I have achieved every dream I ever had, many of which were first imagined during my boyhood while gazing across the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. Getting beyond that horizon was a powerful motivation and a vivid image.
In June of 1966, three days after high-school graduation, I left my parent’s home. Three months later, I hitch-hiked to enroll at the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a scholarship of $1000. My third and fourth years on campus became the closest thing to war that I ever want to experience, and subsequent grading was reduced to Pass/Fail because of the politically active Anti-Vietnam demonstrations and the presence of The National Guard positioned in front of all lecture halls. Despite this, I graduated in June of 1970 with a BA in English Literature. All this success was simply encouraged my dream machine.
Since I’d never seen either ocean, later in 1970 I hitched to Los Angeles with an invitation to work on a friend’s film. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the finances for that film had fallen through. After one forgettable night with the film’s toupee-ed director, who was looking for a “houseboy,” I flew to San Francisco thinking that I’d find my groove in the flower culture of that gloriously city. Unfortunately, my funds were running low – but my aunt and uncle (with their nine children) lived in Glendora. I moved in as an au pair and enjoyed getting to know my four youngest cousins who hadn’t been born in Wisconsin.
Finishing the book On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers in their Asian-designed garden, I decided to follow his suggestion and “follow my bliss.” A small card posted on a bulletin board on the campus of UCLA connected me to a professor who was driving back East and needed companions to share expenses. As the smallest of three, I was located across the top of baggage that filled the rear of his station wagon. While I never drove, I remembered having seen the Pacific Ocean and wondered what opportunities could exist across that expanse. I was dropped off in Minneapolis and found myself back in Madison.
The following year, after recouping my finances by imprinting Christmas cards in the basement of Manchester’s Department Store, another friend invited me to Miami Beach where she had just secured her future as a Playboy Bunny at Mr. Hefner’s newest location. Kathy and I had danced together in Little Theater productions that the previously mentioned film producer in LA had directed.
With hair length to the middle of my back and my first moustache, I resembled Bobby Sherman and was strongly advised by friends to NOT hitch-hike south of the Mason-Dixon line. After three days on a Greyhound Bus, I arrived in Miami – numb in areas I never realized I had. Immediately, I secured a job as a life-guard/pool attendant at a high-rise on Biscayne Bay. The buzz in Miami was all about Disney opening in October. I secured an audition and was offered a job as a “Kid from the Kingdom” but I wasn’t a resident of the state and, therefore, the offer was withdrawn. But the Atlantic Ocean was even more beautiful than the Pacific, and warmer, too. The clouds at night remained white during the night as well as the day, and I realized I was lost.
Living with three Playboy Bunnies should have been every American male’s wettest dream, but not for me. I came out to my identical twin brother, who was then stationed at the naval base in Jacksonville, during his visit and he then paid for my flight back to Chicago. Back in the Midwest, I found a room at the Evanston, IL YMCA, sold men’s underwear during the day at Marshall Field’s and danced at night at Gus Giordano’s Jazz Dance Company studio, which was just around the corner from the Y. Three weeks later I was on scholarship for Gus’ company. Another dream accomplished. I found my art. I was good but I wasn’t a jazz dancer. Gus realized I was a ballet dancer.
Three years later, I got my Actor’s Equity Card at the open auditions for the St. Louis Municipal Opera Summer Stock Musical Season in 1975, fell in love during a slow dance in a gay bar in Kansas City, MO in August, moved to the Big Apple in September and committed to my dance career. While my Joffrey scholarship lasted approximately twenty minutes, when they found out I was really twenty-seven and not twenty years of age, I ended up auditioning for professional theatre.
Three Broadway shows later, I had crossed a lot of water; achieved many dreams, experienced a love lost, and met a handsome bearded man while I was ushering at the New York State Theatre. The seventies and eighties in New York City were magical, from a bankrupt metropolis to a golden age in dance/theatre/the arts. It was the center of the world and I couldn’t believe I was a part of that!
Details of our loving, HIV-Negative, monogamous, mutually beneficial (almost) fifteen-year relationship became the basis of my first book, a memoir entitled Out Here in the Stars. (The 3rd edition is being released later this year by AM Ink Publications.) Five chapters of the first book were edited out and became the center of a second book, a collection of reflections, written throughout my life that augment the protagonist’s narrative arc of the memoir entitled Reverie Alone Will Do.
The center of my world became ground zero in 2001. To quote Donna Summer, “I Had Survived,” but I also came to realize that slightly off-center was a more preferred position.
Now, I’m living in western Massachusetts learning to let go in this age of daily anxiety and wondering how much more water remains to be crossed in this life.
Enjoyed it. The sense of the ebb and flow of your life experiences so far match the ebb and flow of the oceans.
Thank you, Tom. Yes that water imagery is significant in so many ways … a baptism of sorts. I hope you will enjoy my books that enumerate those details concerning my “coming of age.”