and we all ate and chatted and generally had a nice time, but apparently my behavior was appalling to Gregory.  He told Ilene later that he felt that if I was holding a birthday party, that I should have PAID for the entire party to eat.  Right – and THIS was coming from a fellow ‘artist’.

The show closed, and such was that.  I did keep in contact with Joelene Ashker and Ronni Weiss for a bit.  I kept some slight contact with Eric and Michael Fuller, but that faded away rather quickly.  And I maintained contact with Linda Stayer, and with Audrey Glickman, both of whom I would end up working with again.

I did have a lot of fun doing this show. It was great to be applauded and laughed at for recreating a real person. But again, I was never in another show at the JCC.

Things with Russell were kind of cooling off.  He was a great guy, with a good life, but I could not find much sexual appeal. Hugs and cuddles and sharing the bed with the dog were ok, but sexually, I was just not in the same room.  The pot smoking was annoying, and another aspect of Russell’s habits (not that mine were all that stellar) was the blowing of snot rockets in the shower.  Laying in bed in the morning and listening to him in the shower…the unmistakable blast of a blob of snot shot freestyle from the nostrils into the water flow…and onto the shower stall floor…made me cringe every morning.  But it wasn’t nearly as bad as wandering into the shower and finding that the torrent of water from the shower head wasn’t quite strong enough to wash it all away.  This was just plain foul, and like the idea of the dog licking Dennis Hamm’s scabbed hands in the early 80’s, this sound and imagery just wouldn’t leave my head, and kept festering into grossness.  Even though the person doing it was decent and good, the gross was outweighing the kind.

And, quite frankly, what could I offer him? I walked and fed the dog, tidied the house, made dinners – but my life was temp jobs, and lame attempts at show business.  I got little bites here and there, but nothing that ever really lead anywhere, or paid very much. Heck, even Russell was involved in local television, and was on the board of the local film makers organization, and he never referred me anywhere.

Although in one of the most interesting conversations we ever had about his news job, he asked me one day what I thought their ‘product’ was. Of course the first thing I said was ‘news’, and ne nodded his head ‘no’.  Then I guessed ‘advertising’ and he said ‘You’re closer, but still no’. I tried guessing a few other things, but nothing else would come to mind.  It seemed to me in my little idealistic and human way, that ‘the news’ SHOULD be the ‘product’ that the local ‘news’ was selling.  So I gave up and asked ‘what?’

His answer was… ‘You’

Turns out the ‘product’ of your local ‘news’ station is selling YOU to the advertisers.  That’s the bottom line.  I was appalled, but really, in this era, should I have expected anything less?

Another little pointless project I got myself involved in, I believe perhaps due to Amanda Cohen saying I should audition, was a local public access cable ‘series’ that some college guys were throwing together called ‘Falling Rock’.  It was supposed to be a regular series, created ultra low budget (which of course translates as ‘no pay’), for the local access channel (which of course translates as ‘no one will see it’) about a group of ‘friends’ who were really kind of a group of ‘default’ friends.  They really didn’t have a lot in common, were a bunch of losers, at times didn’t even really like each other, but they stuck together because they couldn’t really seem to find anyone better.

Roi Tamkin, Tom Hritz, a little guy named Frank Zaffino, Mike Carricato and

David Minniefield

a very handsome black man named Dave Minniefield were the producers.  The cast included Frank and Dave, Amanda Cohen, Richard Walters, Erika Shields, and me as the base cast, and many other people were involved as well.

Roi J. Tamkin

The production team was a cool bunch of guys. Roi J. Tamkin, nice Jewish boy, very pleasant and funny. Tom Hritz, very striking and tall with long curly hair, a little on the dry

Tom Hritz

side of the humor scale, but funny. Frank Zaffino was beyond adorable to look at, Italian, really into martial arts and Bruce Lee, so he was built – every fiber of his body was in the right place. BUT, Frank was tiny…like maybe 5’3”…though perfectly proportioned. Nice eyes, good jaw, whispy black hair. And was that boy neurotic. Slightly narcissistic yet with a self-esteem issue, but the more I experience of life, the more I see that this is not so uncommon in humanity.  Mike Carricato was a funny and cool butterball of a guy, and Dave, well, he was the funny yet serious black man.

Together, they wrote some pretty decent scripts, knew what they were doing with limited resources and loaner equipment.

They planned to do a full season of episodes, six in total initially I believe.  It took us months to film the first episode. The set was one guy’s basement, made to look like an apartment, and in the episode, each of us went through our memories of the ‘rock’ that the town was named after. It was your standard ‘set up’ for the series. (Click here to see Episode 1, Part 1)

My part of the filming was bizarre, since I was the bizarre character in the show. My name was ‘Job’, like the biblical guy with a cursed life (pretty appropriate for me), who had no job, no car, lived in a room, had a girlfriend who we never got to see, and who had no fashion sense whatsoever.  After the initial basement scenes, my big scenes were filmed in McConnell’s Mill State Park, the location of ‘the rock’ that they used.  It was really just a cliff ledge beneath a boulder, and for a great deal of the filming, I was perched on this ledge with my high school ‘girlfriend’ in a flashback sequence, feeling horribly vertigo-ish.  We filmed a couple of days in that setting, with me running into boulder crevices, and generally doing some goofy things in the woods.  In the story, I’m riding high as the newly elected class president, have a great job, a full head of hair (my old Polly Esther Pardon wig), a couple of hot cars, and a great girlfriend.  I zip off into the rocks to take a pee, and get cursed by an old hermit in the woods wearing Charleton Heston’s Moses costume, and in the blink of an eye, I lose everything.  He even curses my hair. (Click here to see Episode 1, Part 2)

That was for the first episode.  The second episode involved Amanda Cohen and Rich Walters inviting us all over for pizza and a movie. They go out for pizza and get into an altercation with the yinzer pizza guy, and the rest of us hang out in their apartment hunting for food, and having stupid chats about sneezing, corporate raiding, and life.  We were kind of like the anti-‘Friends’. (Click here to see Episode 2, Part 1) (Click here to see Episode 2, Part 2)

Amanda was ok to work with in this scenario, mostly because we didn’t do much directly together. But she still kind of snarked down to me on a regular

Rich Walters

basis. Rich Walters was something else!  He was a TALL, burly, beefy man – balding and trying the plugs.  He looked like your macho mean club bouncer type – but sexy. Dead sexy. The reality was that he was just a great big little boy,  and he didn’t like being type cast as what he looked like, so he was having a ball in this situation being allowed to play something different.  I enjoyed it because for once I wasn’t cast as a subliminal character, but someone who could actually have fun with the role.

We started filming the third episode, and then something happened, and it just never continued. It would be a couple of years before we even got to watch the finished edited versions of what we DID get done.

Roi was actually one of the rare people in my life who decided to use me again in one of his video projects. A little short film with two characters, about a boyscout type guy, and his friend the bad boy (also played by Rich Walters, now back in his bad guy typecast) who take a ‘drive’ somewhere.  The bad guy is to kill his friend the ‘good guy’ because of some mafia thing. The good guy had apparently witnessed something he shouldn’t have, or did the right thing in some circumstance that pissed off the REALLY bad guys.  It was called ‘Cross Of Nails’, and like everything else I ever did, it went absolutely nowhere.

I also got Ilene involved in the Falling Rock project.  Ilene was fantastic on the piano, and I told the guys about her.  They gave her a call, and then met her at her home to see what they could come up with.  She ended up doing most of the synthesizer theme music, the opening credits and the closing credits, with a few spots of incidental music here and there.  The coolest thing was that after they chatted about what they wanted, they kind of mentioned something to the effect of ‘Close To You’ by the Carpenters. So Ilene came up with her own version, which, for lack of a better explanation, is ‘Close To You’ in reverse.  She really did a great job, and I was glad that she got involved, even though, like everything else I do, it went…

I should also mention, that all of this time and energy and creativity that I was putting into these projects came, of course, with no pay.  Copies of VHS tapes to carry around from move to move, forever.

Ilene was an amazing musician, and was becoming an amazing friend.  I think her parents were a little uncomfortable with me at first, and it took them a long time to really warm up to me.  I’m not so sure her father ever did, but I do know that Ilene was daddy’s little girl, so I guess that’s ok. I’m assuming it would be the same thing for a very bonded father and daughter when the daughter finds a boyfriend and starts dating, and then eventually gets married.  But there wouldn’t be any marriage here, but it sure was becoming a permanent bond. Kindred spirits – soul mates? Without the ‘mate’.

Ilene was also one of the main darlings at the Acting Company, and did several concert fundraisers for them.  I never went to the concerts, as I believe they both took place before I knew her, but you can see Life Of The Party or Saturday Night by clicking the titles.  She really had a tremendous voice and ability to entertain.

At the beginning of Saturday Night is a short audition piece she’d done for the Pittsburgh Pops, and Marvin Hamlisch. He had solicited for local performers to send in audition tapes, and Ilene really wanted to try.  The winners would be given a chance at doing a solo with the Pops in concert. So I dragged in Joe Como and his video camera from the Falling Rock endeavor, and we went to Joe and Tina Wassermans’ home to videotape a few songs on their baby grand. We dolled her up with a bit of make-up, and she sang two or three songs, and we sent the tape in.  No response.

For years, Ilene worked as an event entertainer, playing luncheons, private parties, doing annual shows for the kids at the School for the Blind. She even played clubs for many years, at places like Bobby Cardillo’s Club Café, and others.  She was known about town, and very respected.  But, like me, the ‘business’ of the business kept a sour taste in her mouth, and she was never able to go as far as she really should have.

I really have to give credit to her parents, who were the parental types I wished I’D had.  They supported her all the way. Chuck Sirocca would drive her to and from all of her gigs, haul her equipment, and hang out while she played.  He was an amazing and supportive dad.  Her mother, Mildred, recognized the musical ability at an early age, and actually encouraged her to go forward with it.  She was an amazing and supportive mom.

Ilene also has a sister, who lived in Georgia.  Vicki was a bit of the odd side, and regardless of how close Ilene and I became, she never really wanted to have much to do with me.  If she came to visit, Ilene was pretty much off limits for the duration of that visit.

In the meantime, things with Russell had pretty much degenerated into ‘room mates’.  I was ‘comfortable’, but sexually frustrated, as was he. We both started ‘roaming’…well, I did. He roamed once, told me about it, and told me how much he really hated feeling like he had to do it, but that he wasn’t able to get what he wanted at home.  Well, neither was I.  He went cruising in his car one night, and got a blowjob in the car.  I had discovered a few University sites where one could go to find other horny guys. I won’t be too specific, but will only refer to them as the Cathedral, Wean and David. All of them were like mini sex clubs where you could pretty much walk in, hook-up, do your thing and leave.  Gay people in Pittsburgh would refer to them as sleazy and look down on you for even mentioning them, but it was damned amazing who I would run into while in them. Rich Cumming’s boyfriend Nick, he was there. The attitude I got from them in public places was such that they were so far above me, but there he was with his enormous whatzit wagging in the air.  Gary Craig, who digged and belittled me every chance he got.  There he was half naked in a toilet stall. C.T., who told me I was crazy and needed therapy…there he was in the Cathedral getting his therapy.  And the truly amazing thing is that when caught, they all sneered at me because surely, there in the desperation of a toilet stall, they deserved better.

I actually met a few interesting guys there, who I befriended for a while. Nelson Hippolyte, a professor, became a friend and slight date for a month or so, but he looked so much better from the waist down.  Ashraf, the Arab guy, who was partnered, but played around. When he split from his partner, I was just the slut he met for sex, not worth dating or being friends with.  Then there was Gary Gene Artman.  Gene was a very cute chubby young boy with an angelic face, and a deeply troubled soul, I believe as a result of his own childhood ghosts.  He was a psychology student, and I believe he was one of those psychology students who went into the field to try to figure himself out.

Gene and I became hook-up buddies and friends.

CLO News

Somewhere in this timeline, I also got a job, actually paying (though not very much) as an actor. I auditioned for Civic Light Opera, who do an annual program called ‘The Gallery Of Heroes’, which is a program that involved a one hour musical with a social message, which is then toured to junior high schools around the area. The show was called ‘Class Clown’, and was about a learning disabled kid who used his smart-ass attitude to class clown his way through school.  We had a cast of six, a music director, and a company manager.

