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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Zoo Stories



I have always been fascinated by zoos.  Yes, I know that the current thinking is that the forced confinement of animals is a form of cruelty by one species on another, but I also know that many animals are vanishing from the shrinking wilderness and will die out without the efforts of zoos and similar institutions.  In any event, I grew up enjoying zoos as a major entertainment in my life, and I don’t apologize for the love of animals that was fostered by this. 

When I was in the first and second grades my family often made trips to the St. Louis Zoo (one of the best in the country), and when I was ten we lived within one block of the entrance to the San Antonio Zoo.  I walked, alone or with my sister, over there five or six times every day during the summer of 1953, which sounds dangerous in 2011 but was perfectly safe in that very different era.  These experiences sparked a life-long reading of books about zoos and animals, and made me a frequent zoo visitor wherever I have lived since.  To name but a few, I've been to the zoos of Tokyo, Rome, London, D.C., San Diego, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, New York (both Central Park and the Bronx), and to the wonderful Columbus Zoo, also one of the best in the United States (Jack Hanna, the zoo's leading light, is a frequent guest on Dave Letterman's TV show).

Let me tell you some zoo stories, both mine and those of others.



When I was an 18 year-old sailor walking through the zoo in Rome with fellow sailor from our ship, I was explaining to him that if a zoo animal can figure out a way for visitors to feed it, the animal will show you how to accomplish this.  As if to demonstrate my point, a rhinoceros, seeing we both had popcorn, came thundering from the back of its outdoor exhibit, stuck its large head over the railing, and opened its mouth expectantly.  It's head was in our path, mere inches away.  We laughed.  Somewhat hesitantly, I put a handful of popcorn on its tongue, but nothing happened.  The large beast just stood there, mouth open, waiting.  It occurred to me that the rhino didn't realize there was food on its tongue, so I gently tapped its snout, whereupon the mouth closed, there was determined chewing for a moment, and then the mouth opened again.  This was repeated until we ran out of popcorn.


Years later when I was living in San Francisco, I was walking alone through the zoo when a similar thing happened.  An ostrich noticed my popcorn and ran to a corner of its cage where a tiny opening allowed it to stick just its head out onto the visitors' path.   It too opened its large beak, making a squawking noise to attract my attention.  I dutifully walked around the enclosure until I came to the bird.  I offered a handful of popcorn, and was immediately bitten!  That hurt, but no skin was broken, and I stormed off in disgust, taking my popcorn with me, eating it myself.

Compare that with my visit to the San Diego Zoo in the early 1990's.  Strangely enough I had never before seen a live hummingbird (nor since, though for years I planted flowers to attract them), but in this zoo I came upon a aviary devoted to hummingbirds.  The public was invited to enter, and I excitedly did so.  What I later learned is that the hummingbirds formerly ensconced here had all escaped—save one—and most of them were living nearby, and could even be seen perched or buzzing above the top of the aviary through the open-to-the-sky wiring of the roof.  The one remaining hummingbird was understandably pissed.  As I walking into the aviary, this tiny bird deliberately zipped to the spot right between my eyes, not even an inch away, startling me and causing me to jump back.  One of the zookeepers laughed and told me about the escape of the other birds, pointing his finger up toward them, and commenting the attacking bird did this  to all the visitors.  It took its revenge by scaring them.

Thinking about it later, it occurred to me that I'd now been menaced by both an ostrich (the largest bird in the world) and a hummingbird (the smallest).  Since I've lived with parakeets much of my life (and certainly been bitten by them—one, the evil Floyd, hated humans and if you brought him close to your face while he was sitting on your finger, he'd bite you on the flesh between the nostrils, pleased by your scream), I can claim to have had close encounters with a large number of avians.

