RECOVERING CATHOLIC

The family in 1964

The small Catholic elementary school I attended did little for my self confidence.  The school was not integrated and I being the darkest skinned student was the brunt of racial bigotry and harassment.  The order of Dominican nuns did little to protect me from the bullying - but I persisted hoping that things would change once I entered high school.  Parochial high school was a mixed bag - now I had other misfits to surround me but I was still the darkest student until sophomore year when they accepted their first Afro-American student - but for me racial bigotry and harassment continued until Hawaii became a state and Polynesian was in vogue.  It was 1960 and JFK had been elected president.  There was such an infectious optimism in the country.  Young people had found a champion!  For me, it all came crashing down with JFK’s assassination and the death of Pope John XXIII.  Having been born and raised Catholic, their deaths had a devastating effect - I worked on the JFK local campaign and our yearbook had been dedicated to the pope.  College was spent with the anticipation that I would join the seminary after my first two years (I was groomed by my parents to be the priest in the family).  Little did I know that transferring from a religious high school to a public community college to a Catholic men’s college would change my priestly intentions.  Up until my freshman year, I attended religious schools and found refreshing freedom with my introduction to public education.  Upon transferring to Biscayne College I soon realized that the religious life would not be a good fit.  The Augustinian brothers that staffed the college were a very strange group that shattered my respect for a number of them and extinguished my desire to enter the priesthood.  Telling my parents of my change of plans was difficult.  There were already three priests and two nuns in the family and it was my father’s duty to have his son join the priesthood.  My parents were stunned when I announced that I was going be a high school instructor.  They looked at each other, and almost on cue stated, “Where did we go wrong?”  Since the priesthood was off the table, mom wanted me to be an optometrist and dad pushed me into dentistry.  Both professions offered financial rewards far better than teaching.  They took my coming out better.  We were sitting at the same table 15 years later when I came out to them.  Again, they looked at each other, but this time with fingers pointing at each other, stating, “He takes after your side of the family!”  Gay people are on both sides of my family, I guess my parents were surprised that gay could be a hereditary trait.

SCHOOL MEMORIES & MORE

"Where The Boys Are" was about the annual invasion of college students to the beaches of south Florida and especially Fort Lauderdale.  While attending high school that year, we were warned by the principal Sister Marie Florine - not to go to the beach because they were filming the movie.  Of course we headed there as soon as classes were over - a number of us found ourselves in crowd scenes & reveled in bending the rules and defying authority.

Being a Catholic high school - dating was not encouraged.  It was normal to have a school dance in the cafeteria with decorations in keeping with the theme or season and everyone was expected to attend.  I loved to dance and the newest craze was the Twist - but such a provocative dance was frowned upon by the nuns.  Of course, Pat Brigham and I broke the rules and raised a number of eye brows when we started to twist and gathered quite an audience with our taboo movements.  Normally, students didn't wear flashing or loud colored clothes to school - girls had uniforms and boys were expected in dress pants & long sleeve white shirts.  The principal commented that my red hush puppies were not regulation - I reminded her that the pope wears red shoes, too - she was not amused and ended the conversation with her stern, no-nonsense glare over her wire-rimmed glasses.  I'm sure that during basic training all novices must be taught how to invoke so much with a just a simple look or hand gesture.

That first year in Florida we witnessed a number of tropical storms crisscross the state.  It was disconcerting when one northerly headed storm decided to change direction and head south - busses that had just dropped off students were called back to take them home and prepare for the eminent high winds & rain storms.

The community college was my first contact with non-Catholic friends.  It was frowned upon to have friends of different faiths.  Russell was in a number of my classes & searching for salvation.  We would visit a variety of churches in his religious quest.  The time we attended services at a Russian Orthodox church found us being the youngest people there and were invited back by a number of their senior aged congregation.  When we visited St. Mary's Cathedral in Miami, Russell was shocked to find that I had made my way to the altar and sitting on the bishop's marble throne - he bent his head continuing feverishly with his prayers to the Almighty this time to forgive my brassy cockiness.

My community college biology professor was Mr. Graziano - he was known for failing 80% of his students.  I was no exception - and after I informed him that I was either going to study for priesthood or teaching he bluntly told me, "You'll never make it!"  It was gratifying to find him in the Teachers Lounge that first day at McArthur - he had been terminated by the college & was now employed at the same school - I approached, reminding him who I was & exited with, "And, I made it!"  Years later we ran into each other one summer in L.A. and of all places - a gay bar!