The company manager was a fantastic guy named Tim Brady. Kind of hunky in his way, very funny, and a great manager when it came to keeping the rest of the neurotics under control. Tim knew what he was doing, and was excellent at it. He was also a very good performer and was in a lot of the CLO mainstage shows. Tim was also our van driver, and I truly depended on him for my transportation. He would pick me up and drop me off from our glamorous gigs.

The music director was Jason Coll.  Another typical example of Pittsburgh’s faux superiority complex, a closet case, and had his own clique which NO ONE from the outside was going to cross into. He had his throne, and he would fight tooth and nail to keep it. Screw the fact that he might have missed a few ‘new’ collaborators through the years, but that’s a general rule in the burgh. Outsiders stay OUT! Especially if you might be better than him.

The cast were five adults, and two kids. I was the school teacher. Nancy

Cast L-R: Paul, Tim, NathanJason, Allison, Courtney, Me, Damien (Nancy took photo)

Mimless was the mom. Nancy was crazy, seriously wanted to be a superstar, but had so-so talent. She was a nice gal, but neurotic as hell, and with almost no self-esteem, except for the fact that she thought she was so much better than she actually was.  Paul Mochnick was the grandpa of the class clown. A very sweet elderly gay man, a caterer, who had also had a small role in Sudden Death. We had a girl named Allison Marcus who played one of the students, and a guy named Nathan Boyd as another classmate.  Allison was another one of Jason’s followers and buddies, pleasant to your face, but you never really knew how she felt about you behind your back.  She just never got too close.  Nathan was a jock boy type, with talent, but he was more jocky than actory. Nice guy though.   He wasn’t really caught up in any of the drama, just kind of in his own world.

Cast L-R: Courtney, Nancy, Nathan, Jason, Damien, Allison, Me (Paul took photo)

Then came ‘the kids’. CLO recruited from their mini-stars, a herd of very young wannabee performers that they trained in their summer program, which was funded by those doting and monied stage parents, who then would make further donations to the CLO as their darlings were taken into the fold for those CLO mainstage productions that pandered to the mommies and daddies…like Annie, Fiddler On The Roof, and anything else that required a herd of children, and wowed the suburbanite ‘family’ type audiences.

Darling number one, Damien Luvara. Fifteen, adorable little Italian boy with an enormous ego, and a huge mouth. He was the class clown, and was there to sparkle in the eyes of all the teenagers in the audience.  That he did. It was in the van that he came close to being strangled.

Darling number two, Courtney Mazza, maybe fourteen, adorable little Italian girl with an even bigger ego, and an even bigger mouth.  Not to mention having one hell of a stage mother. Courtney had a very nice voice, and she LOVED to hear it. One day as we were driving back and she was just rambling ON and ON in the back seat, I finally said out loud ‘Courtney, you do just love the sound of your own voice, don’t you?’ She snarked back ‘Yes!’.  Courtney also had an incredibly annoying habit of trying to throw you off, thinking it was hilarious, as she would run up to you a second before going onstage, flipping her head back and aiming her nostrils in your face and quickly asking “Do I have boogers?”

All of the other ‘adults’ had their own cars. Not me. So I was there in the van with Tim, who had the patience of Job, and the two kids who weren’t old enough to their learner permits yet, but who were THE two biggest young attention whores I’d ever encountered up until this point.

We performed this little show with minimal set, which we also had to lug and set, at elementary school and junior highs throughout the area, even though we ALL knew that the message of this show was aimed at high school, and that high school students would be the most equipped to understand it. However, for some reason, CLO booked us with the younger kids who, for the most part, really didn’t get it.  It was just musical flashy assembly time with some cute kids to look at.

I can barely recall the schools we went to, but one stands out quite well. We had to drive to Uniontown to perform in a basement, literally under a boiler (pipes and all), for a bunch of really young kids. On the drive to Uniontown, we all got a laugh out of a hair salon we’d seen along the way called ‘Cindy’s Curl Up and Dye’.  I’m not kidding.

Another memorable occasion involved me and a urinary tract infection, antibiotics, and the screaming need for a toilet to sit down on.  We went into the school, and the janitor was there, and I begged for immediate directions to the nearest bathroom.  He pointed me up a set of stairs and down a hall, where I found an elementary school sized bathroom, with elementary school sized toilets, both of which were clogged and overflowing. I ran out, one the verge of crapping in my own pants, and asked someone in the hall where the NEXT available bathroom was, and they pointed me to another set of stairs and another hall. Finally, with literally a split second to go, I was able to blast out the after effects of the antibiotics.

I lost my voice for a couple of performances, and I can recall one time at some rural school in the middle of nowhere, sitting on the back dock with the rest of the cast mesmerized by something we’d heard of before, but none of us had ever seen.  A stick bug was climbing the bricks of the back loading dock. It was actually pretty fascinating.

Toward the end of the run, Tim was growing a tad impatient with the incessant psychobabble from Damien in the back seat, and pulled one of the funniest tricks I’d ever seen on Damien.  They got into an argument about something silly, and Tim presented Damien with a challenge. He told Damien “I will bet you five dollars that you can NOT eat one slice of plain white bread, completely chewed and swallowed, in 60 seconds! WITHOUT water or anything else to wash it down! I you win, you get five dollars. If you LOSE you shut up for the entire rest of the trip!”  Damien, the cocky kid that he was, took Tim up on the bet.  So off we pulled into a convenience store, Tim bought a loaf of Wonder Bread, crawled back into the van, and we continued driving.  Damien was handed one slice of bread, and I was handed the watch.  As the hand hit twelve, I said “Go!”

Damien shoved the entire piece of bread in his mouth and began frantically chewing, creating a gooey blob of mush in his mouth that wasn’t planning to break down and go anywhere soon. Tick tock. Chew. Tick tock. Chew. Tim and I almost peed our pants laughing as Damien’s eyes bugged and his face turned vibrant red. TIME UP!

Damien lost the bet, and we continued home in perfect silent bliss.

That was the end of CLO. Never asked back, but Tim Brady did ask me to be involved with a holiday show he did at Conley’s Motor Lodge for the holidays.  I barely remember any of it, except for either being Santa Claus or an elf, and I really can’t remember if I even was in more than one performance.

But that year I did have another short lived paying gig.  Major League Baseball held their Fanfest at the convention center in Pittsburgh, and I auditioned for their shows. I was cast as ‘The Coach’ in the locker room scene, giving the pre-game pep-talk to the ‘team’ (audience).  It was a lot of fun but then I ended up losing

My performer pass

my voice.  It was a very interesting thing for total non-sports me to be involved with. Hell, I had to ask people what certain lines in the pep talk meant. I had no clue. The lingo of baseball, even though I had been on the pee-wee league at like the age of ten, was never an ingrained part of my psyche.

There were a lot of different shows around, and one in particular caught my attention. Well, ok, the show

Joe Paparella

didn’t, but the actor playing Professor Baseball, Joe Paparella certainly did. He was a beautiful young Italian guy, with gorgeous brown eyes and devourable lips, a thick head of black hair, very lean, a little furry, and a beaming ‘showbiz’ smile.  We ended up meeting, chatting, I think we had a meal together somewhere, and then he ended up at my place while Russell was out, and we were naked. I was smitten, he was, well, just like all the others, he got what he was aiming for. I tried to keep in touch with him, but Joe moved on to his next port of call, and all I ever got for communication was ‘it was nice to meet you’ type pleasantries.

The Fanfest was five days, and my voice, as the gruff yelling coach, lasted three.  I had to be replaced, but I got it.

But, it did lead to one other failed deal.  The little gal who was a host of QVC

Jane Treacy

(yeah, the shopping channel), Jane Treacy, was at my show once, and we got to talk. She told me I should audition for QVC, and gave me her card.

So, I thought ‘what the hell?’ and scheduled an appointment in Philadelphia to audition.  Gary Gene Artman agreed to drive, and I asked Michael Daloisio if we might be able to stay there a night.  So the date was set, and the plan made.

All I had to do was come up with a 5 minute sales pitch for anything…any product I wanted. Hmmmm.  Perhaps another bad choice for a non-trendy non-shopper type.  What WAS I thinking? Earning a living perhaps?  Ha.

Well, I decided on a rice steamer that I had gotten from my mother at some point, I think, which had broken after about ten uses.

And off we headed for Philadelphia.

Gene did the driving of course, and I paid for the gas and munchies.  We drove all the way across the state, popping into the occasional rest area.  We kept hoping we might get lucky with a horny trucker, but alas, no. We arrived in Norristown late afternoon, and Michael had given us pretty good directions, so we didn’t have any trouble finding his little suburbanite abode.  I can’t remember much about the time we spent in Michael’s house, or where we slept.

I even only vaguely recall the disaster of an audition with my stupid rice steamer.

What I do vividly recall was Michael’s idea of a gay day or two in Philadelphia.  First, we needed some food.  I was still on the vegetarian diet, and Michael knew of nowhere in the city with vegetarian options. So he decided to take me to a diner hotspot.  I think I had an omelet.  We talked a little, and then we had to go with Michael and his Partner, Tom, to gay bowling night. Michael was on the gay league, and I never saw a gayer room full of guys trying to pretend they were butch by throwing a giant heavy ball around. Gene and I played on our own I think, lousy as we were, but we had quite a few hours to kill. So we pretended we knew what we were doing score wise, and threw our big black balls down the lane, hoping to knock a few pins down. In the meantime, we were surrounded by some cut throat bowling, the sounds of balls crashing into pins, and when it was obviously a strike, the screaming sounds of ‘You GO girlfriend!’ from someone wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off to show his gym time, jeans, and the perfectly manicured beard…with the proper layer of moisturizer on the exposed cheeks.

I can’t say it was my idea of fun, but Gene and I both found it at least entertaining.

After bowling was over, came the stereotypical gay men’s idea of what to do with other gay out of town guests…hit every gay bar we can until near closing time.

I think we went to two or three, I can’t remember much of any of them except for the stripper bar that was the last stop. Michael was practically foaming at the mouth before we entered the door, and if a bar is one of the last places on the planet I would want to be, then a STRIPPER bar would be butting right up against ‘last’, maybe wedged in between a gas chamber and guillotine.

Tom, Michael and Gene all took front row seats, and as the guys came out one by one, dancing to the mindless thud-thud of club music, the appeal of which I have never been able to comprehend, gyrating their hairless and overgymmed bodies crotch first into the front row, Michael stood with dollar bills in hand, touching every chance he got.

It was at that moment that I realized how self-degrading and delusional this was.  Here they were, falling all over themselves to lay their fingers on a piece of meat, and shove their hard-earned money into a g-string of a talentless gym rat – did they even remember what the guy’s face looked like?  When this same guy, if he were to pass them on the street, wouldn’t give them the time of day if they fell over and begged for it.

I went to the back wall of the bar, as far from the maddening throng as I could get, and pulled up a bar stool and nursed a Diet Coke, while I killed off a few cigarettes. I just could not wait to get out of there.

All of a sudden, in my haze, a guy walked up next to me and said ‘How ya doin’? I didn’t hear him at first over the thud-thud-thud, and had to lean in and yell ‘Huh?’  He leaned back and yelled ‘How ya doin’?’ I responded with a shrug of ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’.  The next thing I know, he climbs up on the bar stool next to me, a spotlight hits him, and here is our next strip act of the night appearing directly over my left shoulder.

I might have actually looked like the love child of the Roadrunner and the proverbial deer caught in the headlights as I slid off my bar stool and disappeared around the bar – and out the front door.

I stood outside smoking, and just waited for the drooling group to either notice I was missing, or decide they were going to go home, and hopefully sooner than later.  After about twenty minutes, they came out looking for me, and I thought ‘Thank goodness – we can go home’.

But…oh no!  There was yet another bar we had to visit.  That visit didn’t last long, however, as I decided to just stay in the car and go to sleep.

So go ahead.  Take away my gay membership card.  I’m so glad I’m really just a homo.