There was a small roadside zoo in Tennessee where a capuchin monkey once stole my glasses.  I was in high school and my family had stopped to wander through the zoo.  My sister Mary Beth and I walked up to a cage filled with the small monkeys.  I leaned down to read a sign pinned to the cage and one of the monkeys snatched my glasses off violently and expertly zipped them through an impossibly small opening in the wire mesh.  (The sign, I later learned to my disgust, said "Beware—Monkeys Steal Glasses!")  Astounded, I muttered, "A monkey stole my glasses!"  So now I couldn't see well, and Mary Beth was laughing as if she was having a fit, later telling me about the thieving monkey zooming around the cage, banging my glasses against things, and then pausing to sit to look through the lenses at odd angles or chew on the parts that wrapped around the ears.  Annoyed, I asked Beth to find a keeper, which, trying to control her laughter, she did.  This man sternly approached the cage and said to the monkey, "Give them back!"  Sheepishly, as if to almost deny their existence, the monkey carefully folded the glasses and oh-so-gently slipped them through the wires of the cage.  They proved, miraculously, to be undamaged, but to this day Mary Beth can sometimes be heard to mutter "A monkey stole my glasses" and then break out laughing.  Just this evening when I phoned her and said my blog would discuss zoo stories, she chortled that very phrase.



The behavior of animals in zoos is quite remarkable.  A keeper once wrote about an experiment in which putting a screwdriver on the floor of the cages of the great apes vividly demonstrated the difference between them.  The gorillas were afraid of the screwdriver, avoiding it with suspicion or chest-pounding in defiance of the intruding tool.  Conversely, the chimpanzees were fascinated, picking up the screwdriver and, in the words of the zookeeper, "using it for every possible purpose except the one it was made for."  But when the screwdriver was placed in the orangutan cage, it promptly disappeared.  The next day the cage was empty and the former tenants had to be hunted down and returned.  "The orangs," the keeper explained, "are the escape artists of the animal kingdom."

At the Cincinnati Zoo some years ago a keeper was killed when she accidentally walked into the tiger exhibit, mistakenly thinking it was empty.  There was an immediate outcry from the public demanding that the tiger who jumped her be put to death, but the official in charge of the zoo adamantly refused.  "We're not going to kill a tiger merely for being a tiger," he explained.  That seems absolutely right to me.  However, when a Canadian goose (strangely violating the natural tendency of Canadian geese to land only in appropriate places) recently touched down in the polar bear exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and, sadly, came to a bad end, no one in the public seemed to object at all.

video
 
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Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
"Amusing Pictures of Cats and Other Animals," May 10, 2013
"My Cats Get Involved in My Knee Surgery and Selling My Condo," June 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013
 



 

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Magic and Power of a Wink



You can't use it often, but if you choose your moment carefully, a wink is a powerful tool to have in your social repertoire.  Why a wink?  Because it's almost always unexpected, and, being so, causes a reaction.  A wink at the absolutely right time can create magic.

When is it appropriate?  Consider the following possibilities.

A.  Seduction.  Oscar Hammerstein wrote: "Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know—you know even then—that somehow you'll see her again and again."  He then advised "fly to her side and make her your own," but in a crowded room that's not always possible.  If you have a tremendous attraction to another person, and—this is very important or you'll look like a fool—that attraction is mutual, a little smile and a deliberate wink can convey this message: "I'm interested in meeting you."  Notice that I said a "deliberate wink."  By that I mean that it must be an obvious wink, leaving no doubt that it occurred.  You don't want the object of your affection wondering if he/she really saw a wink or not.  How do you make sure?  Hold the wink just a split second longer than a blink.  But you don't want to go too far and look ridiculous.  Practice in a mirror until you have a wink Cary Grant would be proud of.


B.  A Message.  All winks are a message of some sort, but here I mean a secret message that only the person being winked at will see and decode.  For example, in tournament bridge it's against the rules to compliment your partner after a hand has been played if he/she played the hand well.  Why?  The rule is designed to prevent "gloating."  But if my partner has played well and the opponents therefore did badly on that hand, I sometimes will catch my partner's eye and wink.  This conveys the idea of both "Congratulations" and "Hey, we did good!"


C.  I'm Lying.  Say you and your spouse are trapped in an awkward social situation and need to escape.  Think up some fictional pressing obligation, wink at your spouse as you announce it, and trust he/she will back you up.  You could say, "Well, we need to get home because Whitley will be arriving early and we have to pick him up," even though in truth there is no Whitley in your future.  The wink asks your partner for backup, and if he/she is alert it will be forthcoming: "Oh, goodness!  That's right—we have to go!"  Just don't let anyone else see the wink (that's important for most of the winks described in this post) and the two of you will be out the door in a flash.


