Throwback Thursday

 My freshman yearbook photo.

The Top 10 Songs that year…
1. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree, Tony Orlando and Dawn
2. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce
3. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Roberta Flack
4. Let’s Get It On, Marvin Gaye
5. My Love, Paul McCartney and Wings
6. Why Me, Kris Kristofferson
7. Crocodile Rock, Elton John
8. Will It Go Round in Circles, Billy Preston
9. You’re So Vain, Carly Simon
10. Touch Me In the Morning, Diana Ros

Yes, I’m old.

My Memory Isn’t Totally Gone

I ran across this picture the other day and it took me back to high school…

I believe it was during our junior year that Richard got his own truck. Shortly thereafter, along with Steve and Joe, the four of us started leaving campus for lunch and hitting the McDonald’s that was about three miles away. (Such things were allowed at the time without parental permission—the horror!—but not having a car limited the off-campus dining options to the Diary Queen Brazier down the street.)

At the time, my folks were giving me five dollars a week for lunch. This covered eating in the school cafeteria and maybe a couple trips to the Dairy Queen without a problem, but once we started eating at McD’s every single day (Richard loved it) and McDonald’s raised the cost of a Big Mac from 55 to 65 cents, I started running short of funds.

I finally convinced them into bumping me up to $7.50 a week, which then covered our daily excursions.

Now $7.50 might buy you one meal at McDonalds…

Memory

While it’s been proven that our memories are categorically unreliable and subject to change, I still find it amazing at what seems to come washing up when you’re lying wide awake in bed at 4 am.

Take this morning for instance. For no particular reason whatsoever, a memory of sleeping in my great aunt’s attic came flooding back to me.

Like we’d done every other summer since I was a baby, my mom, my sister and I went back east to spend a couple months with my grandparents in upstate Massachusetts. In 1968, we deviated from the usual pattern of flying into JFK where we’d meet the grandparents and they’d drive us to the house. That year, we flew to Green Bay to meet the grandparents there and spend a few days with my great aunt; my great aunt who never married. (In some families it runs, it other it gallops; just sayin’.)

The bits of that trip that stand out to me are odd to say the least. I’d recently developed a childhood interest in human anatomy, thinking one day that I’d grow up to be a doctor. I had books, I had plastic models (having received The Visible Head as a birthday gift about a month before our trip), but of all the anatomical models that I had or wanted, the one that always seemed to elude me was The Visible Woman. (The Visible Man was the one that started me on this particular path about a year earlier.) Guess what I found in Green Bay?

After having built the model, I showed my mom (who I remember being in bed, laid up and recovering from something flu-like) and she wondered if she could see “where she had her surgery.” Surgery? “Down there,” she said.

Now this is where memory selectivity obviously comes into play. I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of my mom having gone into the hospital for a hysterectomy—unless it happened concurrently with me coming down with a major flu three years earlier; something that sidelined me for what seemed like weeks and explains why I remember my Dad’s mom being around for an extended period.

Anyway, back to the attic. I can recall the smell vividly—and the fact it was only marginally a bedroom; rough-hewn wood floors, exposed wood joists (and surprisingly for Wisconsin—even with it being an old house—no roof insulation whatsoever). There was a lot of stuff stored in there along with the two twin beds and I loved the energy of the place, but there was one there item that totally creeped me out—to the point I had to have my mom remove it so I could sleep: my recently-deceased great grandmother’s cane that had been propped up against the dressing table on the other side of the room.

My great aunt was also a collector of glass. The window sill of the south-facing dining room was covered with various transparent, sparkling items of every color you could imagine. When the sun hit, the effect was magical. I remember being especially enamored of two aquamarine birds, and asked her if I might have them. She said yes, and I immediately took them upstairs. I don’t know what ever happened to them; they might’ve made it the rest of the journey to Massachusetts and back to Arizona with us, but I think it far more likely that my Mom made me give them back before we left, claiming there was no room to pack them for the remainder of the journey.

Another memory of that trip was one particular bath—and it stands out only because of the smell. It was my first exposure to Dial soap. To this day, the smell of Dial invokes the memory of that bath in that bathroom that was just down the hall from my great aunt’s kitchen. Funny thing, memory and how it is so intimately tied to our sense of smell.