I’m not sure what happened the next day. I think Tom and Gene might have gone out somewhere, leaving Michael and I at home.  One thing had to lead to another, and we were naked.  We talked a little, about ‘the past’, got cleaned up, and if I’m not mistaken, he dropped me off at the King of Prussia Mall, where Linda Wyke Boice was working in a Hallmark Card store.  We had a nub of lunch somewhere in the mall and chatted. I hadn’t seen her very possibly since Cape Cod.  We played catch up, and then I believe Gene picked me up at the mall, and we drove back to Pittsburgh.

Needless to say, I failed the QVC audition.

My next audition I didn’t necessarily fail, but more opted out of for lack of proper knowledge, as well as distance and no transportation.  I saw that the Apple Hill Playhouse was going to do ‘Into The Woods’, and I had seen it onstage in St. Louis while working at the Fox Theatre, and owned the cast recording, which I adored.  So I set an audition time, prepared two songs, and went in to audition for the role of the Baker.

I went and did the audition, and for once my voice didn’t give out to nerves, and I felt really good about it.  Then within the next week, I received a call, and they wanted to cast me…as the narrator.  The idea of wrangling transportation and putting in the time of rehearsing to play a guy who gets killed off at the end of the first act, and only does a few narrations, wasn’t really very appealing to me.  So I turned it down.  At that time, I did not realize that the Narrator was also the same actor that played the Baker’s father, in the very song I used for auditioning.  Sometimes a little knowledge goes a long way, and I lost out for lack of it.

But in the Russell time period, I also did another big and fun project for Kris Rust when he was still a student of music at the University of Pittsburgh.  He was the musical director of the Glee Club, and asked if I would be interested in staging their next concert.  So I signed on.

It was quite a bit of work to get non-actor/dancer types, who were really in the club to be in ‘the club’, to get some of the minor things I was trying to do, but after quite a bit of work, I got them to do it.  I had to simplify here and there for a couple of the less adept guys, but finally got it all rehearsed and polished.

The concert came, and I believe it was a one-time performance.  They did songs from Guys and Dolls, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and a rash of others I can’t remember.  And, they kicked ass!  Kris was pleased, the guys were very happy, and what made me happiest was hearing some older guy tell Kris that it had been the BEST Glee Club concert he’d ever seen.  He didn’t know who I was, so he wasn’t just schmoozing, he was telling someone else and didn’t know I was standing there.  That made me feel good. It’s compliments like that, rare though they tended to be, that made me feel it was sincere. Having someone walk up to me to shake my hand and say the obligatory ‘We enjoyed your performance’ never felt real to me.

Still living at Russell’s, we didn’t have laundry machines in the house. So I would walk our laundry every few weeks a block away to the Laundromat on Highland Avenue, next to Pizza Perfectta. I would go, put the laundry in the wash, and then go home for 30 minutes while the cycle ran, return to put the wet clothes in the dryer for 45 minutes, and then go home again, taking any wet things that needed to air dry with me to hang up.  Then I’d return 45 minutes later for the dry clothes, toss them in a bag, and return home to fold and hang.

One afternoon as I was doing this, there was a young girl there who kept smiling at me.  I politely smiled back, but went about my business.  I put the clothes in the wash, then went home, and returned to find her still there waiting for her clothes to cycle.  She smiled again, I politely smiled again, put the wet clothes in the dryer and went home.

When I returned 45 minutes later to retrieve the dry clothes, the gal was gone.  But there, tucked into my dryer door was a small piece of paper on which she had written a note, saying that she’d like to know me, along with her telephone number.

This brought back the memory of being back at Unicorn Productions, as we were doing theater at Johnny Lounder’s, and the girl who thought I was cute.  She’d sent an envelope to me after the show, containing one of her earrings, and a not with HER phone number.

Being the semi-closeted guy who didn’t want to admit anything yet, I called her and asked why she did that? I said some rather unflattering things, that were purely a result of my own fears.  I stood here in the Laundromat, and thought perhaps this was a way to make that right in the great whirl of karma, should that even be possible.

I took the number home, and I called her. This time around I thanked her, told her that it was very flattering and sweet, but that I was on ‘the other team’. I heard her laugh, and she thanked me for being nice enough to call and be honest.

It actually felt pretty good, and made me feel a little less guilty about the girl I’d snubbed in the early 80’s.

I seem to recall a couple of other ‘theater’ things occurring possibly during the Russell time period, one was simply sheer bloody awful, and the other started out ok, but ended up kind of awful thanks to a fellow cast member from the simply bloody awful also being involved in the other.

First I’ll cover simply bloody awful.  I was cast in an original and locally written piece called ‘Mina and Vlad’, penned by someone named Mary Beth.  This was a take on the Dracula story, but the dialogue was written in the style of, well, somewhere between a cheesy soap opera and a Harlequin romance novel. I mean, it was BAD!

The production company was called ‘Thoreau N.M.’ and was run by a guy named Lance, a somewhat slovenly drunkard who would be seen carting a case of beer from one point to another, and his fiancée or wife (I can’t remember which) whose name escapes me. The production was to take place in a very small restaurant/college club near Duquesne University that had a front kind of deli counter where during the day students could order simple sandwiches for lunch, and a large room in the back with a small stage on one end that had tables and chairs as a restaurant space.  I can only vaguely remember that is was owned by a rather good looking but somewhat cheesy/sleezy Italian guy. The space also had a huge basement that he intended to turn into a full bar and music club.

Mary Beth was a very sweet gal, but this script was just awful. The cast quite often found ourselves rolling our eyes during rehearsals, just trying to spit out these words.

The cast consisted of three guys, and two girls. I played the Van Helsing character, a heavy set gal played the Mina character, a STUNNING black man played Vlad, some little princess blonde was the other girl, and Colin Doty (don’t ask me why this is the only name I can remember) was the last man.

The restaurant space was divided into three playing areas. We used the stage, we used a big chunk dead center of the restaurant space, and we used the end opposite from the stage.  Between the restaurant and the deli counter was a long hallway that enclosed the kitchen space, and housed the restrooms.  We used the basement as the dressing room.

The production ran for the month of October that year, and played to audiences that were outnumbered by the cast.  We hated this show.  We hated having committed to it, and we hated that the production company wouldn’t just cut their losses and put it to death.  For several performances where the director and producer weren’t even in attendance, we opted to do the abridged version. Several of us had some rather LONG monologues that were completely unnecessary – so we sat together and planned.  We’ll do the first three sentences, and the last two, and MOVE ON!  At least those nights were slightly less agonizing.

One of the funniest moments I ever had in the theater took place during the run of this travesty though. They had no sales. We would literally be forced to perform this dreck for three people, so they started papering the house and from local sources like battered women shelters. On this one particular night, we had one long table filled with women from one of these shelters – women who had little exposure to live theater, who obviously didn’t ‘get out’ much.

In one scene, Mina comes to visit Van Helsing, and they have a long winded though somewhat plot important conversation. On this one night, Mina and I begin this ten minute terminal scene. Suddenly, a woman gets up from the table of women, walks directly BETWEEN Mina and I, and says ‘Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom’ and leaves the room for just that.  Mina and I looked at each other with wide-eyed disbelief, but continued with the scene until we heard the flush of the toilet down the hall, and the woman once again walked directly between us to return to her table with an ‘Excuse me again, I’m really sorry’ as she passed. This time Mina and I started to laugh, as did the table of women, but we bit out lips, and continued with the scene.

And, believe it or not, before this ten minute scene was finished, the SAME woman got up AGAIN, and once again walked between us and excused herself to the bathroom. That was it!  Mina and I completely lost it, as did the table of women and anyone else who was present that evening. We couldn’t even TRY to continue this ridiculous scene, tears streaming from our eyes, and now laughing so hard WE were in danger of needing to pee immediately. I just turned to the audience and told them ‘Sorry folks, but there is no way we can finish this scene, so we’re just going to move on to the next one’ which involved other characters, and that’s what we did.

The last memory of that show was the last night of the show.  We were scheduled to do two performances on Halloween night. One at regular time, and a special ‘midnight’ performance for the spooky crowd. Up until the first performance, we only had ONE reservation for two for the midnight show, and we all begged and pleaded with the producer and director – PLEASE cancel this midnight show. They were insistent that we go on for the TWO people who had already paid for their tickets. So once again, the cast huddled. We were in unanimous agreement – minus one – the princess blonde – that we strike and coerce to put an end to this show after the first performance.

We decided to hang out in the deli area after the first performance, which played to maybe five people, and dissuade anyone else who might drop by to see the show. Only two other people came in the door in the hour between shows, and we convinced them to go away.  Then arrived the reservation, and after some very hard convincing, he agreed that it wouldn’t be worth it, and decided he didn’t even want his money back, no big deal.

The producer came in, and was livid, but even the guy with the reservation talked to them and said ‘Hey, come on, this isn’t worth it for only two people’ and finally, with clenched jaws and anger, decided to cancel the performance.  You have never seen a group of people clear and strike a set, load loaned set pieces into their cars, and hightail it away from a space as fast as we did. We washed out hands completely of ‘Mina and Vlad’.

However, fallout came in the form of the princess blonde.

I auditioned for and was cast in a murder mystery dinner theater show that was to be performed in some restaurant’s banquet room in the Strip District. One of those audience participatory whodunits set in the 1940’s. The only two people I can remember from the whole thing were Randy Oliva, and the princess blonde.

Randy Oliva

Randy was awesome. One hell of a hunky Italian guy with gorgeous eyes, and a charming personality, and I swear, a married with child closet case with sexual tension oozing from every pore. The other that I can remember is the princess blonde. I think I’ve just blotted out her name from my memory; she was such a whiny pain in the ass. She still felt that going against the wishes of the producers and putting an early end to Mina and Vlad was wrong, and she carried over that attitude toward me for the run of this show.  I didn’t last long with that company as a result, even though the director flat out said that I could have played EVERY character in the show.

The only fond and fun memory I have from that entire process was one day during rehearsal, Randy’s character was supposed to pick up the ‘dead’ me from the floor and move me out of the way. For some reason, he approached the effort ALL wrong, and, standing over me straddling my body between his legs, he grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me straight up…forcing my face right into his crotch. Wham! Randy paused for a second, wide eyed, realizing the big oops that he’d just done, and I looked up at him wide eyed (and a little bit swoony) for a second and said ‘HEY!  At least buy me DINNER first!’  He swung his leg over me, and grabbed me by the hand to pull me to my feet, and we were all laughing.  And that was that for the dinner theater.

Another memory I have of this time period was walking through downtown Pittsburgh, near the offices of KDKA, where Russell worked, and running into Paul Matarrese. The guy from St. Louis that Carlos fondled in the back of the car one day.  The guy that I’d thought was adorable. The tall skinny big nosed boy. I stopped him to say hello, and asked what he was doing in Pittsburgh.  I was received with a very cold attitude, and he told me that he now lived here, as though telling me this was something he really didn’t want to share.  I gave him my telephone number and told him that I’d love to get to know him again. Of course, I might as well have thrown the piece of paper with my telephone number on it directly into the trash, as I’m sure he did the moment I was out of eyesight.

But now it was time the year with Russell was about to come to an end.  The shower snot, lack of sex, and lack of anything really, had come to a mind-numbing place…a place neither of us wanted to be in.  So Gary Gene Artman and I decided that we’d start looking for a place to live together as room mates.

We started looking in the papers, and I don’t remember if we looked at a lot of places, a few, or just the one. But we found a funky but spectacular apartment that would be my home in the burgh for the rest of my stay this time around. It was on the corner of Centre Avenue and South Graham, and one entire half of the second floor.  The owner was a lovely but somewhat eccentric lady named Lillian Kefalos, probably in her mid to late 50’s, if not early 60’s. She made jewelry and owned a few properties, and had a wild head of curly hair and glasses, one the lean side, and somewhat artsy stylish. A very cool little lady.