Augustinian Brothers staffed the men's Biscayne College.  It was Holy Week and the campus was silent - we didn't attend class - during the days leading up to Easter the college offered a Retreat where we communed with the Almighty through prayers, mass, confessions, Bible study, reading books about the saints - it was a peaceful setting where you had the opportunity to center yourself & establish a better understanding of your religion and its meaning to you.  A group of us found haven in a stairwell one afternoon and quietly whispered - only to be interrupted by the slamming of the outside door and the hurried steps of someone whose swearing echoed in the hallway & stairwell shattering the Code of Silence that was in effect.  Even though he was muttering under his breath, there was no mistake what was being said - a steady stream of four letter curse words used in graphic descriptive phrases and other damning protestations resounded and it was only after he passed the staircase did he realize that everything that he said was heard by us.  The culprit - the dean of the college - commonly known as "Brother Breast-in-the-Hand" since his sir name sounded similar.

Florida Atlantic University was located 35 miles from home and the easiest route was State Road 7 also known as 441.  The road bypassed much of the congestion but did offer a scary ride when the road tapers to two lanes - one in each direction - and flanked by canals.  A number of times traffic would be backed up with drivers losing control and ending up in the water filled ditches. Once, when an 18 wheeler blew a rear tire it was all I could do but hang onto the steering wheel for dear life while pieces of rubber swirled around my car with a number of occasional strikes.  Often I would bring my 12 string guitar and spend lunch time singing folk songs to the students gathered on the college green.  With my degree in hand my parents beamed with pride - their children had completed college and were the only ones in the their families to do so.

MARTHA's CHOICE

Martha in the Barry College production of "The King and I"

After my sister graduated from high school she joined a Polynesian dance company that performed in the resort hotels and country clubs from Miami to Palm Beach with an occasion USO trip.  Her singing talents and dancing made her a hit.  Dad had introduced my sister to the entertainers that performed at the Hawaiian restaurant where he was employed.  Anything Hawaiian was in vogue since it had just become our newest state.  A few years later, Martha entered college, continued her work in entertainment while pursuing her science degree.  The Miami Herald featured her in a story on her two professions: entertainer and microbiologist.  I still have the clipping.  Mom and dad continued their strict supervision of childrearing.  Dating was frowned upon and our friends would have to pass a rigorous cross examination to be accepted into our home.  Dad was hoping that she would marry a Filipino, but I noticed that Martha was attracted to anglo men much to dad’s disappointment.

Soon after graduation from Barry College, Martha was offered a four year singing contract from a music producer who was impressed with her voice.  The contract would have her traveling the country on tour in a new group that he was forming.  That was everything mom and dad had hoped for, the star in the family was starting to shine.  Martha's relationship with her boyfriend, Bob, would have to be put on hold while she devoted all her time to her promising career.  Signing the contract meant four years of the dreaded Stage Mother - mom chaperoned my sister to every engagement and would give Madam Rose of "Gypsy" a run for her money.  Marriage would afford her freedom from mom's apron strings.  Martha's decision was made more difficult since Bob told her, "It's me or the contract."  The family was pushing for the contract and career. . .but the more we voiced our opinion. . .the more she turned toward freedom.  I know she regretted her choice, pity!

While on vacation to the New York World’s Fair in the mid 60s Martha was overly anxious to return to Florida and her boyfriend, whom she met through a mutual friend, Beverly.  Bob had been dating Beverly, a high school friend.  It was during the time we were in Pennsylvania, returning from the NY Worlds Fair, to visit family that Martha threatened to take a bus to Florida.  She was consumed with the idea that Bob and Bev would rekindle their relationship.  Mom met Bob for the first time at a holiday party Martha hosted.  We had decorated the carport with leis, streamers and balloons.  Mom and dad prepared a dinner buffet for the event and it fell on my shoulders to be butler/waiter – a role I would play on thousands of occasions.  Judy Garland's film “The Harvey Girls” taught me how to set and clear a table.  Remember:  Serve from the left, take off from the right.  Mom was not impressed with Bob.  Her first statement was, “That man is stuck on himself!”  The months leading up to their wedding day were a disastrous time.  That Thanksgiving was celebrated at my sister Jackie’s home.  Soon after we moved to Florida, Jackie made Darryl’s life miserable with her insistence on moving to the sunshine state.  A number of times she left husband and children to catch a southbound train only to be sent back at the urging of mom reminding her of her responsibilities. Thanksgiving festivities ended abruptly when Jackie accused Bob of slipping her the tongue during a congratulatory kiss.  Whether that’s true or not, the impending marriage was off to a poor start.   Events continued to spiral down and ended with mom and me not attending the rehearsal dinner at the home of Bob’s parents.  Their wedding was on December 26th.  It was a strained affair at best.  Bob’s parents had hoped he would marry Beverly since they had a close relationship with her parents - she was maid of honor.  After the wedding they moved to New Orleans where Bob's career in the aerospace industry placed him with frequent trips to California.  Martha suffered a miscarriage and she soon joined Bob in Redondo Beach providing me the perfect reason to experience California.  From 1968 through 1978 I would spend Christmas vacations on the slopes of Mammoth Mountain or Lake Tahoe and summers would find me enrolled at U.C.L.A. studying dramatic arts and appearing in a number of their productions.  California presented the freedom and opportunity to exercise my creative abilities.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