D.  Deliberate Confusion. 
I've always had a preternaturally loud voice, and it's been valuable on more than one occasion.  At the early gay pride marches here in Columbus, Ohio, there were always religious protestors on the sidewalks, holding ugly signs, yelling messages about going to hell, their children at their side.  There was one particular minister who waved his bible and got the protestors foaming at the mouth, and I singled him out for the first couple of parades and moved up close to him as I yelled at the gay marchers: "THIS MAN IS PREACHING HATRED IN THE NAME OF GOD.  SHAME ON HIM!  LET'S TELL HIM THE TRUTH: GOD LOVES GAYS!  GOD LOVES GAYS!  GOD LOVES GAYS!"  The marchers would pick up the chant and the religious protestors were drowned out.  After the first couple of marches where this happened, at subsequent parades this particular minister would disappear when he saw me coming, which was just fine.

In 2001, for the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Stonewall Columbus, our local gay group, some of the founders and early gay rights activists were chosen to ride in the parade in open-air cars.  I was supposed to ride with Craig Covey, the first president of the organization, but he was unable to make it, so I ended up alone in a 1969 (fittingly the year of the Stonewall riots that started modern gay history) Cadillac DeVille, driven by David Fleisher of the Lambda Car Club, and it was a real beauty.  I tried to get the young marchers surrounding the car (see photo) to do some of the old chants, but that led nowhere.  The major reason was that  we were followed by a float with loud music and singing, and it was almost impossible to hear anything else.  As the Cadillac drove the parade route, various sympathetic groups watching from the sidewalks would break out in applause.  At first I thought this was for me, which was flattering, but it soon became obvious that they were really applauding the stunning car. 



As we neared the heart of downtown, there were a large number of religious protestors (500 I was later told) bunched along one particular block.  One of these people was arrested that day for burning a gay flag (a fire hazard violation).  These protestors were chanting something, but again the music defeated their efforts.  Twice a man from these protestors came running up to the car, bible in hand, and yelled something at me in a threatening tone.  In each case the result was identical.  As this man looked me, hatred flaring his nostrils, I smiled and winked at him.  You could see the shock on his face (was I making fun of him or—even worse—coming on to him?), but before he could react, I winked again.  Readers, I am here to tell you that he didn't like being winked at, but in each case before he could do anything more the car moved on.  Both men had come up to the car to annoy or startle me, and both had retreated in confusion, not sure what to think.

A wink had done its job.
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Related Posts:;
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"The Thunderbolt," September 3, 2010
"Good Sex/Bad Sex: Advice on Making Love," November 9, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013
 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chaucer, The Miller's Tale, and Me

Geoffrey Chaucer

To earn a degree in English at the University of Maryland (from which I graduated in 1965), one requirement was to take a "development of language" course (of which there were a number of possibilities).  The majority of these sounded dreadful, judging from the catalogue descriptions ("Elements of Grammar," for example), but the course that caught my eye was "Chaucer in the Original English."  Since Geoffrey Chaucer was born in 1343 (I was born in 1943, six hundred years later), his version of the English language is only a kissing cousin to modern English.  The professor who taught the course (whose name, alas, I cannot recall) was a treasure: a true Chaucer enthusiast with a love of his subject, and an infectious way of reading the old English out loud with enthusiasm.  On the first day of class he told the thirty or so students that we would take turns reading aloud from Chaucer's various works.  The text was arranged so that on one page would be Chaucer's original language and on the facing page would be the modern day translation.  Most of these readings were from Chaucer's masterpiece "The Canterbury Tales" (in which the various pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral each tell a tale), but there were other works such as "Parlement of Fouls," describing a convocation of birds.  Here is the start of the original prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" and then one of the many modern translations.  Try reading the original out loud after you've read the translation, and then consider doing so in a classroom.



Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour,
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages . . . .


When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage . . . .


That first day of class the professor himself read us a good portion of the Prologue, and then assigned a couple of students to read to us in the following class.  But after that he called on students at random.  Most so chosen were daunted by the task, and it was often hard to listen to them stumble through their recitations.  Some students, of course, were better than others, and all improved as the semester progressed.  As for me, I loved preparing for class and faithfully practiced reading Chaucer's words aloud.  About halfway through the course the professor called on me, and—ham that I am—I plunged into the text with brio.  His face lit up with pleasure, and thereafter I was frequently called upon to recite, which I did with pleasure.  I'd been an actor since I was small boy, and that sort of background is just what Chaucer requires to bring his tales alive.  It was a particular pleasure to be chosen to read aloud "The Miller's Tale," though I worked hard at not blushing when doing so.  If you're going to have to say outrageous things, then do it in an outrageous manner, and everyone will have a good time.


A few words about "The Miller's Tale."  Unlike the other tales, which range from a story of courtly love ("The Knight's Tale") to exploration of various aspects of society ("The Wife of Bath's Tale" treats the relationship of men and women), the tale told by the miller is over-the-top, extremely bawdy, and very funny.  As I describe it for you, consider that this famous story from the late 1400's  has never been televised and never could be televised (except on HBO-like channels where X-rated situations and nudity are permitted).   If you're a high school teacher and assign your class "The Miller's Tale," you'll be looking for a job shortly thereafter. 


The synopsis:


Nicholas, an astrology student, has become sexually attracted to Alison, the young wife of John, a carpenter (and Nicholas's landlord).  To consummate their passion the would-be lovers must find a way to get alone, so Nicholas tells John that a flood like Noah's is coming:


"Now John," quod Nicholas, "I wol nat lye;
I have yfounde in myn astrologye,
As I have looked in the moone bright,
That now a Monday next, at quarter nyght,
Shal falle a reyn, and that so wilde and wood
That half so greet was nevere Noes flood.
This world," he seyde, "in lasse than an hour
Shal al be dreynt, so hidous is the shour.
Thus shal mankynde drenche, and lese hir lyf."
 


To avoid this deluge, Nicholas, Alison, and John build three wooden tubs and suspend them from the rafters. On the designated night, they climb in and sleep in the tubs. During the night, Nicholas and Alison climb down, make love, and then hear outside the serenade of Absolon, a foppish parish clerk, who's in love with Alison. He begs her to put her cheek up to the privy window (through which people relieved themselves) so he can kiss her, but she sticks her butt there instead and farts in his face when he attempts the kiss. Outraged, Absolon stalks over the blacksmith's shop and borrows a red hot poker. He returns, asks for another kiss, and when Nicholas, chuckling, now offers his bum, rams the poker home. When Nicholas, in great agony, yelps "WATER!", John the carpenter awakes in his tub, thinks the flood is raging below, cuts himself loose, and breaks his arm in the resulting fall.

The Angry Absolon
Try televising that.  Most of the tales are not this outrageous, but I confess that I never think of "The Miller's Tale" without smiling and wondering at what a rogue Chaucer was all those centuries ago.

In addition to developing an appreciation of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, I did learn something about the early history of the English language from this splendid course.  Indeed, I was amazed to discover that Chaucer, just like Shakespeare two centuries later, gave us hundreds of words that are now commonplace.  These include: accident, border, box, funeral, horizon, nod, observe, princess, rumor, scissors, superstitious, theater, universe, village, and wallet. 

The word "tub" itself first appears in "The Miller's Tale."
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Related Post:
"The Only Course I Ever Flunked," July 25, 2011
"A Guide to the Best of My Blog," April 29, 2013

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Mack Problem: Saving My Parents' Marriage



You can't use it often, but if you choose your moment carefully, a wink is a powerful tool to have in your social repertoire.  Why a wink?  Because it's almost always unexpected, and, being so, causes a reaction.  A wink at the absolutely right time can create magic.

When is it appropriate?  Consider the following possibilities.

A.  Seduction.  Oscar Hammerstein wrote: "Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know—you know even then—that somehow you'll see her again and again."  He then advised "fly to her side and make her your own," but in a crowded room that's not always possible.  If you have a tremendous attraction to another person, and—this is very important or you'll look like a fool—that attraction is mutual, a little smile and a deliberate wink can convey this message: "I'm interested in meeting you."  Notice that I said a "deliberate wink."  By that I mean that it must be an obvious wink, leaving no doubt that it occurred.  You don't want the object of your affection wondering if he/she really saw a wink or not.  How do you make sure?  Hold the wink just a split second longer than a blink.  But you don't want to go too far and look ridiculous.  Practice in a mirror until you have a wink Cary Grant would be proud of.


