San Francisco State
I paid my first long visit to San
Francisco State College in September 1960. The college had moved two years
before from a crowded downtown location to a new and spacious campus of fifteen
buildings at the corner of l9th Avenue and Holloway, near Lake Merced and
Parkmerced, and immediately south of the Stonestown shopping mall.
The physical setting of San Francisco State was lovely with views to the lake
and to Mt. Davidson to the east. The architecture was tacky and ugly, if
functional. The grounds, however, were something else, with an abundance of
beautiful evergreens and eucalyptus trees and flower gardens everywhere.
The building for the division of Humanities, Language and Literature, my
division, was on the corner of l9th and Holloway Avenue, directly across from
the "M" street car line which went to West Portal and thence for a fun ride
through the tunnel under Twin Peaks to Market Street and downtown San Francisco.
The fare was still a dime.
I met Stan Paulson that day for lunch. Stan was the Chairman of a newly created
Department of Communication, which department included journalism but not
television and film. The departments in the Division--literature, creative
writing, semantics and linguistics, communication, and radio-television--were
"independent" in name only. Prof. Caroline Shrodes presided over the division
like a true benevolent and enlightened despot. Stan Paulson had power only when
Caroline wanted him to have power. She kept absolute veto power over everyone
Caroline in fact made the decision to hire me, primarily because of my
"association" with Adlai Stevenson whom she adored. When a new president from
UCLA came to State in the summer or l962, for reasons unclear to me, Caroline
was summarily removed as Division Head, and was replaced by a true klunkhead
dweeb from Wyoming, Baird Whitlock, who administered quite poorly, if at all,
for only two years until Caroline was reinstated by Stan Paulson when he became
Acting President. (Whitlock spent his time writing horrid poetry and trying to
find an audience, who would listen to it. Although his term lasted only a short
time, it was to cause me endless grief, as we shall see.)
My academic Division at State had many excellent faculty, including some with
esteemed reputations: S.I. Hayakawa, Mark Harris, Walter Van Tilberg Clark, Clay
Putnam, Ray West, and Shrodes herself.
Unfortunately, the earlier San Francisco State, prior to its becoming a campus
of the California State College System in l958 and embracing higher standards
for recruiting and tenuring faculty, tenured a great many faculty who should not
have been tenured, since they lacked the terminal doctorate degree and/or had
never published. The Humanities Division, including our department, suffered
vastly from ill-educated, non-productive M.A.'s who couldn't publish or didn't
want to publish. (Our department, alas, had tenured one person with only an A.B.
degree.) My appointment as an Associate Professor at age 29, eligible for tenure
after three years, did not, as they say, "sit well" with a number of faculty in
the department and division.
I had come from a Big Ten university, Northwestern, where I was an assistant
professor. I was the only member of the department at San Francisco State ever
to have published refereed articles in national professional journals. I had
completed a book which was soon to be published, and had given a number of
convention papers. I was viewed as both an asset and a threat, a constant
reminder that no other department faculty member had written anything, nor even
planned to do so.
Paulson and I spent lunch at the campus cafeteria discussing the college, the
state college system, and the new department, the division, the faculty, and my
teaching assignment for fall term. I had a pleasant enough schedule, Monday,
Wednesday, Friday until one in the afternoon, and a Wednesday evening graduate
class, a seminar in Argument and Persuasion. The undergraduate classes included
introduction to small group communication, persuasion, and political
The delightful aspect of the teaching and office schedule was that is allowed me
gorgeous autumn afternoons to explore San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Stan Paulson received his PH.D. in l952 from the University of Minnesota after
he had spent a number of years as a Baptist minister in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. He was still pretty much an affable and lazy minister, a
non-publisher who moved ahead very well on the academic ladder through being a
nice, friendly, supportive, non-intimidating schmoozer and politician, lunching
and laughing with the right people.
When I began teaching at age
nineteen, some of my students were my age. And for the first decade and a half
of my teaching, the age difference was minimal, as I moved from high school to
college teaching. In San Francisco I taught students who were often only four or
five years younger. My predisposition to social and romantic closeness with many
of my students found a sympathetic place and fertile soil at San Francisco State
Chicago and Northwestern University had been socially upper midwest
conservative, a conservatism reinforced by the cold Eisenhower years of the
l950s. Northwestern University, a distinguished university, was very
conservative politically, socially and culturally, with emotional ties still in
place with the Methodist Church.
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San Francisco State College, population 22,000, had no such ties and existed in
the most liberal of all areas in the country. My conservative students at
Northwestern were replaced by liberal to radical northern California students,
who were not afraid of sex nor were they guilt ridden by engaging in it. They
were non-judgmental of others and tried to avoid moral imperatives whenever
The ambitious and driven Northwestern student could not possibly understand,
muchless sympathize with, the San Francisco State student. Given the choice of
Alexander the Great, "Heads I conquer the world; tails I stay home and enjoy
life," the Northwestern student would take heads and set out to conquer the
world. The San Francisco State student would have chosen happily to stay at
home, engaging in no crusades, nor directing others how to live and behave.
Socially, the San Francisco students were fun loving and hyper gregarious, full
of emotion and adventure good humor, wit and good will. The Northwestern student
took life very seriously indeed, and each day was a Calvinist struggle to live
up to one's potential. At those prices, perhaps, they had little choice.
The San Francisco Staters were less serious and intent. They wanted their
degrees but they also wanted the joys and pleasures along the way. This meant a
behavioral liberalism somewhere between nonchalance and anarchy, a kind of
pre-beatnik, post-beat cluster of values and behaviors.
The San Francisco students were slightly older by a couple or more years, and
they usually held a job and did not take a full schedule of courses. The Staters
drank heavily and smoked cigarettes. Dope, including pot, was a weekend must.
They led an active sex life, or at least pursued one. The students cared little
for formal religion, moral prescriptions and judgments about the behaviors of
others. I discovered in San Francisco a true "live and let live" spirit on
campus, just as I discovered a similar spirit in the city. This was the San
Francisco tradition, and this tradition produced a student who respected and
liked faculty, both in the classroom and in the bedroom.
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The silly new attitudes today regard student-faculty social contact as unwise,
and student-faculty romantic and sexual contact as a tragedy in which everyone
gets hurt in the end. My many years of teaching and relating to students allow
me to say of this prescription that it denies young people closeness and
adventures and experiences which could be highly valuable to them, both in the
short and the long run.
That the modeling behavior in such relations is priceless and constitutes an
exceptionally effective assist to maturity and self-confidence, as well as
series of fulfilling peak experiences that may never again come in a lifetime.
Given all of these attributes, the "liberal" San Francisco student clearly had
enormous appeal for me. I was as hyper-gregarious as my students for a change; I
wanted relational situations as much as the students did; I believed a student
could be a student and a friend or even a lover or sex mate at the same time,
just as a teacher could be a professor and a very close or even intimate friend
at the same time.