The apartment was enormous, and extremely old world, albeit a bit slumlorded through the years, but the remnants of the amazing place it had been outweighed the slum aspects. It had a huge hallway that lead from the main entrance all the way to the small balcony that overlooked Centre Avenue, with kind of an awful burgundy indoor-outdoor carpeting. There were three bedrooms, also all with pretty bad indoor-outdoor carpeting, that, in some cases, didn’t completely cover the old wood floor that was beaten to hell and painted. That, and some of the magnificent woodwork that had been painted or paint splattered, was the worst of it.  There were non-functioning former gas fireplaces in every room, each with a wooden carved mantle fronted with columns from the mantle to the floor. In the living room, dining room, and two of the bedrooms, the fireplaces had beveled mirrors over the mantle.  The living room and dining room were quite large, and had hardwood floors that were in need of some attention, with a design inlay around the edges. In some spots, a few of the inlay pieces were missing or loose.  Between the living room and dining room, hidden within the walls, and unmarred by the years, apparently never taken out of the walls, were two gorgeous pocket doors that could be pulled out to close off the living room from the dining room.

Above the windows in the living room and dining room were stained glass panels, with blinds in the main frames of the windows.  There was a ‘butler door’ between the dining room and the kitchen, and if I recall correctly, there was a French door leading from the dining room to the hallway. In the hallway was an old telephone alcove in the wall, which was a perfect home for my antique candlestick phone.

The kitchen was old, but rehabbed for the modern basics, stove, fridge, and a closet/pantry. There were no cabinets ‘above’, but some storage in cabinets below the sink, and the usual drawers for silverware, etc. I’m trying to recall completely, but there may have been another separate pantry room, but I may be confusing that with another old apartment.

Between the living room and the balcony, there was another small room that almost looked like it might have been a foyer at one point in the building’s earlier days, and of course, there was the bathroom, which was nothing spectacular, but it was functional. The one thing that could definitely be said about the bathroom was that the water pressure was superb!

And the entire place, heat included, was like $475 per month.  SOLD!

So Gene and his room mate Haley, a very pleasant earthy Lesbian, and I took the lease and made the plan to move it.

Haley had a girlfriend, whose name I can’t recall, and a kitten, whose name I also cannot recall.  The cat wasn’t going to last very long.

I was granted the ‘master bedroom’, which would ultimately turn out to be a big mistake, for it was joined to the next bedroom by an inside door. Not that there was an issue with passing through it. There was an issue of HEARING through it, and sometimes smelling through it.

Gene took the room adjoining mine, and Haley took the room at the very beginning of the long hallway, next to the bathroom.  The small room that might have been a foyer at one point, became an office, for my desk and filing cabinet, as well as storage for the bicycle.

I don’t recall what vehicle we used to get the furniture out of storage at Matt Nelko’s place, but I do recall trying to reach him to let him know we were coming, and not being able to get through for some reason.  But it had to be done, regardless of whether or not he was using some of it. I felt kind of bad, and Matt was a bit shocked and pissed off when he arrived at home that night to find the chairs, rugs and such gone.

But we got all of the antiques I had into the apartment, as well as their things, and we settled in. I don’t recall where the sofa came from, maybe it had been theirs, but it was pretty awful, beaten up, and covered poorly with some dark blue striped material. But hey, we had what we had.

At first, things went very well. We were getting along nicely, and everyone was paying their bills, and it was good. Then some of the unnervings began.  The first thing, was that all of us smoked. This was the first step toward me deciding to never smoke indoors again in my home. I’ve never been an especially heavy smoker, but they were. And the worst thing of all was that Gene would wake up at 5:30 or 6 am and light up in his bedroom, and of course, the smoke would drift through the adjoining door, and be my wake up call.  Then I realized that we all started to smell like we’d just come from a bar, and we all decided to cut back, or go out to the balcony.

The second main issue was…the kitten…who was quickly growing to be a cat.

Cats. Aren’t they just adorable? This one was a little golden tabby type, with a fierce independent streak, and no one really even trying to teach it anything. It was very cute…to look at.

Before we moved in, Gene and I would have fun with the kitten at his place, putting it in a pillow case, and watching it find its way out. Ok, a little meanish, but not cruel. Just fun.

Now it was settling into my home, and perhaps trying to get even for the pillowcase.  Look at that, I heard it thinking, an antique armchair!

Scratch, scratch, scratch!  NOOOOOOOOO!  Zoom!  Off it scampered back down the hallway to its own room.  Ok, that was that. No more cat in the living room. Either the doors had to be kept closed to the living room/dining room areas, and confined to the hallway, or it had to be kept in Haley’s room. They were hardly priceless antiques, in fact I had gotten them all at pretty amazing bargains, but they were still antiques, and I’ve always been one to take very good care of my stuff, worthless as it may be in reality. I couldn’t afford to run out and buy replacements because a cat decided to sharpen its claws.

One day, Haley and I did get a pretty good laugh out of the cat’s mischief.  I was sitting at my desk in the ‘office’, and heard Haley yell ‘NO!!!!’ along with the sound of four frantically scampering feet, paired with the thudding of two larger feet close behind.  I turned and looked down the hall, and here came the cat, with Haley closing in.  The cat had toilet paper in its mouth…still attached to the roll in the bathroom. There was a thirty foot strand of toilet paper dragging behind it.  It reminded me of the old lady coming out of the restroom back when I worked at the Pittsburgh Airport, with the toilet paper stuck to her shoes, and still attached to the roll in the bathroom.

For work these days, I was still doing temp work through Pancoast Temporaries. For a very long time, they had me placed in the accounting offices at Carnegie Mellon University.  I was a simple file clerk. Filing accounting paperwork in the big file room.  For the most part, the staff was very…well…accountant-like. Very few with senses of humor, or any kind of real personality at all.  There were four who I connected with in some way. The least was the receptionist, whose name I can’t recall. A very striking dark haired and no-nonsense kind of gal, but very pleasant.  Next in the chain was Patty. A roundish lady, kind of suburban housewife type, but very nice. Next was Gloria, perhaps?  Something like that. A bubble blonde hairdo, and a thick yinzer accent, but as nice as could be.  And my hero in the office, Lee ‘Leona’ Connelly. She was a wild woman. A biker chick with troubled kids, working herself into carpal tunnel syndrome, just as carpal tunnel was being discovered as an issue, thanks to computers. Lee and I shared lunches, and she was a lot of fun to talk to.

Right next door to the office, which was at that time on Craig Street, was a little Indian market called Kapoors. I used to scope it out for lunch, and then one day discovered the mother lode. Samosa. Fresh made by some little old Indian mama somewhere, and delivered fresh every day in time for lunch. They were phenomenal! They didn’t taste like restaurant samosa, they seriously tasted like they were made in mom’s kitchen.

I’d pick up a couple and then head for Lee’s cubicle where we’d polish them off.

I found a lot of interesting papers during that filing period.  I could have snuck out Peter Cook’s address and written to him. But I didn’t. I’ve always been the honest type, not doing whatever I wasn’t supposed to do. One day, I held a piece of paper in my hand for a professor. Since I was filing alphabetically, I looked at his name…and paused. I don’t remember his last name, but I will forever remember his first name. My eyebrow raised, and I just had to find Gloria and ask.  I showed her the piece of paper and pointed to the first name, and asked ‘Gloria, how do you pronounce this?’  She looked at the paper, looked at me and half smiling rolled her eyes and said ‘Exactly how it looks, and YOU should be the one to have to CALL him!’

The man was from Germany.  His first name was ‘Schitt’.

One day as I was filing, Lee called me from down the hall, and said there was someone here to see me.  She had a very curious look in her eye, and a half smile that kind of said ‘You GO boy!’  I really didn’t hide my sexuality from anyone, unless they seemed like the overly homophobic type, in one way or another, and Lee was so cool, I certainly wasn’t going to hide it from her.  We had had many ‘boyfriend’ chats, and laughs.  But on this day, she called from down the hall, and then popped into view of the doorway, and motioned to someone in the hall saying ‘He’s here’. She then walked out of view and back to the hallway, as a REALLY adorable young guy with a small vase of flowers appeared in the doorway.  I must have blushed a deep crimson. I had never seen this guy before in my life, but damn was he cute, and he came bearing flowers.

Then he told me it was administrative assistants’ day, and that these were sent from Pancoast.  I thanked him.  He left.

I went to Lee…and we laughed our asses off.  Here we both were thinking ‘Wow, he’s getting lucky!’

Somewhere in this time period, after my involvement with Minnie’s Boys at the JCC, Audrey Glickman brought me into the fold at Gargaro Productions.

Ken and Jane Gargaro

The company was founded by Ken Gargaro, a tall, reasonably attractive bearded fellow, who all the older ladies seemed to swoon over, but who I met and thought ‘closet case’. Once again, I meet a guy who seems gayer than I am, and I’m a homo.  He was married to a much older ‘society’ type looking lady, named Jane, who was actually rather nice in her aloofness.  Kinda made one wonder.

The company did musical productions, and like a mini CLO, did shows with LOTS of kids, because he had a ‘school’ and the parents who couldn’t afford CLO, but who had money nonetheless would send their kids here for summer ‘musical theater school’. So of course, as with CLO, when production time came, it behooved the coffers to include as many of the kids as possible, to fill seats with parents and families, and to keep the donations coming.

It was spring, so the first show I did for them was ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. It baffles me to this day the multitudes of theater companies that do this show during Easter as some great weepy tribute to the Christian community, when in reality Rice and Webber’s take on this show was NOT to do a religious tribute, but to do a ‘questioning’ of a misguided man, and the politicos who killed him off. Plain and simple.

I was hired as the prop master.  And what a tremendous task this was. It was fun, but quite a challenge to create props for what – minus one AD?  We had crown of thorns that had to squirt blood as well as a spear. We had peddlers in the temple with multitudes of items that had to be enthusiastically danced with, from bird cages to racks of beads. Seder plates. Whips. Spears. And for the ‘So You Are The Christ?’ number, someone thought it would be cool to visualize it like A Clockwork Orange, so we had a plastic baseball bat that had to look real.

I don’t remember if it was Audrey or someone else who had to help me with the shopping, since the ‘city’ of Pittsburgh had already begun to eliminate multitudes of stores, sending them to strip malls in da burbs.

I can’t remember the cast members at all, except that the guy who played Jesus really played Jesus all over the place, was extremely religious, and so in some weird way he seemed to come to believe that he WAS Jesus.

Ray Cupples’ partner, Bill was part of the wardrobe team, and for some reason, just did NOT like me.  It was almost as though he was jealous that I had ever been friends with Ray – and acted like I was going to steal him away – which was absurd.  Ray was a nice guy, but nowhere near my type.

One of the most distinct moments that I recall from this experience was a moment with Ken Gargaro that pretty much defined the man to me in one action.  Before I started to build props, I spend maybe a good half hour trying to get his attention to ask him one single question: “Do these props have to be durable, or just pretty?”  It was a legitimate question, not having seen how any of them were going to actually be used. After trying to get his attention for the half hour, I finally cornered him and asked.  He looked at me with a glazed look on his face, looked over my head as if he hadn’t really heard me, then simply walked away as if I had never been there.

During one of the cast gatherings later, I was talking about that moment, and someone said “Ken Gargaro is kind of the Forrest Gump of musical theater. Wonderful things happen around him, but he never seems to have a clue how they actually come to be.”

And yeah, that pretty much summed it up.

Everything went smoothly, and they did a great show.  Regardless of space boy Gargaro’s lack of actual presence. The only issues I had were feeling like an outsider most of the time, and the two ‘bleeding’ props. The crown of thorns was a circle of grape vines, with wooden spikes glued on, a slightly perforated rubber tube would around the inside, with a syringe plunger attached to the back.  The tube would be filled with the blood goo each night, and as it was placed on Jesus’ head, the actor putting it on was to press the plunger on the syringe. Some nights – blood. Other nights – WTF!!!???

Then the entire crown would have to be drained, soaked in water and cleaned out to be prepped for filling the next night.

The same issue came with the spear that was supposed to squirt blood as it was jammed into Christ’s side. The was a wire plunger to push on the side, which was to squirt blood through the hollow handle to the tip of the spear. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. After the first few tries and occasional fails, we had to do a squirt test before the entrance. Squirt – good, nothing – SHIT!!!  Finally, I just started prepping the upstage side of the tip of the spear with a splat of blood goo so that if it didn’t squirt, the actor could just rub it along the actor’s side and smear on some blood.