B.  A Message.  All winks are a message of some sort, but here I mean a secret message that only the person being winked at will see and decode.  For example, in tournament bridge it's against the rules to compliment your partner after a hand has been played if he/she played the hand well.  Why?  The rule is designed to prevent "gloating."  But if my partner has played well and the opponents therefore did badly on that hand, I sometimes will catch my partner's eye and wink.  This conveys the idea of both "Congratulations" and "Hey, we did good!"


C.  I'm Lying.  Say you and your spouse are trapped in an awkward social situation and need to escape.  Think up some fictional pressing obligation, wink at your spouse as you announce it, and trust he/she will back you up.  You could say, "Well, we need to get home because Whitley will be arriving early and we have to pick him up," even though in truth there is no Whitley in your future.  The wink asks your partner for backup, and if he/she is alert it will be forthcoming: "Oh, goodness!  That's right—we have to go!"  Just don't let anyone else see the wink (that's important for most of the winks described in this post) and the two of you will be out the door in a flash.


D.  Deliberate Confusion. 
I've always had a preternaturally loud voice, and it's been valuable on more than one occasion.  At the early gay pride marches here in Columbus, Ohio, there were always religious protestors on the sidewalks, holding ugly signs, yelling messages about going to hell, their children at their side.  There was one particular minister who waved his bible and got the protestors foaming at the mouth, and I singled him out for the first couple of parades and moved up close to him as I yelled at the gay marchers: "THIS MAN IS PREACHING HATRED IN THE NAME OF GOD.  SHAME ON HIM!  LET'S TELL HIM THE TRUTH: GOD LOVES GAYS!  GOD LOVES GAYS!  GOD LOVES GAYS!"  The marchers would pick up the chant and the religious protestors were drowned out.  After the first couple of marches where this happened, at subsequent parades this particular minister would disappear when he saw me coming, which was just fine.

In 2001, for the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Stonewall Columbus, our local gay group, some of the founders and early gay rights activists were chosen to ride in the parade in open-air cars.  I was supposed to ride with Craig Covey, the first president of the organization, but he was unable to make it, so I ended up alone in a 1969 (fittingly the year of the Stonewall riots that started modern gay history) Cadillac DeVille, driven by David Fleisher of the Lambda Car Club, and it was a real beauty.  I tried to get the young marchers surrounding the car (see photo) to do some of the old chants, but that led nowhere.  The major reason was that  we were followed by a float with loud music and singing, and it was almost impossible to hear anything else.  As the Cadillac drove the parade route, various sympathetic groups watching from the sidewalks would break out in applause.  At first I thought this was for me, which was flattering, but it soon became obvious that they were really applauding the stunning car. 



As we neared the heart of downtown, there were a large number of religious protestors (500 I was later told) bunched along one particular block.  One of these people was arrested that day for burning a gay flag (a fire hazard violation).  These protestors were chanting something, but again the music defeated their efforts.  Twice a man from these protestors came running up to the car, bible in hand, and yelled something at me in a threatening tone.  In each case the result was identical.  As this man looked me, hatred flaring his nostrils, I smiled and winked at him.  You could see the shock on his face (was I making fun of him or—even worse—coming on to him?), but before he could react, I winked again.  Readers, I am here to tell you that he didn't like being winked at, but in each case before he could do anything more the car moved on.  Both men had come up to the car to annoy or startle me, and both had retreated in confusion, not sure what to think.

A wink had done its job.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Related Posts:;
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"The Thunderbolt," September 3, 2010
"Good Sex/Bad Sex: Advice on Making Love," November 9, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013
 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

With Tim in San Francisco—1982/1983


The View From Pacific Heights

One of my very best friends is Tim Ihle, who was a law student in 1976 when I joined the Ohio State law faculty in January of that year as a Visiting Professor for the winter and spring quarters.  Things had become heated at Indiana University Indianapolis Law School, which was my permanent home, where the previous December I'd made a motion to censure the Dean for outrageous conduct and then led the faculty, more or less en masse, into his office the next day to tell him he must resign.  He declined.  When I left the next month to be a visitor at Ohio State until the summer, I was certainly hoping they would make me a permanent offer.  I was also, as explained in previous posts, exploring being a gay man for the first time.  At the Columbus gay bars I, of course, encountered the OSU gay law students, and they were very helpful in teaching me the ways of the homosexual world as it existed in 1976.  Tim was among this crowd, and we became fast friends for a number of reasons, especially including the fact that he was one of the creators of my record album "Strange Songs," where he kept stealing the limelight with numbers such as "The Specialty of the House." 

