Letter from Los Angeles
March 2010
© 2010 Joel

Our New Motto: “Agree with me or not, you know I’m right!”

Quotes of the Month

We call television a “medium” because “it is neither rare nor well done.” Ernie Kovacs

Despairing over the condition of LAX, Tom Freidman concluded “We’re the United States of Deferred Maintenance. China is The People’s Republic of Deferred Gratification. We spend, borrow and patch.” New York Times, 3/3/10.

“Constitutional idolatry is a platform of today’s right wing: it is the sophisticated version of biblical inerrancy.” Federal Judge Richard Posner

Tea Party Members and Progressives, Attend

“Everyone who earns a paycheck is in this together.” Progressive commentator Randi Rhodes

We Miss Brooks

In a tiny, star studded cemetery near UCLA lies beloved actress Eve Arden, known to early t.v. viewers as “Our Miss Brooks.” Less known is where she got the Brooks. Sharing the plot is Eve’s husband, Brooks West.

Correction

Even the infallible err. My assertion that social progress is born of desperate times has been challenged. Historian John Garraty believes “good times....make the average person tolerant and generous.” “Large reforms, after all, have usually occurred during economic upswings,” writes John Judis of The New Republic, “when voters felt more secure.”

Triple Play

Three new plays tackle the political problems of our times. Silence, reports Bay Area reader Dick, is about the Bush administration’s torture point man John Yoo. In American Home bank foreclosures precede a yuppie couple being forced to sell their home, a televangelist losing her church and faith, and an elderly widow taking her own life. The title of the unsurpassed Why Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them, a comedy by Christopher Durang, speaks for itself.

Best Picture?

The Hurt Locker tells us nothing about the on the ground experiences or the psychology of American soldiers in Iraq than we haven’t learned from more effective accounts in print and on t.v. “One damn thing after another” just about summarizes the plot. If the celebrated movie has heightened viewer awareness of the costs of war, particularly in Iraq, I’m glad. Otherwise I don’t get the big fuss.

That’s Rich

New York Times columnist Frank Rich will blame the rudderless, divided Democrats, and not the GOP, if heath care reform fails. I don’t have to tell you what that would bode for elections soon to come.

Killer Whales Equity

Aquariums and zoos provide invaluable glimpses into the natural world, and, provided they meet their inhabitant’s needs, ought to be maintained. Training unfortunate beasts to become members of Whales Equity or the Screen Dolphins Guild is unnatural, unnecessary and worthy of a ban.

My Promised Reasons For Optimism In Our Fair Land

  1. The brains and nobler instincts of Tea Party moderates and of independent voters can be tapped.
  2. We the People still have pull. Get Out The Freaking Vote!
  3. Republican victors in recent N.J., Virginia and Massachusetts elections are far less ideological than some.
  4. The contributions of progressives are too worthy to be forever ignored.
  5. Some evangelical Christians share such cherished liberal commitments as “greening” and assisting the poor.
  6. In Massachusetts, 53% of those who supported Senator Brown say they’ll back the Democrats if they crack down on excesses of Wall Street and the banks.
  7. Builders are erecting higher quality, more affordable, “smarter” new homes, proving business can be honest and productive when it wants to and that Yankee ingenuity isn’t dead.
  8. An effective political leader may be in the wings even as I write. Such a man will be one politically savvy S.O.B, such a woman one smart B.
  9. Regarding the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” 5-4, the New York Times reminds us that its overturn or modification is but “a single vote away.”
  10. We cannot know the future. The Fat Lady waits.

Growing Up Gay: The Start of a Life Together, “The Bureau”- and Judy Garland Dies!

Gay, straight or in between, if you grew up in Yonkers like I did you were ipso facto bored. My daily commute to New York University’s Washington Square campus brought only temporary relief. Occasionally I would stop by the theaters on my way to morning class to stand outside a stage door and imagine actors going in and out. I craved the sense of connection available to me nowhere else.

In 1965, M.A. from Teacher’s College, Columbia in hand, I began work at “The Bureau” and was a step away from my dream of dreams: moving out of Yonkers and beginning life with Lloyd. First I needed a year of work and some savings under my belt.

“The Bureau,” by the way, was not the FBI. The Bureau for Speech Improvement, part of the New York City schools since the 1920’s, was established by Letitia Raubicheck, born Murphy, by nice coincidence my professor and mentor at NYU. Dr. Raubicheck saw me as a Bureau Director someday. She must have had bad eyes.

Although they were paid to help children with their stammers, cleft palates and lisps, “Letitia’s Lovelies,” as the original all female speech force had been known, justified their existence by showing up for work in smart outfits, hats and gloves. Reader Elaine remembers that.

