Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | September 11, 2020


            Somewhere during my years at Annunciation elementary school, must have been 4th or 5th grade, I was enrolled in a boxing program which took place on Saturday mornings. This may have been my parents’ idea, since it was during this period that I was being terrorized and beaten regularly by bully classmates. Somehow those kids knew I was queer before I even knew what that meant. Although boxing could just as easily have been my idea – one of those things that sounded good at the time but turned out to not be quite what I’d had in mind.

            I somehow made it through the weeks of lessons and practice. Mostly I recall avoiding it as much as I could. Hiding in corners and trying to stay out of the way of the men who were facilitating it – all of them in various shades of grey sweatshirts and blue jeans. I couldn’t avoid it altogether though, and did have to actually box some. I don’t remember a lot about it except the odd mixture of excitement, dread and fear that I felt around it. Mostly fear.

            Finally the last day of the program arrived: an afternoon of matches in which each of us would have to fight at least once in the eliminations leading up to a championship. They had a ring set up and everyone was encouraged to invite family and friends. There was, as a result, quite a crowd there that afternoon. I cannot remember whether I didn’t invite my family, or whether they couldn’t go – in either case, neither of my parents were there. I don’t even recall there being any friends of theirs there. I think my dad had to work.

            I did not want to fight. But there was no nobility in this. The classes had been bad enough, but getting the crap beat out of me under bright lights in front of all those people was a bit more than I could handle. When they called out my name for my big bout I sat there as though I had not heard it. As though it were not my name. As though I didn’t even exist. The kid I was scheduled to fight therefore won by default and went on to the next round where he was soundly beaten. Hell, maybe I might have beaten him – who knows. He was probably as scared as I was – well not quite. He at least got in the ring.

            I watched the fights for awhile, then sneaked out and killed time somewhere by myself – I don’t recall where, but it was close by so that I could see when the whole extravaganza was over and the people were leaving.

            Then I went home.

            My mother asked me how I’d done. I sullenly said I’d lost and went to my room. She certainly had no reason to question the idea of my losing a fight. History was fully on the side of my lie.

            Later mom called me into the kitchen. Norma Costanzo was there from across the street. She was one of my mother’s friends, although neither of us liked her. She was a meddler. This was not a good sign.

            “Where’s your trophy?” my mother asked.

            “I told you. I lost. I didn’t get a trophy.”

            My mother looked at Norma, then back at me. “Norma says that they gave a trophy to every boy who fought, even if he lost.”

            We both looked at Norma, who was looking way too self-satisfied for her own good or for mine.

            “Isn’t that right?”

            “Yes,” Norma said, “I heard that every boy got a trophy, whether they won or lost. I saw you come home and came over hoping to get a look at yours.”

            I stood there squirming for a short while, trying to figure out what to do or say. Hadn’t chickening out on the boxing match been bad enough? Finally, nearly in tears, I blurted out: “O.K. – fine. I didn’t fight. I was scared and I just sat there when they called my name and didn’t go up and then I left. O.K.?” and I ran back to my room.

            This is where I’d like to tell you that my mother told Norma that she was an evil meddler and to go home and leave us alone. That she then came into my room and took me in her arms and told me not to worry because everything would be alright. That she told me I didn’t have to fight if I didn’t want to and they’d never make me do anything like that again. That she told me she loved me, whether I learned how to box or not.

            But that isn’t quite what happened.

            I stayed in my room crying into my stuffed shaggy dog while she and Norma sat in the kitchen talking, no doubt, about me. The best I could expect at this point was that my father would not be told – hoping that being humiliated in front of the nosy neighbor was sufficient punishment for lying and wasting money on the boxing lessons.

            My father wasn’t told, to my knowledge.  The incident became one of many things my mother and I never spoke about again.

– 02/16-21/03

Santa Rosa

begin revisions 6/29/08


Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | July 12, 2019

New book released July 2019 “What the Night Keeps”

My new book “What the Night Keeps” is now available for order online direct from the publisher Stubborn Mule Press at or from Amazon or from me at .

For those in the Bay area I have two readings coming up: at Aqus Café in Petaluma on Monday, August 5 starting at 6:15 PM; and at Penngrove Market on Sunday, October 13, 2019 starting at 8 PM – hope to see some of you there!

Here is something about me: M.J. (Michael Joseph) Arcangelini was born 1952 in western Pennsylvania, grew up there & in Cleveland, Ohio. He’s resided in northern California since 1979 & currently lives in west Sonoma County. He began writing poetry at age 11. He has been a factory line worker, farm laborer, portrait photographer, fern picker, professional fisherman, banker, kitchen worker, pornographer, outlaw, and occasional layabout. He currently works in a law office, which he frequently finds disconcerting. His work has been published in little magazines, online journals (including The James White Review, BEAR Magazine, RFD, Whisky Island, Taproot, Jonathan, lilliput, Rusty Truck, The Ekphrastic Review, The Gasconade Review), and a dozen anthologies. He is the author of three prior poetry collections, the full length “With Fingers at the Tips of My Words” 2002, from Beautiful Dreamer Press, and the chapbooks “Room Enough” 2016, and “Waiting for the Wind to Rise” 2018, both from NightBallet Press . A chapbook, “Pawning My Sins” is forthcoming from NightBallet Press. He maintains an occasional blog of poetry and prose at He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

To find out more there are interviews with me here and

I believe that poetry lives on the breath, truly comes alive in performance, that what is on the page is like a photograph of an event. If you’re curious, there is a video of me reading poetry with a little bit of interview here:

Contact me with any questions or if you’re interested in booking a reading. Thank you for your indulgence.

Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | January 1, 2019


I met Allen Ginsberg once – well sort of met. I mean it was more like a really odd fan moment I guess. November 17, 1996. During a break in the QUEER BEAT SYMPOSIUM at the S.F. Art Institute.
At the end of the lunch break I found myself standing outside in the chilly grey afternoon with a semi-Famous Writer and his friend trying to be casual and egalitarian, (me casual, he egalitarian). We were all waiting to get into one of the only two, single capacity, toilets in the vicinity and both of those doors holding tight as a baptist virgin at a bachelor party. The occupants were apparently possessed of severe agoraphobia – or maybe they weren’t in there alone (and who knew how long THAT might take). I remember semi-Famous Writer was talking to his friend about a somewhat obscure gay beat poet. He kept turning toward me and looking at me with what I understood to be a clear indication that I was to consider myself included in their conversation since we were all stuck there in the same cold drizzle. So I said something, but apparently it was the wrong thing. His look switched from welcome to disdain. And from the tone in his voice it was obvious to me that I had lost whatever initial grace I’d earned simply by having been hip enough to have shown up for this event.
Then semi-Famous Writer got into one of the bathrooms. His friend was next in line. We stood silent waiting for the other door to open – but, no dice. Eventually semi-Famous Writer came out and returned to the symposium without a word to either of us. His friend took his place, leaving me alone and unarmed in the drizzle, no umbrella, no magic spell to open the other door. I began to become convinced that there really wasn’t anyone in there at all. That it had been locked from the outside. Probably backed-up flooded, overflow shit-soaked floor with used needles and condoms drifting in a putrid pool.
I heard the flush then, and the running of water into a shallow metal sink, the rustling of paper towels, the grinding of the dispenser. I tried to assign meaning to the shuffling sounds to predict how much longer it might be.
Finally the door opened. A long-haired, greying, balding, bespectacled man bundled up in a dark jacket and winter scarf emerged, grumbling and mumbling about the filthy condition of the bathroom. He looked at me briefly, just long enough to establish that I was not in his way and rushed past. I muttered “excuse me” but was unsure why, and as I closed and locked the door behind me I realized the man had been Allen Ginsberg.
Ginsberg was not scheduled to be there.
I looked at the toilet, involuntarily started to imagine him sitting there grunting in his stink like the rest of us, but it really was too much like imagining my parents fucking and I stopped. I looked around the very small room. He was right, it was filthy. I pissed and got back into the auditorium as quickly as I could.

quiet Ginsberg slips into the audience
after the program has started,
cute young man companion in tow.
listens while men 20 or 30 or more
years younger sit awkwardly on stage,
dissect and discuss his life and work and
the lives and work of his closest friends –
Ginsberg already a ghost in this place,
even though not dead yet, exists here
only as ectoplasmic apparition reeking
of blood and semen, urine and tears –
too messy, a potential embarrassment
hovering unnecessary among these
academics even as they try to fit him in
dry him out and squeeze him into their
dissertation theories, their literary
magazine articles, their scholarly papers,
distancing him further from his own work
with each self-serving pronouncement
each self-executing conclusion.

Dear Mr. Ginsberg:
One of the presenters in the first section of the symposium said that Jack had been a closet case. That he got off watching through half-opened doors while Neal fucked faggots up the ass. He also said that the sex in your poetry was cold. This was before you arrived, but I took notes. I could give you his name if you like.
I thank whatever gods may be for your old friend, Lenore Kandel! She read her “Poem for Perverts” and gave that panel a taste of heat I hope they don’t soon forget.
And I want you to know that the day after you died I read PLEASE MASTER to a circle of queer men, and I didn’t notice anyone reaching for a sweater – in fact, that room got almost uncomfortably warm.
a fan

Eventually the people on stage noticed that one of the objects of their intellectual autopsy was quietly listening to what they had to say.
Questions, anyone?
A young man rose and very seriously asked if a certain poem did not in fact prove that Ginsberg is a misogynist.
Mr. Presenter said, “Since it appears that Allen has joined us, I think I’ll defer to him on this one.”
From where we sat, 4 or 5 rows above and behind him, we could see Ginsberg shaking his head, no. But Mr. Presenter would not accept a no. And now that Mr. Question knew Ginsberg was there he and nearly everyone else turned to find him and place him in context, on the stage of his fame.
Ginsberg rose, already weak from the cancer and the fight against it, his dignity as beautiful as a Renoir bather. He kindly answered: “I wrote that poem from a dream. I don’t know what it means.” And he started to sit back down.
“But,” said Mr. Question, determined to get confirmation of his theory direct from the source (what luck!), “when you wrote…” and he proceeded to volley details from the poem at Ginsberg, concluding with “…wasn’t that a clear expression of misogyny?”
Ginsberg stood again, sighed, patiently replied: “As I said, I had a dream. When I woke up I wrote it down. I don’t know what it means. It was just a dream.” Then he tried to sit again.
Mr. Question did not appear willing to accept an answer so simple, so perhaps calculatedly evasive. He rephrased his inquiry yet again and addressed it once more directly to the bard.
Ginsberg, with fraying resignation in his voice, stood up as straight as he could, he was already pretty ill at that point, repeated his answer a third time and promptly sat down, establishing that he would indulge this idiot no further.
Mr. Question stammered slightly, said, “Thank you.” And sat himself down at last.
There were no further questions.
Less than a year later Ginsberg was dead.
I will always remember the patience and grace with which Ginsberg dealt with that rude, insensitive, and insistent young scholar, even though he was not even officially attending the event and therefore had no obligation to participate. The way he indulged the guy for a while, in spite of his illness, dispatching his duty as a poetry celebrity, and then calmly sat down was beautiful, practically beatific.
Confronted on the same day with his most ordinary humanness and his extraordinary tolerance and kindness my respect and admiration for him grew greater and more solid. When he died I was saddened as though I’d lost a friend, even though we’d never actually met.

first draft, 05/30-06/24/1997
Fields Landing, CA
revisions 07/31/2011 & 01/01/2019
Sebastopol, CA

Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | November 11, 2017

FIRST VISIT TO A BATHHOUSE Cleveland, Ohio – November 8, 1975

It was our birthday, Jack’s and mine – I would turn 23 and he was 4 years older. He was much more experienced in the gay world, which I was only beginning, very tentatively, to enter.  It all frightened me, especially the idea that I might not just be “dabbling” or “experimenting,” but might actually be queer.


It was Jack’s idea that we should spend our birthday at a gay bathhouse in downtown Cleveland.  He had been there before and knew his way around but he didn’t really tell me anything that might have prepared me for what I would find there.  I don’t suppose there was anything he really could have said to prepare me.  I was about as timid and naive as you could get, so it took more than a little wheedling on Jack’s part to get me to go at all.  Jack and I’d had sex a couple times already and I was kind of hoping we would do it again on our birthday, but he had other ideas and I had a car.  So, after fortifying ourselves with alcohol, off to the baths we went.


Jack guided me through the arcane procedures and rituals of the bathhouse as a master might indulge a particularly slow initiate, from the speakeasy-like admission, through placing all of our valuables in a basket and turning them over to the guy at the front counter in exchange for a locker key on an elastic bracelet (which would later be placed around an ankle so as to be out the way). Then there was the locker room with its glaring, unforgiving florescent lights and all those other men getting undressed. Some of them, like me, averting their eyes and trying to be inconspicuous.  While most were already gearing up for the hunt, evaluating everyone else’s potential as sexual partners.  Their gazes were bold, cold and unafraid.  They were perusing a menu in an all-night diner, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, with an emphasis on meat dishes. Intimidated is not a strong enough word for how I felt being looked at in that way.  Never confident about my body in the first place, finding myself among so many attractive, naked men made me want to curl up into a ball and roll back out the door.  But I knew better than to try and talk Jack into leaving, it was much too late for that.  I was going to have to go through with this.


Although huge possibilities were opening up in front of me, instead of being excited my instinctive reaction was to turn tail and run, to close into myself and throw up armor. Why I was unable to view this as the incredible opportunity it could have been was certainly in part wrapped up in the image I then held of myself as an essentially heterosexual man who was simply “experimenting.” Or maybe I was a bisexual, I could almost deal with that. But that doesn’t explain it all because even a het-identified man, and certainly a self-aware bisexual, could have opened up, followed his dick and enjoyed himself.