I did get paid for this ‘job’, but truly, not very much. Definitely not enough for the time and energy put into it.  I had hoped to maybe work my way up to auditioning for the shows, which Audrey was encouraging me to do – she seemed to believe that I had some talent after Minnie’s Boys – but time with the Garg would prove that to be a futile concept.

During one of my temp assignments downtown, I would have to walk to the East Busway (EBA) and take the bus downtown.  On regular occasions, a guy would also show up to wait for the bus who caught my attention.  He was a stunning man. Average build, with jet black beautiful hair, and bright blue eyes surrounded by thick black eyelashes. Always dressed beautifully for a corporate setting. He always turned my head, but I thought ‘out of my league’, and the kind of nose-in-the-air look on his face made me just drop any interest. But his face was incredibly memorable.

On the acting front, I was trying to find an agent, and no one seemed very interested in talking to me. They’d not met me or seen me in anything, but I could not get a foot in the door.  Then one day, an opportunity arose. The main casting people in town were Donna Belajac, the main casting director for films and national types of commercial work. Nancy Mosser, who did mostly local things, and extras.  The only real legit agency in town was Deb Docherty.

Donna had a couple of assistants. Steven Black and Richard Kohn. Both of whom were the uber pretty boy types, and they had a falling out with Donna of some sort, and decided to branch off and become her competition, and thus also, competition for Docherty. I had met Steven and Richard on several occasions, and they just gave me that heebie jeebie feeling – that kind of gay ‘sooooo far above you’ attitude that was a total turn off.

So I took advantage of the situation, and sent photos and resumes to Docherty – saying that I really wasn’t comfortable going to the Talent Group – and I was called in within days.

I started getting sent on more auditions, and many for a group called Development Dimension International located in Bridgeville.  They specialized in doing corporate training films, and I ended up doing a variety of projects for DDI.  One of the first was a setting where there were three workers assigned to a project, with a very impatient boss.  The three workers were me, a very pretty black woman, and an Asian man. I don’t remember their names. The boss was a very corporate looking and very attractive blond gal, whose name I can’t remember either.  It was a one day shoot, and a lot of fun.  Incidentally, it’s the first project to be seen on my demo reel, albeit edited down to show me off.

I also did a series for a health care company, dealing with various ‘ethics’ topics. On the demo reel they are ‘I don’t Need No Stinking Tickets’ and ‘Running For Political Office’. I named them those titles for the demo reel. ‘Tickets’ involved open end bid contracts and the winning bidder, a friend of the contractor, giving him tickets to an Eagles game.  The secretary was played by Karina Krepp, and the ‘accuser’ was Tom Schaller. In ‘Political Office’, it was me and Tom Schaller again, this time playing two guys bragging about their weekend sexual conquests in their ‘cubicle’ offending an Asian woman working in the next cubicle. The funniest thing about this video was that they wanted me to look slightly different than the guy in the other segments, so they gave me more ‘hair’.  It wasn’t actually ‘hair’, or some kind of toupee…the make-up gal, who was a local who had worked on the Young & The Restless when they came to town to pretend that Millvale was a part of Genoa City, used dark eye shadow to simply darken my scalp a little, mixed in with what little hair I had left.

Another video was about a couple of workers having something that wasn’t supposed to be their job dumped on them.

My favorite of all of these DDI videos was what I called ‘I Think I Can’t’ on the demo reel. It was very short and simple, about a guy who had lost all confidence in a project he’d been assigned.

Most of these projects were directed by Steve Patterson and the cameraman was Rick Brandt.  Two of the nicest and most decent guys I’d ever met in the film industry to date.

Click here to see the demo reel Part 1 or Part 2

After one of the last shoots, Rick told me that I needed to make sure that Steve had my photo and resume to take with him because he was in the process of finishing the writing of a script that he intended to direct and produce in the next year or so.  So I did.

Through trying to regain some ground in the performing arts community, and the arts community in general (as if I hadn’t learned enough already – I just kept being a glutton for punishment) I answered an ad by someone looking for some kind of collaborator or some such nonsense, and ended up meeting a guy named Jim Richards. I can’t remember exactly what the project was, if it was writing, or some kind of attempt at creating a community group. I think I might have gone in with the S.T.A.G.E. mindset, but was probably met with the ‘too much work’ mentality.

Jim was a very strange human. Overweight and a tad on the sloppy side, while trying to be ‘dapper’…he dressed in a kind of a casual business attire that was slightly worn and rumpled. Straight dirty blonde hair, parted conservatively and neatly, while still looking a little greasy, with glasses, and a very high nasal voice that more than hinted at ‘gay’. Even though in our conversation, he claimed to be straight.

Well, I was, as usual, shy in the ‘friend’ department, so I figured I’d give him a try, although his interest seemed aloof at best. He kind of carried that Pittsburgh faux superiority complex…and though he tried, he could only slightly carry off that ahhhhhts people faux Hamptons accent.

One day he invited me to his apartment somewhere on the edge of Mt. Lebanon, but as most smart people have figured out, the ‘edge’ of Mt. Lebanon isn’t really Mt. Lebanon.

There are a handful of pretense pits in the general Pittsburgh area.  Sewickley, where semi-monied suburbanites live in their Pittsburgh-style ‘exclusive’ manner. Fox Chapel, where semi-monied suburbanites live in their Pittsburgh-style ‘exclusive’ manner. And Mt. Lebanon, where less semi-monied suburbanites live in their Pittsburgh-style ‘exclusive’ manner, and really love to pretend they’re in Sewickley or Fox Chapel.

And just as those who live in Aspinwall love to claim they’re in Fox Chapel, and those who live on the edge of Sewickley love to claim they’re in Sewickley, anyone on the edge of Mt. Lebanon preferred to claim they were IN Mt. Lebanon.  And Jim, as pretentious as he tried to be, of course claimed Mt. Lebanon.

So one cold and dreary day, I took the T (which is Pittsburgh’s version of the elevated train) to some stop to meet Jim.  He met me there, and we walked several blocks back to the building in which he lived. He lived on the top attic floor of some dumpy building which he told me he was planning to move from in the next couple of months.

His apartment was an astounding dump. Even though the term wasn’t yet coined at this time, it was clear that Jim was incredibly lazy, and a ‘hoarder’. Piles and piles of papers, magazines, books, and just…junk.

I spent an hour or so there, and then the subject of sexuality came up, and Jim decided he wanted to ‘explore’. I can’t say it was one of the most savory moments of my life. It was actually kind of revolting…the smell of a fat lazy human who had been stewing in his own juices…well…

That would be the last of that.

He worked with the Pittsburgh downtown partnership, who did…well…to this day, I’m not completely sure. They haphazardly attempt to create a ‘downtown’ atmosphere that is conducive to city living, and after 15 years of knowing about them, I’ve still not quite figured out how they plan on accomplishing this. I do know that they were carnivorous about their ‘image’ and laying claim to anything they could as ‘theirs’ even if it meant walking all over a smaller organization with a decent idea.

I was still temping through Pancoast, and they had shifted me to a position as a receptionist at Carnegie Mellon University again, this time for the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA). I don’t recall who my boss was, but I do remember a wonderful gal in the back office named Joyce Maszle.

I was on this job for quite some time, and have a few odd memories of the job. Basically, I just sat at the front desk and answered questions, directing students and helping with their issues on a very minimal level.  If things got too complicated, I had to refer them elsewhere.

I have three specific recalls from that assignment. First was a young man from a foreign country with a strong accent, who approached the desk, and asked me if he could borrow my C-Source.  Now, CMU had manuals for everything, from alumni manuals to staff manuals, student listings, office telephone books, etc.  So I started looking through my desk for something called the C-Source.  I pulled out a file of manuals, and started looking through them.  I could find absolutely nothing that resembled or was titled the C-Source.  The young man looked at me puzzled, and I told him I didn’t know which of these was the C-source, but just to give me a few moments and I was sure I could find it.

He looked at me and smiled, and with his cute accent, he formed his index and middle fingers into a V and started putting them together and apart…together and apart…like he was cutting something.

C-Source…scissors.  Ahhhhhhhhhhh…yeah, I have those. I handed him the C-Source and we laughed.

The second recall from another accented student interaction came with a question that gave me the serious deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.  A very cute young Asian man walked up to my desk one afternoon, and asked me if I had a rubber.

I looked at him, and I do believe I might have actually blushed.  I said ‘Excuse me?’ not quite sure I’d heard what I’d just heard.  He again repeated ‘Do you have a rubber?’

I looked at him, possibly blinking, and said…’Um…I’m not sure…what do you mean?’

He responded with ‘You know’ and he motioned his hands as if he were erasing words from a page ‘A rubber’.

“Ohhhhh” I said, and pulled an eraser out of the desk drawer. I then told him “You might want to think about calling it something else here, like an eraser, and not a rubber”.  He looked at me puzzled and asked “Why?”  I told him that in the U.S. a ‘rubber’ was a ‘condom’, and that I didn’t think we kept those in the reception desk for students.  He grew wide-eyed and started giggling like a five year old and said ‘Oh! No no no!!’

The third recall was a bit more eye opening and serious as to the type of atmosphere I was in.  The American students that were in this school were, for the most part, horrible. Spoiled brats there on daddy’s dollar, learning to play the ‘Industrial Administration’ game so they could go out into the world and bypass the ‘common folk’ and go straight to the titled corporate role, at the VERY least as a ‘VP’.

These kids were mean, condescending, arrogant, and entitled. These were NOT good human beings, shallow as an evaporated mud puddle, with greed written all over their little off-Ivy-League faces.

One vivid memory I have of these kids involved a line-up of them waiting to go into mock job interviews.  One kid in particular was just beside himself, and was terrified to go into the room.  Was it because he wasn’t prepared? No.  Was it because his mock-resume wasn’t up to snuff?  No.  Was it because he didn’t actually have the knowledge that was required for the mock job he was interviewing for? Well, that might have been the actual case, but it certainly wasn’t what was making him tremble in his shoes on this particular afternoon.

What was making him tremble in his shoes? Well…his SHOES.  This boy was just mortified that he hadn’t polished his shoes well enough for such an important interview.

THAT was his main concern – to the point of distracted terror – for his mock interview.  He didn’t give a shit if he was prepared, qualified, educated enough, or worthy of the job.  His shoes were scuffed. And therefore, in his corporate minimal mind…he was sunk.

And that terrified me. For THESE were the people that this school, and many others like it, were training to be the corporate leaders that exist today.

These kids were pretty awful.  A group of ‘entitled’ brats. They had no respect for space or rules. A couple of them were constantly challenging the ‘stay out from behind the desk’ rule, and I became so known for saying ‘NO!’ that one of the little daddy’s boys with too much money, and no maturity drew a picture of me surrounded by the word ‘No!’ and stuck it on the front of the desk.

Another office that Pancoast sent me to at CMU was the development office. This was a simple data entry assignment.  And it was here that I discovered just how unethical and carnivorous greed mongers can be.

The development office had held what they called ‘prisms’ at which they’d invited a group of alumni for a ‘social’ gathering. At the gathering the alumni were given books that contained the names of every student that had gone to the school during the years that they’d attended. Their ‘job’ at this ‘social gathering’ was to go through the books, and report on anyone that they’d known, as to how they went on in life…or specifically, how wealthy they’d become and how they might be potential donors to the university cause.

My job was to enter the data into the computer.  I was given four of these books, and two of them had very American names, and the other two had very Indian names.

First, I entered the data from the two Indian names. The comments they’d made about the people they knew were like ‘Good family man’, ‘community leader’, ‘reliable friend’, ‘strong character’, etc.

Then I entered the data from the two American names.  Comments like ‘made a killing in the stock market’, ‘old family money’, and ‘you can tell by the address that he’s done well’. There was not one ‘human’ reference made by the Americans.

After I’d entered the data, and took the four books back to the woman who was the leader of this job, to get more books for entering, I made a comment that I’d found it very interesting that the foreign people had seen their friends as ‘friends’ and made very human comments about them, whereas the Americans tended to see their ‘friends’ as walking wallets.  She looked at me with disgust, and immediately asked me to leave.  She also called Pancoast and told them NOT to ever send me back to their office.

Back on the home front, the room mate situation was deteriorating. Gene was becoming more and more ‘needy’ in his quest to psychoanalyze himself. Haley and her girlfriend were on again off again, and she was generally not happy. Gene would come in and crawl onto the bed and start talking about his traumas and feelings, and after a while I just couldn’t take much more. It was as though I was his elder therapist, and quite frankly, I had my own issues that were taking their toll on me, including the stress of having two odd room mates who really didn’t like me that much. I really wasn’t doing much in the ‘career’ department, just sloughing through temp assignments that wouldn’t lead to anywhere. So eventually, Gene and Haley decided to move out, and I was stuck with the apartment alone.

I placed an ad in a local paper, and received a few bites. One guy called and set up a time to come and see the space.  I think his name was Joe or John, and his last name was Baumgardner. The door bell rang, and I buzzed him in.  And my eyes bugged out.

It was the beautiful but uppity guy from the bus stop. With the jet black hair and the screaming blue eyes.

He came in, and we started talking as I showed him the space and rambled off the specifics. The tension was high, as I found him so incredibly attractive, and he seemed to be giving off a very different ‘vibe’ than he gave off at the bus stop…less aloof, actually somewhat engaging…and I couldn’t stop sneaking glances at his amazing eyes.

We sat down in the living room after the tour and made more small talk. We came to a mutual decision. I didn’t want him to be my room mate, because the attraction was so strong. He told me that he didn’t want to be my room mate…because he would rather date me.

*thud*

It was a great start, and that was about as strong as that motor ever ran.  That initial unknowing physical attraction, followed by the time period of ‘getting to know’.

Mr. Baumgardner was beautiful to look at, but the more we hung out, the more we discovered that we had very little in common aside from a physical attraction. We did try doing things, and shared some tastes in comedy and films. He introduced me to the ‘Kathy and Mo’ show, otherwise known as ‘Parallel Lives’ with Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney. I still have the videotape.  But the more we continued the dating, the more than Western Pennsylvania ‘in the box’ yinzer came out of him. He wasn’t very open to trying new things and was the type to say ‘I don’t like’ to things he’d never even tried, like food items.

We tried hanging out with Ilene a time or two, and that was more or less the deal breaker. He was freaked out by her ‘handicap’ – he actually was baffled by the fact that she and I would ‘watch’ movies together. He just could not fathom the concept of a blind woman ‘watching’ movies.  Eventually, that ‘in the box’ mindset drove us apart, but this was a concept that was forever going to be an ‘issue’ in the burgh of Pitts.

I ended up with a rash of short term whack job room mates in this space over the several years that I lived in it.  One was a young and overly hormonal young kid just discovering his sexuality out on ‘his own’, and his brain was addicted.  To the extent that he was calling 866 sex lines and racking up more phone bill than he could afford.  He didn’t last long, and after I asked him to leave, the phone bill came and I actually had to call his father to get that bill taken care of. His dad came through, but the kid was toast.

Another whacko was a woman named Misana Vantosky, who worked for the University of Pittsburgh in parking services, or something like that. She was a butch more-or-less Lesbian that time would expose as a serious alcoholic. Her room would actually be strewn with empty liquor bottles, and at one point we got into an argument when she was drunk and she became more aggressive and angry than I would ever care to deal with, and out she went.

One of the nicest short termers was a woman named Catherine Connelly. Petite and sweet blonde all-American kind of girl, also interested in theater, from a very good family background. Catherine would have made a spectacular long term room mate and friend, but she developed a skin condition that really sent her over the edge. I don’t know what it actually was, but it was some type of viral acne that just took over her face to the extent that she covered the mirror in her room with paper so that she wouldn’t have to see herself even accidentally. It depressed her deeply, and she was going to doctors to try to get it fixed, but she couldn’t take the pain of seeing her own face, or living with anyone else who would see it. She ended up moving back to her father’s house. We did have some nice conversations while she lived with me, and she was another one of those people I would have loved to kept in touch with and stayed friends, but she vanished and I rarely ever saw her again. Years later I would see her, and medication had completely cleared up her condition.

One of the things we’d talked about was David Conrad, the guy that had ruined an evening in New York with Bob Kwaitkowski. She had known him, and thought he was a bit of an ass too. But she told me that he’d done a film with Sigourney Weaver about Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, playing the Prince.  Great. It just sickened me that one can be pretty but an asshole and still get somewhere.

Another short termer and pain the ass was a chubby girl whose name I can’t recall…perhaps Katie? She was a little on the earthy side, with a boyfriend who was skinny and kind of cute. It started out ok, but eventually she kind of became the wannabee boss of the space, and practically moved in her boyfriend. One of the odd things I recall was her diet. There was ALWAYS a vat of potato salad in the refrigerator. It was actually more like a combo of potato and egg salad, with pretty much just potatoes and eggs, with a ton of mayo and mustard, in a giant bowl. I have to say, it was actually pretty tasty from a comfort food point of view, but as steady diet for a girl with a swinging giant butt…probably not the best choice to make. Our situation came to a head when her boyfriend started making demands on ME as if he was on the lease and actually paying bills. I made it clear that I was not going to be snarked at in MY home by someone who wasn’t supposed to be living there, and shortly thereafter, they moved out. She also had caused a bit of a stink with the landlady when she came flying in the main door, and tried to pull her key out on the fly as the door was swinging closed, and broke her key off in the lock. This was the entrance to the entire building. Fortunately, Mrs. Kefalos wasn’t as upset as she could have been.

I was feeling very outcast and lonely, and I’d discovered somehow a pamphlet for gay pen pals. So I placed an ad in the little magazine, and received several letters from people all over the world.  Edgar Tan was an

Edgar Tan

adorable guy from the Philippines, who was involved with an older English guy. We communicated for a couple of years, and he was even a jewel and sent me a gorgeous vegetarian cookbook that I still have. After a few years, I lost all contact with him.

I communicated with another guy from Estonia who was adorable but somewhat socially inept, who wanted to just go and live in the woods alone outside of Tallinn. We traded letter a few times, and he vanished too.

The Other Edgar

Another Philippino whose name I also believe was Edgar, was a classical pianist, tortured by his sexuality.  We traded letters for about a year, and he was in a closeted relationship but lived in some kind of family compound, obviously from a wealthy family.

Miguel Salgado wrote from Spain, and was absolutely freaking gorgeous. We wrote back

Miguel Salgado

and forth for a year or so, and he even called on the telephone. After we talked, he said that he was going to come and visit, and even set a date. But Miguel was a no show, no call, no communicate any more beyond that. I don’t remember too much about him. But that generally happens with blow-offs.

Antonio was from Mexico, also adorable, and wrote a lot, but in very fractured English,

Antonio - Tony

wanting very much to improve his English, as I was trying to work on my Spanish. I’d had two years of it in High School, but never had any functional experience with it, so this was my opportunity to practice, albeit only in writing, which was not very well done.  I confused a lot of Spaniards in trying.  Eventually, Antonio disappeared too.

The longest running were Jorge Smith and Alejandro Roman, both from Cuba. Jorge was older and partnered, a talented artist, working in an atmosphere with limited resources.  He sent me several samples of work that he’d done, all of them being on really third rate materials, like a coloring book on the local flora and fauna of Cuba, that was printed on newsprint, when it really

Alejandro Roman

deserved to be on much higher quality goods.  I started to feel really bad for the Cubans, and enjoyed being in contact with them. Alejandro came to me as a ‘fix up’ by Jorge, and he really wanted to escape Cuba.  Alejandro was very cute, and very sweet in his letters.

Jorge Smith (center)

Jorge loved to send me things.  At one point, he told me about a film set he’d been working on, and sent me photos of the three main ‘stars’ of the film, and a photo of the director.  At that time, it really meant nothing to me. I had no idea who these guys were, and he didn’t tell me the name of the film.  They ended up in an envelope buried in my piles of pen pal papers and such.

For a time, I tried sending gifts to Alejandro, who was very sad. I would buy copies of People magazine in Spanish, slip dollar bills into the folds, and send them registered mail, which to Cuba, cost a small fortune. I tried this three or four times, and poor Alejandro never received one of them. Some bureaucrat in Cuba was opening the mail from the US, and was off spending my dollars, when Alejandro got nothing.

I never met any of them. But the next guy was a French teacher from Prince

Stephane Vallee

Edward Island in Canada named Stephane Vallee. We traded many letters and photos, and he even sent me a cassette recording of some of his favorite French music.  I couldn’t understand any of it, but I fell in love with some of the pieces, and was introduced to the French music of Celine Dion before she hit it really big in the US. One of the photos that he’d sent was of him sitting on a rock by a body of water, wearing shorts and a cap, with a t-shirt and light jacket. He looked like a taller than me skinny guy, unassuming and very sweet.

After a while communicating, he was asked to go to Georgia to interview for a position as a French teacher for a school there, and decided to drive to Georgia for the interview, then drive back and stop for a few days in Pittsburgh to visit his pen pal.  I was finally going to meet one of these pen pals face to face.

The day came for Stephane’s arrival, and the doorbell rang. The buzzer to open the door had stopped working, so I had to go down the stairs to let him in the main door. The main door was a steel door, with the little square window with wire mesh in between two panes of glass that was just about three inches too high for me to actually look out of.  So I tiptoed up to peek out, and didn’t see anyone. I shrugged and figured maybe it was some neighborhood kid being a jerk, and started back up the stairs to the second floor. As soon as I took a step up, I heard the buzzer ring again from inside my apartment, so I returned to the door and opened it.  And there stood Stephane…all 5’3” of him. I just couldn’t see him from the window, but he’d been standing under it the whole time.

How Stephane Vallee REALLY looked!

Stephane was absolutely adorable. Even cuter than the initial photo he’d sent me…MUCH cuter in fact. Short little guy, nicely normal build, REALLY hairy legs that I wanted to touch for three whole days.  His English was a little lacking, but we could communicate well enough.  We spent three days just hanging out, touring, shopping, and I think we’d even gone out to eat with Ilene. Stephane was one of those that I’d wished lived closer. But the more we hung out, the more I had a feeling that I was a disappointment to him, or perhaps it was just the language barrier that made growing really close difficult.

We spent a nice evening sitting on my little balcony overlooking Centre Avenue, listening to music, drinking some wine, watching the cars pass by, and talking. After a while, Stephane pointed out one of Pittsburgh’s strong features.  It was hard to miss, as car after car passed us below.  Pittsburghers were fat. Almost every car that went by contained, as he put it in his cute little accent, ‘jelly bellies’.  Yes Indeed. Pittsburghers definitely had an issue with eating too much and being proud of it.

Stephane went home after three days, and I barely ever heard from him again, but I’ve never forgotten how adorable and sweet he was.  Even Ilene thought he was a great guy.

Another pen pal was Altaf. Altaf was a beautiful Indian man who lived in

Altaf

Calgary, Canada, who was an auditor at some 5 star resort in the mountains. Stunning face, and a very sweet personality.  We wrote for a long time, and eventually he came to visit Pittsburgh. We got along pretty well, and he was a good person with a stunning face, a tad on the feminine side, but more like your aunt than an affected queen.  We had a lot of fun hanging out, but when it came time for passion and romance, things kind of turned into a bed of cold fish. He wasn’t very active or adventurous, and his body, though deliciously furry, was kind of mashed potatoes…not that mine is any big prize, but I’ve never felt another body to this point that had zero muscle tone.  No firmness anywhere.  He wasn’t fat or even slightly flabby…but it was all soft…like someone who barely even walked anywhere.  But his face was mesmerizing.  So handsome.  If only we had clicked slightly better…

Heather Cole (L) and Roni

The last pen pal to write to me from the magazine was the one that I would know the longest. She went by the pen name Heather Cole, lived in California with her partner Ronnie, worked in a doctor’s office, and was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, like my grandmother had. I never understood why a Lesbian made the connection with the little gay guy from Pittsburgh, but she did, and we would continue writing regularly.

