Parting Glances: Memories of a Near-Forgotten Past (Pt. 6)

BY CHARLES ALEXANDER

There were two newspaper stands in once-busy downtown Detroit in the 1960s. One was situated at Grand Circus Park. The other at Campus Martius, across the street from the still-standing 1877 Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Each month, I'd stop at the closest stand, look up and down Woodward Avenue, and wait for the perfect, unobserved moment to buy a copy of "Grecian Guild Physique Pictorial."

I kept my visual aphrodisiac in a brown paper bag when traveling home, sneaking a peek between bus stops. (I was once seen over my shoulder by an attractive guy who slipped me his phone number and an unused transfer.)

The 6-by-8-inch fuel for my fantasy life (or, was it, more appropriately, 6-by-9-inch?) cost 50 cents. There were no full-frontal nude images. Only suggestive posing pouches. Oiled sleek bodies. Magnificent outdoor settings. It worked nonetheless. Monumentally so!

Some of the photos carried cryptic markings. I learned later these indicated top or bottom, straight or gay, whether professional photographer's model, or hustler privately available. Not that it did me or my friends any good. But it was camaraderie of a secret shared from straights.

How times have changed! There's so much erotica, porn, and acrobatic, vibratory, cucumber silliness on the internet; -- 90,000 porn sites -- that it constantly borders on being ho-hum boring.

(My initial weekly 105 hours of X-rated viewing has dropped to a mere 25, with fewer cold showers in between. Care to compare notes?)

The internet, of course, is giving the post office a run for the money. But there was a time in the 1960s when magazines like "Physique Pictorial" could not be sent through the mail. Censorship was pervasive. Terrifyingly so.

To send nude photos or suggestive letters could mean arrest. My high school friend Gordon Barnard (aka Rita Hayworth) was a member of the Grecian Guild, a fan club for supposedly discrete networking. The postal authorities steamed open one of his "more suggestively worded epistles," and he was hauled into court, warned, and fined.

Back then -- without the convenience of Grindr and DoMeMary -- bars were the only place to meet gay friends and make sexual assignations. The best bars were those with a back entrance. Coming or going incognito was an important plus.

One had to be wary of vice officers. Unless a bar paid them off, and a few did, there was a risk of being arrested for looking at an undercover cop a few seconds too long. It was his word against yours, and most of the time your shamefaced explanation didn't count.

The vice officer who entrapped me when I was 23 was attractive. He said he had seen me around. He offered me a lift home. (There was no mention of sex.) When I went to his blue Ford Thunderbird, it was locked. His partner ran on the scene, called me a fag, yelled dramatically, "You're under arrest!"

You were expected to behave in Detroit's gay bars (there were seven or eight downtown in the 1960s). No touching. No kissing. No holding hands. No dancing. I recall the excitement when a private club -- the former Detroit Press Club, located above a burlesque theater -- permitted same-sex dancing with its $25-a-year membership. Woweee!

Today's LGBTs take so much for granted. We all need to be reminded there was a time when we had no newspapers, no churches, no gay centers, no Pride marches, virtually no positive visibility. Nothing but each other. (We made do.)

Friendly tip for living from an oldster: Take nothing -- or no one -- for granted. Do-do happens when you don't pay attention. Watch your step! The Donald Trumpet/ Pence Tamborine sound shake in the distance. Don't say you haven't heard it blowing. (No pun intended.)

Charles Alexander is prolific both as a BTL columnist (700-plus columns) and as a well-known LGBT community artist (1000 Face Book images). He is a Spirit of Detroit Award recipient and an Affirmations LGBT CENTER Jan Stevenson awardee. Connect with him at Charles@pridesource.com.
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