I remember nothing of our departure from Green Bay, and only bits and pieces of the drive to Massachusetts. I know we crossed the Mackinac Bridge and drove through Michigan into Canada. We came back into the US at Niagara Falls, and of course stopped there to take photos. I remember it rained a lot, and I did a lot of napping.

 

Mackinac Bridge

Niagara Falls

I know we must’ve overnighted at least once on the drive (at a Howard Johnson’s no doubt), but I have no real recollection, nor do I remember anything of our arrival at the grandparents’ homestead. I do know that once we got there it was a busy summer—only because I have pictures to jog those memories.

 

Grandparents’ House

It was my first time fishing (there was a small pond on the property), and the summer included a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, the completion of my first 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and more than one fancy lunch with friends of my grandmother on what seemed at the time like a palatial estate (bitch had an olympic size swimming pool in her back yard)…

 

Fishing

Old Sturbridge Village

Luncheon

1000 Pieces

And one more memory of that summer that will probably fall under the “TMI” category…

Driving back from our weekly grocery shopping in the neighboring town, I was riding in the back seat of the car by myself, listening the radio playing reports of what was going on in Woodstock (yes, it was that summer) and my mom and grandmother were discussing how wrong the Vietnam War was and how Mom and Dad had agreed that they’d personally pack me up and ship me off to Canada if I came of age and the war was still going on. I was thumbing through some magazine they’d picked up on the trip and ran across a picture of a young, shirtless, and very hirsute Burt Reynolds. I had no idea who Burt Reynolds was, but I knew I liked what I saw and before I knew it I had my hand down my shorts and a short time later ended up some some very soggy underwear…all flying under the radar of the people in the front seat.

Or so my memory would have me believe.

May the Force Be With You

  
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This is one of only two LPs I kept when I sold my entire collection in the late 80s, bought new in the summer of 1977. And is actually the second copy of the record I purchased because I literally wore the original copy out. (I know this is the newer copy because of the graphic on the center label of the record. 20th Century changed it on all their pressings shortly after the movie was released.) And yes, getting rid of all my vinyl ranks right up there as one of the “Dumbest Things I’ve Ever Done In My Life” category.

But on the other hand, if I’d never gotten rid of the vinyl or my turntable back then, I might never have met the people or made the friends I have now through my quest to rebuild that collection, so I consider myself ahead.

Dreams of Home

Last night I dreamt my sister and I were back in the house where we lived during my high school and college years. I don’t remember the circumstances, only the overwhelming feeling of “home” and “safety” that it elicited. I remember standing in my bedroom, running a finger down the blinds, watching the afternoon sun stream in. It was a little slice of heaven.

Dig those bell bottoms!

That poor bedroom received more coats of paint that I can count over the years. Sadly, I don’t have photos from all its iterations. I think the blue phase was my favorite, even though it never was the exact blue I’d envisioned. I also forever regretted my choice of carpet when we first moved in because it never went with anything; a brown, white, and black shag that my father reluctantly agreed to on the condition there would be no more “girly” colors (lemon yellow, lime green—hey, it was the late 60s and early 70s!) like I’d had in my bedroom in our previous home.

My mom, being an interior decorator, indulged my nervous color twitching and I think on some level encouraged it.

My “peach” phase, and the color of the room that most often appears in my dreams

I’ve dreamt of that house more often than usual over the past few years, and I’m starting to think that while my last apartment in Phoenix may be my current conscious mental “happy place” where I go to de-stress and cocoon, that house on Solano Drive North may in fact be my real, subconscious place of refuge.

The chocolate experiment
What I wouldn’t give to still have that original Hildebrant STAR WARS poster that I picked up for $3 at Spencer’s Gifts shortly after the movie came out…not to mention the Donna Summer!
Yes, that’s a collage of mens…
Always the stereo geek. Funny how I don’t keep house plants any more; I used to surround myself with them.
The chocolate walls lasted about 6 months before they closed in and I was convinced I was seeing things moving in the shadows. It was time for them to go.
Disco, baby. Disco.
A little bit of that afternoon glow streaming in that so often appears in my dreams of this house.

