March 2002


I had a friend in Frankfurt back in the sixties who had been in his youth a member of the Hitlerjugend. Hey, he was fourteen! Give him a break. Near the end of the war, they were incorporated into the army, and soon afterwards when the Americans ripped through his area, he found himself uncaptured but a couple hundred kilometers from home. So he hid in the woods with the idea of traveling by night and resting, hidden, during the day.

This didn’t work. Food became an issue. To put it bluntly, he was starving. So he cautiously observed a farm house for a number of hours until he was reassured that it wasn’t infested with Americans and then went to the house for food. The woman there fed him, but was no more interested in his remaining there than he was, so after a brief negotiation, he exchanged his uniform and gear for a set of her son’s clothes, which came real close to fitting. She couldn’t give him much food since she had so little herself, but at least he would now be able to travel by day.

And so, taking an unobtrusive route on country lanes, he set out for home, seventeen but desperately trying to look fifteen and out for a fresh air hike in his own neighborhood.

He had not got very far at all before he was spotted by a couple of American soldiers discreetly watching the little path he was on. He was practically on them before he saw them, but he immediately noticed that they were pointing their rifles at him. One spoke in English.

Hans-Joachim had studied English in school but decided this would be a good time not to understand. Unfortunately, the Americans knew sign language, and one used the universal beckoning forefinger to indicate that he was to approach more closely.

He did so with alacrity and was taken to a local building where there was an American who spoke some German, not perfect German by any means, but sufficiently good to explain to Hans-Joachim that German soldiers whose uniforms and weapons had been stolen by bandits were nevertheless accepted as prisoners of war upon their giving their names, ranks, and serial numbers. After which, they were fed and housed and that sort of thing. German spies, on the other hand, were just taken off behind the building and shot.

Hans-Joachim was able to recall his military data almost immediately.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Columbarium

When you’re in San Francisco, you really should visit the Neptune Society Columbarium. On tiny Lorraine Court off Anza behind the Coronet Theater, it’s mentioned in the better tourist guides, but you don’t have to worry about crowds, as it lacks the lowest-common-denominator appeal of Fisherman’s Wharf. It had fallen into disrepair, but was acquired by the Neptune Society and gradually restored during the late seventies and early eighties. A strange and wonderful building, it is quite interesting architecturally and extremelyinteresting sociologically. The interior is utterly surreal and was the scene of the most astonished moment of my life.

About ’81 or ’82, I had a former repeat trick become casual friend named Lou who I didn’t see very often any more but knew had taken up with a really ditzy young lover I had barely met. One day, though, I got a phone call from him telling me that Lou had died of a heart attack after his fiftieth birthday party, the attack having been at least partly provoked by some post-party recreational refreshments. There was to be a memorial service at the Neptune Society Columbarium next week, and the lover was going through Lou’s address book notifying potential mourners. So I went.

As the mourners were gathering before the service and regaling each other with tales of how we had first had Lou, I turned a corner and found myself face to face with him. He was looking quite good under the circumstances, since he was walking toward me! And then he spoke, crossly, “What are you looking at me like that for?!”

I sensed immediately that this was a test. Unfortunately, like all too many of the others, one for which I was not well prepared and which, worse yet, was not multiple choice.

Gasping, I made a full, if a bit blunt, confession. Luckily, Lou Ryan had a sense of humor, and kindly let me know that the service was for LouJones, another former trick of about the same age who also happened to have recently acquired a ditzy young lover whom I didn’t know.

The service itself was anticlimactic.

But why, aside from the architectural interest, should you visit the Columbarium? Examine the contents of the crypts, noting the sex of the deceased and their dates as you ascend to, say, the third floor. You see detailed the progress of an epidemic.

And richly detailed in many cases since large numbers of the crypts contain the urns of a gay couple and are decorated with gay themes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

St. Leonhardskirche

I went to organ concerts in St. Leonhardskirche down by the riverside on Alte Mainzer Gasse in Frankfurt when I was quite new to Germany in ’64. There was a concert the first Sunday of every month, and organists from all over Europe came there to play. The most famous that I heard was Germani.

That the church had been built a century before Columbus sailed was particularly impressive to a man reared in west Texas, which had for all practical purposes been settled by Americans (OK, Europeans) only after the final solution to the Comanche Problem in the 1870’s.

Leaving a more lasting impression, though, were the pews, which were clearly designed to inflict maximum pain upon the corporeal portions of the worshipers. They were fashioned of a particularly obdurate corrugated oak and were only eight or nine inches deep. They had resolutely vertical backs about ten inches high, the leading edge of which had been sharpened to dig viciously into the spine of anyone so foolish as to lean back.

The only compensation, I realized, was that modern Germans had got a bit soft, too, so we all sat there squirming in misery as our souls were lofted to heaven by the music.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Harmon Towel Boy

Yesterday I got a note from one of my Susans, who dilated upon my running around making charitable donations last Tuesday, mentioning that she had a profound medical need for a hot tub/sauna combination equipped with a muscle-bound towel boy named Osvaldo.

Her mention of the towel boy reminded me that in the summer of 1973 I took the intensive Spanish program at UC Berkeley and lived a few blocks off campus in a fifties-motel-like apartment building owned by the rapacious uncle of a friend I would not meet for another six years. In the intensive language programs, you’re in class all morning, in the language lab all afternoon, and at home in the evenings doing your homework for the next morning’s class. So you’re pretty busy. But you’re also young and full of energy and freshly out, so some of the afternoon time that should have been spent in the language lab was instead spent in the spectacular outdoor pool at Harmon Gymnasium, swimming laps to keep that rippled swimmer’s build, this being before gay men discovered the benefits of weightlifting. After the laps, the only logical thing to do was to spend an hour or so poolside, crispening your tan line and discreetly observing the fauna, many of whom were discreetly observing back. Actually some of them were not all that discreet, as Harmon Gym was pretty cruisy in those days, the early seventies being when great numbers of us were crawling out from under rocks nationwide and wriggling to the coasts. To get your towel and suit (optional for suntanning, but I never understood why anyone would suntan except to get a tanline), you passed by a window and handed your reg (rhymes with “dredge”) card to the towel boy, who was certainly muscle-bound and indeed a looker albeit very professional in demeanor. So professional that after you’d been there a couple of times, he knew the suit size you wanted. He also knew that there were two brands of suits, one totally shapeless and baggy and the other…well, becoming. Now it would take a bolder man than most of us to ask for one of the good suits that displayed your assets so fetchingly, but somehow, his professionalism extended to this additional sensitive service, and for those of us who needed one of the good suits, when his hand emerged from what looked like a random draw from the bin, it always held the right stuff.

It was some weeks into the term that I learned that his professionalism went even further, and farther, too, as one Saturday night when I’d gone into the City as usual, I paid my only visit to the Ritch Street Baths, at that time San Francisco’s premier gay bath house. When I got my towel, it was all I could do to keep a straight face (always a plus in any bathhouse). Yes, it was he, moonlighting, a man who early on found his vocation.

P.S. By the end of summer school, I had grown so fond of those swim suits that I wanted one, badly enough to check around and discover that the company sold only to institutions. No retail. Sigh, so I had no choice. Using a devious route not visible from the towel boy’s vantage, I crept to my locker and deposited the suit. Then, when I went to reclaim my reg card from him, I lied, telling him that the suit had been swiped while I was in the shower. So I paid only the institutional price, but hey, it was a used suit. I of course still have it. By now, the elastic in the waist has given out, but then, so has mine.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment