Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Days of Wine & Porno

In the summer of 1975 a teacher took myself and six other high school aged teens to New York City to see Broadway shows, we stayed for 4 or 5 days and saw the most amazing theater - the productions I remember were Candide, Raisin, The Wiz, A Chorus Line, and Pippin (which had been running for a while, Irene Ryan had passed away a year earlier but Ben Vereen was still going strong in the role of the Leading Player.




We even caught Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue for which we got the very last tickets to the closing performance. The seats were lousy but the show blew us all away... and jazz immortal Lionel Hampton came out of retirement to be her intermission act.



Fortunate we were to see the original cast of 'Chicago including Jerry Orbach, Barney Martin, Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon.



I didn't realize how lucky we were to have seen so many legendary performers at their peak, I even talked to Lily Tomlin on the street dressed as Edith Beasley handing out coffee and doughnuts for the folks lining up to buy tickets for her upcoming Broadway show.

This field trip to the big city 12 hours away had nothing to do with the school. This band teacher, who directed our school musicals, used to have those of us he liked over for beers even though most - hell, all - of us were underage. Granted, by just a few months, he never let someone 16 have alcohol (18 was the drinking age then). I didn't drink and my friends that did didn't get crazy so it was no big deal.

With him chaperoning, we all caravanned to the beach a few times, made a trek to the mountains of Georgia, and he even took us to see an X-rated movie. Our parents were thrilled that a responsible adult was taking a positive interest in their kids.

Today if all of that happened - well, I'd hate to think about it. Which would have been the worst possible outcome, this guy's home and his musical productions were a safe haven for dozens of restless kids over the years. Kids who would have otherwise would have gotten into who knows what mischief.

This guy was an amazing friend to all of us, an older gay man in a relationship - but I don't think most of us put two and two together because they always maintained they were straight. I assumed they were, despite the ornate sculptures in their apartment depicting naked gladiators wrestling around in homoerotic poses. I was very naive, what can I tell you. (We all were, there was virtually no such thing as an openly gay man in the South in the mid-1970s.)

I never heard of anything untoward happening to anyone in that circle of friends that expanded with each school year; eventually I and most of my friends moved away and we lost touch with our teacher friend. He was one person that made a positive contribution to my life at a time when I couldn't have been more confused and frustrated.

Sad thing is, in our sexed up society, one can't help but conjure up perverted thoughts when you think about High School students getting involved in parties at a teacher's home on the weekends. But the way it was then, even going to an X-Rated movie could be a wholesome night out, at least from our perspective.

Then again, I never found pornography particularly fascinating. I'd been exposed to the most disgusting hard core porn you could imagine on a weekly basis since middle school.

Guess I better explain that.

Kamandi Comic by Jack "The King" Kirby Being a young comic book collector in the early-1970s in a not-so-big city meant going anywhere and everywhere to get the latest comics, distribution was very spotty. There was a magazine shop downtown that stocked every periodical, literally everything, including comics. They did so to justify their real cash crop - selling the thousands of hard core mags displayed all over the cramped store.

So you had The Ladies Home Journal and The Reader's Digest sitting beside a stack of magazines with big wet sloppy - you know what's - happening on the covers. Walking up to the counter to pay meant passing depictions of every possible sex act (except gay, naturally). When the guy gave you your change he did so atop a stack of more porno mags. There was also something going on behind a curtain in the back, I'll let you use your imagination. I didn't.

Of course, there was sign out front that said 'No one under 18 allowed' but we managed to talk our way in around the 8th grade. My friend who collected comics and I were talking at school about this amazing store that had all of the comics in one place, awash in a sea of porn, when one of our classmates confessed his dad owned the joint.

It turned out that our classmate worked the register on Saturdays and he let us come by on his shift. Before long the big, gruff guys behind the counter got to know us and realized we really weren't interested in the porn - only the comics that they had probably never sold any of before. They must have thought we were weird.

Like I said, things were different then. Thank God!

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