The years in this apartment were a whirlwind of activity, none of which paid very much or got me anywhere, but it did fill time enough to not completely recall the specific order. There were many other room mates, dates, and shows, but not much was fulfilling my soul, and friendships, except for Ilene, were passing for the most part.

Kris Rust called with an offer that would lead to four years of ‘jobs’ though. Kris had graduated from Pitt with his degree in music, and was hired at Franklin Regional High School in the far reaches of the burbs, in Murrysville, as their music teacher. He was enlisted, as had been the previous music teacher, to direct/produce the annual high school musicals.  Kris was a music teacher, and not a theater director, and since I’d done such a good job with his Pitt Men’s Glee Club a year or so earlier, he asked if I would direct, and if so, what would I like to direct?

In trying to decide what would be appropriate for a high school, in my limited experiences, I opted to bring out ‘The Boyfriend’ again. Kris agreed, and we set off to mount ‘The Boyfriend’ (no pun intended).

I had to ride share with Kris, who was living at that time with his then boyfriend Pete in the Regent Square area. Kris would come home from school, tend the dog, make dinner, and then get back in the car to drag us both back out to Murrysville for rehearsals.

First, we had the auditions.  I have to say that I found it fascinating. I didn’t know these kids at all, whereas everyone else involved in the process DID know them, and they all had their preconceived notions about them. I was able to look at them purely from a character driven and ability perspective.  I found MY cast amidst raised eyebrows from both other people involved in the production, and (of course) the parents who each and every one thought their little darling qualified tenfold over MY choices.

Amongst my casting choices, only two turned out to be bum steers.

Liza Johnston was a spoiled kid whose parents had made a small fortune from adult diapers. She was full of attitude, a little awkward, very pretty, but had a terrific voice. She had exactly the right presence for Polly, and I knew I could get her to do what I needed her to do. Others were not so sure, but I proved them wrong.

The best option for Polly’s love interest, Tony, came in the form a very (and I mean VERY) skinny Indian boy named Jayaram Srinivasan. Very cute, dark skinned, with a very good voice, and a boyish innocence.  The challenge to find someone to play Tony’s father could not have been met more perfectly. There was another Indian student, and casting him as the father ‘just because’ he was Indian was certainly NOT the case. Out of the entire cast, Shonket Chaakrabarti was by far THE most advanced as an ‘actor’. Shonket was going to go on to study to be a doctor, and for the role of Lord Brockhurst, he was perfect. He was able to play ‘age’ without being goofy, had impeccable comic timing, could actually be creative ‘in character’ which most of the kids could not, and he was just a damned smart sweetheart of a kid, who also happened to be adorable.  I cast Katherine Borland as Tony’s ‘mom’ and she was perfect as the uptight Brit mother.

Madame Dubonnet, the head of the school where the show was set was played by Melanie Wakefield. She had a ‘maturity’ in her presence that I felt would work for the work for the character, and I figured I could bring her out to do what was required.

Polly’s father, Percival Browne, required a somewhat uptight and imposing presence, and I cast Luke Miller in this role.

The maid, Hortense, was Amanda Gordon, and even though she would have much preferred being backstage, she did a beautiful job as the not-so-frump frumpy maid. Our Ivy League-ish white guy was Ryan Porter…the all-American jock boy type, very handsome, but a little on the wooden side. Alphonse was played by uber jock and gymnast Ed Patrick. And the oh-so-flirtish and adorable Dulcie, the love interest of many of the boys, was played by Cara Gigliotti. Another love interest of many of the boys was Maisie, played by the amazing Cian Coey.

The rehearsal process was a chore. We had the usual kids-with-no-self-esteem issues, the kids-with-limited-life-experiences issues, trying to play adults doing things they’d never heard of. The kids with popularity issues. The kids with NO popularity issues. And then…came the parents.

The biggest issues with the show came from Luke Miller, who really wanted to be a dancer, who apparently really wanted to be stoned, and whose self-esteem issues impaired his ability to learn and listen to much of anything, fought me and hated me the entire way.  And the irony was that he was an amazing dancer, and really did have it in him to give the character all it needed if he’d just let all the bullshit go. He was snarky, smart assed, pouty, and downright belligerent most of the time. His issues were joined by Melanie Wakefield’s overbearing momma syndrome and religious background. Madame Dubonnet is a prim and proper tiger on the prowl, hot for Percival Browne. Melanie was a busty gal, who was terrified of doing ANYTHING sexually suggestive, and it took months of trying to grind it into her brain that SHE wasn’t doing anything sexually suggestive, but that the CHARACTER had to. In the end she gave the show 98% of what it needed, and Luke gave it about 95%.

Shonket, on the other hand, gave it 150%. And his daddy was NOT happy. Daddy felt that theater was frivolous, and was taking away from Shonket’s grades in other ‘more important’ subjects, and actually tried to remove Shonket from the show. Over my dead body!  I had a little showdown with Shonket’s daddy. I told him that I believed in his son SO completely, that I would strike the following bargain.  I will give Shonket the next month and a half OFF from rehearsals. Daddy could have Shonket for his studies for that time. BUT…I get Shonket the last week of rehearsals without fail.  Shonket already had all of his blocking, and was partially rehearsed in all of the music and dialogue.  I knew damned well this kid would come through…he was that smart and devoted.

Shonket came back to the last week, and not only breezed through the rehearsal with nothing more than ONE missed line, he actually brought even MORE to his scenes than had initially been directed, and he did it within character.

After the show opened, I saw his dad standing in the back of the auditorium and approached him smiling. I told him ‘See, I had complete faith in your son’s ability. You should too!’  His dad responded with ‘He was very good’.

And yes he was.  Awesome human too.

The other Indian, Jayaram, was not so much. This boy was a diva with a massive ego.  He had ability, and filled this particular role pretty well, but he had an attitude and a vibrato from hell!  Nothing that Kris or I could do could smooth it out of him. His costume fittings were a bit comical as well. This boy was very cute, but he was SO skinny, we could have folded his pants waistline around him twice to get them to fit even remotely snug.

Liza Johnston was my favorite met challenge though. I knew she had it in her, even though others insisted that she didn’t. She definitely had it, and even more as time would tell…she just didn’t have the confidence in herself to create it and bring it out.  I did, and I did.  Liza was a perfect Polly for this show.

Aside from Luke and his snarky issues, I had a few other fun memories of this show.  I met Anne Saquitne, Leslie Sammy’s mother, who was going to become a great friend for many years, as we sat in the dressing room applying layers and layers of old age make-up to Shonket, Luke, Melanie, Amanda and Katherine. Anne was a hoot, a HUGE help, and a decent human being with a big ol’ mess called an ‘ex husband’ in her life.

Another shocker was Ed Patrick. This guy could do acrobatics on the stage, and was amazing athletically. All American blonde boy, not much taller than me, and a lean machine. I remember at one point he could not understand why I needed him to be in a specific position on the stage, and I walked up behind him frustrated and grabbed his arms to pull him back and give him the perspective that I needed him to understand.  As I grabbed his arms I was shocked. His arms weren’t just muscular…they were beyond solid.  It was like grabbing on to solid concrete. I’d felt muscle before, but I’d never felt anything that solid on a human being.

We didn’t have many mishaps on the stage for this show. Only one…poor Scott Logan. As they danced the Pepe and Lolita number, a comical Spanish dance in which to two dancers are a famous dancing couple – who hate each other – the dance was to end with a bow in which Pepe’s pants fall down.  Well, on one night, his undies came down with the pants, and Scott’s plump backside mooned the suburbanites of Murrysville.

All in all, it was an excellent show and experience. The parents were pretty amazing in their support, from building awesome sets, and Cian Coey’s mom pulling together the perfect wardrobe. They did a show to be absolutely proud of, and most of them were.

I remember Luke Miller, sitting in the make-up chair, asking me if I thought he had what it took to make it.  I told him that if he dropped the attitude and studied like he meant it, absolutely.  Luke was a fantastic dancer.

In Pittsburgh, there is an annual high school musical award program called ‘The Gene Kelly Awards’ – like a teen Tony’s – in which all of the local high schools are entered for the best of all aspects of musical theater.  This show could have won an award…had it not been just outside the Allegheny County border. People said it was the best show that they’d seen at Franklin Regional in years.

The few people that I knew personally who came to see the show, including Ilene, all said it was excellent.  Of course, the people that I’d invited to come and see the show that I’d hoped might actually be able to SEE my work and be in a position to maybe hire me, like Audrey Glickman and the Gargaro team – they couldn’t be bothered with something so trite.

So I was back to temp assignments and riding the bus. I met a guy on the bus one day.  A very sweet and gentle Asian guy named Noel Chua who was from the Philippines, and was a doctor finishing his degree at Carnegie Mellon.  We made eye contact on the bus, sat next to each other, started talking, and then we traded numbers.

Dr. Noel Chua

We went out on a couple of dates, and became friends. Noel was an incredibly nice man, and a good human being, my height, and when we initially met, I’m not sure where he was living, but he eventually moved to Bloomfield, where I recall his living space because I helped him move out of it and to some big suburban apartment complex in the North Hills. In the Bloomfield space, I believe his mother had lived with him, which was why we didn’t mingle so much during that time. He would come to visit me, but his mother was very religious (and to an extent, so was Noel), so his coming out to her was out of the question.  The funny thing I remember when helping him move, after his mother had gone back to the Philippines, was throwing out all of the dried fish products she had left behind en masse in his kitchen. The smell was revolting, and I can’t imagine what it took to get that stink out of the apartment for the new tenants.

Noel was a very simple guy. His hobby was music, and he had a keyboard and tons of sheet music, none of it was in tune with my tastes. Mostly religious and classical, with an occasional standard in the pile. He just tended his patients, watched TV and some movies, and played his keyboard and sang to himself.

We did try dating, but we were again sexually incompatible.  First off, his endowment was about the size of my thumb…the first time we got naked together even HE, when he removed his pants and exposed it for the first time, said ‘Isn’t it cute?’ And he wanted to be the top. At first I insisted on no…but then thought ‘that won’t even clear my ass cheeks’ so he could pretend.

Noel had a few eccentricities. He giggled. A LOT. And often at very odd things that made me wonder what he was seeing that was funny.  On a few occasions Noel came and spent a day watching movies with Ilene and I, and in the middle of something we were watching he would giggle.  After he left, Ilene and I were trying to figure out what the heck it was that he saw that tickled him like that…we were watching a drama. We were baffled. He was sweet…he was just a little odd.

Noel was also an excellent doctor, and was actually helpful when it came to friends getting sick. Friends without insurance.  As would happen occasionally in my life, I’d developed a urinary tract infection again, and Noel was there with the meds to make it go away. He cared about people, and helped them, even when the system was all set to screw them.

On one occasion, I needed to go to my mother’s for something, and Noel was kind enough to do the driving. We went to her mobile home in Chippewa, and spent an hour or so doing whatever it was I had to do. Noel made small talk, and loved playing with her dogs. Everyone made pretend friendly, but the ‘tone’ was there in mother and stepmonster’s voices.  It wasn’t overbearing, but I could detect it. There was an Asian guy in their home – in the mobile home park – in the far reaching burbs.

On the next occasion that I had to venture out there, stepmonster actually made snide comments about Noel, specifically that ‘He had kept an eye on that guy and the dogs’…you know…because all Asian people will stir fry your pets. Yes people, this is what I grew up with. And ran away from.

I had an opportunity to take a little trip.  Brad Harris invited me to come and visit Kansas City.  So I packed a bag, and took a flight (don’t ask me how I paid for it) and spent either a week or a long weekend in Kansas City.

It was great to see an old friend again, and to see him doing so well. His partner ‘Cliff’ was an awesome guy, laid back and kind of sexy. They lived in a gorgeous old house that they’d renovated beautifully, and had a dog or two.  Brad was working in development for some arts organization, and Cliff was a photographer for Associated Press.  We did some touring around, and I’m not remembering too much of the trip. We did go to some vegetarian restaurant, which was very nice, since I was still on the veggie bandwagon at this point.  I also recall going to a movie and seeing “Boogie Nights”. On the way back to the car I remember Brad saying ‘Eww, I feel like I should go home and take a shower now’. Even though I did have a very relaxing trip, I really don’t remember much about it. I remember the previously mentioned, and I remember Brad sitting down and playing the piano.  But it was good to get away from da burgh, even if for only a long weekend. That would be the last time I’d see Brad Harris though.