Martha was employed as lab tech & microbiologist.  I would visit & meet her hospital co-workers and friends.  Soon I was invited to join Arlene & Richard & Martha on the slopes of Mammoth Mountain, Big Bear, or Lake Tahoe - Christmas vacations offered two weeks of ski lessons & lift rides, wiping-out & spa therapy, besides adding to my winter wardrobe all the time enjoying the mountain chalet we had rented.  The first time Martha & I took the ski lift, I asked her if she knew how to disembark since the instructor neglected to tell us.  Passing signs would tell us to prepare - TIPS UP - STAND UP.  I followed directions but Martha didn't & after ascending some eight feet over my head decided to bail from the lift, landing on top of me, where I announced, "I don't know you!"  Martha had boasted to the ski instructor her knowledge from a previous ski trip - I informed him that "I can fall down."  Each stretch of the run he would review what we were going to do and what hazards to expect along the way & be cautious of the many steep drop-offs the trail would pass.  Unbeknownst to me, Martha had scheduled a lesson on an Expert Trail taking us near the mountain's summit.  No wonder when on the lift I remarked how high we were until we passed one hill and realize that we were heading for the top!  I made it through those dangerous spots - of course it didn't help with the teacher screaming his lungs out "Fall Down!  Fall Down!"

My cross country flights would usually last five hours in length - though one Christmas I endured a seventeen hour flight due to fog at LAX - spending ground time at Atlanta & Las Vegas. To pass the time I made it a habit to grade papers in flight giving me the freedom of mind to enjoy my vacation.  One year, upon returning from a ski trip I remarked to my classes how their test papers warmed my very soul - I then explained that they were used to ignite the logs in the fireplace - I am resourceful when need be.

Another ski trip had me wipe-out on a mogul (bump) filled steep hill - there I am laying spread-eagle in the snow - passing skiers asking if I wanted the Ski Patrol - I told them an emphatic, "No!"  I saw what they do when they rescue an injured person.  You're tied to a sled and they race down the mountain - towing the sled - as fast they can - taking the shortest route in their dash to save you.  I made it off the mountain that day but later told by my doctor that I had torn the cruciate ligament in my left knee and would take months to heal.  So as not to look obvious, I had my three friends enter the restaurant & lodge all limping - at least I blended in - and we entertained the other guests around the fireplace with details on our acquired injuries.  I love story telling!

In order to keep teaching certificates valid, instructors were to enroll & complete a number of college courses.  Seeing the opportunity I enrolled in classes at U.C.L.A. during the summer, staying in one of the dorms or an off campus apartment.  Often I took walking tours of the sprawling campus and spent many pleasant days rehearsing my dance steps or running lines in the sculpture garden by the theater complex, drama department workshops & costume department.

The UCLA production of Jean Genet play, "The Balcony" is set in a brothel catering to the refined sensibilities & peculiar tastes of men garbed in their fantasies, acting them out on stage.  It came as a surprise when in the open montage, the sailor produces a large 3 foot long rocket - complete with stars & stripes - from his pants and begins to stroke it ending with the audience being sprayed in confetti.  The director had attached an air hose to the rocket producing the spray of white particles to be blasted at the unsuspecting theater goers.  After a performance of the musical "Pajama Game," Martha & Bob joined me backstage and she remarked, "I now know how you must have felt when you came to my dressing room after performances."  The ongoing flurry of the cast, crew and guests reminded her of her theater days in college and I recognized the loving envy in her eyes.

On stage at U.C.L.A. production of classic French farce "Don't Go Walking Around Naked" That's me on the left.