Jack seemed so easy and comfortable with being gay.  The flamboyant costumes he would wear anywhere: black leather, calf-high boots, skin tight jeans, a billowing, lace-trimmed white blouse, make-up, sometimes including glitter (this was, after all, the glam rock era), and topped by a wide brimmed black hat with a large white ostrich feather reaching upward from the hatband (his “D’Artagnan hat,” I called it) while his beyond-shoulder-length, full, wavy dark hair exuberantly emerged from beneath.  This was not drag, it was “gender fuck” long before I ever heard the term. His tall, slender frame thus adorned turned heads wherever he went. His originality and openness attracted a group of wanna-bes and curious who followed him around to bask in the outrageousness of the spontaneous performances he could slip into at any time.  These admirers were mostly, but not exclusively, male and seemed to be a fluidly defined mix of straight, gay, bi and the intensely confused, of which I was firmly in the latter category.


I don’t think it ever even occurred to Jack that I might be straight, he just seemed to assume I was queer.  Did everybody presume I was queer?  My grandmother used to emphasize how important my reputation was, I must never do anything to damage my reputation, the family’s good name.  What had I done?  What was I doing?  Was it obvious to everyone but me?  So those kids in grade school who called me “faggot” and “sissy” while they beat me up were right after all? No, that I could not accept – not yet anyway. That would take another 15 years of drinking and denial.


Philosophically I carried all that well-intended 60’s hokum around inside me. “If it feels good, do it,” “love the one you’re with,” and “try everything at least once” were the guiding principles I had, at least outwardly, adopted as my own.  But I was then, as I remain, actively haunted by a small army of vicious Catholic guilt gremlins using every means possible to sabotage any pleasure I might get out of life which is not pre-sanctioned by the currently reigning pontiff and endorsed by my Italian grandmother’s ghost.  I would be unable to feel comfortable in a gay bathhouse for years.  And I never truly felt I fit in, even when doing my best to take full advantage of everything it had to offer.  Note that I refer to every “thing” not every “one.”  The bathhouse for me was not really an experience shared with other people, but a practically onanistic activity which happened to occasionally  involve other bodies – warm, active, and decidedly male bodies.  In the bathhouse it always seemed that we were essentially using each other as props and tools for masturbation – pornography as live, participatory theater.


Jack obligingly gave me the guided tour.  From the locker room we entered a sort of central lobby with a bar where one could purchase soft drinks, snacks and, if memory serves, beer and maybe wine. Some café tables and chairs were scattered about and off to one side against a wall was a large, sunken hot tub with a small fountain gurgling and steaming. From there we entered a series of corridors lined with doors, each of which opened onto a small room equipped with a single bunk and tiny side table (with small dark bottles of amyl nitrite on most of them) and nothing else except a few hooks on the walls. Some of these doors were open and the men inside were seductively displaying themselves on the bunk or posing in the doorway. Everyone was cruising everyone else and making instant decisions about momentary encounters.


Throbbing disco music permeated the place like the stink of a dead skunk under the house. The black walls seemed to pulse to the hip-thrusting, bass heavy rhythms that made the floor seem as though it were undulating, urging my feet forward toward the next potential partner.


We walked through orgy rooms where men were engaged in acts and combinations of acts of which I’d only read descriptions or, at best, seen as photographs in porno magazines.  Confronted with all of this open eroticism I found myself trying not to get a hard-on.  Was my body remembering the humiliation of Miss Schwartz calling on me in 7th grade and being required to stand up with my pants tenting out from the erection I couldn’t suppress and knew everyone would see?  Or maybe I was just afraid that I wouldn’t measure up to what was already on display.


So there I was in this distinctly strange place, barefoot and wearing nothing but a thin white towel wrapped around my waist, which I frantically held together lest it come loose and fall leaving me exposed – which was, of course, the idea. I followed Jack around like a frightened five-year-old in a crowded department store holding tight to his mother’s skirt for fear that she might disappear into the mass of mindless shoppers and never be found again.  I’m sure I was being a pain in the ass and seriously inhibiting his abilities to score and I knew that eventually he would have to separate from me, after all if he’d wanted to have sex with me we’d have just stayed at his place and saved our money.


Finally he took my arm and said, “Let’s go in there,” pointing at a darkened doorway.  I followed him into a crude labyrinth of increasingly darker passages lit only by very dim bulbs (of which, in retrospect, I was clearly the dimmest) shedding weak red light and which were crowded with the deeply shadowed naked bodies of men in all shapes, sizes, colors and ages.  Here Jack managed finally to elude me, vanishing into the crowded darkness like the ghost of a shadow.  I imagine he thought that this darker and even more anonymous setting would be sure to break through my determined and unaccountable reluctance to have fun.


Thus did I find myself abandoned, unable to move without touching another naked man somehow, somewhere – and they were touching me back.  But while I was touching them because I could not find a way to move without doing so, their hands danced upon me with more experienced intent, seductive and determined.  There were strange hands stroking my back, chest and arms, foreign bodies rubbing languorously against me like two-legged cats passing. There was no place to withdraw, no unoccupied corner into which I could back up and fight them off.  Then one of them grabbed my towel and yanked it off.  I spasmodically clutched and held onto it like the last tatter of a childhood security blanket – which, in a twisted way, it had become. Hands were now aggressively exploring my cock and balls and ass in ways I had always desired but been too terrified to admit even to myself. I half-heartedly swatted at them like flies or mosquitos, but they just kept coming. And this was where terror won out over desire.  Fear of this overt and very available sexuality all around me, of being intimately touched by all these strange men, suddenly met my claustrophobia and ignited.


Claustrophobia.  I am not paralyzed by it.  It is not a major factor in my life and only certain situations seem to set it off.  I remember, in the fall of my 10th grade year, my then-girlfriend, Dawn, and I went on a hayride which was organized through a school group. In order to try and keep us from making out in the back of the hay wagon, we would stop periodically for various off-wagon activities.  One of these was a large enclosed maze made out of hay bales.  The passage through the maze was just big enough for us to crawl through. I found myself leading a group of four or five other students through this maze, my girlfriend directly behind me.  It was completely dark, navigation was entirely by touch.  But everything was going well, we were laughing, joking and having a pretty good time when I bumped up against a dead end. This is, after all, the nature of labyrinths, many dead ends and a single exit.  There was no room to turn around, the top and sides so close I could touch them all at once.  I could feel the terror rising within me like a pot of potatoes boiling toward foamy overflow and was immediately seized by an uncontrollable panic.  I knew I had to get out of there right now.  Without thinking I immediately began to move in the only direction available, reverse.  As I did, I planted my foot squarely in Dawn’s face causing her to jerk away and setting off a chain reaction of panic which quickly spread back down the line.  This was the first time I had experienced claustrophobia. I have tried to avoid any activity likely to land me in a similar situation ever since.


I had not anticipated that bathhouse labyrinth, tightly packed with bodies, lacking sufficient light and dense with hot, moist air.  The smell in there was an intricate mélange of sweat, piss, semen, alcohol, chlorine, poppers and a soupçon of shit.  It all had me so disoriented I no longer had any idea how I had gotten in and by implication how to get out. I could feel the panic beginning to rise just like in the hay maze. I wanted to leave and I wanted to leave right then.


I tried to find Jack, the only person in the whole damned place I knew and thought I could trust.  I called out for him, quietly at first, hoping he was near, but  Jack, probably long gone, failed to respond and as the panic intensified my calls grew louder, more frantic, more desperate – that was when it began.


First one or two of the guys closest to me began to echo my cries in a fey, mocking fashion: “Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…” Then it was picked up by others until it seemed that the whole dark, red-tinged labyrinth was full of naked men mocking my fear.  The air was filled with bouncing echoes of “Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…” in an endless range of vocal timbres, tones and inflections mixed generously with derisive laughter and underneath it all punctuated by murmured comments like “come on over here honey, I’ll jack it for you.” Swirling all around me: “Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack…Jaa-ack….” like a primitive special effect from Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”


To make it worse the intoxicating smell of all those male bodies in that narrow space, their fluids rising toward eruption, and the ever-present groping of eager, anonymous hands left me, in spite of my fear, denial and best efforts at suppression, with a major boner which humiliated me nearly as much as the taunting. These days I’ll bet that bathhouse smell could elicit a nostalgic erection all by itself, but that night it only added to my panic.


I had to get out of there.


Eventually a kind soul appeared, took my hand and led me toward the exit, which had not been all that far away.  I’m sure the labyrinth was much smaller than my memory insists and those horny minotaurs therein nowhere near as numerous, but at the time its passages felt endless and its habitués innumerable.


I found my way back to the central lobby area, a gathering place for those seeking rest and respite from the constant sexual activity and cruising.  It was better lit than most of the place, though not as garishly as the locker room, where I made a quick dash for cigarettes and cash, got myself a beer, and settled into the hot tub, trying to relax.  I closed my eyes and pretended I was alone, despite the occasional inquiring foot stroking my legs.  When I began to prune I got out and moved over to one of the tables where I could chain smoke and drink and try to forget the humiliation of what had happened in the labyrinth.  I figured that at least, as dark as it was, it would be unlikely that anyone from the labyrinth would recognize me out here, or anywhere else for that matter. I was angry with Jack for abandoning me and considered leaving him there and going home. But I couldn’t really stop looking at all the beautiful male bodies casually on display, even there, on more-or-less neutral ground, men would sit with their towels draped over one knee or over the backs of their chairs leaving themselves completely exposed.  I kept squirming in my seat and adjusting my towel to try and conceal the aching boner that just wouldn’t go away.


And that was how Jack found me, morose with my beer and cigarettes.  He was glowing and grinning, satisfied but still up for more.  He got a beer, sat down and listened as I related my traumatic labyrinth experience, which seemed to both puzzle and amuse him.  Of course, I wanted to leave but let him talk me into staying a bit longer, after all maybe if I got drunk enough, maybe… When I did begin frequenting bathhouses in San Francisco in the early 80’s it was always under the generous auspices of alcohol – I could never bring myself to do it sober, of course I was seldom sober at all back then.  We agreed to meet in the same spot in another hour and Jack returned to the hunt.


I recall making small talk with a couple of guys after that, including the bartender, but I have no recollection of what might have been said nor of having sex that night in any way, shape or form other than the groping in the labyrinth. Of course, as dense as I was, any one of those guys could have been coming on to me and I’d never have figured it out – I still can’t.  When Jack returned, finally sated, we had one last drink and talked for a short while before getting dressed and leaving.  We didn’t have much to talk about at that point.  He found it difficult to believe that I had not engaged in any sex that night at all – wasn’t that why we were there?  I dropped him off at his place in the early morning hours and then headed back though the nearly deserted Cleveland streets to my parents’ house in the west side suburbs.


I’m sure I disappointed Jack that night, with my clenched refusal to indulge in the carnal pleasures he had offered to me as a birthday present. It is more than possible that he took me to the baths that night as a way to get rid of me.  Until the mid-80s to early 90s, when I became more acclimated to casual sex, I tended to fall in love with nearly everyone I had sex with, panting around after them figuring that if they’d done it once, why not twice, why not three times, why not forever?  I suppose that it was another manifestation of those little catholic voices lodged within me like inoperable tumors trying to have their way.  It just seemed that sex was OK if you were in love but not if you weren’t – right? So if I wanted to have sex with someone it followed that I had to be in love with them.  But while he certainly fascinated me, I’d never met anyone like him before or since, I don’t remember ever thinking I was in love with Jack.


In the end I disappointed myself that night.  Since an erection is hard evidence to refute, it appeared that I really might be a queer, it just looked like I wasn’t going to be very good at it.

Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | October 22, 2017

BUSTED #1 Brook Park, Ohio – July 19, 1970

We had been, the whole family, at my grandmother’s in Pennsylvania for a week or so.  On the drive back I saw a church which had a changeable sign out front where bible quotes and messages could be posted.  On this day it read: “There is no rainbow at the end of pot.” I thought that was particularly funny, both for the play on words and the fact that, at the time, I thought pot let me see rainbows everywhere – so the sign was clearly wrong.  I figured it was only ignorance, inexperience and fear which would make someone put up such a sign.  At 17 years old and recently graduated from high school I felt I had enough experience to see the humor, if not the danger, in that simple roadside declaration.

We had come back early on Saturday and after dinner that night it was my turn to do the dishes.  I was going back and forth between the kitchen and the living room to watch an episode of the TV show CHiPs.  It seems to me that they were portraying a drug bust that night and, like the church sign, I found it amusing.  Before I was entirely done with the dishes some friends showed up to see if I wanted to go hang out at the park in Berea.  There was Demeter (Jim Hurley), Kirk Davis, Kitty (Catherine Ballou), Jack Belter, his girlfriend Connie, and Beano (Bob Frye). Beano got his name because he was very slender and seemed tall as a fairytale beanstalk, especially if one were laying on the floor, stoned, looking up at him standing above.

It was a hot day and I thought it would be nice to spend a cool evening next to Wallace Lake.  I finished up the dishes, told my parents I was going down to the park and off we went.

The Wallace Lake picnic area was where the hippies and freaks hung out in Berea.  On weekend evenings the parking lot would be full of cars and vans and the picnic tables and the grounds full of young people sporting various degrees of hippie regalia – we blended right in.  Beer, wine and pot were ubiquitous as was the sound of music; psychedelic rock, blues, and folk blasting out of car radios and tape decks.  We were just hanging out and having fun.  I believe Jack was the one who found the blotter LSD for sale.  It was such a beautiful evening and so nice to be where we were that we all figured a mild dose of acid could only make things better.  We pooled our money and bought some.  We didn’t have enough money for full doses and so decided to each do half a dose, Beano however somehow managed to get himself a whole dose or, judging by the way he was acting as the evening stretched on into night, more.

When the acid started to hit our brains we decided to hit the road, go exploring and see what we could see. After driving around aimlessly for a while someone said they heard there was a party down at Edgewater Beach so we headed into Cleveland. We were mildly tripping by that point, but tripping nonetheless, so everything had that special glow that LSD lends so generously. Traveling to the city was an adventure of wonders as the ordinary became fantastic under the influence of the drug.

We got to Edgewater and tumbled out of the car to join the party on the beach.  There was a campfire burning and somebody knew somebody so we were all welcomed. We sat in the sand talking of fantastic things. Played leisurely tag with the gentle lake waves.  Walked and walked. Picked up things that we found in the sand, fishbones, stones, popsicle sticks and examined them like rare treasures.  And we laughed a lot – everything seemed funny until it didn’t and then we’d get very serious and talk deep existential ideas. Who were we really? Why were we here? What is the universe? And then we’d laugh some more. It was your basic acid trip.

Eventually I realized how late it was getting. Between the acid and the darkness time had seemed suspended. Someone, I think Jack, had the momentary good sense to look at a wristwatch and announced that it was hours after midnight. I figured I better get home because I was most likely already in trouble for being out so late. Even though I’d graduated high school I was still only 17 and my parents continued to exert great authority, as much as it rankled me. So we slowly reassembled and piled back into Beano’s car to take me home. The others planned on continuing the trip elsewhere after dropping me off. Jack and Connie stayed with the party at Edgewater.

Even though it was Beano’s car I had been driving because he was way too stoned to deal with it and I was the primary driver on most excursions anyway. Periodically while we were driving Beano, sitting in the front seat, would start waving those long, gangly arms and legs around frantically crying “watch out for the gate!!” Of course there were no gates across the road, only across Beano’s awareness.

Kitty decided that she wanted to drive, He was living on his own even though she didn’t have a driver’s license nor much experience at it. For some reason it seemed to all of us like a good idea, after all somebody would have to drive after they dropped me off. Logic is like that when you’re tripping.  I was placed next to her in the front seat to keep an eye on her and talk her through the process as needed. Beano was next to me with Kirk and Demeter, neither of whom could drive, in the back. We headed for Brook Park, a near west suburb where I lived with my parents.

We were driving down Brookpark Road, the border between Cleveland and the city of Brook Park. We were heading west on the Cleveland side of the street when we noticed a police car behind us. It was about 3 o’clock in the morning. I was talking Kitty through her driving and felt she was a doing fairly well. But then, we were both pretty ripped so who knows.

We came to W. 150th St. where we needed to turn left as it became Smith Road to get to my house. I told Kitty to go ahead and execute the turn because she was doing so well. We were gambling that the police car was a Cleveland car and would keep going down Brookpark Road past us. But as soon as we crossed the middle line from Cleveland into Brook Park the flashing lights came on. They were Brook Park police and we had just crossed over into their jurisdiction.

As soon as the flashing lights came on I straightened up like a switch had been flipped. It was as though I was no longer tripping at all. I could see everything that was happening and understand it. I didn’t know such a thing was possible, but it happened.

They pulled us over just after we made the turn and suddenly there were five policeman and three police cars, all with their lights flashing, just to deal with five tripping hippies. It was quite a crime scene. We tried to tell ourselves we would be able to talk ourselves out of it, whatever it was, but I don’t think any of us actually believed it.

We sat in the car, silent, terrified as the officers approached us. They shined flashlights at us to get a good look at the hippies, then they ordered us out and we slowly emerged into the flashing light night.

They separated us and began their questioning. Brook Park had an 11:00 PM curfew for under 18 so the first thing they wanted to find out was how old we were. Kitty and I were both under 18 and not sharp enough by that time of the night to try and hide it. We were the first ones to be ushered, without being searched, into the back of a police car. The door slammed on us. Thus isolated we sat there quiet for a moment, staring at the grill between us and the front seat; dashboard lights shining, police radio crackling and squawking.

Kitty looked at me and said: “I’ve got a roach collection in my purse. What are we going to do?” I barely took a moment to think about it. It was clear we couldn’t allow ourselves to get busted for holding roaches. I looked around to see if we were being watched. We weren’t, the cops were all too busy with the others. I told her to give them to me and, quick as I could stand to, I ate them – there were only a couple. Roaches don’t really taste very good; dry, ashy, burnt paper. There was nothing to wash them down with and my mouth felt gritty.  They’re much better smoked than eaten but at least the evidence was gone and other than that I didn’t believe any of us were actually holding any drugs. I don’t know if eating those roaches had any effect on my consciousness, if I could get any more stoned from that. It didn’t seem like it.

Kirk was also under 18 but he lied and said he was 19 and then gave them his real birthday. They didn’t do the simple math to determine he was lying, so he got away with it.

Eventually they hauled us all off to the Brook Park police station.  Kitty and me in one car, Kirk and Demeter in another, and Beano in the third.  Once there we were all searched. I shot a worried look at Kitty as they searched her purse, hoping there were no other surprises in it.  There weren’t. They confiscated fuzz from Demeter’s pockets and put it in an envelope to send to the lab for analysis to see if there were any traces of drugs in it. We thought that was pretty funny but the officers did not share our amusement.

As soon as we got to the station Beano was put into a cell because there was a body attachment on him for unpaid traffic tickets. We could hear him down the hall, still tripping wildly, repeatedly yelling out to anybody who might hear: “Roll down the windows, it’s hot in here!” He seemed to think he was still in the car.  It was the last time I ever saw Beano.  Don’t know what happened to him after that night.

Since the other four of us had committed no actual crime there was no reason to hold us, except the curfew thing. Kitty driving without a license seemed to have either been forgotten or never noticed in the first place.

Kirk and Demeter were released to Demeter’s mother who came the short distance from Cleveland to pick them up.

Kitty and I were separated into different rooms and different cops questioned us before calling our parents.

I was sitting in front of the cop’s desk when he called my house. By this time it was around four in the morning. My mother answered the phone. I heard him say, “Mrs. Arcangelini this is Sgt. So-and-so at the Brook Park police station. We have your son here, he’s higher than a kite. Will you please come get him?” That was even a bigger reality smack in the face then when we initially got pulled over.

At first it seemed to take forever for my father to get there. Then suddenly he was there and it was like he had appeared out of the air. Timeslips are part of an acid trip that you just get used to and while I didn’t feel stoned anymore I was clearly still feeling remnants of the effects. Dad mostly avoided looking at me and was totally deferential toward the cop. Some discussion about me was had in front of me. The cop told my Dad that we had been smoking marijuana, which was not true but was better than telling him I was on LSD, which really would have scared him. Then the cop took my father into the hallway just outside the door. There he told him the following, in a loud enough stage whisper for me to hear: “You got a nice looking kid there Mr. Arcangelini. If I were you I’d take him home and beat the shit out of him so he never does anything like this again.”

And thus was I was released into my father’s custody.

Dad never needed anyone to tell him to beat me, so with encouragement like that I figured I was really in for it.  It had been a while since he’d taken the belt to me, but I thought that was the best I could hope for now.

The short ride, a matter of 5 or 6 blocks from the police station to home, seemed to take hours. Maybe Dad drove around for a while taking the long way, I don’t remember for sure. Or maybe it just seemed like a long time because of the circumstances and the LSD. For the first and last time in my life I heard him use language I never even thought he knew. Obviously trying not to yell his voice nonetheless held a very sharp, dark edge. He said: “You think I don’t know what you call me behind my back, boy? You think I don’t know you call me a cocksucking motherfucker behind my back?”  Maybe he wanted to drive around until he got that out of his system so he didn’t say stuff like that in front of my mother. Maybe that’s what took so long.

Any remnant of defiance I might’ve felt up to this point evaporated. I was really scared now because, as I said, I hadn’t ever heard him use language like that before in my life. I’d never heard him say anything stronger than damn or shit. This was not a good sign. The fact that I had never actually called him that didn’t make any difference at the moment. The long-festering animosity between us was thick enough that it allowed for such a thing to have been said. Other things had certainly been said over the previous several years as I was struggling to break free and he was scrambling to stop me.

When we got home I was ushered upstairs into the living room where my mother sat crying quietly. I stood in front of them while they sat down. At first they were unaccountably quiet. Then they started asking me why. What had they done? It was more civilized than I’d expected or deserved. They were clearly confused and in pain. It was very early morning by that time. They didn’t know what to do with me. I attempted a few stumbling responses to what were clearly rhetorical questions, I don’t think they were expecting responses. I think they just needed to start processing it and weren’t sure how. Their eldest son had been picked up by the police in the middle of the night on drugs. What had they done wrong? What would make me do such a thing?

I felt like I was on display, an exhibit offered in a presentation on bad parenting.  After a while Dad got up and told me to follow him.  I thought this was it, time for the beating.

Dad took me downstairs to where I lived in the basement and there he gathered up what he called my “hippie clothes” and stuffed them in the incinerator to burn.  He said my paintings would be next and then I figured he’d start on my books. When he’d finished he told me to go to bed and he went upstairs. There no beating and there had been no yelling. He’d never raised his voice throughout the whole ordeal.

I was confused but relieved.  I got undressed, shut out the light, and got into bed. Before I could get comfortable the stairway light came on again and Dad came down. He stopped at the bottom, the light ominously shining behind him. He said:

“Boy, that cop told me to take you home and beat the shit out of you.” He paused. “You think I should do it?”

I sat up, flummoxed. He’s never asked me anything like that before, he would always just do it.

I took a moment to think and then responded: “If I say no will it really make any difference?”

He stood there looking at me. Then, without another word, he turned and went back up the stairs shutting off the light when he reached the top.  Maybe he was afraid if he beat me it would put me on a “bummer.” I imagine he’d heard of those in the anti-drug hysteria fed to parents in those days, and probably still fed to them. Whatever it was, his choosing not to beat me almost freaked me out as much as a beating might have.

There was a dim light in the basement, a kind of night-light light which spilled over from the kitchen light at the top of the stairs. I had somehow escaped the beating I’d expected and I didn’t quite understand how that happened. I laid down in the bed, relieved if puzzled, and looked up at the ceiling. It was a drop ceiling made of acoustic panels with small holes built into them. I began to see little worms crawling in and out of the holes and I realized that I was suddenly full-bore tripping again. Since there appeared to be no stopping it I decided the only thing to do was to relax and enjoy it. Meanwhile my parents were upstairs going through major parental trauma.

Tripping on LSD is venturing into different corners of reality than one usually sees. But from the time the flashing lights came on behind us until I found myself back in my bed was a whole different kind of unreality; more like a hyper-reality which superseded the enhanced reality of the LSD, for a while anyway. Up to this point I was still seeing things more or less clearly and not feeling the drug anymore at all, except for occasional timeslips.  I thought I’d come down off of it from the shock of everything that was happening. Now the drug returned to finish what it had started.  I was back up and would spend the remainder of the night quietly tripping in the basement while my parents agonized upstairs over what to do with me.

The next day I checked the incinerator. My father, as I suspected, had forgotten to turn it on so I rescued my “hippie clothes” and hid them. I think Dad forgot all about it because he never brought it up.  Eventually I smuggled the “hippie clothes” out of the house and stashed them over at Tim’s. I would then go over there and change before I went anywhere else.

With the new day their approach to me had changed from “what did we do wrong?” To “he’s sick, we’ve got to help him.” I think I preferred “what did we do wrong?”

I was officially grounded for a year and forbidden to see my hippie friends, especially the ones in Cleveland. The first exception was made for Danny, who my parents liked. Not long after all this happened I signed up for college at Cleveland State University to please my parents and as a way of getting out of the house. I wasn’t really into going to college at the time and didn’t do well. Then I found a job flipping burgers at Royal Castle, Cleveland’s version of White Castle. It paid one dollar an hour plus tips, but who tipped a guy in a place like that? The girls would get tips but I wouldn’t get many. Of course the money didn’t really matter that much, it was just an excuse to be able to get out of the house. Since I could now leave the house for school and work I started stretching it and was before long able to begin spending some time with my “hippie” friends again.

Initially, before things relaxed and since I was forbidden to see any of my “hippie” friends, especially any of my friends from Cleveland and John Marshall High School, which pretty much narrowed down my contacts to one guy, Frank, who lived a few blocks away. (See postscript.)

As it got closer to my 18th birthday in November things were pretty much back to normal. Being grounded for a year had been forgotten. My father was afraid I would move out of the house when I turned 18. He built a wall across one end of the basement, which was like a separate apartment, so I would have an actual room of my own; I’d had blankets hanging there to set “my” end of the basement off from the rest.

A wise man learns from experience, from his mistakes. I don’t believe I was a very wise man at 17. The only thing I really remember learning from this experience was not to let anybody else drive when we were tripping. Clearly it didn’t occur to me to stop taking LSD (that would come later) and this wouldn’t be my last encounter with the police.  See “Busted #2, Crashing a Concert” and “Busted #3, Hitchhiking” for those adventures.


Frank, a postscipt:

I met Frank at Midpark High School where I’d attended 12th grade. He lived just a few blocks away in Brook Park. The idea here was to keep me away from druggie friends and therefore away from drugs and more trouble.  Frank, of course, was my primary dealer. The irony of that situation was not lost on either of us.  Frank had always reminded me of the Eddie Haskell character on the old TV show “Leave It to Beaver.” He was so obvious in his sucking up to my parents that I couldn’t believe they didn’t see through it, but apparently they couldn’t.  Frank dressed “nice”, which in 1970 meant polyester slacks and conservative shirts.  He had short hair as evidence of regular visits to the barber and it was always combed appropriately.  He did not have a beard or mustache. In fact there was nothing about him that said “hippie” or gave my parents any reason to suspect that he was the one regularly providing my drugs. (There’ll be more about Frank, who turned out to be gay, in another story.)

So, as long as the bust was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and I remained stuck in the house, Frank as my only allowed visitor kept me supplied with various types of LSD and occasional speed. One of my favorite types of LSD was called White Lightening, a hit of acid on a tab of speed.  I would drop acid late in the evening so that I wouldn’t actually get off until after everyone was in bed.  Then I would spend the night tripping my brains out and finally go to bed sometime in the morning after everyone else had left the house.