From l960 to l964 my San Francisco theatre was the right one. The stage was the
place to be. The play was written by a kindred soul. The setting was designed by
the gods I loved and trusted; the actors were chosen straight from my night-time
fantasies; The moment had finally come. The curtains parted, and all of us
seemed to be saying, "Let the good times roll."
Classes for fall term began the week of September l2th, and I was very pleased
with all of my classes, including the Wednesday evening graduate course, which
included two attorneys, two high school teachers, two older ladies from
Parkmerced who had earned their undergraduate degrees years earlier but had
returned to get their graduate degrees; two young navy officers from the naval
base on Treasure Island, and a social worker who hated social work. My friend,
Dick Platt, was also in the course.
The undergraduate classes contained students who were exceedingly talky and
schmoozey. I could never shut them up. Moreover, most of them wanted to have
lunch or dinner with me, or invite me to their homes, and this became a burden
as they learned of my predispositions toward socializing with students.
I went to Oakland to have dinner with Admiral and Mrs. Walthal, whose twenty
year old son, Stacey, was in one of my courses. I journeyed to a large and
elegant home at Fort Mason, home of the Army's JAG corps, to have a fine dinner
with Colonel and Mrs. Rasco, whose son, Bill, was in one of my classes. I went
with Molly Minehan, another student, for an evening at the Black Cat
(gay/lesbian) bar where her father was a bartender.
Mildred Borden, who daily made the round of offices in the department telling
each faculty member how he or she "looked" that day, and dispensing coffee,
danish and cinnamon roles from her father's bakery, had weekly "day old" parties
at which she fed the multitudes all sorts of pastries her father's customers had
And I went to Friday night prayers and dinner at the homes of Dave Fractenberg
and Doris Simon. Quite easily I had become once more irretrievably and very
pleasantly involved with students.
Remembrances of faculty friends
starts with an historian named Ray Kelch who taught courses in British history
and culture and was the unofficial "head gay" of a group of gay teachers and
friends everyone called "Gay Group," or the "Mercy, Mary!" group.
Ray was an original midwesterner from Logan, Ohio, where his family were
prominent members of the small community where they had lived for decades. He
had served in World War II and was stationed for several months at Camp Crowder,
Missouri, while I was in high school in Neosho. Like so many others there, Ray
was an active gay and became involved in the gay culture of Crowder, which as a
teen-ager I constantly experienced in Neosho during the war years.
Ray denies any extensive same-sex sexual behavior during his busy Crowder days,
but it is believed that, in spite of his protests to the contrary, during his
stay at Crowder he had sucked the dicks of dozens of Crowder soldiers and been
sucked by even more than he sucked. In spite of his protests to the contrary, it
is believed moreover that Ray also sucked the dicks of a good number of Neosho
boys and probably many in Joplin, too, and was given head in return in most
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It was my often-stated belief that when I worked at the Orpheum Theatre in
Neosho, I often observed Ray at work on a happy young lad sitting in the seat
next to him, and I used to kid Ray that he and I doubtlessly enjoyed sex in Big
Spring Park on many spring and summer nights.
When I worked at the Orpheum, Carroll Mace and I used to observe a nearly manic
gay soldier at the late, late movie. He went from row to row, downstairs to
balcony, making out with whatever guys were aroused. We called him "Vacuum."
Early in my friendship with Ray in San Francisco, I started referring to him as
"Big V" or "V" or, indeed, "The Vacuum." The name stuck among some friends, and
I became V-2, a title I resented, since my "sucks" for our war effort generously
exceeded those of dear Ray.
During World War II, Ray was a radio operator (Signal Corps) in England,
stationed at Dover to observe ship traffic in the channel before and after D
Day, June, l944. When World War II ended and Ray was discharged from the Army,
he earned both his undergraduate degree, his M.A. and his Ph.D. in History at
Ohio State University in Columbus. His area of interest was British history.
During the early and mid-l950s, he taught history at Stevens College in
Columbia, Missouri. And in l957, he was appointed an Associate Professor of
History at San Francisco State College, where he remained on the faculty until
Ray was an utterly charming and highly enjoyable, exceedingly bright and
knowledgeable individual, a sweet, kind, generous man whose superior lectures on
British history and culture attracted hundreds of San Francisco State students
to his classes each year. He was exceedingly popular, exceptionally well liked
and respected by both faculty and students. Ray was popularly known as the
person to go to when one needed help. He never refused a friend in trouble; nor
did he ever abandon one.
I met Ray in September, l960, at the first general faculty meeting at San
Francisco State, and almost instantly our "gaydars" told each of us that the
other was gay. We began talking about the gay scene in the city, and, within a
week of that first meeting, Ray invited me to his Parkmerced apartment, 9K, at
310 Arballo Drive, for a "small" cocktail party at which party I met a dozen
other gay faculty and students, and almost immediately had a built-in circle of
campus friends. Those "gay family" friends included the man about to become
president of the college, the registrar of the college, the heads of various
programs on the campus, the director of teacher education, and some very hunky
Ray became Chairman of the History Department at State for several years in the
l960s, during those turbulent years of campus unrest and protests in the late
sixties. At San Francisco State the protests were frequent and often alarming.
During a student "sit in" at the building in which the department was housed,
Ray was "held hostage" in his office for an evening and a night.
For thirty years Ray, and occasionally his long-time lover, Slibe Abanounder, of
Phoenix, visited me, and lover R, at virtually our every residence, and met
dozens of our friends in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and San Diego.
Al Jensen was another Gay Group and "Mercy Mary" member. He was in charge of
teacher education at the college and later became Dean of the School of
Education. I met Al through Ray Kelch, of course, and, like the friendship with
Ray, the friendship with Al was to last for decades.
Al was somewhat older than the rest of the gay group. He was a "Jack Mormon"
from Nebraska and had been an outstanding football player at the University of
Nebraska in the l930s when Nebraska beat the University of Southern California
at the Rose Bowl, a crowning achievement in Al's life.
Al taught school in Nebraska and was in UCLA's graduate program in education in
l942 when he was commissioned an officer in the Army's Special Services Corps.
In that capacity he was an impresario, managing for almost four years, army
entertainment for millions of soldiers. He retired a major at war's end, and
returned to his graduate studies at UCLA where he was awarded his doctorate in
After working as an administrator in a community college district in Los Angeles
for a few years, Al accepted a position in the education program at San
Francisco State in l955. There he taught until his death in l983.
Al was a gentle and dear soul, a highly supportive man who loved to do things
for his friends. He was the first person to call whenever a friend encountered
trouble or bad luck. Al was a bit more conservative than Ray Kelch and less
gregarious, and like many gays, he was reluctant to settle down with any one
person. He was tall and good looking and had a football player's build.