So until the day I left, whenever Lloyd and I passed a ladies hat shop we would identify a chapeau in the window for each Bureau supervisor to wear. “This one (always with an erect feather) was for Helen, the boss, these for Irene, Sheila, Sylvia and Joan”- and the silliest hat for top man on the supervisory staff, John.

I was handed five large junior high schools in the Bronx to visit, one each day of the week. That’s how I met Sylvia Mininberg, the barely five foot tall lioness of a principal who become my lifelong friend. (Her unforgettable greeting will appear in a subsequent series about my life in the public schools.) Fortunately I didn’t have to wear a lady’s hat or gloves, but relations with the principals and the staffs remained priority number one. The speech program was as expendable as music or art, we were forever told.

I was asked to evaluate the speech of an eighth grader whose mother was concerned about his effeminate speech. That sure hit a nerve. The boy nodded that he knew why he was there. Yep, he sounded swish, but as his speech was better than mine I told him “That’s the way you talk and you need no help from me.”

Decades after we had both retired my Bureau supervisor, a dear friend to me, Lloyd and John, argued that I should have worked on a less conspicuous intonation with the boy. I wanted the kid to be o.k. with whoever he was; she was concerned about the consequences of how he came across. What would you have done?

With a year’s worth of pay checks in the bank and Lloyd’s financial security at the electrical construction business his father had built, we were ready to move in. Lincoln Towers, a complex of high rise apartment buildings adjacent to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, was where we began our lives as man and man. Apt. 29J at West End Ave. and 69th came with a Hudson River view for a whopping $230 every month.

We were astonished that the name “Monk” on the building directory was attached to Thelonius himself. The jazz great and his family lived on the floor above ours, and he’d be on the elevator coming home as we walked the dog and again as we headed out for work. Monk just stared into space and often forgot to get off. “Teddy,” I told my little dog, “we’re not in Yonkers anymore.”

I didn’t want to know what the moving men were thinking on July 26, 1966, the date Lloyd and I have used as our anniversary ever since, as they carried in the furniture our mothers donated from home. I do remember their giggles and unintelligible asides. When, soon after, I applied for my first charge account, a representative from Master Card called and asked whom I was living with and, sarcastically, whether I lived in Greenwich Village despite my obviously Upper West Side address. She asked that question twice.

Puerto Rican teenagers who played basketball adjoining Lincoln Towers routinely greeted me as “Faggot.” What was I supposed to do in 1966 or ‘67, call the cops?

Back then we called ourselves “roommates.” (Only later came the rather steamy “lovers,” then “partners,” as if senior members of a firm, and then husbands, though in not nearly enough places, today.) We “roommates” were glad of our proximity to what was going on, and two months after the move Lloyd and I snuck into the grand opening of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center and rubbed shoulders with Lady Bird Johnson, Robert, Ethel, Ted and Joan Kennedy, Robert MacNamara, Nelson and Happy Rockefeller and former Miss America Bess Meyerson, sister of my hat wearing boss at work.

Oh, we weren’t supposed to be standing where we were, which at one point a Secret Service agent noticed, too. “What would you do if I asked you to leave?” he inquired politely. Not knowing whether this was an essay question or multiple choice I naively responded we would leave.” Having tried subtlety (with me?), the agent grew determined and we were ushered out.

That June I attended my first year- end Bureau party at Tavern on the Green- again!- with dancing- again! One of my few Protestant colleagues asked me to dance, which I politely declined. Being tanked, she made a rather public fuss. I was firm, and we never spoke to one another again.

At party’s end, the speech teacher from the school I attended as a kid consoled me with the disconcerting “They say there’s something wrong with me, too.” She had hit my nerve of nerves. I was working with children and they were beginning to suspect.

Because Lloyd and I were entirely wrapped up in one another, our early days together were pretty darn routine. We worked, kept house, saw the mothers once a week- and had no gay friends at all. Among our first was Jeff Meredith, an actor with a day job at a bath shop who now runs a well known musical theater in Virginia Beach.

Finally, after five years of “just us” we began making friends. As we didn’t go to discos and avoided bathhouses and gay bars like the plague, this was quite a feat. My sensitivity about my looks, physical attractiveness being the coin of the homosexual realm, didn’t help a bit. I had slaved over a dinner for a pianist who had the hots for Lloyd who thanked me by remarking I looked older than I was.

Predictably, we made friends in no ordinary ways. John C. Attle, the name Gower Champion gave the stage and club performer from Tacoma, was reduced to shoving gloves at Lord and Taylor’s, where we approached him to say “hello.” A few years later, with us at the opening of a Broadway show, John C. trumpeted “There goes Ethel Merman looking ten days older than God!” loud enough for Merman to hear.