[Click To Enlarge]

I was told by the OSU law faculty, unanimously, that there was no way I would be offered a permanent position—in the changing legal education world of that day most law schools, OSU included, were simply not hiring white males.  [One of the most liberal members of the faculty told me years later that had he known I was gay, he'd have voted for me!]  I was saved, and did receive and accept the permanent offer, because the graduating class of 1976 (blessings upon them) voted me the Outstanding Professor of the Year (which annoyed some other faculty members since I was both a visitor and had been only there for five months).

Subsequently Tim graduated from law school in 1979 and went to work for one of the most prestigious firms in Columbus.  One Monday morning in 1982 he came into work and the secretaries informed him he was about to be fired because the partners had discovered he was gay!  This turned out to be an accurate prediction—they told him to clean out his desk by Friday.  This same firm had had an embezzler who they gave six months to find a new job, but a gay associate was too much for them in those homophobic days.  Tim was devastated.  The Steven Sondheim song in which one of the lyrics is that "bricks can fall out of clear blue skies," was written for moments like this.

About the same time I'd accepted an offer from the University of California Hastings Law School (a free-standing law school in downtown San Francisco) to be a Visiting Professor for the 1982-83 school year.  What gay man (then single) could resist and offer like that?  Tim approached me and asked if he could share expenses with me for that year, with the two of us being roommates while he took the California bar and found himself a new job.  Delighted, I said yes, and the adventure began for us both.  Understand that we were not a romantic couple, but just good friends embarking on a new experience together.
Our Apartment Building

Tim went first to SF and rented us an apartment on Laguna Street at the top of Pacific Heights across from Lafayette Park.  It had a tremendous view of the city—just breathtaking.  From one of the windows you could see the Golden Gate bridge, and when the fog would come rolling in every evening it was spooky and unreal, much like a bad special effect in a movie.  Lafayette Park is beautiful, but the grade in climbing it up to our apartment was 45° (no exaggeration).  Since you can't park anywhere in the city, you must get around by walking, taxi, cable car, or bus.  The first twenty times or so that I struggled up that grade carrying groceries I thought it was all sort of enchanting, but then it began to occur to me that it would be easier to be back in Columbus when in need of groceries, having only to hop in the car for a quick trip to Krogers.  Getting to work was easy—all downhill.  But coming home required use of some sort of public transportation, which could be a pain.  The law school was located at the edge of the Tenderloin, a bad section of town, and I frequently had to step over bodies of drunks on the sidewalk or deal with panhandlers.  Someone once well said that you are permitted to love two cities: your own and San Francisco.  That's true, and I did and do love SF, but I confess that I quickly realized I was often battling the city, and came back to Columbus in the summer of 1983 with an appreciation I'd not previously had for how easy it was to live there.

Lafayette Park (see our apartment at top right)



Beach Blanket Babylon
When I arrived in SF it was a Sunday, and Tim greeted me happily and we went out to explore the neighborhood.  I asked him if the liquor stores were open on a Sunday, and he confessed he didn't know.  A quick exploration of nearby Polk Street revealed an open package store, and Tim grinned broadly as he commented how nice it was to find a city that had its priorities straight.  Over the next ten months we explored much of the city, everything from its fabled sights (Twin Peaks, the Coit Tower, Alcatraz, etc.) to its wonderful gay life (the bars in particular, which had a stunning range from drag, to wet t-shirt, to bikers, to leather, to classy and expensive), and great theater (local companies did marvelous things, as well as major Broadway touring shows, powerful gay productions, and extravaganzas like Beach Blanket Babylon, with its wonderful oversize hats).  Gay areas of town, such as the Castro or South of Market, were particularly fascinating since seeing gay men and lesbians happy in a non-threatening environment was remarkable for the early 80's.  Tim and I went to the first Gay Games (they were forbidden the name "Gay Olympics" by a Supreme Court decision), took in the SF Opera (where some gay men attended in full leather!), and also visited the wine country and other nearby cities like San Jose.  We made friends and entertained visitors from out of town.  We loved it.