Bar Hopping

As unlikely as it may seem at this point in my life, not so long ago—okay, it was ancient history—on any given Friday or Saturday night I could be found at any number of different watering holes in the Phoenix metro area. Sadly, none of them still remain except in memory and in scattered (because one did not take cameras into gay bars at the time except under extraordinary circumstances) photographs.

Maggie’s/Moon’s Truck/His Co. Disco

One of the first clubs I went to in Phoenix (on the occasion of my nineteenth birthday, finally legally able to get in) was a place that went by various names over the years. Located in a non-descript concrete block building on the east side of 16th Street just south of Indian School Road, on that particular night, it was officially going by the newly-rechristened name Moon’s Truck. The actual name was unimportant because I soon learned that regardless of what was on the sign over the entrance, everyone simply referred to it as Maggie’s. It changed names again about a year later to HisCo Disco before finally being forced to close by the neighbors’ continual complaints about noise and other goings-on in the area.

It was a cavernous, magical place, and at the time was known for playing the some of the best music in Phoenix. It had a slightly raised lighted dance floor and a sound system that would leave your ears ringing for hours. I would meet up there with my friend and dance partner Kent and no matter where the evening eventually took us, we always started at Maggie’s.

While outwardly an all-inclusive club (gays, straights, men, women, and people of indeterminate gender) were always welcome at Maggie’s, the one thing I remember most about Hubert, one of the DJs (who did not want women in the club) was how he’d always yell “Uterus!” when one walked in. I found it amusing at the time, even if it embarrasses me now.

I also managed to repeatedly bed two of the bouncers who worked there: Ken and Paul. They didn’t particularly like each other and both were aghast that I would have sex with the other. Awkward!

It was also there that I heard the debut many of disco’s greatest hits, including Donna Summer’s Once Upon a Time album, Cerrone’s Supernature, Alec Costandinos’ Romeo and Juliet, and African Queens by The Three Degrees. The arrival of Supernature coincided with the club putting up a huge new mural over the dance floor, and to this day I still don’t understand the meaning of it:

Both Kent and I had assumed at the time it had been done by some local artist, but I discovered it in a wallpaper sample book several years later—still with no explanation or even name attached to it.

Kent and I decided it was an underground temple discovered by archaeologists on some far off world, something that would actually figure in my still-to-be-completed novel about someone being reuined with his long-lost love from an extraterrestrial past life—an underlying meaning Kent and I also both quickly assigned to Donna’s OUAT.

But I digress.

A few months later, one night I noticed a new face in the DJ booth. The most overwhelming sense of deja vu came over me, leading me to believe that perhaps this stranger was someone I’d known in a previous life. When I ran into him again at the local mall, I took this as a sign that I should at least strike up a conversation, which is exactly what I did.

Steve Golden and I became great friends over the following months, with him eventually becoming one of the great unrequited loves of my life. When he lost his day job at the mall, I got him a work in the mail room at the homebuilder I was working for, and later we both ended up as legal messengers for a prestigious law firm downtown. Unfortunately, it seemed after the Universe threw us together, time or circumstances were never right for our relationship to develop into anything more than an intense friendship; something I mourned for many years after he suddenly up and left all traces of his life in Phoenix for San Francisco in 1983.

Steve doing his thing.

I lost track of Steve after he left, but after I found myself in The City a few years later I secretly hoped our paths would magically cross. They never did. He passed from AIDS in 1991.

The Forum

If Steve wasn’t working or the music was off on any given night, we’d often migrate over to The Forum. This little dive with a sunken wooden dance floor was located in the corner of an L-shaped strip mall at the corner of East McDowell Road and North 41st Place. While a much smaller club, The Forum was still a fun place to go and the music was always good, even if the resident DJ—George—could get a bit surly if you asked what he was playing. I don’t remember it ever being a reliable venue for getting laid, but it was the first place I ever slow-danced with another man and I did form some very deep friendships there, a couple of which survive to this very day. 