I remember one night very distinctly.  Frank had said the acid was the famous “Owsley window pane” so called because it was allegedly so pure. I didn’t believe him.  That stuff was really hard to get hold of, in fact I was never sure that it wasn’t any more than simply a legend grown out of a single batch the idolized chemist had whipped up in his bathtub.  But, it was good acid anyway and I was down in the basement in my rocking chair with the headphones on listening to the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” album.

I was having a pretty good time when I thought I heard somebody talking.  I took the headphones off, stopped rocking and listened; the house was completely silent.  I figured I was just imagining it, after all I was tripping.  I put the headphones back on, started the record over again and got back into it.  But then, again, I thought I heard somebody talking and I yanked the headphones off lifted the needle off the record and listened again.  Silence.  I got up and went to the bottom of the stairs.  I could see no lights on upstairs and there were no sounds.  Everybody should have been fast asleep, it was the middle of the night, and apparently they were.

So I returned to my rocking chair, put the headphones back on and started the record over again.  “We Can Be Together” was rushing through my ears and I was there rocking away and swinging my head around listening to the Jefferson Airplane when suddenly I swung my head so hard that the headphones flew off into my lap and I heard myself singing at the top of my voice, “up against the wall, motherfuckers / tear down the walls…”

The voice I’d been hearing was my own.  I listened carefully to see if there was any sound in the rest of the house; to see if I had awakened anybody with my obscene singing.  But there was still no sound except the low rumble of the furnace and if anybody had heard me they weren’t ready to admit it.

This revelation caused me to become distinctly paranoid and I spent the rest of the night with one side of the headphones perched on the edge of my ear so that if I began to sing again, which I was (and still am) wont to do when I am listening to music, I would hear myself right away and stop before I woke the house and tipped them off to my drugged state.

version completed 10/22/2017


Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | October 8, 2017

BUSTED #3: HITCHHIKING June 16, 1973, Utica, NY

[This story is the end of, or perhaps more properly a footnote to, another story; one about meeting Bett. But I think this one can stand on its own with a little bit of introduction. Briefly, I was hitchhiking to Newport, Rhode Island and a younger guy named Jim (I was all of 20 which means he must have been maybe 15-16) had just walked over to where I was hitchhiking when a car stopped and picked up both of us. That was Bett. She took us to her cabin in the Adirondacks for the night and the next afternoon she dropped us off at the Utica interchange of the New York State Thruway. I was to continue on to Newport and Jim to wherever he had been going. And that’s where this story begins.]

It was late afternoon at the Utica interchange of the New York State Thruway. Almost as soon as Bett dropped us off and drove away a patrol car pulled over and Jim and I were picked up by State Troopers. We were “arrested” just beyond the tollbooths for the crime of being pedestrians on the New York State Thruway. We hadn’t even started hitchhiking yet, we were just walking. They packed us into the back of the patrol car and took us to a police station in Utica, a small city in upstate New York.

There we were searched and they took everything we had away from us, except the clothes we wore. We were put in a single cell with two bunks. There was no one in the other cells. It was practically church quiet in there, in fact the whole precinct house seemed too quiet and eerily empty. It was creepy on top of being scary. Jim and I had just met less than 24 hours earlier and didn’t have much to say to each other. They didn’t fingerprint us, or take pictures, or any of the standard police bullshit one expects; just stuck us in that cell and walked away. I was freaked out by the whole thing and it occurred to me that there might be no record of our ever having been picked up at all. I doubt if we were processed into their system in the least. Anything could have happened to us in there with no record left behind and that thought settled uncomfortable on my mind.

After leaving us to sit in the cell for an hour or more, no doubt to think over our evil ways, they brought me out front. One cop stood me in front of a desk where another cop sat with our wallets and the contents of our pockets laid out in front of him. I had about $26 in cash, no fortune but a not insubstantial amount in 1973. Jim had 8¢. It was at this point the cop informed me that our bail would be $5.00 each. He went on to explain that it was expected we would jump bail and forfeit it since we were from out of town. So basically we were being charged $5.00 each for being pedestrians on an interstate Thruway. I considered for a moment explaining that I didn’t even know Jim, we weren’t friends and I didn’t see why I should have to bail him out of jail. But, I figured that they might change their minds and take all my money, so I was probably better off giving them what they wanted. Besides, who knows what they might have done with Jim after I left if he couldn’t pay. I bailed us both out. They did not give me a receipt and we never got a traffic ticket of any kind. I’ve always figured they just pocketed the money.

They brought Jim out and let us have our stuff, absent the $10.00 of course. Our packs had clearly been searched and sloppily repacked. I wondered if I’d find anything missing later. I thought fleetingly of the cops reading my diary and flushed with a combination of rage and embarrassment. They told us to get out of town as soon as possible. If they found us there again things could get worse. It felt like I’d stumbled into an old Western movie right there in upstate New York. Boy, don’t let the sun go down on you in Utica.

Since it was already getting on toward evening one of the cops, apparently taking pity on us, took us aside and directed us to a Salvation Army not too far away. He said we could crash there for the night before walking out of town in the morning. I thanked him, not so much because I was actually grateful but because he seemed to be expecting it and I didn’t want to do anything to get in the way of getting out of there.

We left the jail behind and headed for the Salvation Army. It was not in a nice part of town, they never are. Once we found it we were informed that you had to be 21 or older to get a bed, so we couldn’t stay there. They directed us to a Christian Rescue Mission not too much further away that they said would take anyone. That worried me.

We got to the Mission a little bit before dinnertime and they were already full, there were no beds available. I pointed out that we had sleeping bags and would settle for spots somewhere on the floor. They talked it over and finally took us upstairs to a small room with two narrow, single beds jammed into it and said we could sleep on the floor. There were two old men already lying on the beds. The room smelled bad, a musty combination of disinfectant and stale human sweat.

We started unrolling our sleeping bags and making places to spend the night as out-of-the-way as we could get. These guys were clearly not happy about our being dumped on their floor. The way they were looking at us made me even more uncomfortable than the police station had. Maybe the experience at the police station had affected my thinking but I became convinced that if I didn’t stay closely attached to my stuff the entire time I was in this place it would disappear. Jim however seemed to be quite happy with the situation and was trying to chat the men up, settling himself in.

Then the grizzled old winos, they were probably in their 40s or so, started talking to us. I tried to ignore them and went about putting my pack back in order after the police search but Jim engaged them in conversation, or what passed for it. One told us we wouldn’t like it there, then the other one contradicted him and said it would be good for us. They began to argue. I said it didn’t make no difference to me because I was only staying for one night.

An aggressively over-groomed young man came into the doorway and announced that we had 5 min. to get downstairs for the prayer meeting which would precede dinner. Attendance was mandatory. No prayer meeting, no dinner, no bed. Anyone not attending would be “invited to leave.” Well, that was enough for me, I decided to take my chances on the street. I rolled up my sleeping bag, stuffed everything back in my pack, and told Jim he could do what he wanted but I was leaving. He tried to talk me out of it, apparently on the presumption that I expected him to leave with me. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be left there alone. Personally I was glad to be rid of him. He had not said or done a single thing since we had met on the side of the freeway the night before to cause me to want to spend any more time with him. Maybe it was just how young he was, I don’t know. But I felt no connection. Better to part ways.

Jim and I shook hands and said our goodbyes. He made a cursory promise to pay me back for his bail but there was no exchange of addresses or phone numbers, no pretense of seeing or hearing from each other again. I hoisted my pack and left.

On my way out of the Mission I got directions to the freeway, I wasn’t sure which freeway or if there was even more than one. Walking out of town I felt a strong mixture of relief and intense fear. I was afraid to get back on that highway in Utica and stick out my thumb, especially anywhere near those tollbooths. But I didn’t feel like I had any other option.

With my funds reduced I decided not to continue on to Newport. Syracuse, where Bett lived, was not too far down the Thruway so I figured to go there and call her. I felt sure she would take me in until I was up to traveling again. I left my camera in her car and I figured that was a good enough excuse to head to her place. Later, when I told her what happened she scolded me for not calling her from the jail. Told me she would have driven back to get me and taken me home to Syracuse with her.

After walking a fair distance into the urban twilight I figured I had to have walked far enough to be outside the city limits, which made me feel a little safer.

Not long after that I found myself on an overpass above a freeway. It was probably the Thruway, but I really didn’t know then what freeway it was or which direction was which. I honestly didn’t care what it was as long as it would lead me away from Utica. I walked around to where there was a chain-link fence that wasn’t too high and then a steep embankment down to the shoulder of the freeway. I figured this was as good a spot as any so I tossed my pack over the fence and climbed after it. I scooted down to the freeway, brushed myself off and stepped toward the speeding traffic.

I looked around and realized what a stupid thing I’d just done. It’s hard enough to get rides on entrance ramps when folks are already stopped or at least moving slow, but getting someone to stop for me between exits would likely be impossible. I considered walking until I could find an entrance ramp, but I couldn’t make up my mind which direction to walk. Which direction was the nearest exit likely to be? Finally I just stuck out my thumb for the hell of it to see what would happen. If I’d had a Catholic bone left in my body I probably would have started praying, but I didn’t.

To my complete surprise almost as soon as I stuck out my thumb a car pulled over and picked me up. I was able to determine that we were on the Thruway headed west and he would take me to Syracuse. As the driver was cruising slowly down the shoulder of the road waiting for an opportunity to merge I saw a New York State trooper car fly past us and I knew that if this guy hadn’t stopped to pick me up that trooper probably would have and I would’ve been right back in that jail again finding out what the cop meant by things could get worse.

The driver was a pleasant enough guy and it was good just to be moving again. I got to Syracuse and tried calling Bett. A phone booth in a strange town is one of the loneliest places to be when you can’t get anybody on the line. So when she didn’t answer after several tries I felt like I just wanted to be moving again and decided to head back to Cleveland before anything else could happen. Back to the Thruway. I sneaked past the tollbooths, walked to the end of the entrance ramp, and stuck out my thumb. It was starting to get dark.

I wasn’t there long before a van pulled over, spraying gravel on the shoulder of the road as it skidded to a halt. With no hesitation I ran to it, tossed my pack in the back and climbed in after it. The door slid shut behind me and I looked around to see what I’d gotten myself into this time. To my great relief it was a family of hippies – safe, at last. Brief introductions were made all around. They were going to connect with another highway down the road and head south into Pennsylvania. They said they could drop me at the junction. But I asked to please be taken down into Pennsylvania with them. I just wanted to get the hell out of New York State. I told them what had happened and it was not the first time they’d heard such a story, which was why they’d stopped. They said they could take me to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I could head back to Cleveland from there. Sounded good to me.

They gave me much appreciated food and drink. At that point I must have looked and sounded as tired as I felt because after feeding me they arranged a comfortable place for me to curl up in the back where the kids were already sleeping. It wasn’t long before I fell asleep too. I have no further memory of the drive into Pennsylvania until they woke me up at the Turnpike interchange.

After the hippie family dropped me off I spent the rest of the cold night hitchhiking across Pennsylvania and Ohio. The rides were steady, if not always quick to stop. I spent a lot of time just standing on that dark, windy highway. During a particularly long stretch on the side of the road I found myself feeling sick. Lightheaded, panicky, queasy. I was not sure what was going to happen or how long I was going to be stuck there. Waiting is simply in the nature of hitchhiking but I didn’t need getting sick on top of it. By the time a car did stop for me I had convinced myself that I was truly ill. As we began driving west I told the driver how I was feeling. He said not to worry and fished a pill bottle out of his glove compartment. Told me to take one and it would make me feel better. It was a tranquilizer of some kind, maybe valium. I took it and in a short while the symptoms subsided. I was probably having an anxiety attack but didn’t yet know what they were.

It either didn’t occur to me or simply didn’t feel important that I was taking an unknown drug from some guy who had picked me up on the side of the highway in the middle of the night. Who knows what it could’ve been or what he might have done? Of course we used to buy drugs from strangers without thinking about it and nothing ever seemed out of place about that. My own naivety in those days sometimes astounds me. Maybe I just felt that he had good vibes and I could trust him. He had been kind to me.

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully. I got a little bit of sleep now and then but most drivers pick up a hitchhiker that time of night for help with staying awake. They want someone to talk to so sleeping is out of the question. I finally arrived at my parents’ house around 9 o’clock the next morning, exhausted and more than ready to settle into my own bed.

However my rest did not last long. That evening my friend John came over and announced to me that we would be leaving in the morning, by four-seater airplane, for Joliet, Illinois and then to hitchhike through Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula Michigan just to see what was up there. But that is another story.

Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | November 13, 2016

TWO KINDS OF HERO: Richard (Butterfly) Locke, 06/11/41 – 09/25/96

When I first heard that Richard Locke had signed up to attend a Billy Club gathering I would also be attending I got all excited and nervous. One of my gay icons was going to be at a gathering. I had no idea what, or for that matter who, to really expect and I certainly wasn’t sure whether I actually wanted to meet him or just look at him, preferably from a distance.


Richard at the 1995 Kamp Kimtu Billy Gathering

Richard Locke had starred in, and set the tone for, some of my favorite gay porno films. Along with writer/director Joe Gage (and let’s not forget the rest of the “Gage Men”) Richard had helped to redefine gay men’s images of themselves. At a time when most gay porn was full of young, buffed models with body waxes, Richard was a natural man – masculine, hairy and sexy as hell. Called by BEAR Magazine “the original porn daddy” his image was that of a regular guy, rough-hewn but gentle, masculine without being a jerk about it, and definitely gay – unapologetically if not exuberantly gay.


Richard participating in the May Pole at a May Day Billy Gathering at Saratoga Springs, 1996

Films like “Kansas City Trucking Co.,” “El Paso Wrecking Corp.,” “L.A. Tool & Die,” and, my personal favorite, “Heatstroke” may have had minimal plots (at least they had them) and certainly weren’t going to sweep the judges away at Cannes, but even while trading in fantasy, they managed to present a relatively realistic picture of a life I could have as a gay man. And Richard’s was certainly an example of a realistic gay man.