[L to R] Tim and I with Two Neighbors

The weather in SF is fascinating, being mild most of the year.  Strangely, however, the summers can be quite chilly, causing Mark Twain to once remark that the "coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  Wikipedia explains: "Among major U.S. cities, San Francisco has the coldest daily mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures for June, July and August.  During the summer, rising hot air in California's interior valleys creates a low pressure area that draws winds from the North Pacific High through the Golden Gate, which creates the city's characteristic cool winds and fog."  All during the year in SF people have trouble deciding what to wear.  I've seen a woman in a heavy fur coat standing next to a panting jogger in t-shirt and shorts, both waiting for a light to change, as if they had somehow been magically teleported from different climates to this street corner. 

It was fun being in a neighborhood with fancy residences, many of them with gay populations.  We quickly learned the local establishments that were best for food, sundries, liquor, books, etc.  One nearby doughnut shop proved to be our undoing.  On a weekend morning the thought of those hot and delicious doughnuts would often pull me from my bed.  By the time I returned, Tim would have made coffee, and our weekend would get off to a great start.  As I put on some pounds, I joined a local gay gym, which proved to be . . . interesting.  During that year there were sexual adventures too, of course, but I'm not going to report on that here other than to say that I had a very good time.  AIDS was just beginning to make its appearance in the early 1980s, and many people were rightly scared—no one knew what it was or how to deal with it.  When I spent a week in San Francisco ten years later I went back to one of my favorite bars and found it almost empty at a time when it used to be packed.  When I asked a bartender "Where is everyone?" he replied in all seriousness, "They all died."  That was a sobering moment.

Things went well at the University of California Hastings Law School, and I still have friends I met there (as well as former students I sometimes hear from).  Tim passed the California Bar Exam and went back to doing legal work.  He bought a home north of the city, where he still lives, and I see him when he occasionally returns to Columbus (as he will next month, and on my birthday we'll have a playreading at my condo starring him).  I drove back across the country in May of 1983, very pleased by the whole experience.  Whenever someone asks me if I've ever been to SF, I smile and my eyes mist up with fond memories of that wonderful year with Tim when we both were young, gay, and living in San Francisco.
Coit Tower
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Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Elena Kagan and Me," May 23, 2010 (about playreadings)
"Strange Songs, Inc.," September 29, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Legacy of Homophobia

A Brazilian Anti-Homophobia Design
Senator Strom Thurmond
Consider the Southern Senators in the middle of the last century who loudly opposed civil rights for all, using ugly terms for African Americans and their supporters.  Did it occur to them that they were writing themselves into the history books as bigotry personified?  In an unsuccessful efforts to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957, South Carolina's Senator Strom Thurmond led the longest filibuster in Senate history (among other things in his 24+ hour rant he read aloud every state's election law in alphabetical order and recited his grandmother's biscuit recipes), while failing to acknowledge he was the father of  an illegitimate African American daughter.   Would he and the others like him have cared that their names nowadays are synonymous with hypocrisy?  

There are penalties for bigotry, whether private or public, and eventually these people are an embarrassment to all who knew them or learn about them.  The history books shame their legacy. 


Now take the current crop of public homophobes, a number of whom are candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.  Former Senator Pennsylvania Rick Santorum vehemently opposes gay marriage, and was once quoted as saying, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."  Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is also much opposed to gay marriage, and her husband runs a Christian Clinic that supposedly turns gays into straights.  At one point in her career she made this comment: "Any of you who have members of your family that are in the lifestyle—we have a member of our family that is. This is not funny. It's a very sad life. It's part of Satan, I think, to say this is 'gay'. It's anything but gay. . . .  It's profoundly sad to recognize that almost all, if not all, individuals who have gone into the lifestyle have been abused at one time in their life, either by a male or by a female. There's been profound hurt and profound things that have happened in almost all of their lives."  Both have signed an anti-gay marriage pledge as part of the current campaign. 