Bullwinkle

In the weeks before Maggie’s officially closed, a new bar called Bullwinkle opened on the north side of East McDowell Road, just a few blocks east of 16th Street. It was a small club, on the end of a strip mall that had definitely seen better days. It had the distinct advantage of ample parking and no neighbors nearby who would complain about noise. The interior had also been completely remodeled from the ground up, so it hadn’t yet developed that stale beer-and-embedded-cigarette-smoke smell, and it was truly a joy to go to. Most of the staff from Maggie’s ended up there, including both Steve and Hubert.  I have many memories of the place, including the first time I heard the B52s’ Rock Lobster and Planet Claire. It was there that I also—on the eve of celebrating a year of involuntary celibacy—blew it completely by going home with a hunky, muscled psychologist who actually came up and asked me to dance (I was usually the initiator of these things). Mark was twenty years my senior and ended up taking quite a fancy to me.

The sex with the shrink was great. In fact, I have to say it was the best I’d had at that point in my life. It turned into an a very enjoyable little fling, but eventually ended after I showed up one evening at his house unannounced. That night I learned two important lessons: (1) always call first and (2) don’t date psychologists. They’re more messed up than you are.

Bullwinkle was also the place where I finally made the realization that in those settings, everyone was waiting around for the other guy to make the first move. If you were that guy, chances were good that you wouldn’t be going home alone. Yeah, I faced my share of rejection, but the more it happened the easier it got, and eventually going up to complete strangers became almost second nature to me. It was never effortless, but it definitely put an end to that almost year-long dry spell.

After Hotbods opened and siphoned off most of Bullwinkle’s clientele (not to mention its employees), it turned into Trax, the closest thing Phoenix had at the time to a leather dance bar.

Hotbods

About a couple years after Bullwinkle opened, the owners of the now-defunct Maggie’s opened a new club called Hotbods. It was located at 3437 East McDowell road and dwarfed Maggies in size. I remember Steve (who of course had re-secured his employment with his previous employers) showing me the place shortly before it opened and I was duly impressed. The dance floor, mirror balls and neon had all been relocated from Maggie’s and had been augmented by a state-of-the-art sound system controlled from the second-floor DJ booth. There was a lounge-type bar closed off from the main disco for those who actually wanted to carry on a conversation without screaming, and the sheer scale of the place was something very new for Phoenix at the time.

Hotbods came into full swing after I’d moved to Tucson, but I made numerous trips back to Phoenix when I was single—and even after Dennis and I had gotten together—just to spend an evening there, and I have several strong memories of the place. One concerns the first time I heard the BAM-BAM-BAM Disconet remix of ABBA’s Lay All Your Love on Me, and how after dancing with the adorable little blond cub to the song, and returned home with him  (on his birthday, no less) for a night of carnal abandon. The second involves the multiple weekends I came north with camera in hand to take these photos and watched in amazement as at one point the entire dance floor was taken over by leather-clad men dancing to Linda Clifford’s Don’t Come Cryin To MeHotbods was where I first heard Patrick Cowley, and where one night Steve came over the intercom to announce, “Mark, this is for you,” right before playing Paradise Express’ We are One.

Along with The Connection, Hotbods came to an end after I’d relocated to San Francisco. It will be missed.

The Connection

“Where the men are.” Never were more true words spoken. The Connection had been open for many years, but I never ventured there much until after Dennis and I moved back to Phoenix in 1983. Frankly, the place intimidated me. Silly when I think about it now. Funny how I had a preconceived notion of the type of men that went there, only to have those preconceptions totally thrown out the window once I stepped through those doors. Over the next couple years I made some wonderful friends and had lots of hot nasty sex via that place, and it saddened me no end to hear that it was another one of those venues that did not survive the ravages of the epidemic.

The group St. Tropez (or whatever group of performers they happened to scrape together to lip sync) giving a performance at the Connection’s 1983 Benefit AIDS fundraiser.
Bartender Brent Walker (who moved to San Francisco a few years after I did), the infamous Kenworth, and the dance floor/DJ booth. Ah, memories of all…
The back patio, where many a fine luau was held.