A high priced call boy Lloyd discovered at lunch was added to the fold. Frank, a cute blond actor tourist from Kansas who is reading this, we met backstage at the Andrews Sisters musical which was John Travolta’s Broadway debut. Jeff Hochhauser, dubbed by newspapers “the candy boy playwright” at age 22, was spied and befriended selling candy at the Booth. Good lookers all, they liked us for who we were.

We laughed at the antics of a young gay couple in Broadway’s breakthrough Norman, Is That You? Norman’s “roommate” was played by a long haired cutie from California named Water Willison whom I was determined to get to know. Of course I wrote a letter, explaining that Lloyd and I had an apartment like the couple in the play’s and, like them also, a long haired Persian cat. Walter called and was happy to drop by.

Walter went on to receive a Tony nomination as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Richard Rodgers’ Two By Two starring Danny Kaye. We were lucky to be visiting New York when he took over the lead in Broadway’s Grand Hotel, and thrilled to be his guests at the Theater World Awards when we moved back to that town. At a recent Two By Two reunion Walter introduced us as “The boys who waited by the stage door and walked me home.” When I confided, “We didn’t know you because you were a star. We were in love with you,” I was rewarded with a blush and a smooch.

We also placed an ad. Hairdresser Hari flew in from Wisconsin for a delightful time in New York. Hari, who is reading this, probably doesn’t remember telling us we sounded like Kennedys, which impressed us very much.

Not all respondents panned out as well. An unattractive middle aged man from Boston appeared at our doorstep one evening and explained that his twenty-something year old “roommate,” whom we were breathlessly expecting, had sent him in his place. “Ouch!” preceded “Out!”

We corresponded with, then drove up to Oneonta, N.Y. to meet sweet Steve, who was having trouble with his sexuality and later married and moved to the Bronx.

Our next door neighbor, a teenaged boy with an Asian face and a Jewish name, often dropped by to play Mad Libs. The tease liked to supply words like “pubes” that had a distinctly provocative edge. Also in Apt. 29J, my eighteen year old second cousin “came out” to us and spent the night- on the sofa (drat!)- wearing little or nothing at all.

Also in those years came a kind of happy trouble in the form of our downstairs neighbor Paul. I had taken monogamy for granted until I looked into his lovely Asian eyes. This scandalously older man of thirty-one wanted me, and what Paul wanted Joel gladly gave. I had never been as flattered in my life. Best of all Lloyd didn’t mind, which paved the way, seven years later and three thousand miles away, for our John.

Fashion conscious gays in the 1970’s wore aviator eye glass frames, high heeled boots, fur trimmed leather jackets and indifferent expressions on their mugs. I mocked their conformity by labeling them “artificial homosexuals” and their jackets “fake fag.” John has my old “fake fag” in his closet to this very day.

In 1969, now tenured, I insisted on a change of schools and was handed the plum P.S. 87 Manhattan, one block from the Museum of Natural History and seven blocks from our home. Then, on June 22, 1969, Judy Garland died.

Although I appreciated Garland’s talent, I never developed the emotional attachment to her flamboyance and misery that many other gay men had. If I had I might have been ready to explode then too.

Bereft gays flocked to her funeral, and, within a week, on June 28, 1969, the NYPD went too far. Even in Manhattan it was against the law for gays to publicly assemble or even to be gay. Their social clubs, like the sleazy gay bars in any American town, were owned by the mob and, in a pact with the devil, were regularly raided by police. On that hot, humid night in Greenwich Village drag queens gathered what was left of their dignity and kicked, hurled bottles and screamed they would take no more.

The Stonewall riots are a landmark in the history of my people- gays and Americans at large. Blessings forever on those who fought with valor, and in some cases died that night, so we could be ourselves.

The following spring Lloyd learned of a Gay Liberation march, forerunner of the Pride Parades, from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Feigning lack of interest in case news photographers caught us in the crowd, we nonchalantly waited in the Sheep Meadow for the sad little band of fairies to arrive. They never came, the sad little band. A seemingly endless herd of healthy youngsters suddenly arrived demanding decent treatment at the top of their shirtless, hunky lungs. After all those stage door stakeouts, Lloyd and I were home.

And again- cluck, cluck, cluck! Though I later learned I was in the closet to no one at all, I was terrified of being outed and out of work. The cops could still have made that happen.

Uh oh! Later that week P.S. 87’s PTA president asked me to step aside. “Were you at that march in Central Park?” she demanded. “Things were changing for you and I think it’s great,” she told me with great emphasis and a smile.

I was to discover what New York City’s school professionals, mostly Jewish, were really made of, and that I had some damn good relatives and friends.

Next: California Here We Come!

Joel: Letters