When I first met him he wore a toupee to cover his loss of hair which began when
he was in his twenties. His toupees were expensive and so real that I did not
suspect or know he wore one for a year.
Al's sexual modus operandi were of three kinds: (1) He loved to travel and loved
being on board both commercial ships and cruise ships. He frequently toured the
west coast and Latin America on commercial ships having sex with the crew
members, and he was a frequent summer "tour guide" for the cruise lines, where,
on such tours he also had sex with the crew members. (2) He cruised bars and
especially the all night porno movie houses. (3) He established a close liaison
with many members of the police and fire departments, (and truck drivers, too)
who were bisexual and needed safe gay sex from time to time.
Al had built an extensive collection of straight porno films and had converted
one of his bedrooms into a sumptuous projection room and sex studio. To his
house at Parkmerced, on Diamond Heights Boulevard, or at l75 Melrose Avenue, the
uniformed men would come, sometimes nightly, to view the films and get off, one
way or another, with the help of Professor Jensen.
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Police would hang their gun belts and guns on the rack at the front door.
Firemen would hang their helmets and wetware in Al's front hall closet. I
presume the truckers would hang something somewhere. They would all take off
their boots and uniforms, put on a robe, have a drink and a shower and lie in
bed to wait those erotic and stimulating films and the sex that would accompany
them, courtesy of the John Wayne of San Francisco State, the macho, ex-football
player, army major, Professor Jensen.
Once Al was arrested in a porno theatre on Market Street. He asked the arresting
officers to radio headquarters and speak to one of Al's stable of friends,
Captain someone. The arresting officers did. Al reported that it took them only
a minute to apologize, release him, and escort him and his companion back to
their seats. "They even brought popcorn," Al added.
Al was a very fine organist and had a massive Wurlitzer Theater Organ in his
living room which he played nightly for fun and for happy hours and parties. He
was a professional organist playing for years for Sunday services at a Jack
Mormon church in Ingleside.
At home on his Wurlitzer Al played for his own enjoyment. There were several of
his policemen and firemen who liked to stay after sex for an a different kind of
organ concert. Al had a medley of tunes, or requests, his uniformed sex partners
loved to hear, and as he played each tune he would identify it with the officer,
his favorite film, and his sexual interests. "La Marquita," from an early John
Wayne film was the choice of a vice squad officer trick; "As Time Goes By"
belonged to a detective; "The Third Man Theme," was the favorite, of course, of
an officer on the narcotics squad. One thing dear Al could be certain of. His
house was the safest house in San Francisco; No robber would dare come close.
John DeCecco was another Gay Group member for a number of years, although John
could never bring himself to belong to the "Mercy Mary" group. John was a
professor of psychology and had gotten degrees from the University of
Pennsylvania and Michigan State University.
He was a little round Italian from western New York, who had a puckish and
animated face which, in dyadic conversation, ended up only inches from your
face, while one or the other of his stubby index fingers punctuated each
important point of his monologue by drawing imaginary circles and exclamation
points in the air.
John also wore tops or toupees, since he, like Jensen, had been bald as an eagle
for years. The only difference in the head pieces worn by John and those worn by
Al was the fact that Al's were expensive and very good; John's were cheap and
looked like they had been fashioned out of stringy metal or some other porous
and hard substance, a Phyllis Diller spaghetti dinner gone wrong. Once on his
head these pieces of cast iron required the strength of thousands to remove. For
years John associated closely with the Gay Group and depended on them for his
non-sexual social life. He was a very desired and desirable member with much
animated warmth and insights into gay life the group badly needed. He had a
wonderful sense of humor and kept any group laughing at his lengthy stories.
Like the great comics John could take the events of almost any evening and
fashion them into a series of beguiling and witty anecdotes.
John cruised every weekend night, and his favorite targets were the thousands of
sailors who, in those days, roamed the San Francisco downtown from Friday
evening to Monday morning. These handsome hunks were, to John, not sailors but
"seafood," as he preferred to call them, and he loved to pick them up and dine
at home on their lovely bodies.
He had an unerring sense of where to find them, how to talk to them, and how to
arrange to have sex with them. He liked sailors who hustled for money as well as
sailors who hustled for fun. He was convinced that, late on a weekend night, no
sailor could resist the call to climax and orgasm, even if the call were from a
fast talking, stout little Italian with a brittle and funny toupee who had more
moxie than a New York street vendor.
John developed a repertoire of exceedingly funny and hilarious stories about
"life among the tricks and hustlers," stories of searches for them, stories of
decisions to accept or reject a candidate for "bed duty," stories of hagling
over prices if the "seafood" were hustling for money, stories of bewildering and
unorthodox foreplay and the sex acts themselves; stories of post-sex traumas and
surprises; stories of personalities and psychological profiles.
All of John's stories, old and new, were much in demand at parties and dinners,
and he became the gay faculty's Italian Mark Twain. Al Jensen, for a long time
John's neighbor and close friend, would not think of sponsoring a party or even
going to one unless John was there to do his schtick.
John had developed an interesting method of operation. He would pick up his
tricks and then drive around with them until he determined whether or not they
wanted to have sex with him, and, if they did, whether or not they were safe to
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These determinations or decisions came only after psychologist John had orally
administered a battery of tests to the young man, a series of a couple of dozen
or more interchangeable questions, an abbreviated, gay-cruiser's MMPI (Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory test), plus a short "predictability certain"
Armed with the results of these tests, plus judgments from personal appearance,
looks and degree of intensity, John could weigh the answers carefully and either
take home the trick to his Twin Peaks, Westlake, or Buena Vista apartment for a
night of sex, or dismiss him, give him a dime for a cup of coffee, promise to
see him the following weekend, and take him back to point of origin. This
professional test was very effective and John perfected it to within a
ninety-nine percent certainty.
John's problems and troubles occurred when he ignored the results because his
desires for the sailor overwhelmed his rational judgments. "It's override!" he
would yell. "And I override because the Testee (his word for them) is too
tantalizing. Tantalizing Testees! That's the problem."
And so John would ignore his test results and take his "seafood testees" home
for orgies. Even then he did not throw caution to the wind.
Navy kids, "seafood," would. according to Prof. DeDecco, often become upset
after orgies and climaxes. In part it was let down; in part it was guilt over
what had happened; in part it was related to "fag bashing." But this post-orgasm
trauma was, John believed, in large measure related to a great fear that somehow
the navy would discover what they had done.
To deal with their traumas and guilts and fears, sailors would occassionally
physically attack the gay they had just had sex with; they would occassionally
vandalize the apartment or home; they would steal valuables. Or they might do
John developed a scenario, a defense, for dealing with potential violence. He
insisted his tricks take a shower prior to sex, and during the shower he
"borrowed" the sailor's identification and placed it in some secret and safe
place. Should they later begin to cause trouble, he simply told them their
identifications were in a safe with a combination lock in a neighbor's
apartment, and the friendly neighbor knew John had a visitor.