Santorum and Bachmann: Dueling Homophobes

Now I ask you: do you think either of these candidates has a realistic chance of attracting enough voters to actually become President of the United States?  What are they thinking?  The answer is that they're only interested in the voters who agree with their hatred, a dwindling number, and, like the Southern Senators mentioned above, in the end will finish as historical embarrassments, their homophobic statements (and other missteps) clouding their legacy forever, ugly and inexcusable.   

This all came home to me in 2005 when I reconnected with a man I went to law school with who has since become a major player in a Southern State Senate.  Let's call him "John Smith."  He was my roommate for the first semester of law school, but, for personal reasons, dropped out after that semester.  I thought he was a nice guy, fun to be with, and was sad when he left school.  Later I was pleased to learn he had gone back to a different law school and graduated.  When I practiced law in Chicago in the late 60's, John came for a visit, but then I lost track of my old friend.  Consider my surprise when I learned that the leading Senator in the State of ______ was John Smith, and his big campaign was to get that state to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding recognition of gay marriages.  Sure it was him (for various reasons I won't go into), I hunted up his email address online and sent him an email entitled "Douglas Whaley, Does That Name Ring a Bell?"  He promptly (and delightedly) replied that it did ring a bell and asked me how I was doing.  I sent back a description of my life as a law professor, but didn't mention my gay activism.  John's emailed response described his law practice, political career, marriage late in life, and his two college age sons.  Now that we had reconnected, I sent him this:
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John:

What follows is the portion of my history that I omitted from my last email. 

I was reared as homophobic as everyone else of our generation (I was a Catholic altar boy back in the days when the mass was said in Latin).  I spent a lot of energy on sexual encounters with women, designed to convince myself that I was heterosexual.  At age 32 I finally talked truth to myself, dumped my homophobia, and came out.  This was 1976, just as I started a visiting Professorship at Ohio State (where I was offered a permanent position, and from which I retired last year).  It was heady period, and an enormous relief to allow myself to be myself.  It freed me from all that self-hatred and wasted time pretending to be another person.  Eventually I found not only freedom, but happiness, and even love. 

I also became very angry at what society did to gay people.  This anger fueled political involvement, and I helped organize the gay community in central Ohio in the early 80s.  I am now, to my amazement, known as one of the elders of the gay rights movement in this state.   

Imagine then, my distress, at seeing an article in The Advocate (the gay community’s version of Time magazine) mentioning that you were the sponsor of your State Senate's version of DOMA.  

Oh, John, that hurt!   

Okay, I have a question for you: 

Surely I am not the only gay person you know (almost everyone in this country has gay relatives, co-workers, neighbors, friends).  What would you have your gay constituents do about their gayness?  Do you think that if only they prayed harder, went to the right therapist, or really, really tried, they could all become happy heterosexuals?  

I know that this must be a hard issue for any legislator to deal with, and a political nightmare that is not going to vanish anytime soon.  I would be fascinated to hear what you have to say on the topic. 

And I remain an old friend of yours. 

Doug
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John Smith wrote back that of course he knew a lot of gay people both as friends (his wife is an interior decorator) and constituents.  But he added that he must  represent what the vast majority of his constituents want, which is of course to keep marriage between one man and one woman.   

My emailed response was that his reply was well and good as far as it went, but surely it's the job of leaders to lead and not just follow current opinions, particularly when they're bad for the represented community.  I then made an appeal to history.  I pointed out that if today's high school students could vote, gay marriage would a reality, and that within twenty years the whole controversy will seem silly.  By then it will be obvious that gay people should be treated like everyone else, and those who had said something different in the past would be pitied or vilified.  I ended with this: 

"John, if I were in your position, here's what I'd worry about every night when I put my head on my pillow—I'd wonder if my grandchildren are someday going compare what I did to those southern senators who battled racial civil rights fifty years ago.  I'd fear my grandchildren would be hugely embarrassed by what their grandfather did when he had power in the state legislature, and they'd avoid talking about me whenever my name came up." 

Well, by golly, John never replied to that email!  But perhaps his anti-gay crusade slowed down some, and I'll bet I caused him a sleepless night or two.   

After all, he currently doesn't have any grandchildren yet.

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Related Posts:

"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-gay-hoosier-lawyer-looks-at-indianas.html

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013