Something that I’ve always loved about many of Richard’s film performances, and something some folks seem to miss, is what I call the “aww shucks” factor that would turn up from time to time. There is an awkwardness about Richard’s on-screen persona that is sweet and endearing, even when he plays an evil ranch foreman. In the best films he doesn’t play some kind of inhuman, impossible to attain gay fantasy figure [like the prison guard in an early short] – he’s a normal guy, someone any one of us could meet and have a chance with. His devotion to love at first sight in “LA Tool & Die” really is touching – running across the country after the one that got away. Richard’s “just plain guy” character was real.

One of my favorite scenes of him is in “Heatstroke” where he plays the allegedly “straight” foreman of a Montana ranch. He goes to town to meet his girlfriend and encounters her ex-husband, a marine in full uniform (Clay Russell) who proceeds to seduce the “straight” Richard. At one point Clay tries to get Richard to let him touch his cock and Richard tilts his head back a bit, looks down his nose at him and with a perfectly straight face says “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like this before.” Richard had a way, a tone of voice, an undefinable attitude, that lets each of us in on that joke like we are the only ones who get it.

Richard Locke was a gay icon – a hero of the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement.


Richard with Sam Kissee & Randy Terrell at the Kamp Kimtu Billy Gathering, 1995

But, as much of Richard as there is in his performances, it is still important not to confuse them too much with Richard himself. At the Kamp Kimtu gathering in 1995 he told me to call him Butterfly (he had a butterfly tattoo on his right pelvis) and asked me not to bring up his films around folks who didn’t already know who he was. He wanted to just be Butterfly, a gay man, one more Billy at the gathering. At that point in his life he really wasn’t interested in being a gay icon, for me or anyone else.  However, he certainly was not above using that status, and anything else he could find, to promote the causes of AIDS education and services. Richard had been living with AIDS for a long time, he told me that he was pretty sure exactly when he’d been infected, he’d narrowed it down to 1983.

He published two books: “In the Heat of Passion” one of the earliest works to deal with issues of safe sex and HIV in a manner that was still sex-positive, and “Locke Out” a collection of short stories and essays. His one-act play “Loving” has been through several productions. When he died he was working on a pair of autobiographies, one called “Living” and the other “Dying.”

Richard was a tireless advocate for HIV and safe sex education, and HIV support services at a time when the disease seemed to be spreading unchecked and what little treatment there was for it was primitive with damaging and dispiriting side effects. He toured the country lecturing, giving informal talks, appearing on radio programs, and working his message into his live sex shows. Later he worked with HIV support groups and put himself to direct use bringing his massage training to people in hospitals and hospices. He talked safe sex and HIV prevention to anyone who would listen every chance he got. His work in that area was pioneering and invaluable.


Richard with Stewart Scofield (in hat) at the 1996 May Day Billy Gathering at Saratoga Springs

Richard had become a second kind of hero. The kind that was easier to miss. The kind whose everyday life becomes a series of quietly heroic acts.

The first time I encountered Richard was at his first Billy Gathering at Saratoga Springs Retreat Center.  Saratoga Springs is a peaceful resort tucked back in a beautiful, narrow valley in Lake County, California. The Billy Club has been gathering there several times a year since 1992, and continues to meet there.  It was the second day of the gathering. I knew Richard was registered but I hadn’t yet seen him anywhere. I asked the guy in charge of registration if he had really shown up or if perhaps he was coming later.  I was told that he was there and he’d been there the whole time. In fact, I was told, that’s him on the Lodge porch right now. I followed the pointing finger.  I would never have recognized him on my own. At that point he was doing chemotherapy and was nearly bald. He was also, of course, older than the video and magazine images I had of him which had fleshed out so much of my sexual fantasy life.

I remembered seeing that man since the gathering began but had not connected him with Richard. I was now even more intimidated and afraid to approach him, I had no idea what I could say to him.  But he didn’t give me much of a choice. That afternoon he came to the poetry circle I was facilitating. Poetry circle was an opportunity to get poems off the page and into the air by speaking them. People could bring their own or others’ poems to read and I also brought a box of poetry books from which people could choose poems. Richard came and read several pieces by his friend, composer and poet Lou Harrison, from a book he had brought with him. He listened carefully as the rest of us read our poems. He talked in between people’s readings, which was not part of the format but you couldn’t fit Richard into a format, he didn’t notice them. He brought such energy with him that the poetry circle ended up being one of the best ever. His enthusiasm and participation inspired the rest of us and healthy discussion ensued. Afterwards he and I talked a lot more. And at every gathering Richard came to it was like that.


Richard with Gryphon Blackswan at the Labor Day Billy Gathering at Kamp Kimtu – 1995

Heart Circles are a space created at gatherings where a talisman is passed among the participants and each person is allowed in turn to speak from the heart without interruption. It is what many consider to be the core of the Billy Club (now known simply as The Billys) experience. It is a process initially borrowed from the Radical Fairies. Once exposed to them Richard took to Heart Circles like he’d been there all his life. Listening attentively as each man spoke and speaking himself when he was moved to do so. He brought such intensity to his shares that he would pull us with him where ever he was going. He fit in like he’d found home.

When protease inhibitors became available Richard was one of the first people I knew to get on them.  As a result he started to feel like his old self again. His hair grew back, he put some weight on, and he dared to hope. One of the medications he was on was supposed to be taken with fatty foods. I remember him coming to a heart circle one morning on the lawn in front of the Lodge delightedly munching on a salami and telling us all that he had awakened with a boner for the first time in ages, because of this new medication. Unfortunately the PIs were too late to save Richard, he was already too far gone.  His reprieve was short lived.

The last time I heard Richard speak out in a Heart Circle was the Labor Day Billy Gathering at Rancho Cicada in the Sierra foothills in 1996, his last gathering.

Rancho Cicada is an idyllic retreat location where steep hills hug the Cosumnes River and hammocks sway in the trees. I remember walking in the river and stirring up the sandy bottom, flakes of iron pyrite rose and sparkled like gold in the cool water. An expansive lawn next to the river is perfect for Heart Circles. It was a beautiful, peaceful location for Richard’s last gathering.

Before the gathering he told me in a phone call that he had to get there. He had to tell us about the heroes. He was in a hospital in Sacramento doing his best to fight off that final illness.  His father and brother picked him up and drove him to the gathering so he could tell us about heroes. And once in Heart Circle he did. He spoke of the everyday heroes he saw all the time whose continuing care and sacrifices went unnoticed and too often underappreciated. He spoke of the doctors, nurses, home health aides, and caregivers from the hospital housekeepers to visiting masseurs. I cannot remember everything he said and I could never say it as well as he did even if I could remember it. 40 or 50 of us were sitting in that circle and most were moved to tears, or close to them. I think all of us knew that we were sitting there listening to one of those very heroes Richard was describing, although he would not have considered himself to be one.  We also had a pretty good idea that it was likely to be the last time we would hear Richard speak in Heart Circle. Afterward I told him he should write down his “Heroes” talk, but by then he just didn’t have the energy.


The last photo I shot of Richard, soaking in the Cosumnes River at the Rancho Cicada Billy Gathering, Labor Day weekend, 1996

While most of the accommodations at Rancho Cicada at that time consisted of platform tents & camping sites, there was a well-appointed cabin about halfway up the steep hillside above the main lawn; that is where we put Richard so he would be as comfortable as possible and have some privacy.

One of the things I’ve always found a little disconcerting about Billy Gatherings is the way I can know a man in the gathering context for years or even decades and yet never know what that man does for living, what his life is like outside the gathering. So I was surprised and relieved at Rancho Cicada to learn that one of the men I’d known for a number of years was a physician with HIV/AIDS experience.  That man stepped in to help take care of Richard while he was with us, giving up much of his own gathering experience to do so. There was a small group of us who took turns taking care of Richard, helping him get around, and seeing to his needs all under the newly discovered doctor’s supervision and direction.

Medications had Richard’s bowels so blocked up he could hardly remember his last movement – and something was making it nearly impossible for him to piss.  The doctor wanted him to keep track of the volume of his urine and I remember standing there with him while he squeezed out a scant few drops into a jar, so there might be something to measure.

Seeing him that last time at Rancho Cicada was disturbing and encouraging, inspiring and frightening – he was seriously ill, and yet wanted to be there so bad. Did he know it was his last chance to be with us? Probably, and that’s probably why he was so determined to be there. I loved Richard, and am proud to count him among my friends. Outside of a few letters and phone calls we really knew each other only at the gatherings – but that is O.K. – gatherings are very concentrated time and concentrated time is what Richard needed, because he didn’t have a whole lot of time left.  Richard Locke died in Sacramento at the age of 55 less than a month later, with family and friends in attendance.

His involvement with the Billy Club didn’t stop with his death though.  When I first wrote this I thought that Richard left money in his will for the Billy Club but memory can be tricky. Upon reading this essay his brother Bob Locke contacted me after many years and has very kindly  corrected that impression as follows:

“Just one small correction to your story about Richard. You say that it was a donation from Richard that was the seed money for the Richard Locke Scholarship Fund, but it was actually dearer than that. At Richard’s funeral (which was very well attended not just by our extended family but Richard’s friends and fans and also at least three of his doctors) I asked that if any of them cared to make a contribution, they should make it to the Billy Club and gave them the address. I had no idea that this would become the seed money for the Richard Locke Scholarship Fund until I visited Rancho Cicada with the Billies eleven years after Richard’s death.” – Bob Locke

As Bob noted the scholarship fund still bears Richard’s name.

Richard Locke was a man who had been two kinds of hero in his too short life and I am proud to have had the honor to know him.

See also:

Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | November 3, 2016

THE COMMUNE Carlotta, CA – 11/30/1973-12/01/1973

The sun had gone down right around the time the gentle rain started and there I was on the side of the road, route 101, north end of Arcata, near the intersection of 17th & G streets, Humboldt County, California – headed south. This was a great place to hitchhike back then, 1973, one never had to wait too long for a ride. That was before the freeway bypass was built burying the spot under tons of concrete and rebar.  But still with the darkness and the rain I was getting worried. The rain was a kind of heavy drizzle that I have since learned simply constitutes the atmosphere of far northern California for much of the winter. Other hitchhikers were pacing back and forth, stomping at the ground trying to keep warm since there was no way to keep dry. The guy closest to me had just wandered off to the nearest market to dry out and get something to eat when a station wagon pulled over and stopped in front of me. The back door opened and without hesitation I passed in my backpack and climbed in the back seat which already held two other guys.  Everyone in the car looked like hippies so I felt safe, Charlie Manson phantoms aside. We pulled away.


Photo shot by Danny Dickerson just as I was getting out of the car at the Smith River Agricultural Inspection Station at the Oregon/California border to start hitchhiking south – November 30, 1973

The driver said they were only going about 20 miles further down the road, which ended my fantasy of a ride all the way to San Francisco. Then one of the guys in the back spoke up. He said they all lived in a commune couple miles off the main highway and since it was raining and getting late I was welcome to come and spend the night. He said we should get there in time for dinner and they could fix me up with a place to sleep and then one of the guys heading off to work in the morning could take me back to the highway. I’d heard about hippie communes and had a little experience of them myself, mostly with the one Dickie and I stayed at in Roxbury, Boston back in 1971. I knew that visiting might be interesting but moving in could be a pain in the ass – the often complex commune politics had a tendency to get nasty from time to time. So I thought that a single night stay at one could be a lot of fun. I figured there would probably be alcohol of some kind, and dope to smoke, and I might even get laid. I was young and seeking adventure and this seemed like it might fit the bill.

I looked outside at the darkness and the rain and told him I would be happy to accompany them to their commune for the night. They all got a little looser once I’d acquiesced. There were four of them I could see and there might have been another one sleeping in the way back next to my pack. Mostly guys but one chick riding shotgun. Now that I’d been seduced into going with them their conversations turned more to each other and I didn’t pay much attention. We turned off of 101 just south of Fortuna onto a road I would years later identify as Route 36. For the first time I began to get worried, leaving the main highway behind. But then something happened that really gave me something to worry about. The increasing references to Jesus gradually made me all too aware that I had once again been picked up by a group of Jesus freak hippies, this time in a station wagon. That van full in Virginia wasn’t enough I guess, God wanted another crack at me. They had carefully waited until we turned off the main highway before they started preaching to me. I’m sure they knew I would probably have asked to get out if they’d begun on the main highway.  And I would have, rain or not. There would clearly no sex and drugs and rock-n-roll at this commune.

We drove on that dark, winding, two-lane blacktop for what seemed like miles and miles before coming to a town. A very small town, in fact not really a town so much as simply a place with a post office named Carlotta.  We turned onto a dirt road and drove a bit further. This is where the commune inhabited a big old house they just called the Mansion. By the time we got there the rain was coming down pretty steady, with occasional strong wind-driven gusts, no longer the drizzle it had been when they picked me up.

They hustled me inside and I found that we were, like they said, just in time for dinner. There had to be 30 or 50 of them, hard to tell as they were moving around a lot and dinner was split between two large rooms to accommodate everyone.  They were mixed male and female and even a few kids running around. There were big long tables with benches in each room and I was introduced to the other believers by one of my deliverers as having been guided to them by the hand of God.  As we sat down to eat I realized they’d begun doing a kind of tag team preaching on me. One would have at me for a while and then when he tired another would take over. Apparently the idea was to wear down any resistance I might throw up in the face of their revealing The Lord’s Word to me.  But resist I did.

After the quiet saying of grace sprinkled with many references to the Bible, the rooms became loud as a high school cafeteria at lunchtime. Dinner was a hearty if not particularly gourmet affair, filling and tasty enough for a traveler grateful for a roof over his head on a rainy night. There were so many people talking at once and always one or more talking to me about The Lord that it was hard to concentrate on food. Being as young as I was then, 21, I tried to respond from time to time. Get my two cents in, so to speak. It did no good of course. They had the moral certainty of their beliefs and I was on their turf as well as being grossly outnumbered. There was no one I could look to for support for my essential atheism. They kept feeling around for a chink in my armor but of course I didn’t really have any armor. All I had was a complete lack of faith, which I held onto doggedly as though it were itself a religion.