If the sailor committed violence or vandalism his identification would be
forwarded to the commanding officer and the police along with a letter. If he
left quietly he would get back his i.d. outside the locked gates.
John's approach almost always worked except when the sailor was too drunk or too
high on drugs. If all else failed, John called his friend, Al Jensen, who lived
nearby, and Al's quick arrival, and his football hulk and bravado, without his
hairpiece, of course, caused the upset sailor to become as calm and peaceful as
San Pedro Bay on a lazy autumn afternoon.
John told one story of a night when he was not so lucky. He brought home two
sailors in violation of his rule number one: Never bring home more than one
sailor at a time. He had just given an orgasm by mouth to one of the sailors,
who was in the bathroom showering. Meantime, he was busy screwing the other
sailor who was lying on his stomach in a semi-darkened bedroom on John's
Just as John and his sex partner were nearing climax, the first sailor returned
to the scene. He had in his hand a ketchup bottle he had just picked up off the
cabinet in John's darkened kitchen, a bottle that John had just that day
purchased from Safeway and which he planned to take back the next day because he
found a crack in the glass.
The sailor brought down this cracked full bottle of Heinz ketchup on John's
toupee. The collision of the cracked bottle and the brittle and rigid toupee
caused thirty-six ounces of bright red fast flowing ketchup to cascade all over
John's head, back and arms and the head, back, and butt of the young sailor
sex-partner being screwed on the now very stained bed in that darkened room.
Everyone, including John and especially the bottle wielder, saw blood, not
catsup, and assumed the worst. The ketchup bottle wielding sailor believed he
had seriously injured both his intended victim and his buddy who, by this time
looked like he had been in the way of a World War I trench attack and had been
piled, with the other victims, in a triage to await his inevitable death.
Virtually naked, the bottle wielding sailor he fled the apartment and, unable to
unlock the gate to escape to the outside world, he began running around the
large patio and swimming pool area in front of John's apartment.
Meanwhile, John rushed to his bathroom, fearing the worst, but happily
discovered no cuts at all. His sailor sex companion, both dazed and in the
middle of an orgasm, thinking perhaps an earthquake was about to end his life,
struggled to find his clothes. In the darkened room, he could find only his
shoes and sox. John, in panic, had mistaken the sailor's civilian clothes for
his own and had taken them with him when he went to the bathroom to see if he
were still alive. When he discovered they didn't fit, he hurriedly threw the
sailor's clothes into the shower stall, and fled the apartment.
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Meantime, the also panic stricken, fucked and still dripping young sailor,
believing he was bleeding so profusely from unidentified wounds that death was
imminent, and still utterly naked except for shoes, disappeared out the front
door in pursuit of medical attention and possibly his companion.
Meanwhile, John, naked and minus his toupee which fell into the swimming pool as
he ran by, was hiding in some corner of the apartment building's patio and
gardens. Not yet fully rational, his blood pressure and pulse still off the
board, John, for reasons unknown to him, decided to pursue the two sailors, and,
at the same time, open the outside gate.
The picture of two naked sailors, bodies covered with ketchup, and a naked and
bald college professor dripping ketchup from his bald head, all running amok in
Laurel and Hardy and Marx Brothers fashion, around and around an apartment house
patio and swimming pool at two in the morning while a dozen tenants looked on in
wonderment and disbelief created hilarious stories for John to tell at parties
for years to come.
John did, by the way, recover his precious and battle scarred toupee only to
discover it was irretrievably wounded, both by the ketchup and the chlorine. Its
remains today rest in his trophy case along with side by side Polaroid
photographs of his two sailor tricks, their jockey shorts, and their
identification cards, all gentle reminders of a most memorable evening.
John DeCecco came to New York for two years, from l967 to l969, to work at
Columbia University at the Center for Research and Education in American
Liberties, a center headed by Alan Westin. During these two years John developed
an acute interest in devoting the rest of his life, in part, to ending
discrimination against gays and lesbians in American society.
He and Ralph and I were close companions those years, and he lived in the
building next door to ours on Central Park West. Ralph worked for Alan and John
those two years while pursuing graduate work at Columbia.
When John returned to San Francisco in l969, he wrote to us that he was no
longer interested in "the giddy queens' life is a ball" approach to gay life:
"I am tired of their parties, their hoots and hedonism, and their "Mercys and
Marys," all the while not caring one whit about the serious issues homosexuals
must face and deal with in American society, most notably repression and denial
of basic rights all citizens are entitled to. My closeted sisters lack
seriousness and purpose about our real problems and needs. I will sit with them
no longer telling funny stories and listening to them laugh when there is so
much serious work to be done."
Thus, John broke with the gay group at San Francisco State and never went back.
In the early l970s he obtained a large grant from the National Institute of
Mental Health to study discrimination against homosexuals, the first federal
grant on the subject. Over time, he received more than a million dollars for
At San Francisco State he founded the Center for Research and Education in
Sexuality, and in doing these things he assumed a most significant role in the
movement to secure rights and liberties for all gay and lesbian people.
John became openly gay, one of the first professors brave enough to announce
that fact publicly, thus helping to pave the way for professors all over the
country to declare themselves and "come out of the closet."
At the Center John began publication of the Journal of Homosexuality (l976), a
journal of scholarly research and studies on gay and lesbian life and
contributions made to society by those groups, as well as studies of bigotry and
societal discrimination against them. The Journal helped to make gay studies a
legitimate area of research.
John, his Center, and his journal all combined to pave the way for many
professors in such disciplines as psychology, sociology, communications and
public policy to to build successful careers based on the scholarly study of
At the same time other professors in American colleges and universities have
brought their perceptions and sensibilities, as gays and lesbians, to many areas
of study, like classics, criticism, social movements, literature, art, music,
dance, theatre and drama, and history, proving that the previous academic
suppression of gay presence in research and publications would no longer be
Today's openly gay scholars are not only uncovering previously hidden gay
subject matter, but they also are bringing their perspectives as gay scholars to
the entire spectrum of their disciplines. Our friend, John DeCecco, deserves
substantial credit for this. John's honesty in a world that is hostile, his
stature and integrity, took enormous courage and drive.
John came a long way from Michigan State University where, he used to tell, the
university used graduate students as decoys in the gay student bars near the
campus to identify gay faculty members, who were summarily fired.
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Ray Kelch, hurt by John's turnabout, could never understand why DeCecco left his
gay support group, or why he couldn't keep his membership in the group while
leading the battle for gay rights. Al Jensen was hurt by John's decision to
leave the group, but he understood in his own way that John could never be a
part of two opposing philosophies and cultures. "It had to be one or the other,"
Al believed, "and I am sure John made the choice he had to make and very likely
the correct choice, but I will miss his friendship very much." There were many
others in that Gay Group who mourned the loss of John, at least briefly.