As I wrote earlier, sadly none of these places survive. Maggies/Moon’s Truck/HisCo. Disco is now a car stereo installer. The Forum changed its name and went straight. The space formerly occupied by Bullwinkle/Trax is now Karumba, described as “a latin dance bar.” The Hotbods building is now occupied by a company called Inventory Adjusters, something that appears to be a cross between a pawn shop and a second hand jewelry store.

Wayback Machine

A Curious Phenomenon

March 2nd, 2007

I have been blogging for close to two years now. What I’ve noticed during that time is while I’ve made new friends through the endeavor, several of my long-time fellow travelers in life’s journey have drifted away. One of whom in particular—a guy I’ve known nearly a quarter century—has all but vanished, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s because of something I’ve written along the way. Blogging’s semi-anonymity has allowed me to voice thoughts that even my closest confidants may not have known I was mulling.

This raises a fundamental question. Isn’t it better to have people love you for who you really are, other than for who they think you are?

While not nearly as political as I am, I know my buddy has no love for George Bush, so I doubt that’s the source of his withdrawl. The only other thing that may have caused this apparent chilling of our friendship are the writings about my increasing agnosticism. He’s not a religious guy, but a very spiritually oriented one; something that initially drew us together and that we’d shared these many years. I still respect his New Age beliefs, but at this point in my life I’m just finding it impossible to ascribe to a philosophy that’s become as rigid and entrenched as any other faith-based doctrine and offers no more proof of its validity than the fairy tales of traditional organized religion.

Before I started blogging, we’d chat or email each other several times a week, and I always felt welcome visiting. But over the last year or so (along with my posts examining my crumbling faith in New Age thought), all my emails seem to vanish into a black hole, never to be answered. (His excuse is that he gets so much spam he doesn’t even bother opening his email, despite my attempts to show him how to filter it out at his ISP before it ever reaches Outlook). So I’ve just given up emailing him altogether. At some point you just reach the point where you think, “Why bother?”

I no longer feel like I can just call and come down for the weekend like I’d been doing for years. It seems he always has houseguests, or previous plans, or the planets aren’t in proper alignment. The last time I was in the neighborhood, the ex and I just dropped in on him (we did call first), and neither of us exactly got the warm fuzzies while we were there. And don’t get me started on him coming here. It’s been over a year and a half since he’s been up to Phoenix. His excuse is that his back bothers him. It’s not like going to San Francisco, for Chrissake.

So I’m kind of at a loss. I have a feeling he’s dealing with some demons of his own, but he hasn’t shared any of it with me, and when I’ve asked if everything was okay he said it was. I’m not losing sleep over it, but it concerns me that a friendship I thought I would take to the grave with me may be coming to an end after having survived and flourished nearly twenty-five years.

Wayback Machine

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Why?

June 26, 2008

One question that’s gripped me in regards to the current situation in this country is a simple, “Why?”

Why are the Republicans and their supporters so hell bent on destroying the planet? Why are they hell bent on everlasting war in the Middle East? Why are they so obsessed with what everyone else does in their bedrooms, when their own desires are so often revealed to be festering cesspools of hypocrisy?

Why is McCain such a fucktard? I mean, seriously. Eight years ago he was someone who—while I did not like—I at least had a modicum of respect for. But now? The man can’t even present a consistent message from hour to hour, much less day to day. This is the best the Republicans can come up with? And for the love of all that is holy, why is this man following George Bush’s playbook when the smirking chimp is riding on a 23% approval rating that’s falling by the hour?

Why is the Republican Wingnut Brigade so vehemently attacking Barack Obama, a man who by all rights has done nothing but rekindled hope in this country, something that has been absent from our collective consciousness for nearly a decade? (Nevermind. I guess I answered my own question there.)

Why are so-called Christian leaders in this country acting in ways completely opposite the teachings of their savior, and why haven’t the true followers of those teachings risen up and denounced these screeching harpies for what they are? Why has “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” turned into “Hate everyone who doesn’t agree with you?”

The question of what causes men to do evil has perplexed philosophers for thousands of years, so I seriously doubt I’ll ever have any rational answer to any of these questions, or even an answer to what can be done to enlighten these poor souls who seem so wrapped up in their own darkness and destruction.