I tend to be, or at least think I am, somewhat logical about things even if my logic is often hard for someone else to follow. So committing myself to something which is based entirely on unprovable belief is antithetical to who I am. There have been many times when I’ve wished I could throw myself into a religion, even a cult of some kind. Times when I grow tired of having to make every decision for myself. Times when I might doubt my own determinations of what is right and wrong. At such times I long for a system I could surrender myself to which would tell me, without hesitation, what is right and what is wrong and what I should do in any given situation. But I just can’t swallow any of them. Why should I believe in any one particular religion out of the many available from which to choose? Each one of them asserts with certainty that they are the only true one, that all the others are wrong. Yet they are all basically the same, only the details differ. What makes one any better than any other? And what makes any of them real? Why should I believe any of it?

Even these days, as I grow older, I am sometimes envious of those who possess the certainty of an afterlife, who have the comfort of a deity and a community of worship. But no matter how much or how often mortality slaps me in the face I just can’t turn myself over to any system of faith. They make no sense to me. And that’s not a challenge. It’s a simple fact, part of who I am.

With dinner over I wanted nothing so much as a cigarette. In fact I hadn’t had a cigarette since they picked me up in Arcata and so was getting somewhat desperate. I’d had no opportunity earlier because there was no smoking in the car and we went straight into dinner when we arrived. So I pulled out my tobacco can at the dinner table to roll one up. I was promptly informed that there was no smoking in the house. No surprise there and I had no problem with that. I explained to them that I would smoke it outside. They said I didn’t understand. I could not even roll the cigarette in the house. They wanted nothing to do with tobacco in God’s house. At least they didn’t make me leave the can outside the door.

Since I was their guest and I was outnumbered I agreed without further protest and got up to go outside and do my dirty deed. However when I opened the door I was reminded with a kind of slap from the storm that it was pouring down rain out there. I turned back in and asked if I could please just roll the cigarette in the house. I would be glad to then take it outside and smoke it in the rain. But they would not back down. So I went outside in the wet dark. I found a relatively protected place under a tree with low branches and with great difficulty, wasting more than a few papers, I managed to roll a cigarette using the brim of my baseball cap to shelter it from the rain. Then I had what had to be one of the most satisfying smokes of my life. These Jesus freaks had forced me to figure out how to roll a cigarette in the rain and I was going to savor every last puff.

After my cigarette I went back inside, hung up my wet coat and went into the kitchen to help with dinner cleanup. The tag team preaching continued unabated. I was clearly that evening’s group project. For the most part they were not rude about it, with a few exceptions. It seemed that someone or ones was keeping an eye on the hitchhiker conversion project and when somebody started getting too aggressive would send someone more sensible in to replace them.

It had been a long, emotional day for me.  I hadn’t wanted to leave Oregon at all but felt obligated to return to Cleveland and explain why I wanted to stay in Oregon. I know, that doesn’t make much sense, but it seemed to at the time. Then there was the slow-going hitchhiking since morning and the constant preaching since I’d arrived at the commune. I only got relief from the preaching when I went outside for another soggy cigarette. One time one of them came out to keep me company, at least he brought an umbrella with him which made it easier to roll. I thought that he probably wanted to bum a smoke and I offered to roll him one.  He seemed to want it too, but politely declined for fear, I believe, that one of the others might catch him. I felt sorry for him until he started filling the umbrella with the Word of God.

Eventually I inquired of one of my hosts where I might stretch out my sleeping bag for the night. People had been disappearing for a while and it was getting late. I was hoping to get an early start out of there in the morning. My companion made inquiries and then told me to gather my stuff and he would show me to my bed. The Mansion was a three-story house and I was taken to a large bunk room on the second floor. Single men and women were segregated into separate bunk rooms. The several married couples had individual rooms on the third floor. The long room consisted of a series of bunkbeds with some mismatched dressers in between them. I was guided to an empty bunk with a bare mattress. As I unrolled my sleeping bag and prepared for sleep the guys on either side of me and on the bunk above began to take turns preaching. Clearly this would go on all night if I didn’t fall asleep, which I finally did. I don’t know how long they kept preaching after I fell asleep, but I hope it was a long time.

I woke the next morning with sun shining in the windows and an empty bunk room. I found the bathroom and then gathered my things together and went downstairs to catch my ride back to the highway. I was just in time for the last of breakfast but first I had to go outside for a quick cigarette, relieved at being able to roll it in the dry air of morning.

After breakfast, while I was helping clean up, I asked when somebody would be heading down to the highway so I could get a ride. I was told that everyone who worked had already left. They seemed surprised that I wanted to leave. I kept being told how welcome I was and that I should stay at least another night to give the commune a fair chance. But I really wanted to get out of there. My patience had been worn to a frazzle by all the preaching and I didn’t know how much longer I would be able to remain polite in response. I’ve often wondered if the determination of such people to keep bringing in new recruits might not have to do with an essential doubt in their own faith. Do they need a constant flow of converts in order to validate their own belief? To give the irrational a semblance of reason?

Later, while I was outside grabbing another smoke and trying to figure out what to do next, one of the young women came out and offered me a tour around the extensive gardens. The original owners of the Mansion had brought plants from all over the world and this woman knew them all and wanted to introduce me to each one. The under-tended garden was getting fairly weedy and seedy and was pretty muddy from all the rain but you could still see in that bright morning light how magnificent it must once have been. With a little imagination and her vivid descriptions I could see how magnificent it might be again. This was the only part of my time at the commune that I can honestly say I enjoyed. She seemed pleased and proud to be able to show off her knowledge of the garden and was so into it that she did very little preaching.  I’m sure she had been sent out to try and distract me from leaving. Maybe she thought it would tempt me to stay with them if I could see what a beautiful garden there was amidst all that mud. If so, it didn’t work, but I did enjoy my brief time with her.

After that the tag team preaching continued as they assigned me small jobs to do and tried to convince me that I really didn’t want to leave. They were convinced that God had guided me to them and had a purpose for me. They told me how wonderful life in the commune was. How the duties were all divided. And that they had another location in a lighthouse not too far away. “Would you like to see that?” I was asked. “Maybe you would like it better there, next to the ocean.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was definitely losing patience, my response to being preached at was growing sharper. I asked somebody in which direction the freeway lay? I wanted to get to San Francisco by that night so I could crash with my friends Jim and Tim. Then I could continue on to Orange County in a day or two and eventually back to Cleveland.

Everyone I spoke to seemed uncertain as to whether or not they should tell me how to get to the freeway. Finally, just before lunchtime, I hoisted the pack on my back and told them I was going to start walking. I figured I could find my own way to the road and hitchhike back to 101. At that point one of them took mercy on me and told me that after lunch he would drive me back to the freeway on his way to the lighthouse. I kept my eye on him so he couldn’t disappear on me, even eating lunch with him. When lunch was over he proved as good as his word and after some discussion with a few others we loaded my pack in his car and headed out. The preaching on the drive was kept to a minimum. The driver tried halfheartedly to convince me that I was making a big mistake. He kept talking up the lighthouse and how beautiful the ocean views were from there but I think he knew it wasn’t going to do any good.

After a while he dropped me off in Alton at Rt. 101 and said goodbye. I was finally free of the Jesus commune and its oppressive faith. They had been kind, in their way, and generous, they fed me well, but their single-minded obsession with converting me made the experience highly unpleasant.

There was nothing much around the intersection in Alton except for a truckstop with diner and gas station not too far away that I could access if need be. I stuck out my thumb and did not have to wait long for a ride. It was by then a beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon. I was finally back on my way and the guy who picked me up didn’t mention Jesus the whole ride. By that night I was safely in San Francisco telling Jim and Tim the whole story of my adventure in the Jesus commune.

I don’t know if my two experiences being picked up by Jesus freaks while hitchhiking in the rain (see the earlier story “Jesus in a Hippie Van”) were unusual or if that sort of thing happened to most people who hitchhiked back in those days. I’m just glad it only happened to me twice.  Who knows what might have happened if there had been a third time? I might’ve finally cracked and given in. I might have ended up trying to convert you right now and the focus of this story would have been completely different.


When I got back to Cleveland I wrote the following poem about the Jesus commune experience (part of the “Moving West” series):


a wooden cross stands at the end of the drive

dirt road, fields flooded from early winter rains

the mansion rises out of the mud, old and dignified

trees and plants from al1 over the world

dot the weedy once glorious gardens

people from all over the country

picked up from hiways, city parks, beaches

anyplace and no place

all of them here to spend their lives in

blind service to a god

none of them seems to know

acting out their loneliness

replacing fathers and lovers

with an omnipotent figure or authority who

asks no questions and accepts no excuses

they eat well, big meals

with 50 of them the mansion is kept in fit repair

and their kindness is great

surpassed only, perhaps, by their persistence

in seducing others into their beliefs

they do not understand that each man can

only believe.

that which is feasible to him

all religions are the same

each claims to be absolute

each denounces the others.

and out of it all the only things that make

any concrete sense to me

are the things they all seem to be missing

the mountains, trees, animals, seas

these are my god

and I must worship in my own way

without pressure

without crowds and display

listening to the song of the wind

the natural incense of the forest bathing my senses

in peace and freedom.



Poem written 12/22/1973

Cleveland, Ohio

Prose section begun Sebastopol, CA, date unknown

– additional material & revisions 10/29/2016-11/02/2016

This essay was written in the early oughts and published in 2004 in the anthology “I Do/I Don’t: Queers on Marriage” by Suspect Thoughts Press, edited by Greg Wharton and Ian Phillips. The anthology is available on Amazon and has a lot of other really good writing it. I remain honored to appear in its pages.

I am posting this to the blog now because this same bullshit procreation argument was trotted out again before the Supreme Court last Tuesday, April 28, 2015, and unfortunately I feel this piece remains relevant, in spite of the dated references (Hawaii, Prop 22, DOMA). It is my hope that some day, very soon, it will lose all relevance and become history.


I have long held the belief that one of the ways gay people naturally fit into their societies, one of the important functions we can fill, is as priests, shamans, etc. On July 4, 1999 I finally got my chance to act on that belief. I was asked to perform a wedding for two heterosexual friends who had first met in my home 8 years before. In order to legally to do this I went online and within minutes became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. I was now able to sign all the appropriate paperwork required by the government.

L&P wedding day2

Joe & Teresa, priest & priestess, after the ceremony (photo by Cathy Stanley)

I was working with a priestess, Teresa Von Braun, who had much more experience at such things than I, and the two of us met with the prospective bride and groom several times to put together exactly the kind of wedding they wanted (text at the bottom). We wrote our own text pulling in bits and pieces of things that were important to each of us. It would be spiritual without being religious. We even managed to work in sections from “Behold the Bridegrooms*,” the marriage ceremony James Broughton wrote for he and Joel Singer ‑ my friends liked the idea of using words originally written to unite two gay men in their own wedding.

For the ceremony I would wear a colorful jacket which had been hand sewn with raw silk and other fabrics by Gryphon Blackswan, an African‑American fashion designer, artist, writer, drag entertainer and friend who had died from AIDS several years earlier. Gryphon had really been into ritual and I could feel him smiling as I prepared to marry two people in one of his jackets. There would be a strain of queerness running through this straight wedding.

L&P wedding day

Penguin & Laura after the wedding ceremony, July 4, 1999

The ceremony was held outdoors in a redwood grove next to the Van Duzen river in Northern California. There were over 100 people in attendance, friends and family from both sides. I wasn’t entirely sure how some of them would react to what we were about to do and was trying to prepare for potential Christian indignation. To be on the safe side I did an invocation to Ganesh privately with the bride and groom before the ceremony itself.

Everything went according to plan. The four of us each performed his/her role and things moved along at a good clip so the attendees wouldn’t have a chance to get restless. Quickly we came to that part of the ceremony where I said, “And now, by the power invested in us…” and suddenly I felt something I’d never felt before and have not felt since. I almost stopped in mid‑sentence as I felt literally and abruptly vested with some kind of power. It was a physical sensation ‑ powerful, intimidating and frightening in its unexpectedness; joyous in the way it seized me so completely, like a psychic full‑body orgasm

As soon as possible after the ritual I hightailed it down to the river. I found a comfortable rock and took off my sandals. Stuck my feet in the cool water to ground myself and sat there trying to figure out what had just happened. I could still feel a remnant of the power resonating through me, though it had diminished greatly. Ultimately I could find no rational explanation. It seemed too intense to have simply been an anxiety attack ‑ besides, I know what those feel like. I found myself unable to reach any clear conclusion beyond calling it “magick” and letting go of it.

Later that afternoon I got the bride and groom alone for a moment. I told them what had happened and made it very clear to them that I hoped they had really wanted to be married because after what I’d experienced during that ceremony I was convinced that they really, really were. This had been way more than mere theater. They assured me that they did really, really want to be married, and that they had each felt the power too.

I went to sleep that night knowing I wanted that feeling inside me again. I decided that I would go out and perform more weddings right away (I have yet to do another one…. but I’m available). Beyond that, another thought formed: What had it felt like to be on the receiving end of that power rather than merely being the conduit? I suddenly couldn’t wait to meet Mr. Right so I could get married and find out. I wanted to feel that same power coursing through me and my beloved uniting us in ways we’d never be able to understand.

Meanwhile, over in Hawaii, it looked like that might become a possibility. A lower court had interpreted the Hawaiian constitution to outlaw discrimination of any kind ‑ including allowing people of the same sex to marry. This gave hope to many of us, while sending others into a tailspin of panic.

Less than a year after performing that wedding Pete Knight and the Christian right (sounding like a bad rock band) managed to get Prop 22 passed by a two‑thirds majority of my fellow Californians. This new law very simply said: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” I decided that, on a basic level, Prop 22 was a message from my neighbors & fellow citizens reminding me that I am not truly welcome here, but merely tolerated. It was a reinforcement of a sense of second class status and additional license to the marginally sane to continue and perhaps escalate their queer‑bashing and killing.

