I recently finished writing my memoirs about growing up and coming out as a gay Italian-American living in the Bronx in the 1970's. A long time before I started acting, I worked at a McDonalds in the Bronx and my manager at the time was Curtis Sliwa. This was before Curtis founded the Guardian Angels and become a conservative radio talk show host.
On one Saturday afternoon and evening, I slipped out of my parents house, where I was living, in order to attend the wedding of my co-worker Ralph, the fierce snapping queen of our McDonalds crew, from whom I first heard she pronoun "she" used in reference to a male.
"Oh yes, my boyfriend Vinny? She and me is gonna be married. Oh yes, child. You're all invited. And Curtis, she's gonna do the service."
And so it was, child, because Miss Ralph's mouth never wrote a check her ass couldn't cash. Curt seemed to have a special fondness for Ralph, which I found endearing. He was protective of him, and tolerated no fag-bashing comments at the counter.
"Take a look," I remember him quipping affectionately as, after closing, tending to his chores, Ralph paraded around the dining room swinging his rag and bucket for all they were worth. "It's the Dairy Queen."
On their wedding day, the blushing bridegrooms were chauffeured up to the entrance of their South Bronx project building in an immaculate white stretch limo. A driver in a formal dress opened the car doors for them, and they emerged into the sunlight wearing matching white-on-white tuxedos with white satin lapels and cuffs, and white patent leather shoes with white silk spats. Preceded by a formal bridal procession, led by a blushing flower girl and the mothers of the grooms wearing heavy velvet gowns and corpulent wrist corsages. Ralph and Vinny marched regally into the building, down the fluorescent-lit hallway, and into the thickly festooned community room, where they exchanged vows and rings and were married before-well, before Curtis Sliwa. Then we partied and ate food from aluminum trays and drank rum and RC cola from paper cups. Curtis danced the Robot all night long, way too intensely, his eyes wide and distant, dripping sweat and poking out moves in a freakish trance.
If it's scandalous to out the founder of an urban paramilitary organization and right-wing talk show host as the trance-dancing mock presiding minister at a gay marriage ceremony more than thirty years ago in the South Bronx, then I've dropped a bomb. But for me, Curtis Sliwa was a Freedom Rider.
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