You might know my hometown, Lima, Ohio, as the geographic locale for the television show Glee. As it appears on this hit Fox series, McKinley High is one zany, multicultural mecca where fashionably attired students break into song in the hallways.
Don't believe it.
There is no McKinley High School in Lima. There is Lima Senior High School, my alma mater, the birthplace of my ambition, and the platform from which I made my precipitous dive into the world.
Maybe it was my unabashed fondness for a plastic Tarzan doll, my fascination with my mother's jewelry and perfume collections, or my fanatic devotion to the boys' fashion section of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, but I always knew I was different.
Eventually, when it occurred to me that I wanted to have sex with males, it was certainly not with Liberace or Paul Lind, the only two gentlemen in my media orbit whom I was certain shared my proclivity.
I was 8 years old when I made my first homosexual sighting, and he was a sight: a hairdresser at the salon on the corner of Spring and Jameson streets who flounced, flaunted, wore a tight sweater in an improbable rosy color, and drove a Mustang convertible. He fascinated me. I could see my reflection in his eyes.
I had been warned about those men who lurked in cars along the leafy lanes of Faurot Park, renamed "Fruit Park" by those in the know. My mother had also cautioned me about walking home from school with my arms wrapped around my best friend, Craig. "People will think you're a big sissy," she said. A "big sissy"! So that's what I was! To blend in I played baseball -- poorly -- and football, a game that I despised, because if I were tackled, my resplendent orange jersey would have been soiled.
And then there was basketball. When my elementary school drafted me for a team, I was instructed to purchase gym shorts. With a $10 bill cadged from my father, I roamed the aisles of Repps Sporting Goods and selected a fabulous green, satin pair and matching kneepads. There I was, this diminutive, emerald peacock on the polished court amidst my knobby-kneed teammates in their boring white shorts.
Yes, I was certain of what I was. It was confirmed as sleepovers with pubescent friends evolved into epic exercises in sexual exploration. My friend Tommy Schreiber's* dad decreed that Tommy and I were "too big" to sleep together in the same bed. (One perceptive dad that one, although if I recall correctly, Tommy wasn't that big.) We sidestepped his father's decree with clandestine twin-bed visits throughout the humid summer night.
Lutheran summer camp burned a lifelong litany of fetishes into my consciousness with the burning scent of chlorine, furtive glimpses of slim bodies in shared showers, the musty aroma of woodsy cabins, and the heat of a sunburned boy named Joey who pressed his body next to mine in a lower bunk.
I might have remained in Lima. I could have been the man sitting in his car in the park. As much as my talent and ambition were twin tickets to a career that took me from Nashville to New York City to Los Angeles, my current home, I credit my sexuality with providing the necessary fuel for my departure as Lima, Ohio became a place to visit for weddings and funerals.
It is said that memory is not what happened, simply what is recalled. My New York City is freeze frames: the haze of heat rising off the Hudson River as I walked with a guitar case to the 72nd Street subway stop to catch the IRT to a gig at a club on Bleecker Street in the West Village. Cut to the apartment of perpetual night, where I washed dishes in the bathtub because there was no kitchen sink; and the bar on 83rd Street where I discovered the delicious charms of Filipino boys with cute nicknames and adorable smiles.
Los Angeles is saturated with Technicolor: a miraculously complex city where, after 20 years in the proverbial trenches, I hit my groove as a writer and an interviewer who could hold meaningful conversations with music's most celebrated creators: Leonard Cohen, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Green Day, Jackson Browne, Metallica, John Mayer, and Rufus Wainwright prominent among them. I began my teaching career at Sir Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in the U.K., where I conducted a one-week master class for five years. Walking to teach at a school founded by a Beatle in a building where Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson had lectured over a century before, I never felt more blessed to be so far from home.
As my string of books expanded, my family's respect evolved in kind. An author was one to be revered in the hometown. When I would return to visit, people were curious to meet me after church. "We thought you'd be stuck up," confessed one matron.
It is no secret that Los Angeles and New York are populated with gay refugees, those like me who would have evaporated or exploded in the gloomy denial of the American heartland had we not made a giant leap unimaginable to many of our straight counterparts.
Here's to the small towns, to the incubators of our imaginations, as they recede in rearview mirrors, become infinitesimal specks amidst the cornfields as jets fly us to uncharted destinies, to the future of our imaginations, to the strength of our own kind.
And that friends, is truly glee.
*Names have been changed to protect the horny.
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