When I started upon my spiritual path nearly 30 years ago, one of my very first teachers told me, “Evil has no power over you. It is impotent. In order for it to flourish you must first give it permission.” It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me and has been perfectly illustrated during the last eight years as the people of this country have blithely handed the proverbial keys to the kingdom over to the forces of darkness.

Now the question is, how do we get those keys back?

Wayback Machine

Dear George Lucas…

May 25, 2008

Please, for the love of all that is holy, let your successful twenty-five year old franchises die.

Yes, I’m talking about the abomination that is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

After taking me out for an early birthday dinner at TexAZMarc and I saw that mess tonight, and afterward we both left the theater shaking our heads in disbelief.

It was bad enough when you went back and “improved,” tinkered with and fucked up the original STAR WARS. But then you gave us those three illegitimate bastards—the prequels—overloaded with bombastic special effects, plagued by poor writing and even poorer casting, you finally crossed the line. I mean seriously…Hayden Christensen? Midi-chlorians? What were you thinking?

And now you resurrect Indiana Jones—like something Mr. Jones himself would dig up in an ancient Mayan temple. Please, Mr. Lucas…let us live with our memories unmolested!

It was a much different world when you loosed Indy upon an unsuspecting public those many years ago. But in the intervening decades, the world has changed—dramatically, and the things that seemed so fresh and unique in 1981 have in 2008 already been rehashed and reinterpreted a dozen times over.

The car chase between our heroes and the Russians? Uh…excuse me, but you did almost that exact same thing with speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi. (Maybe it slipped your mind.) It was exciting then. Tonight I was looking at my watch. And what was up with the monkeys-as-Ewoks thing? Are you planning on marketing plush Indiana Jones© marmosets in time for Christmas?

Ancient space aliens and buried UFOs? Been there, done that. The X-Files movie, anyone?

Villains arriving with the sound of a revolver being cocked seconds after our protagonists finally find what they’re looking for? That dramatic effect is so far past it’s sell-by date that the carton is about to explode on the shelf.

Maybe I’m confused, but I thought the city of El Dorado was buried under Mount Rushmore. Oh wait, that was National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (At least Harrison Ford still has all his own hair—or at least a much better hairpiece than Nicholas Cage.)

And speaking of Harrison, exactly how much petroleum jelly did your camera man have to smear over the lens for those tight shots on Mr. Ford? I was reminded of Lucille Ball in Mame and that tended to distract my attention from what was happening on screen. Seriously.

One last question: was the wedding scene at the end of the film really necessary? You could’ve easily left our merry little group sitting on that mountain top and everything would have been well in the world. But nooo! Can’t you leave the continued story of the life and times of Indiana Jones up to the imaginations of your audience?

And lastly, don’t even think about continuing the story with a fresh face. When Mutt (Shia LeBeouf) was about to pick up Jones’ fedora at the end of the movie, the entire audience groaned. Thank the gods Indy snatched it away as he walked out.

Mr. Lucas, you’ve had a good life and have entertained billions of people. But it’s now time to step away from the movie business and enjoy a much-deserved retirement. PLEASE.

Sincerely,

Alexander the Moviegoer
Phoenix, AZ

P.S. Cate Blanchett really needs to work on that Russian accent. It faded in and out more than a bad cell phone signal.

Still Funny After All These Years

Another gem from my archive at the Wayback Machine:

The Pope and George Bush are on the same stage in front of a huge crowd.

The President and His Holiness, however, have seen it all before, so to make it a little more interesting, the President says to the Pope, “Did you know that with just one little wave of my hand I can make every Republican in the crowd go wild?”

The Pope doubts it, so Bush shows him. Sure enough, the wave elicits rapture and cheering from every Republican in the crowd. Gradually, the cheering subsides.

The Pope, not wanting to be outdone by such a level of arrogance, considers what he could do. “That was impressive. But did you know that with just one little wave of MY hand I can make EVERY person in the crowd go crazy with joy? This joy will not be a momentary display like that of your subjects, but will go deep into their hearts, and they will forever speak of this day and rejoice.”

The President seriously doubts this, and says so. “One little wave of your hand and all people will rejoice forever? Show me.”

So the Pope slapped the shit out of him.