Cal Bowman and Lee McCormick were public school teachers, who owned a series of
handsome homes handsomely furnished in the Marina and in Forest Hill. Cal, also
a war veteran, was a teacher in Hillsborough, and Lee, a career navy officer,
had retired to become an administrator in the San Francisco public school's main
Their New Year's Eve parties were the envy of the gay community. At those all
night occasions forty or more gays were treated to food, grog, fun people and
the most erotic collection of gay films in San Francisco.
In the early l960s mere possession of gay porno films could lead to arrest,
conviction and imprisonment. Cal and Lee hid and locked up their collection in
some safe place, and no one but the two of them ever knew the location. But once
or twice a year that collection had a select and private viewing, and only the
chosen were invited. I was invited the second year in San Francisco, and the
evening was well worth the wait.
Ed Kaufman was another Gay Group member. A University of Chicago Ph.D., Ed war a
brilliant young man, a brilliant lecturer, and a joy to spend an evening with.
He was perhaps the most knowledgeable person I met at the college. He taught
both literature and philosophy in wonderfully surreal classes. And he had
brilliant soirees at his Victorian home on Franklin Street with interesting and
exciting guests from both the intellectual and artistic communities.
Most of Ed's soirees were indeed les soirees musicale, including programs
featuring string quartets, harpsichord and piano recitals and, one night, a
flute and clarinet duet. Ed later built a beautiful home on Martha, a short
little street in Merced Heights that looked out over the east bay.
He was one of the founders of the "Alice Faye" group, a group of twenty or so
guys who met regularly at a house off Portola Drive near Mount Davidson to view
the films of Alice Faye and other films of that genre. (Ed's favorites were old
Shirley Temple films, and he had written a lengthy scholarly paper on their
metaphoric and symbolic meanings.)
Ed confirmed that the Alice Faye Group had one evening reached the sainted
actress by phone, and that Alice had sent to them both "Alice Water," to be used
to sanctify, so to speak, the viewing room, and copies of some of her records
including "You'll Never Know," and, of course, "Hello Frisco, Hello" Ed would
not confirm the persistent rumor that some members wept openly when the
recordings were played the Thursday night after they were received and ordained.
Nor could he confirm the para-religious effects of the Alice Water.
Later, Ed retired from San Francisco State and bought a home in Santa Fe, New
Mexico, where he lived a pleasant life for several years. In the l990s he
returned to San Francisco, buying a penthouse apartment in the Telegraph Hill
Other members of the college Gay Group those years included Adam Petrillo, who
was a retired chef from Chicago and who lived in a Spanish type home in the
Marina. Just as gays would kill for an invitation to parties given by Lee and
Cal, they would also kill for invitations to dinner, given sparingly, by the
great Chef Adam. I went only once to one of those dinners, and that was with my
new and young lover, Ralph. The nine course dinner would have put Julia Child
and other great chefs to shame.
Dave Hassel, a real estate developer, and Chuck Erlenbaugh, the college
Registrar, were likewise members of Gay Group. They owned an incredibly
beautiful home in Pacific Heights not far from the old Spreckles mansion on
Lafayette Square and the home of former U.S. Senator, James Phelan.
The Chuck and Dave house was an indulgent Corinthian classic place built in
l9l6. It was wonderfully large and had views of the city, bridge and bay. Not
bad for a gay college registrar, I thought at the time.
Briefly, other members of that Gay Group included Rollie Wick administrator of
Children's Hospital, a friend and sex-mate of Al Jensen, although definitely not
a policeman; Ben Gendloff, close companion to Ray Kelch who was on a leave of
absence from his position in the Los Angeles schools to research the teaching of
languages in the public schools at San Francisco State; George Eliot, another
teacher who had emigrated from Canada and had a home in Santa Rosa and taught at
Sonoma State College; Frank Fenton, who was Dean of the Fine Arts Division, and
who was to become Acting President.
Frank was a "biker," in love with motorcycles, leather bars and all sorts of
leather sex. Although Frank was in his early sixties at the time, that did not
bother him in the least from his pursuit of tricks and leather bars. Frank was a
pussy cat at heart. Like John DeCecco, he loved "seafood," especially sailors
into leather and cock rings and motorcycle culture.
He had amazing luck picking up the young beauties, and no one knew his secrets.
But pick them up he would, and he and his trick would both climb on to his cycle
and head off up Market Street with one gigantic roar, for a night of leather
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When Frank became Acting President of the college in l962, he had to curtail his
cruising schedule, but he did not abandon his sex life altogether. I often
wonder just how many "seafoods" knew they were having sex with the President of
a state college, or even how many would have cared had they known. It all
suggests a Robin Williams comedy routine, or a Bob Newhardt telephone
There were, of course, more members of Gay Group than I have written of. But the
preceding above were the hard core of a charming and eccentric group of gays who
loved each other and supported each other for a very long time, through good
days and days that were painful and even tragic.
They all had dignity and courage, and they cared mightily about other gays, even
though John DeCecco could not see that they did. Each worked within the
frameworks of his own abilities and limitations, his own assets and liabilities,
his own perceptions of reality. And each tried to avoid the ever present hostile
outside world by making a comfortable and safe nest for himself inside a kind
and sympathetic and helpful group of gays, all of whom understood only too full
well what outside hatred can do to an individual.
I like to believe that each member of Gay Group made a significant contributions
to the improvement of the culture and world he had found himself in, as well as
a significant contribution to the people whose lives they crossed and touched. I
like to believe that all of us are richer for having known them and loved them.
They struggled through years prejudice and bigotry during which they were the
perpetual victims of ignorance and hate and cruelty, and they kept on fighting
back, kept on living, and kept on growing and embracing the good things of life.
Like true Mummers, they laughed and they cried and they made the best of
whatever they encountered in life as well as what overtook them. One should not
expect any more of anyone. L'chaim, my dears, L'chaim and "Mercy! Mary!"
Most of my faculty friends were not gay, of course, and I have already talked
about many of them. I developed a number of close friendships within my
department those years, including a friendship with Stan Paulson and his wife,
The Paulsons gave a number of lovely dinner parties that first year before Stan
became a college administrator and had to move on to a different circle of
friends. The Paulsons lived nearby in St.Francis Woods and were great hosts. One
dinner party that year in their garden brought out fifty or more faculty.
Lloyd Crisp was my office mate that first year. Lloyd had been an undergraduate
at State, and a good friend of Stan Paulson; Lloyd went off to University of
Denver for an M.A., but had not completed it when Stan asked him to come back to
teach. Years later Crisp finished his degree and moved to Oregon State.
