Letter from Los Angeles
April 2010
© 2010 Joel

Thank You, Mommy Dearest

Some Americans respond to stressful times with ignorance and bile. The following excerpts were passed along to me.

“If this (healthcare reform legislation) passes we ARE in real trouble. There will be complete takeover of our country from the inside. Everything...will be totally controlled. There will be health panels and rationing....What will happen if there will be a complete breakdown of the middle class?.....Isn’t that what the democrats (sic) want? Redistribute everything to all. In no time we will be on par with those who don’t work but choose to be on the dole.

They (the Obama administration) are Socialists and Communists pure and simple....The democrats (sic) are being led like cattle....they refuse to open up their eyes because their mommies told them they are always right!....Morality always comes from religion and not a textbook or politically correct ideology. The Jews especially see BHO (Obama) coming out as the Jew hater he is. He is a Muslim and that is a fact.

No real need for the courts or no real need for Congress. That is where we are headed and BHO is setting it all up. There will be One World Order as those at the Ford Foundation have invisioned (sic).”

Seniors Matter: Quote of the Month

“Keep dancing doesn’t mean you literally have to do that,” advises stage and screen star Marge Champion, now ninety years of age. “It means you have to keep doing something in your life that you’re passionate about. It could be tennis, golf, anything that you love.”

Champion advises, “Congratulate every decade for what it gives you, not for what it takes away.”

That’s what I’ve been unconsciously doing in my series about Growing Up Gay. I recommend Champion’s advice to every reader past the age of nine.

Stock Quotes

“Call me a Communist, Socialist, Muslim pig, but I hope those found guilty of fraud at Goldman Sachs or elsewhere join Bernie Madoff soon.”—Joel

“The banker lends you the umbrella but asks for it back when it rains.” Gretchen Morganson, financial writer, The New York Times

It Takes a Pillage,” title of a book by former Goldman Sachs executive Nomi Prins

“Nothing succeeds like excess.”—Oscar Wilde

Ties That Bind

The Voyeur Club, West Hollywood’s Republican spot of choice for S & M and sleaze, is very near our condo and we recently walked by. Funny- all we saw were liberals in the street.

Tiger Would

Who knew (or cared) about golf pros Ben Hogan’s or Arnold Palmer’s sex lives or whether or not they cheated on their wives? Back then snitching on Hollywood actors was profitable enough. With Tiger Woods’ pouty face continuously in mine, I’m reminded of another champ. Although Joe DiMaggio was reputedly a loathsome man, Americans have bought into his being the personification of “class.” Different men, different sins–imaginary heroes both.

Mine Eyes

Twenty-nine more workers have perished in the West Virginia mines. Despite potentially lethal violations the mine’s owners, Massey Energy Co, have barely suffered a scratch. The Bush administration’s appointing former mining executives to the Mine Safety and Health Administration helps explain a lot. Rush Limbaugh bellows that the union turned down safety features mine owners were anxious to install, when in fact the twenty-nine dead bodies were not unionized at all.

At risk workers and the government agency charged with their protection lack the authority and clout to shut down unsafe mines. In this safety be damned environment Teddy Roosevelt must be spinning in his grave.

Just Say “Nope”

No insult to the Catholic laity or to thousands of worthy nuns and priests, but the Church is institutionally rotten to its core, The Holy See’s immunity to the rules of common decency and its status as a sovereign state just blows... my mind. Columnist Maureen Dowd contends “we need a Nope: a nun who is Pope.” Like any other institution deemed too big to fail, the Church needs to be purged of its incompetents and, if necessary by schism, whittled down to size.

Whether he apologizes or not “Benedict’s” moral authority has evaporated, and he’s a lame duck until he steps down or he dies.

Bully For You

Yet another child, this time a girl, has taken her life in response to extreme bullying while the school helped not at all. The girl’s mother reported the abuse promptly and spoke with the parents of the perpetrators, too.

Kids have been bullied for millennia, yet the rash of suicides seems relatively new. Has something about the bullying changed? Were incidents more effectively dealt with in the past? Are we seeing a copycat phenomenon among the victims, or are such suicides being reported more accurately or vividly than before?

Parents need to keep their victimized kids out of school even if they, the parents, have to go to jail. The attendant publicity could save lives. Negligent school personnel, who are always oh so sad, need to be made examples of and canned. I favor circulating a Bullies Watch List among teachers and considering a requirement that parents follow their sociopathic kids around all day until they can be placed in special schools. And, bullied kids need strategies for dealing with abuse short of taking their own lives. Like, er, lessons in self defense.