Gay marriage, which I’d never given much thought to, was suddenly a direct and emotional issue for me, especially since I was, by that time, in the kind of relationship that had me thinking wistfully along the lines of whatever might pass for my marriage options.

When discussion of Prop 22 came up before the election some of my heterosexual friends and acquaintances told me things like: “What’s the big deal? ‑ it has no real legal import.” Huh? Or, “Just ignore them and they’ll go away ‑ you people make way too much out of these things and it only feeds the nut cases.” Excuse me, but I’m the one the “nut cases” want to feed on, so forgive me if I’m a bit concerned.

My favorite comment was: “Don’t you understand that what you’re talking about here is a complete redefinition of marriage?” This from a friend, himself married several times, who was truly expecting me to agree with him. As near as I can see, marriage has been in a continuous process of redefinition for years, maybe centuries, mostly through the liberalization of divorce laws: same‑sex marriage is just a natural progression of the on‑going process of redefinition.

Marriage appeared to be a major dividing line among those who otherwise consider themselves tolerant and accepting. Many folks seem to support gay rights right up to that point, but then drop out saying something like: “But you have to admit ‑ marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman for the purpose of having children.” And why do I have to admit that? Am I to ignore all that wonderful research John Boswell did and presented in his book “Same‑Sex Unions in Pre‑Modern Europe”?

One thought I’ve had out of all this is to take further the idea that marriage is solely for the purpose of procreating, play it out and see where it leads us. If the intent here is, as alleged, to promote and preserve “the family” then why not go all the way?

I hereby propose that marriage only be allowed between a man and a woman who actually procreate. They will be given a certain amount of time in which to produce offspring, and if they have not done so within that time period, the marriage will be annulled and they will lose all the benefits automatically associated therewith.

Marriage licenses would have expiration dates, just like a drivers license or a credit card. Proof of procreation (live birth) would have to be provided to the county clerk prior to the expiration date in order to make the marriage permanent. A certified birth certificate might do, accompanied by blood test or DNA results attesting to the fact that these two particular people really did produce this specific child. I suppose some kind of life span requirement would be needed as well. The child would have to survive for at least a year, or some other reasonable period of time in order to preserve the marriage.

What if the woman is pregnant but not yet delivered when the marriage expiration date arrives? A certified form filled out and signed by the ob/gyn attesting to the pregnancy under penalty of perjury will get an extension sufficient for the child to be born. After that, see above.

Adoption? Perhaps. Say your marriage is about to expire & you haven’t conceived yet, your only option to annulment could be adoption. But this does present a small problem: single people and same‑gendered couples can and have adopted children. Thus, it is questionable whether marriage is necessary to the adoption process.

What if a couple are trying really hard but it just won’t happen? Sworn affidavits from fertility clinics attesting to the fact that the couple are actively attempting to procreate could be used to delay an annulment. But such delays would have to be limited lest they be used by the hopelessly infertile to merely prolong the fruitless union in a mere charade of true marriage.

You say you want to live with your beloved but don’t want to have kids right away? No problem, just don’t get married until you’re ready to have a family – since it is asserted that “family,” as traditionally defined, is all marriage is about. You can live together, open joint bank accounts, draft mutually beneficial wills, execute Powers of Attorney for Health Care, hold property as joint tenants, and in all ways present yourselves as a couple ‑ you just can’t get married. It’s almost the same thing.

So that’s my proposal. No half‑baked lip service to tradition, no hedging, no discrimination: no marriages without provable, bonafide procreation.

Unfortunately this would mean that my friends’ marriage, the wedding I helped solemnize, would be annulled, since they are blissfully beyond their breeding years. I wonder if that would make them feel less married? Somehow I doubt it.

So, here we are, post‑Prop 22, post‑DOMA with same‑sex marriages having been performed in three states in clear defiance of the law, Massachusetts opening the floodgates**, and constitutional amendment proposals popping up like mushrooms on cow pies, and here’s what I’m thinking:

I do not need a government to tell me I’m in love or to validate any relationship I have. My beloved and I and our community, our natural, chosen and found family, can and will provide all the validation we need.

I believe that should the time come when I decide I want to marry I will feel that same power I felt on July 4, 1999 and no slug‑of‑rancid‑pond‑scum who thinks he’s got a direct line to Jesus, Allah, Jehovah or the pResident*** himself is going to be able to stop it. Such people will be defeated and shown as the ignorant and fearful relics they are.

I believe that we will ultimately prevail. I don’t have to become a priest in order to fit into my society. We and our relationships will be recognized by our society for who and what we are. When I look at the history of this country I see a long and noble movement toward the recognition of freedom for ALL people.

There have always been periods, like the one we may be living through now, where movement seems to be going backwards toward repression, but in the end justice and equality will prevail. I have to believe that. For me, there is no other acceptable option.



*This poem/ceremony can be found in James Broughton’s book “Ecstasies.”

**As of the date of posting this to my blog I believe there are 38 states, and the District of Columbia, where marriage equality has been achieved. The pending Supreme Court decision could either bring the remaining 12 states into the marriage equality fold or potentially invalidate marriage equality where it currently exists.

***“pResident” is a reference to George W. Bush whose family I believe had purchased the office of president for him with able assistance of a biased and illegal Supreme Court ruling in his favor. I felt therefore that he was not the true president but was instead merely a temporary resident of the White House. Thus my idiosyncratic capitalization.



written by Laura, Penguin, Teresa & Joe


(before the ceremony)

You of the twisted trunk and the massive body, with the dazzle and light of millions of suns, lead us on a path that has no obstacles, no hindrances clearing the way in all that we do, ever and always.

1:45-2:00 (time will be flexible)

– Kent & Steve play acoustic music.

– Ushers bring people into the circle

2:00 – Kent and Steve stop playing music, then go into a special song.

– Teresa, Joe, Dan & Donna take their places in the circle.

– Penguin & Laura come down the steps, enter the circle.

2:05 – The song ends.

– After everyone is in the circle, the people at the four directions will position the benches to close in the circle.

Dan: The ceremony will begin.

Sam puts the rings on the table.

Donna takes flowers from Laura and puts them on the table.


Joe: Somewhere in the course of Hamlet Shakespeare says: “There is a divinity that shapes our lives, rough hew them as we may.” Perhaps he was puzzling over the unexpected turns his own life had taken. I know I am certainly a bit puzzled to find myself standing here today.

I first met Laura in 1973, and Penguin in 1979. About 8 years ago the two of them met at my home, and now here we all are. So let us begin.


(Freely arranged and adapted from James Broughton)

Dearly beloved all,

may all be loved dearly here!

Love is the free play of the divine

and we are here to bring the divine

freely into play.

Divest yourself of grouch,

be intimate with cheer,

be generous with caress.

For here, a wedding shall be solemnized.

Laura and Penguin, these two standing before us,

have assembled us here in this forest temple,

beside the water and between the winds,

to share in their celebration of the

deep astonishments of divine grace.

They ask to be joined sacramentally to

the enravishments of their love.

Here are we gathered to surround two lovers

here are we gathered to witness a grace of souls

here are we partners to a boldness of heart

here we gather love to surround these lovers

Let us praise their fine audacity.

Let us praise their risk of happiness.

Let us salute the spirit of love

that brings Laura and Penguin into

this circle of family and friends assembled

in this place of wondrous beauty.

Teresa: We come together in a spirit of reverence and love to celebrate a truly joyous occasion.

I am here today…

Today is a day of hope and harmony. A day when songs and sermons inspire new beginnings. This is a time for trust and faith, a moment when poems and prayers speak of courage and commitment. Today we witness the beauty in giving and the bounty in giving endlessly. This day is signified by the uniting of couples and families in an age old ritual of balance and completion. For today we gather to join in matrimony Laura and Penguin.

Joe: Laura and Penguin wish to give thanks to each of you gathered here, as well as to those who are unable to be here today, and to all those who are no longer physically among us but who remain always alive in our hearts.

Ancestors, Grandparents and Parents, Aunts and Uncles, Brothers and Sisters, Nieces and Nephews, Children, Spouses of Children, Grandchildren and the Family of Friends who have provided constant and inspirational support: we might not be standing here today if any one of you had been missing from the lives of Penguin and Laura. So, on this day, which is among the happiest of their lives, Penguin and Laura thank you for being who you are and sharing your lives with them.


True marriage is not an act of possession, it is a symbol of infinite oneness. It is an ongoing process allowing each to reveal their faith, humanity, aspirations, talents and their love to one another. This fusion of two lives enhances the individuality of each partner as it creates a supple and richly woven union.

This marriage is an intimate sharing arising from deep and abiding love. A love that provides both the courage to stand apart and the willingness to stand together. A love that has created a solid and lasting foundation. This commitment will support you through all the changes that inevitably occur as you each continue to learn and grow. Into this partnership, this state of matrimony, Laura and Penguin come now to be wed.

JOE: Introduction to the Vows

These sacred vows serve as an affirmation of mutual love, unity and life itself. The faith of two persons who love each other transcends all time, all places and boundaries. Creation is made more complete and meaningful with this miracle of love and fulfillment.


Teresa: Do you, Laura, take Penguin to be your wedded husband, to love and honor him, to cherish him as he is, to support and inspire him on his own path of growth, and to be a loving wife from this day forward?

Laura: I do.

Joe: Do you, Penguin, take Laura to be your wedded wife, to love and honor her, to cherish her as she is, to support and inspire her on her own path of growth, and to be a loving husband from this day forward?

Penguin: I do.

Teresa: Laura, please repeat after me: I, Laura, take you, Penguin, to be my wedded husband, to share my life and love. I vow to accept you and enjoy you as my partner. I will do my best to nourish our love as the inspiration for everything we do.

Joe: Penguin, please repeat after me: I, Penguin, take you, Laura, to be my wedded wife, to share my life and love. I vow to accept you and enjoy you as my partner. I will do my best to nourish our love as the inspiration for everything we do.


The ring is an image of the cosmic marriage, the wedding of heaven and earth, strength and yielding, male and female – the circle of life. These rings are symbols of your vows joining the wholeness of each person with the other within the cosmic oneness in which we all dwell.

This act of giving and receiving rings reminds us that love itself is an act of giving and receiving, the greatest gift that life has to offer. These rings proclaim to all your love and commitment to each other.

Penguin: You are my beloved and my friend. With this ring I thee wed.

Laura: You are my beloved and my friend. With this ring I thee wed.

Joe: Love seeks to grow, to draw us out of our own ways into co-operative ways. Love expands us to greater awareness. Love calls us out of ourselves into the pleasure of giving to one another. Love never ceases. Love opens us up to the mysteries of a live well-lived together. This day represents the beginning of an adventure shared in love.


Let us join together in prayer. Infinite and Eternal Spirit with whom to be in conscious union is pure joy, may this man and woman always be conscious of Your divine and indwelling presence. May their pathway be recognized through the light of love, causing their lives to unfold in harmony, abundance, health and joy. May their home always radiate love, unity, well-being and happiness. May whoever they encounter be blessed by the love and harmony of this marriage.

Thank you for giving us this day and this wonderful gathering of friends and family.

May your peace be upon us all.

Joe: It is not a priest, priestess or minister who marry you. You are married through your own commitment, each to the other, and through the presence that dwells within you. Now Laura and Penguin, under the authority vested in us by the State of California, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, who performs every true marriage, we pronounce you husband and wife.

Teresa: Those whom God has joined together may be generously blessed forever. You may kiss each other.

Joe: Greet the newly married couple, Laura and Penguin, husband and wife.

Music begins (from “Powaquattsi”).

Dan: The reception and Wedding Feast will begin at 4:00 up at the cookhouse.

Donna: The bride and groom will greet everyone in the meadow.

Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | April 22, 2015

COMING OUT AT WORK (1993) the early 1990s I spent 3½ years working as a paralegal for an attorney in a small northern California city. I was doing family law, which is basically a euphemism for divorce. In fact after spending 3 ½ years doing that I don’t think I’m ever going to get married. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let someone tell me that I can’t of course, but once I have the right to get married I don’t expect to ever use it.

I officially “came out” in mid-1990 after I went through detox and stopped drinking. There having been such a close relationship between my denial of my sexuality and my drinking that it seemed natural to come out once I dried out. When I began working for this attorney I presumed she knew I was queer. Back then I thought I was so obvious that everybody knew, in time I learned different. I wasn’t the only one motivated by denial, friends could also fall under that spell.

This attorney and I got along pretty well. She’d had a somewhat wild youth of her own in the bohemian haunts of New York City and I was just emerging from mine. One day she asked me if I’d ever heard of a photographer named Gary W, who she’d known and for whom she had posed back in her New York days. When I told her that indeed I had and that he was quite famous she asked me what I thought an original print of his might be worth. Well, W was well known for shooting film but not processing or printing (there were hundreds if not thousands of rolls of undeveloped film in his refrigerator when he died). I explained that he didn’t print that many photographs and most of what was available of his had been printed by other people. I told her that, in my humble opinion, if she had an original print of his, and was sure that he had printed it himself, it was probably worth a substantial amount of money. The next day she brought the photograph to work to show me. It was a nude. I didn’t know how to react. This was my boss showing me a photograph of her younger self, naked. I took it to mean that she liked and trusted me and thought of us as friends. The corners were a little dog-eared but otherwise it was in pretty good shape, not a bad print though not exactly Ansel Adams. If my memory serves, it had, if not a signature, some indication that W had printed it himself. I told her to take care of it. A week later she came in with it beautifully but simply and tastefully framed. She was suddenly proud of it. To my great relief she did not hang it in the office, but took it home.