Lloyd and his wife, Anne, who was a nurse, lived in Pacifica, and my first year
I dined occasionally at their home. On one such occasion I met Lloyd's younger
brother, Dennis, who had just turned twenty-one and was tall and lean and an
outrageously attractive and sexy fellow. He crashed with Lloyd and Anne once in
awhile, but most of the time he lived in Pacific Grove with a group of
pre-hippie guys in a kind of communal situation.
Dennis, and his friend from Pacific Grove, Doug Thomas, came to visit me one
night about a week after I met him, and they became drop-ins at 200 Westgate
Drive for the next two years.
Dennis and I were to become fast friends and warm and exciting sex companions.
He and Doug would come for some pot, some booze, some conversation and some sex.
A few times they would bring other friends, and their friends were likewise
always ready for booze, weed, and sex.
I remember only first names now. Rick was a Stanford drop out, Tom a University
of Michigan drop-out, and Dick always claimed he was still "a student" at
Berkeley, but I never saw evidence to support his assertion.
Henry was diabetic, I remember, and on one trip with him to a party in Marin he
stopped to pay his toll on the Golden Gate Bridge and then sat there and sat
there in catatonic state. No one knew what was wrong. He finally pointed to some
candy on the dashboard, and I handed him a piece. In a minute or so he was able
to drive. Henry was working on his doctorate at Stanford when he was hired by
Paulson to teach in the department. He did not finish the degree for several
years, even though he was named Assistant Professor before it was completed.
My campus only friends also included two married closet gays, Joe Miksak and Ray
Grovenor, who were close friends and theatre buffs, but who refused to disclose
to me any of their orientation, interests, or behaviors. Helen Heinz, Kay De
Clark, Justine Van Gundy and George Dell were other departmental members I knew
only from chats and luncheons at school.
Michael Schramm was my first close student friend at San Francisco State. I met
him the first week of school that fall of l960, and for years he was to be a
close young gay friends and provide many hundreds of hours of challenging
Mike was the son of Wilbur Schramm, a professor of mass communications at
Stanford University, and a noted scholar in that field of study. Mike was a
brilliant young man, another Mensa member with an incredibly high I.Q. and a
sophomore at State when I arrived.
Mike had one of the fastest and most retentive minds I ever encountered. He was
also a very attractive young man, slender and rosy cheeked, with blonde hair,
and very blue eyes at the top of a very pretty face. Mike was also gay. He was
also neurotic, hyper active, a self-styled psychologist who loved to wallow in
other people's minds and lives.
Mike seemed to remember everything his life had exposed him to. He forgot
nothing. He was extraordinarily sensitive both to his own behaviors and to the
behaviors and predispositions of others. He fell in love weekly, sometimes
daily, and never really knew how to pursue his loves. From the first time I met
him, he sensed I was gay, and told me of at least half-a-dozen loves he had
experienced during his first year at college.
His major love and sex interest at the beginning of his second year was a young
activist named Jefferson F. Poland. Jefferson was a beautiful smallish young man
with a muscular and slender build, dark piercing eyes, a sweet and inviting
smile when he wanted, and a great little compact body. He was a political and
social activist; no cause or movement escaped Jefferson's attentions.
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When the infamous House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) came to San
Francisco in the spring of l960 to hold hearings investigating "subversive
communist plots and threats in the Bay Area," Jefferson Poland, and hundreds of
other students, protested vigorously at the San Francisco City Hall. As a
result, Jefferson had been washed down the half a hundred marble City Hall steps
by police and firemen trying to "restore order."
In falling down those marble steps he had suffered a broken ankle and was still
limping a little when I first met him in September. He and I had a number of
conversations over lunch and in my office, and I was attracted to him,
especially when he produced a birth certificate "proving" to me that his middle
initial, "F," actually stood for "Fuck."
Jefferson was also quite at home in the gay world, because he believed in the
power and the beauty and the joys of sex, no matter the gender, the age, or the
kind and type of sexual activity. Jefferson was a devoted and zealous believer
in nudity. The first time he visited my Westgate home, he stripped to his cute
bare body after his first drink, and after my permission, of course.
From then on he didn't even ask. And I always enjoyed the cute Jefferson. He was
indeed very attractive and had a huge dick and a huge set of balls.
Most of the time Jefferson wanted to talk and plan protests and campaigns, not
have sex. In the fall of l960 Jefferson had gotten involved with issues relating
to his commitment to sexual freedom, "the right of anyone to have any kind of
sex with anyone else whenever the two want, and the responsibility of the
government to stay out of all matters pertaining to sex between and among
people, including adult sex with so-called minors." Jefferson's agenda was an
extensive and exhausting one. He championed more causes than a dozen people
could have managed. During my first year at State I worked with him to get the
funds for and build an outdoor "Free Speech Center" in the heart of the campus,
a center with a large platform and public address equipment which would provide
opportunity for all people who had messages they wanted the public to hear to
present those messages.
We finally did get our Platform, and a budget for it, and during the years I was
there we had an array of interesting public speakers at the Platform during the
two noon hours it was available and during the late afternoon hours.
I remember Malcolm X, Norman Thomas, Governor Pat Brown, Richard Nixon, Eric
Hoffer, Martin Luther King, Harry Bridges, and Fred Schwartz, among the better
known guests. I remember also dozens, if not hundreds, of students and
non-students who just wanted to stand on a platform to advocate something or
reject something. The idea was a wonderful one for a college campus, and the
Free Speech Center was a lively place indeed to spend a lunch hour. Jefferson
Poland gets a doff of the hat for helping found it. I did not maintain contact
with Jefferson after l965, but later in the decade he did found and head the
"League for Sexual Freedom," and he was involved extensively with most of the
protest movements of the l960's, the countercultural protests against the
Vietnam War, the draft, and even, according to Martin Duberman, in the Stonewall
protests in New York in l969.
In his book, Stonewall, Duberman recalled that Jefferson showed up at both the
protests in l969 and at the first Gay Liberation Front parade in Los Angeles on
the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, June, l970: "Karla....ran into two
male genderfuck friends, Mother Boats and Jefferson Fuck Poland: Jeff was
wearing a woman's bikini bottom, long hair--and nothing else." (Stonewall, pp.8l
Included in my collection is a photograph of Jefferson, taken in San Francisco,
April, l963, which shows Jefferson holding two signs, one of which says
"Legalize Cunnilingus and Fellatio;" the other, "Support our picket. Write to
Governor Brown." Jefferson Fuck Poland, with a big smile and twinkling eyes, is
naked except for a bra and a g-string. The place, our Free Speech Platform at
San Francisco State College.