Let’s Go Polling

When we say “not all Republicans,” consider this. A Harris poll released in March, 2010 contains data collected not from white supremacists or far right loons, but from the GOP rank and file.

  • 67% believe the President is a socialist
  • 57% he’s a Muslim
  • 45% he was not born in the US and is ineligible to be president
  • 38% he does what Hitler did
  • 24% he may be the anti-Christ

A friend who needs a hip replacement and is in terrible pain was told by a sympathetic doctor that her insurance company won’t pay until she “crawls in” first. If supporting the watered down health care bill is evil, then I’m the anti-Christ too.

Growing Up Gay: Nomenclature, Out, and “California (Via Massachusetts) Here We Come!”

“When the wintry winds start blowing
And the snow is starting to fall,
Then my eyes went westward knowing
That’s the place that I love best of all.”
—Introduction to “California, Here I Come!”

In five short years Lloyd and I had gone from being “roommates” to lovers, and gay was in and homosexual on its way out. I’ve never liked either designation very much. Homosexual, which describes behavior, is more properly an adjective than a noun. As for “gay,” lesbian comic Robin Tyler queried, “If we’re gay, are heterosexuals morose? If they’re straight are we crooked?” Lesbians are happy being called Greek Islanders, and some gay men prefer the strident “queer.” A rose being a rose by any other name, you may call me Rose!

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) movement has had many moms and dads. Almost forgotten organizations like the Mattachine Society, and Daughters of Bilitis, both founded in the 1950’s, agitated for our dignity when Stonewall still meant General Jackson’s name. Prior to the 1970’s being gay in America was an unremitting hell. Even in San Francisco–San Francisco!–photographs of arrested gay bar patrons were routinely published in the papers, resulting in loss of jobs and broken lives.

Gay Pride Week 2009, two young readers thanked me and my generation for what we made possible for them. Not by accident the loudest cheers at gay parades are reserved for PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and the seniors who shlep by. An oldster marching in a recent West Hollywood Pride Parade exhorted the crowd to “Keep up the good fight!”

Suddenly in the 70’s attitudes were being reexamined in light of the first gay rights legislation, the push for equality for women and for blacks, the American Psychiatric Association’s declaration that homosexuals were not diseased, and the era’s craziness for drugs, sex and rock and roll. Freedom riders, shrinks and hippies were our movement’s inadvertent parents, too.

Some preferred the dubious safety of the closet and the dark. One evening in Greenwich Village we encountered a former high school teacher who was obviously gay. “This is wrong, what we are doing,” he told us, his face filled with pain. “We’ve got to stop.” In 1972 we happened upon a retired gay professor of Lloyd’s near Lincoln Center and invited him to join us for some take out Chinese grub. Over the hastily improvised dinner we spoke hopefully of Gay Lib. “We don’t ever talk about that,” he cut us off. Prejudice had done its job.

And now, some “outing” of my own–of some heterosexual folks this time. No one with a loving, courageous heart can hide from being publicly exposed by me. Sarah Aarons, now ninety, was the occupational therapist in our special ed. unit at P.S. 87. With my colleagues only yards away Sarah, a singer whose voice carried even when she was mum, asked if Lloyd and I were out there marching for gay rights. Her face said “It’s time we had this talk.” This brave one only smiled and mumbled something about getting back to work.

Cousins Stephen and Susan Banker are next. Spring vacation 1975, Lloyd and I stayed at Washington, D.C.’s newly famous Watergate Hotel. In the adjoining suite was a fussily dressed, perfumed older man who chatted with us cheerfully while waiting for the lift. Coincidentally, we had became friendly with principal dancers from the New York City Ballet who were also staying there. “Who’s the old queen?” I asked the group after coming off the elevator with the dandy one fine day. Shocked silence was followed by a reverent “Mr. B!” George Balanchine, their choreographer, was as heterosexual as he was recognizable to everyone but me.

Then, at Susan and Stephen’s, without preamble or delay, they asked if we had been to Henry’s Georgetown bar. ”You’ve got to go,” they insisted. “We’ve been to Henry’s. It’s the best gay bar in town.” I remember feeling simultaneously hot, cold and relieved. Initially, unconditional acceptance felt strange.

Aside from my genuine admiration for Gerald and Betty Ford, we were in D.C. because I had to get the hell out of NYC. Lloyd’s mother was the only parent still alive and I hated winter’s cold. I found the rude, dangerous New York of the 60’s and 70’s repulsive, and I was in the wrong career. And during our first visit to California in 1967 we fell in love again–this time with a place.