Back at home, through some personal ad, I met a new friend, though it would be a very short friendship owing to distance.

Saher was from the United Arab Emirates, and he was visiting Pittsburgh to scope out a possible computer technology job, and to see if Pittsburgh would be an okay place to live. We met, and I helped him find his way around the city a bit (he had a vehicle) and we became friends. I could easily have become more for him had he stayed.

He was a beautiful man, and indeed a ‘man’. A strong, masculine Arab man. The strong silent type. Dark hair and eyes (although I do think the hair might have been a toupee) with furry arms and tufts of black hair peeking through his shirt, and a very mellow and soothing voice.  He was gay, but not culturally, coming from the ultra closeted Middle-East.  Except for his obsession with feet, he was perfect husband material. The kind of guy one would be proud to be seen with and married to.

He was only in the area for about two weeks, and in that two weeks saw enough of Pittsburgh to know that it wasn’t for him.

One of my fondest memories of those two weeks was spending an afternoon walking around Shadyside with him. As we were walking down one of the side streets, he suddenly reached down and took my hand.  At first, I was shocked, and a little scared. What if someone saw two guys walking hand in hand? We were still in the mid-90’s, and Pittsburgh may still have been somewhere in the 70’s (goodness knows it still is today). But then I thought…you know…this is MY life, no one else’s. When Saher saw my initial flinch, he asked what was wrong, and I explained. Apparently, in the ultra homophobic Middle-East (and in many other places around the non-puritanical world) man and women hold hands…it’s a normal friendship thing. Guys hold other guys hands. In a part of the world where one could be killed for being gay, two men can hold hands with no questions. Whereas in our supposed ‘free’ western world, two guys holding hands, or two women holding hands, could be beaten up and left bleeding in an alley, with no laws to protect us.  At any rate, I was proud to walk down the street holding this magnificent man’s hand.

Saher left town, turned down the job offer (which he later expressed regretting) and returned to the United Arab Emirates.  We became pen pals for a while, but then I lost contact with him. He was one of those opportunities missed. He has always had a warm spot in my heart.

Again, the whirlwind of life intensified. Pancoast had sent me on a couple of new temp assignments that would change certain aspects of my life forever, and a new room mate came and had to go.  Although the room mate would make a referral that would lead to summer work for three years. And again riding the bus would lead to an odd friendship that would chain reaction something else.

I’ll start with the bus. On several occasions, riding the EBA from Shadyside to downtown, usually seated near the back of the bus, I would see a guy. He didn’t especially catch my eye, but I seemed to catch his. He was a totally average looking guy. Not fat, not thin, just kind of ‘regular’ in a soft way. Very pale, with dark hair and glasses, always dressed a tad on the conservative ‘nerd’ side. He didn’t have his pants up above his belly button or a pocket protector, but the fashion statement he made was awfully close to that. It was clear he wasn’t a fashion whore. I never found him attractive, but he always smiled at me in that ‘interested’ way.  We never spoke, just nodded in acknowledgement, and he kept smiling.

I don’t remember if it was Patty Lupone or the Manhattan Transfer that came to the Three Rivers Arts Festival that particular year, but Ilene and I went, and took up our seats near the front row, and to the left of the stage.  There, seated a row behind us, was the bus guy. I recognized him from ‘somewhere’ but couldn’t place him.  Since I’d not been interested in him physically, the ‘location’ of recognition hadn’t stuck, but the face had.  So after making eye contact and acknowledging each other, we finally spoke.  I had to ask ‘Where do I know you from?’ and he reminded me: ‘The bus’.

Adrian Fischer

His name was Adrian Fisher. He was originally from the Toronto area, and had come to Pittsburgh where he was the business manager of Civic Light Opera. We chatted a bit, and I told him of the ‘Gallery of Heroes’ that I’d done, and it was nice that we shared an interest in theater, albeit from very different perspectives. His was ‘business’ and mine was ‘art’.

We had a conversation once about the cost of buying tickets to the theater, and how, in my opinion, it kept ‘regular people’ from attending the theater.  And at that time, tickets were still in the $25 and up range for a small town like da burgh.  Adrian insisted that the price needed to be that high to demonstrate the ‘quality’ of the production and to pay for the production costs, in addition to the grant money.  I vehemently disagreed. It has always been my opinion that a theater would be better off with a full house of people paying a reasonable cost for a ticket, than a ton of empty seats with a high end ticket price.  Is the only purpose of doing live theater to drive income? Not from my perspective as an actor, and as a wannabe director/producer. I want people to SEE my shows, whether I’m in them or presenting them. I want my performers to be facing full seats, of people who will enjoy and praise them. Ok, so save a few rows of ‘special’ seats for the muckety mucks who want to feel important and pay the full price for the prime seats. Give the center orchestra seats to your donors, who need to have their egos stroked on an incessant level because they wrote a check. Put their names on doorknobs and light switch plates to make their presence known. But do NOT forget about the ‘other’ people that might like live theater…if they could afford to get in. It seems that theater companies across the country have forgotten that, and now that they’re faced with empty seats and a seemingly permanent decline in interest in live theater, they sit and shake their heads and wonder why.

So, disagreement aside, Adrian and I did become friends.  It was a little odd because I knew his attraction was there, and mine was not, but that’s another frustration I’ve always had with gay people. In 99.9% of the cases in my life, if there wasn’t physical attraction and an overwhelming desire to have sex, then friendship was not an option. Just go back and ask most of the gay people mentioned in this blog…most of them haven’t spoken to me since the timeline mentioned in the blog story.

Pancoast set me up with another temp assignment at Carnegie Mellon that would forever change my life.  Enter…the internet.

The position was actually rather long term, and was at one of the computer schools. I did data entry and general secretarial work with a group of people I really don’t remember at all, except for one kid, who I will get to in a moment.

What I vividly remember is being introduced to the internet, which Carnegie Mellon was (at that time) on the cutting edge of developing. When times were slow, the office secretary actually encouraged using it.  So I did.  There wasn’t nearly as much to explore at that time, but I did discover a couple of chat systems, which were going to connect me with a world previously unavailable to me, except for by the little pen pal magazine I’d been using.

The two main systems I discovered were the WBS (Web Broadcast System) and Pow Wow. Pow wow was kind of the predecessor to MSN Messenger, and WBS was one of the first web chat systems. Within the WBS was a variety of chats that one could join into. And one of them was MOTSS. Members of the same sex.

Now, contrary to what you’re thinking, I didn’t spend every moment at

Liza Ann Acosta

‘work’ chatting…I did do a hell of a lot of work, although I can’t really remember any of it. But I did meet a couple of cool people, and looked forward to finding them in this chat system daily. The first one that I met was actually a MOTOS (member of the OPPOSITE sex) named Liza Ann Acosta. Liza Ann was a Puerto Rican girl who was a student at Penn State University in the State College area. We became very good friends for a long time. I don’t remember what she was studying, but my taste for Latin culture at that time was very keen but undeveloped.  Aside from my pen pals, Ricky Martin had burst onto the scene, and, well, I was smitten. Enrique Iglesias didn’t help matters either.  But Liza introduced me to a whole new world of Latin pop, and she ended up helping me a bit with my next big project.

Gargaro called me once again to play prop master for his next production of Evita.  This was a huge prop challenge. First off, it was period, and second lots of Spanish was required. Thank goodness for Liza Ann. My Spanish was ok, but it wasn’t good enough to properly create things like protest signs, and the internet still wasn’t what it is today. Today, I could simply Google

Evita Protest Signs - not mine, but you get the idea.

Argentinian protest signs and Evita, and I would get all that I need. But at this time Google still didn’t exist. Hell, even finding photos on the web wasn’t very easy yet.  So Liza Ann helped me in two big ways. One, creating the protest slogans from her research and knowledge of Spanish fights, and two, I needed money. There was a lot of throwing money around in the show, and I needed some Argentinian cash to Xerox.  Liza Ann actually sent me a few Argentinian bills in the mail, and gave me a list of protest slogans to use to create the big banners.

The other props for the show were quite a challenge. I needed a bank of antique microphones. I needed a realistic semi-automatic rifle. I needed a Catholic church incense burner and the incense to burn in it. I needed magazines from the era that would be thrown around.

Borrowing the incense burner from a church or even a Catholic store was not an option. Like everything else in the Catholic church, the cost for that glory was NOT reachable. So I looked at a few of them in the store, purchased the incense from the store (folks could smell it, so it had to be the

Censer

real stuff) and then headed off to a few stores to try to find something similar to the censer. I ended up at Pier One, bought two brass incense burners, which I rigged and wired together, attached a chain, inserted a little ‘bin’ for the burning of the incense, and voila…a censer.

Now, this involved fire.  Also necessary for the production were candles…for the CHILDREN’S choir. These two combined also required a fire marshall backstage. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met even an ACTOR who was more on edge backstage during any production I’ve ever been involved with than was this fire marshall. The look of sheer panic, and his body stance, fire extinguisher gripped tightly in hand when the kids entered the stage with their burning candles, was beyond comical.

The next challenge was the bank of antique microphones, which actually came to me more easily than I’d thought. I found a local old radio aficionado who was happy to lend them under the strict condition that they not be manhandled, and were returned in pristine condition, in return for credit in the program. Deal. However, this meant my becoming a strict prison warden in regard to these valuable antiques, with a herd of kids around. The kids were not going to like me much.

The biggest challenge was the gun. I checked toy stores and Goodwills. No luck. Thanks to the youth gangster crowd, apparently making toy guns that looked real was banned. Who knew?  Only the toy manufacturers and those who created the ban…and of course the young gangsters.  I called Adrian Fisher at CLO to see if they had anything like this in their own prop department, and he referred me to the Carnegie Mellon theater arsenal. They actually had a theatre prop arsenal, and agreed to lend us the necessary semi-automatic prop weapon. I had to go and pick it up at the University, and I had to go by bus, which meant I also had to take it to Gargaro via bus.

I was given strict warnings by the Carnegie Mellon prop department. Under NO circumstances was this prop to be opened or made visible in any public area, and it had to be kept under lock and key when it was not being used on the stage.  Again, deal.  But again, it created the ‘this guy is a pain in the ass’ attitude by the actor who had to use the gun, Tony Marino, who was already an enormous diva to begin with.

They packed the gun, in its box, into a big black plastic garbage bag, and off I went in terror of being found out, for my ride on the bus. Nothing happened of course, and I made it to the theater, and locked the sucker up in the closet. I never did like guns, even fake ones. This one had been modified so that it was completely non-functional, but it was a real gun. Guns just make me nervous. Even cops with guns scare me. I’ve been on the bus a couple of times, or in restaurants, when an officer would walk in, and sit near me with his gun hanging from his hip, and I swear, I ended up looking like a guilty criminal, I was so nervous to see it hanging there.

The gun went from the locked closet, to my hands, to his hands, he did his number, which had actually been cut from the original production, and then right back into my hands and the locked closet. The kids and cast were sternly warned that ONLY me and diva Marino were to handle it. Period.

It’s not easy wardening over a group of spoiled brats, and man did I get some attitude from many of the kids. One night, as I was standing in the wing waiting for a prop cue, there was a kid standing on the steps to the entrance to the stage level waiting for his entrance. The bank of microphones was waiting behind the curtain, alongside the steps.  I looked over, and this boy was standing there on the step, leaning with his hand on one of the vintage microphones, just staring blankly ahead, rocking the head of the microphone back and forth and back and forth. He got one look from my evil eye in stern warning, dropped his hand to his side, and never touched them again.

I don’t remember much else about this production, except Ken Gargaro being his usual detached self, hanging out a little bit with some of the musicians, and watching gay guys dancing and pretending to be straight. I discovered that, except in extremely rare cases, big ol’ homos just dance like Vegas showgirls, even when they’re supposed to be macho latinos.

I also vaguely remember dating someone very young during this show, and