But back to Mike Schramm, and Jefferson Poland. In l960-6l Mike's big objective
was to woo and win the heart of Jefferson and to settle in to a life in which
all of Mike's sexual fantasies about Jeff would be fulfilled. When Mike
inaugurated a crusade, he did so with great fervor and dedication, and only
after an abundance of preparation and materials.
That year, Jefferson lived in an apartment a block or two from city hall. Mike
staked out the apartment for weeks, compiling an hour to hour dossier on
Jefferson's goings, and, Mike hoped, comings. Mike followed Jeff to school, to
meetings, to classes, and back home. Mike came to know almost everyone Jefferson
knew and knew Jefferson's schedule probably even better than Jefferson. After a
few weeks, Mike had several spring-binders full of Jeffersonia. Their purposes
and contributions to the quest I was never certain of, but I didn't have to be,
since Mike knew precisely how his collected materials would be used to win the
battle for the mind and body of Jefferson Poland. Having done such extensive
preparation, how could he fail in his quest even if the use of the preparation
were vague? Jefferson would be so overwhelmed that someone cared so much to know
him so well that he would surrender immediately and completely.
I want to speak about the young man
mentioned briefly earlier in a letter from Mike Schramm. His name was John Vega.
He was a first a friend of mine, then a lover of Mike for a year.
John Vega entered San Francisco State in
the fall of l96l as an eighteen year old freshman. He came from Merced,
California, in the central valley south of Modesto and north of Fresno. He was
first generation American from Mexican American parents who did not speak
English in the home. The family lived in poverty, and Johnny Mae Vega grew up
minus many of the givens in American life.
If he ever felt resentment and anger
over having been denied "the good things" while growing up, he never spoke of
it. But he did resolve "to rise above it" and make his life a much better life
than what he had known.
I first met him when he enrolled in
my course in argument and debate. John was a handsome, if skinny, angelic
looking young man who had a constant puzzled, quizzical look on his face. John
probably had a good mind, but whatever his native intelligence, his environment
had reduced his chances for success in college and in life. He lacked knowledge,
acquired analytic abilities and verbal fluency. But he had innocence and
ambition, and he had a nearly infallible intuition that told him how other
people wanted him to relate to them.
Moreover, what he lacked in
background John more than made up for in drive and determination and a sweetness
of personality that caused almost everyone to want to help him.
He always carried with him a small
notebook. As you spoke to John, he often grabbed his notebook and wrote words
and phrases he thought were important. He flattered you constantly, not as a
ploy but because he genuinely believed what he felt. When favors came his way
John could embarrass you with gestures of appreciation. John spent much of his
time playing catch-up, acquiring the missing information. He wanted to make at
least two new friends each day. And at the end of the day he would put on his
reading glasses, which he wore for effect, and read from his notes what he had
written about each person.
He would read a passage, smile, and
push those glasses higher on his nose before reading the next paragraph. How
could one not feel affection for such a soul and want to help him move ahead in
life? John, of course, was without money most of the time. Every first of the
month he had to struggle to put together the few dollars needed to pay his rent
for another month.
His sad meager little wardrobe was a
bit of tragi-comedy. Every garment was a patched, recycled, non-fitting
effrontery, and the kid's garage sale shoes were either so tight he took them
off at every opportunity to massage his feet, or so loose they came off if he
walked too fast.
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John had some natural physical
assets. He was six feet and slender and lean; he had a trim waist and a cute
ass. His face was quite pretty and innocent looking, and he had the most
beautiful onyx eyes imaginable with thick eyebrows and long eye lashes. Those
eyes were so mesmerizing he could hold your attention by just staring at you. He
had lots of very curly black hair which he wore long because haircuts cost too
much. He had evolved a type of "I would like for you to seduce me" look about
Consciously or unconsciously he
flirted with every person he met, batting his eye lashes and smiling and nodding
his head like a Hyman Kaplan as he took out his pen and vigorously jotted a
message to himself in his constant-companion notebook. Five minutes into my
first office visit with Johnny I concluded that he wanted to seduce me and would
not rest until that task had been accomplished, even though I am sure Johnny was
just being Johnny and, at that particular moment was thinking nothing of the
kind. As I said, he was an easy guy to misinterpret.
Gays in particular always read him
as coming on to them. I recall a happening one late afternoon in the fall of
l96l. John and I had been visiting in my office, and when I began to pack my
briefcase to go home, he asked if he could walk with me. On our way home we were
caught in a rain shower and soaked. Johnny was wearing the most awful color of
purple pants I had ever seen; someone must have dyed them. And the rain caused
them to leak vast quantities of purple water for several blocks, all the way to
my front door.
I made him take them off before he
entered my kitchen, and when he did I saw that his jockey briefs had likewise
turned from white to purple, as had his white sox and his undershirt. I told him
to strip and he did, revealing a monstrous unclipped dick by the way. I
re-dressed him, sox, undershirt, shorts, a pair of my slax and a pair of my
shoes. And I took him then and there down to the Emporium, determined to give
that struggling kid, with a big heart and a big determination to succeed in
life, at least some decent clothes to wear, including pants that would not run
purple when they were wet.
t the men's department in the
Emporium we met a sweet and concerned little gay clerk, who, true to form became
quickly convinced that Johnny Vega was flirting with him, even though Johnny's
eyes were twinkling at the thought of acquiring a pair of non-purple pants. The
three of us chose two pairs of khaki slax and a couple of pairs of better pants
for evenings. We picked out some shirts, some sox and some shorts, and Johnny
decided on a new pair of shoes. We even found an inexpensive dress coat, but we
decided to save that and a couple of nice sweaters he liked, for some other day.
I didn't have that much money.
I left John with our purchases and
our clerk and went off to the liquor department to buy some gin for Gerry Reid
and scotch for myself. When I returned John and the clerk were chatting away and
the boxes of clothing were ready to be taken home. The clerk by now was visibly
aroused by the prospects of seeing sexy Johnny again, and John was doing his
conscious or unconscious flirting and eye blinking and smiling.
We left the store and headed for
Westgate in the continuing rain. At home we unpacked the boxes, and I discovered
a number of items I did not think we had purchased, like two more pairs of slax,
like two more shirts, like that dress coat we had put off buying and like those
two beautiful sweaters we had also postponed purchasing.
Johnny was as surprised as I was and
quickly assumed I had told the clerk to toss them in anyway. I had assumed that
Johnny had told the clerk to add them anyway, and I felt ashamed even thinking
it. I grabbed the charge bill and looked at it. And I discovered that our sweet
gay salesperson had made Johnny a present of those added items and had, as a
matter of fact, not even charged me for all of the original items.
Startled, I asked Johnny what he had
done to the clerk to elicit such generous and needed gifts. "Nothing," said
John, "Except we have a date for Friday night." John threw his arms around me
and cried and thanked me over and over again for being so good to him.
Johnny wanted to make up for past
lost time growing up in poverty in the central valley. He wanted to learn as
much about life as possible and learn it as quickly as possible. He was
particularly interested in gay life, since he claimed he knew nothing at all
about it before he came to San Francisco State and he found it fascinating.
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We spent three hours one evening
talking about gays and gay culture and what gay sex and romance and love were
about. John concluded that he had always been gay and wanted to try gay sex as
soon as he could find someone who wanted to do it with him, learn as much about
life, especially the gay life, as quickly as possible. To what degree Johnny was
gay or straight or just oversexed, I never knew for sure, though I was convinced
at the time that he was essentially gay and easily aroused by men. He had never
dated in high school, girls or boys. But he did have strong sex drives, and
satisfied them by jacking off daily. One thing for sure, his experiences with me
and the Emporium clerk and the clerk's friends at a party John went to the
following Friday night, gave him a quick and apparently satisfying introduction
to the gay world and sex with others.
A couple of weeks after the Emporium
incident, Johnny dropped by one evening when I was home alone. He wanted so much
to have sex with me, he said, so that I could teach him just how to have sex
with other guys, like the people he met at the party given by the Emporium
clerk. He had put off those fellows that night because he didn't want to try gay
sex until he knew he could do it and do it well.
I cared for John very much, but I
was not sure he was ready for sex with me. But I was curious about that big dick
of his and I was horny, so I agreed that we would initiate classes preparing
John to be a good same-sex sex partner.
I had him undress me, and I stripped him naked, and, sure enough, that big dick
of his stood at full erection. No doubt about it, John was tuned on by men.
During the course of sex that
evening I noticed that he winced with pain every so often. John had not been
circumcised, and he had an exceedingly tight foreskin. Each time that foreskin
was forced back from over the head of his big shaft, there was pain. And since
any sex activity, by hand or insertion into a cavity, caused that foreskin to
push forward and backward like a piston, John experienced pain while having sex.
I sent John to a physician friend of
mine in Stonestown, Norris Fellows, and Fellows arranged for John to have
out-patient surgery at a nearby hospital.
On the day of surgery, Mike Schramm
took John to the out patient facility, and I picked him up that evening and kept
him overnight at my place. He had a quick recovery from the circumcision, and
his new dick was back in action within a very short time. No pain; no problems.
When he was recovered sufficiently
to have sex for the first time with his renovated equipment, he wanted me to be
the first partner. We did only hand and mouth, and he had a wonderful and long
orgasm, the best of his life, he reported. Johnny was on his way to success!
He thanked me in every conceivable
way for giving him a new life. And, indeed, Johnny fairly quickly became
obsessed with having gay sex. He had the new equipment; he had mastered the
technique; there was no restraining him.
Sometime that year Johnny Vega discovered the Broadway Musical, probably from
one of the many older gay guys he dated and had sex with. He was especially
attracted to the role of Lucille Ball in Wildcat, and liked to sing that Lucille
Ball song, "Hey, Look Me Over."
But then he heard the original cast
recording of Meredith Willson's, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and he fell in love
with the song sung by Tammy Grimes in that musical play about a poor lower
class, uncultured, uneducated person who defies the odds and makes a success of
her life through drive and determination and an unwillingness to settle for
That song, of course, was "I Ain't
Down Yet," and John Vega memorized the words and made them his call to arms, his
rallying song, his new found philosophy of life which was to inspire and propel
John into success he had only dreamed of. The spunky and determined
up-by-my-boot straps John Vega would sing:
"I hate that word "down;"; I love
that word "up;"
Up where the people are; Up where the talking is;
Up where the joke's going on; Up where things are better, cleaner, shinier;
Hell, If I got to eat catfish heads all my life,
Can't I have them on a plate, just once?"
And then our Central Valley Horatio Alger would launch into the chorus with
I'm going to learn to read and write;
I'm going to see what there is to see;
So, if you go from nowhere on the road to somewhere
And you meet anyone, you'll know it's me.
I'm going to move from place to place;
And find a house with a golden stairs.
For almost three years Johnny Mae
gave it his damndest. He passed all his courses; he debated in intercollegiate
tournaments; He wrote papers he had never believed or even hoped he could write.
He acquired friends he had believed impossible to acquire. For those years
Johnny was indeed up "where the talking was, up where the joke was going on."
Mike Schramm fell in love with him, and he and Mike lived together at Mike's
Nineteenth Street house for several months. And then John had a succession of
older gay lovers, most of them with good jobs and good incomes.
He became Molly Brown; he drove Cadillacs home to visit his parents; he took
trips to Las Vegas and Los Angeles and up to Tahoe to gamble with the rich and
famous. Every time he changed sugar daddies he brought them by to meet me and
get my opinion about them.
John was tempted to measure his
successes and status in life by the quality and cost of the car he could drive.
When in l963 he finally reached a Jaguar and a sugar daddy who bought him a
motorcycle, he believed he had succeeded in reinventing himself.
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However well John's ascent was
going, he never forgot his roots nor his friends. He stayed close to me, and to
Ralph, and to Mike Schramm. And he never stopped thanking us, still blinking
those long eye lashes and smiling that mischievous grin. And he never stopped
talking about his circumcision and what a difference that had made in his life.
He would hug and kiss me and say, "Here's one for the Clipper."
But every play must have a finale,
even musicals about people who deserve good things and love life very much. John
Vega's upward trip, unlike Molly Brown's, never reached the top.
John's hope and quest for "something
better, cleaner, shinier" tragically ended the wrong way on April 9, l964, when
he crashed a motorcycle into the railings while driving down Upper Market Street
in San Francisco. He died that night at age twenty-one, without ever reaching
that "house with a golden stairs" that his favorite song had promised him.
Mike Schramm was at the hospital
when John died. His last words to Mike were, "Don't let them forget me."
Forget you, John dear? Don't worry. Piece of cake!
I am convinced that the teacher's job is to free students from pagan,
unenlightened, primitive, superstitious institutions and dogmas, from the
restraints and slavery of the family, the religion, societal and cultural norms,
peer group pressures and psychological and sociological straight jackets which
repress the mind, which inculcate fear of learning something new and
experimentation, which create a dysfunctional personality, self-destructive
mental claustrophobia and which destroys initiative, the right to develop one's
own mind and live one's own life. “Follow your bliss," the advise given by
Joseph Campbell to his students, should be incorporated into "Free your mind to
go where it wants to go, where it needs to go." Eliminate the restraints to
learning and being what you want to be.
Such advice has often been taken to
heart by students with a soul and a spirit, and they have found a world and a
life in which they have freed themselves to explore knowledge and experience
with a minimum of interference from guilt and anxiety producing institutions and
I am convinced that the
teacher/professor must unshackle his students and, at the same time, teach them
how to unshackle themselves, so that they can become and be the greatest of all
possible things, themselves.
"Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien!"