Those unfamiliar with my mulish determination didn’t believe we would ever leave New York, but Joel had spoken and that was that. We subscribed to L.A. Magazine, and I followed the West Coast’s weather every day for years. I couldn’t listen to “San Francisco” and “California, Here I Come” enough. In 1976 we sold our East side co-op apartment, gave notice at work and made the move. But not before being sent off in style.

P.S. 87’s principal Arthur Block insisted that Lloyd attend my final year-end party and recognized us both in his after dinner speech. The gay friends surprised us with a sendoff, too. Among them was Robert, whom I’d known since we were twelve. Robert had come out to Lloyd and me the year before. That took courage for the young married father, especially when I described my teenage crush on him in words that turned him red.

Although I felt loved, I left the kids, the speech profession and New York’s lousy weather without a tear. The shortest distance between two points being a rather crooked line, we bought a comfortable center hall colonial in Lenox, Massachusetts, as our East Coast home. The Berkshire hills, which had been our summer refuge since 1972, was where I first discovered life was good. I regard July 30 1976, the afternoon the movers pulled away from 150 East 69th Street, Manhattan, as the day that I was born.

Call me “Talks To Dogs,” but the night Reagan challenged Ford at the ‘76 Republican Convention I walked the dog and for the first time saw our Berkshires palace lighted up at night. “I can’t believe it, Moppet,” I confided to the pug. My dreams were coming true.

Gay Lib had also come to the Berkshires, to our delight and our surprise. The newly formed Berkshire Community Gay Coalition (BCGC) met weekly at the Unitarian Universalist Church. We joined as quickly as possible, made friends for life and met our first lesbians, too. BCGC planned social events and actions, and we bitched and moaned because we had plenty to bitch and moan about.

By then we felt comfortable talking up gay issues with heterosexual friends we could trust. One warned of a backlash if things went too far and fast. A savvy summer neighbor suggested the Establishment’s approval was key to our movement’s goals. Lloyd and I became the in-house gays to many, a role we loved. (An unattached gay friend ruefully dubbed us ‘Mr. and Mr. Gay America.”) Gay rights measures that passed in St. Paul, Wichita and Eugene were just as quickly repealed. The topic was unavoidable. Expectation dwelt alongside anger and despair.

Gay theater had sprung up, too. Many gays objected to The Boys in the Band for reinforcing stereotypes, but I found the play pretty accurate for its day. Puppy Dogs Tales showed how much fun we could be, while Circle in The Water explored the dangerous side of S and M. When we saw our first nude gay play, in San Francisco, I was surprised to feel a little shocked.

The beautiful Berkshires and BCGC would simply have to wait, for we were California bound. Two nights before Thanksgiving, 1976, with a snowstorm on the way, Lloyd, his mother–mink coat, jewelry and stock certificates in hand–and the faithful Moppet, aka Mercedes McMutt, and I boarded Amtrac near Albany, N.Y., for the adventure of our lives. If I felt reborn the preceding July, I was now learning how to walk.

Sleep was impossible in our shaky compartment with the storm raging and stops as exotic as Buffalo and Cleveland along the way. I remember turning the pages of a book and not reading a single word. The train sped through Ohio, where t.v,’s fictitious Mary Hartman and her family lived. During a stopover in Chicago I enjoyed a relaxing bath while Lloyd’s mother and the dog, each in her respective twin sized bed, snored in the adjoining room.

After an early turkey dinner we boarded the San Francisco Zephyr the following afternoon. Poor Moppet was consigned to the baggage car, and during brief stops I had to run to the rear and take her for a walk. The morning after crossing the Great Salt Lake her water dish had turned to ice, but Moppet took it as good fun. As the train pulled out of Denver’s station I spied the conspicuous deposit she had left in the newly fallen snow and thought I’d simply die.

En route San Francisco we flirted with a young blond married cowboy from Wyoming, chatted with a woman who owned a lot of land, admired a seventy-eight year old lady who got off in the middle of nowhere in the middle of night, and hooked up with a cute gay fellow on his way to Sacramento who would become our first property manager and California friend.

Our first night as San Franciscans I went to walk the dog. As we climbed the inevitable hill I whispered, “Moppet, look! There’s the Golden Gate Bridge.” Moppet spent her last six years living on a hill. Our stay in San Francisco lasted twenty-four.

Next: Gay Men’s Rap, Anita Bryant, and a Letter to the UFT

Joel: Letters