Later, when it came time for the local Bar Association to assemble small portraits of all its members to hang in a framed display in the law library they hired a professional photographer to do this. The attorney did not like the photograph he took of her. She bought the copy in to show me and then asked me if I could shoot her picture for the bar display. I was flattered, I had done portrait photography before and made my own black-n-white prints, but I was not at all comfortable with the idea. Besides, to be honest not modest, I was not all that good at it. She pressed and I gave in and produced a stark, almost chiaroscuro black-and-white portrait, the solemnity of which was broken only by her wide, almost inappropriate smile. She loved it. She submitted it for the Bar Association’s display. Because it was so different from all the others they were not initially open to using it. But she insisted and eventually they gave in. The last time I looked that display was still in that county’s law library with my portrait of her standing out from the mediocre uniformity of the others. I tell you all this just to show that we appeared to have a fairly good relationship.

One day, after I’d been working for her for about 2 ½ years, I was standing behind her chair as she was seated and going through some recent work I had done. One of my jobs was to ghostwrite declarations for clients and witnesses. She took one of them and handed it back to me over her head saying: “rewrite this one, it sounds like some faggot wrote it.” I was shocked. I never expected something like that to come out of her and I wasn’t sure what to do. She just kept handing me things with her comments. Because I’d been standing behind her chair she could not see the look on my face. So she didn’t know anything was amiss.

I was really upset by what she’d said but I just could not say anything. My father drilled into me a fear of authority figures that I still struggle with. Whenever something would happen, some conflict with a teacher for instance, if I went to my father for support the first thing out of his mouth was always: “So, boy, what did you do? You must have done something or that nun wouldn’t have done that.” The assumption was always that I had done something wrong because the authority figure was apparently not capable of doing anything wrong. I grew to feel that my father was not supportive of me, that he would not stand up for me even if I was right.

A prime example occurred in 11th grade. I was taking algebra III, an advanced math class, and another student and I, his name was also Joe, were getting A’s on all the tests. Therefore we decided that we didn’t need to keep doing the homework assignments, which were just basically the rote copying of formulas. I don’t remember Mrs. Loucks, our teacher, ever saying anything to us about what would happen if we failed to turn in homework. I imagine it had all been explained at the beginning of the semester but we just kind of brushed it off and happily went on figuring we had an A in this class because we had aced all the tests. However, several weeks before the end of the semester she held us back after class and explained to us that for every homework missed she would drop us a letter grade and we were already deep into the alphabet. The other Joe told her she can’t do that. She basically responded: “try me.” At this point she told us that if we wanted to make up the homework we could do that. We agreed and she gave us a list of a week’s worth of homework. We got together after school, did the homework together and turned them in the next day.

Each homework had the date due and the assignment number in the upper right-hand corner. When we handed the first week’s worth of homework in to Mrs. Loucks she just went through and checked the right hand corners, marked them off in her book and handed them back to us along with the next set of assignments. When we saw that she hadn’t even looked at them we just went out that night and changed the dates and assignment numbers on the homeworks we had turned in that day and turned them in again the next day as another week’s worth. She just checked off the assignment numbers like she had the first day and handed them back to us. We did that until we had all the missing homework made up. At that point she informed us that any homework turned in late was only worth half value and so she was still flunking us both. That got me mad. I went home and told my dad what had happened. I wanted him to go to the school and tell them I had been a jerk for not doing the homework but I still had aced all the tests and that woman could not flunk me. Instead the exchange went something like this:
“Well, boy, did you do the homework?”
“Well, yeah.”
“When did you do it?”
“During the last two weeks.”
“Is that when it was due?”
“Then it’s your own fault. You deserve to flunk. You should’ve done the homework when you were supposed to.”

Yes, it was a wiseass thing for me to do but still I knew the material and I aced the exams. I did not deserve an F. I’d earned an A. But dad did not see it that way. And that was that. He was not going to go talk to the school. He was not going to stand up for me. I suppose this was intended to be some kind of learning experience. Was he trying to teach me to blindly follow the rules if I want to get by in this world? If so, I think I learned the wrong lesson. I learned that I could not depend on my father to take my side.

After the attorney was done I went back to my office to do the work she had assigned but what she said started festering. I didn’t know what to do about it. The idea of approaching her and telling her my reaction was just not part of my experience. This woman had my life in her hands, or at least my job, so I had to tread carefully.

This occurred just a few weeks before the winter holidays. I had already scheduled time off to go to my first New Year’s Billy Club gathering at Heartwood Institute. It was to be a life-changing experience for me. The Billy Club is a Radical Faerie inspired gay men’s group which I had only recently become involved with. Many things would happen at this gathering but one of the most important was finding myself with my bedroll on the floor of the Sunrise Classroom next to David L. I don’t think we’d met before but we became fast friends. At some point during the gathering I told him about the incident with the attorney and what she had said. He had no hesitation. He told me I had to confront her about it. That I could not tolerate it. We talked about it quite a bit and by the time we were done I was determined to have it out with her.

When I returned to work after the gathering she came into my office and asked me how it went. I told her it was transformative. She said, “Maybe my husband would enjoy it.”
“I don’t think your husband would be comfortable there.” I replied, hoping she’d ask me why not. Instead, she let it drop.
She then gave me the assignments she had come in with and went back to her office. I sat there seething. I knew I had to confront her but I was terrified of doing it. That coward inside my head kept telling me how hard it would be to find another job and how uncomfortable it was sleeping under bridges, especially with 3500 vinyl record albums and hundreds of books. So I got up and went into her office.

“Let me tell you why I don’t think your husband would be comfortable with my men’s group. It’s a gay men’s group. I’m gay.”

She appeared stunned. Then she said something I’d never heard addressed to me before. She said: “But you don’t look like one. You don’t sound like one. My best friend in college was one.”
By this time I was cringing, to be honest I think it was more with embarrassment for her because of what she was saying and how utterly stupid it was. Then she looked at me and said: “So after over two years why do you suddenly feel compelled to tell me this now?”

If I wasn’t already sweating I certainly started then. “A couple of weeks ago you said…” And I reminded her of what she had said and explained how I had reacted, how it made me feel and how offended I have felt ever since.

She said: “All I meant was…”
I cut her off right there, “I know exactly what you meant, and it was very offensive.”
She then tried to excuse it, to claim some special right to insult me. “My friend in college and I used to faggot this and faggot that all the time – he was never offended.”
“Maybe that was okay between you and your friend in college. And maybe it’s okay with me and my friends up in the mountains. But I do not think it’s appropriate in a law office.”
By this time I was shaking and she had to have noticed unless she was so wrapped up in her own narcissism that she couldn’t see anything beyond her own discomfort, which is likely.

Finally she said she wouldn’t say anything like that again if it made me feel better. I said it would, then thanked her. After another awkward moment or two I went back to my office and sat down. Still shaking but suddenly feeling like I’d done something very important for myself. I had finally stood up to an employer, to somebody in authority, to somebody with control over my life. And on top of that I had told that person I was gay.

By the next day I had gotten over the shaking and the fear and I thought everything was going to be fine. But it wasn’t. Slowly we began having more and more conflicts and slowly I began voicing my opinions more than I’d ever done before. I disagreed with her when I felt she was wrong about something and I let her know when I thought something wasn’t right. We began to butt heads. I didn’t connect any of this with my coming out to her.

One particular incident comes to mind. A friend of mine died under somewhat unusual circumstances. He was masturbating with a plastic bag over his head while huffing cleaning products. His roommate found him in the morning, dead. Somehow the attorney I worked for wound up handling the probate of his relatively substantial estate. Since we didn’t do probate law this surprised me. It turned out that she was going to be depending on me to handle most of it because I’d recently taken a probate law class. She was also thinking of expanding the practice beyond family law and this was her first step.

The problem was that she kept coming in my office periodically with a copy of my friend’s death certificate. Each time she would read out loud to me the corner’s conclusion as to the cause of death and then giggle like a school girl. The official cause of death was “accidental asphyxiation during act of auto-eroticism.” She found that remarkably funny. Now this guy had not been a close friend of mine. In fact we were probably more acquaintances than friends, although we might have become friends the way we were going. Nonetheless I found her actions offensive. I thought it was really unprofessional to laugh over this guy’s death certificate. I explained to her that he was a friend of mine, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. Eventually, when my reluctance to work on the case became clear, she stopped involving me in it. She was clearly displeased, but then so was I. We were not getting along very well anymore.

She used to complain about not being taken as seriously as an attorney because she was a woman. That the preeminent divorce attorneys in the area were all men or so people claimed. Then she came back from court one day and told me that the opposing counsel, a man, had called her a barracuda. I told her that was wonderful. She was a little shocked by that. She said it was an insult. I told her I thought she wanted to be seen as a tough opponent and so being characterized by opposing counsel as a barracuda should have been a complement. She didn’t think so. She wanted to have it both ways. She wanted to be Ms. Nicey-nice and a take-no-prisoners hard-core attorney at the same time. It’s just that it was hard to reconcile those two.

After a number of months she said she was hiring an efficiency expert to come in and tell us how to run the office better. I actually thought that was a good idea. Her office was always a mess. She would stack files up on the floor along the wall under her windows. There would be stacks of files on her desk, always threatening to fall over, mixed in with old food wrappers and paper cups of coffee with mold growing in them. My concern was that this haphazard approach to law would lead to a malpractice suit when some deadline, and there was always some kind of deadline in family law, should pass without our noticing because the file was lost in the miasma of her office.

One day she announced that the next afternoon she and I would be meeting with the efficiency expert as a mediator to try and sort out our problems. I was a little taken aback by this because I thought things were going pretty good all in all, now that I was asserting myself more. Apparently my asserting myself more was not going down well with her. In fact that basically was the problem.

We sat at a small table in my large office and the efficiency expert started off by saying, “So when did the problem begin?”
“I guess it started after I made that Nellie remark and he took offense to it.”
“‘Nellie remark?’ What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean.” And suddenly I did. She had not actually used the word ‘Nellie’ that day or since, but it was certainly what she meant. I just hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms.
The meeting went downhill from there. She began complaining about the arrogance I’d exhibited since that happened and how I needed to learn, or perhaps re-learn, who the boss was. Sitting there I realized that this is exactly what I had expected to happen before I’d opened my mouth. If I stood up for myself, I would get punished. At the end of the meeting we had a set of working agreements. In addition I understood that I was to stop disagreeing with her, although that was not set out in writing.

One of the things that was specifically set out was that she agreed to leave the office one afternoon a week and allow me to go through everything piled up on her desk looking for potential malpractice suits. This was how I learned about the moldy paper cups of coffee. One day while doing this I ran across a notebook full of dated handwriting. It quickly became clear that it was a diary of a husband’s transgressions to be used in a divorce case. I was reading through it to try and figure out which file it belonged to, since there was no name or file number on it, and realized that it was the attorney’s own divorce diary. Clearly she was planning on divorcing her husband. He was an attorney in a different specialty whose office was in the next small city up the road and he would not know what was coming. When it came to divorce that was her territory, not his.

One afternoon, after she’d filed the divorce papers, she sat down in my office. She said that she would be cutting my hours because business was down and her income had dropped. Well, I knew better. I knew the business was just fine but I also knew why her income had dropped. She was doing a lot of trade arrangements with clients whenever she could. So if she was representing a carpenter and she needed some work done on her house (which her husband had by this time vacated) she would swap legal fees for his expertise. In this way the business stayed approximately the same but her income, on paper, took a nosedive. It was clear to me that she was suppressing her income so that when it came time for the court to assess child support and determine if spousal support was appropriate she would be in a position to obtain more from her soon-to-be ex-husband. I didn’t quite think this was fair but it was none of my business, so I stayed out of it.

She cut my hours and then a couple weeks later cut them again, and then cut my days. Soon I was only working 20 hours a week. So I began drafting Marital Settlement Agreements out of my home for couples referred to me by friends and acquaintances. This was what I knew how to do now and she had reduced my hours to where I could barely pay the bills so I started doing it on my own. My mistake was to recommend to each couple I worked with that they pay for an hour of attorney time and have them review the final papers. My attorney was one of the ones on a short list I gave to them.

When she found out I was doing this out of my home she flipped out. She called me into her office and told me I was to stop immediately because as long as I worked for her people would presume she was reviewing everything I did. I made it clear to her that I made it clear to my clients that nobody was reviewing my work, especially including her. That is why I suggested they take it to an attorney for review before filing it with the court. That was how she found out I was doing it. A couple I had done paperwork for took it to her for review. And there is the essence of my mistake because once a perfectly amicable divorcing couple get into an attorney’s office the attorney whips them up into a froth of indignation and anger and before you know it two attorneys have new clients.

What I would do was talk with the two people who came to me with their agreements and draft legal paperwork saying what they wanted to say. What the attorney did was to sit down with them and say: “Why are you letting him have that boat? Half of it belongs to you.” Or, “Don’t you think it’s a little generous to just let him pick up the kids whenever he wants? Don’t you think you should be able to have a clearly defined schedule so you know how to plan your own life?” And by the time she was done with them the amicable split had become a vicious fight. This is one of the things I really didn’t like about family law.

Eventually she laid me off entirely, a nice way of saying she fired me. I went on unemployment and after four months got work with another attorney in a different area of law: her husband. The joke was that they were dividing up the community property and he got the paralegal. To his great credit he never once asked me anything personal or financial about his soon to be ex-wife’s business. He kept me completely out of the divorce except to help him draft forms, which I was pleased to do.

After I’d been working for him for a year or so, and the divorce was heating up, he told me one afternoon that she had been wanting to fire me for at least a year before she did. She held off because she was afraid I would sue her for sexual orientation discrimination. That threw me for a loop. It never occurred to me that might’ve been behind her slow cutting me loose. I thought it was entirely to do with my new attitude. I was grateful to the husband for telling me this because it helped me put the last year working for her into perspective. And, while it endorsed my fear that coming out would have dire consequences, it confirmed my determination to do so and to keep doing so in spite of those consequences.

Every job interview I’ve done since working for her has been a coming out. And after every job interview I’ve had since working for her I was offered the job. Changes in attitude, both in myself and in society at large, have made it safer for me to be open about who I am. And after spending the first half or more of my life hiding from who I am, that is a sweet relief.


begun 03/29/2015
version completed 04/22/2015
Sebastopol, CA

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