50 Years out of High School and what have I done? A story in 4 parts of a “wacko” artist, stinking commie, anti-mainstream anarchist.

Posted: October 19, 2016 in a story, In Remembrance

Where have I been? Part 2.

by Benny Bean

So here we are Part 2 getting this stuff out of me after being set off by a invite to my 50th class reunion. A news letter came out with classmates bringing us all up to speed on what they have done since we graduated from high school in 1966. Bringing us up to speed on all that they haven’t changed since patriarchy ruled the roost, most stood in line and didn’t mind the man’s thumb holding them down. Thanks my lucky stars that back in Goon City there was a group of let us say enlightened folks, the pharmacist who fought for Social Security when he was a representative at the state Capitol, called a Commie by the god-fearing righteous folks who when they retired said, “I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t for Social Security,” the art teacher in high school who had worked at the Masses Magazine back in the 30ties, a beat poet who was our high school English teacher, a man and his wife who had been in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, a couple of ministers who were in the civil rights movement, Anne who was a member of the War Resisters League, and my close friend Eddie whose ancestors came to Goon City as free blacks when the town was founded. Eddies grandmother was a Wangunk Indian who was an herbalist, Eddie’s older brother Peter was the person that got me interested in going to NYC as he was back and forth hoping that someday he would be a famous folk singer instead of just playing Washington Square Park with a bunch of other hopefuls as they said singing for nickels and dimes. He learned all the songs of the day came home and sang them to us kids. One song that sticks in my mind and I just listened to it again was Woody Guthrie’s I ain’t got no home in this world anymore. It says a lot in a few lines.

I want to go back a bit to the period right after I fled Goon City for the streets of NYC turning tricks out of the Times Square area, hanging out on the Lower East Side and meeting the first man that I was thought of as more than just quick sex. Ethan was his name came up to me when I was out sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park. working on my drawings. Fall was falling and I was getting scared. What will I do when winter comes? Freeze out here on the street. Go down to 1st street and stay in the city shelter? Chance getting bugs all over my body. What a fucked up state that would be. Crabs are not a thing that one would want to catch if ones main job was turning tricks. Get religion and join the Catholic Worker movement, I am sure that they would have a bed for a willing worker.  I knew about them from some of the folks who had sat out during the air raids when everyone else was suppose to hide from the Russian bombs, my grandmother once said, bull on that it won’t matter if I am in under the stairs in the cellar or upstairs in the kitchen, if I duck and cover or stay put in my chair, as when the bomb drops it will be all over no matter if you are upstairs or downstairs. What we have to do is stop the bombs from dropping.” That was my introduction to why must we be anti-war. It wouldn’t matter where we where, or what we were, how much we had or how much we didn’t have it wouldn’t matter if we were a man women or child, cat or dog, pig or cow it would be all over. Everything that is blameless would cease to exist. We all know that those who are to blame for war always seem to escape. I have always agreed with Frank Little, IWW organizer who said, “Either we are for their capitalist slaughter fest or we are against it.” Why would any working class person want to fight for those pigs is beyond me. Willie’s older sister Anne had been on the Ban the Bomb march and had sat out with Dorthy Day and members of the War Resisters League during the air raid drills in NYC, came back to Goon City one summer and told us all about it. How inspiring it was to hear about people taking a stand and fully understanding that war wasn’t any good for anything.

Writing the above reminded me of when as school kids we had to hid under our desks. As if that would save us.

Ethan began by admiring my drawings. I told him I am working on some musical compositions. He said, they look more like art than music, I said well I suppose can they be both? Why not I guess. Want to come to my place I really would like to make love to you. Sure I would love to. Easy as that. Ethan was going to Columbia with plans on being a doctor. His parents were flipping the bill but didn’t know that he was living on the Lower East Side among the hippies and poor people. Nah, they don’t have the time to come to the city for a visit, just want me to call home every so often, and then check in with them for at least a weekend a month. Do they know you like men? No and I wouldn’t dare tell them. I told Ethan my story and how I came to NYC and soon had to find a place to live and a job. Don’t you think you should be going to school? Going to school. Christ I was living from one dick to the next, out on the street, and you ask me if I should be going to school. Right there I knew of the divide, the divide that separated people. Yeah I know all about “someday” but I had to just get past the today. I hadn’t really thought about school one way or another but would consider ruling it out as I really hated high school. I hated having anyone lord over me with any control. I just wanted to do what I had to do and then forget it until the next day. Like just a job or you know I wonder how easy it is to collect unemployment from the job I had in Goon City before coming here? I should check it out. Ethan had a contact at the employment office and he said that maybe she could help me. It was pretty easy to collect back in those days. At the very least it would be something coming in and you could spend your days drawing and maybe consider going to art school. You want to stay with me until you can get on your feet it will be okay. So that was settled. Now I didn’t have to worry about freezing on the streets.

Mary a girl I had met back in Times Square told me the 42nd street Automat was hiring. Some of the boys were drafted and they needed a dishwasher, a couple of people to restock the compartments and if the boss liked you there was room to advance. Added bonus any left over food was given to the employees to take home. The pay was $1.05 per hour, the hours 10-6 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Maybe I thought I should try for it. The only thing I knew about the Automat was making soup out of hot water and ketchup when a person had no money, yes, friends it was true. and when they did the food was cheap and good.  I met with Mr. Barley the next day, was hired and began working on Friday. I got a job stocking the compartments with pies. Yum, Yum how I liked pies. Give me any kind of pie and I would eat it. One rule was no eating on the job unless you were on break. Mr. Barley said I don’t care if it looks good enough to eat right then and there and your stomach is growling wait until you are on break.  I didn’t mind work even if it did get in the way of living. Mr. Barley smoked cigars and liked to talk dirty. Didn’t care if it was a boy or girl, hey look at him, nice ass, she got big tits get between them you may not wake up, Man I would love to hump that. Today those words in the work place could get a person fired. I liked Mr. Barley and he liked me and more than once I ended up in his apartment after my shift was over. Ethan didn’t expect monogamy and I didn’t either, but as the days went by we began to see that we really were in love. Hard for me to comprehend as I had never been in love with a real man before. Sure I had told man after man how much I loved him during hot sex but after the sex was over we both went our merry ways sometimes hoping to see each other again and more times then not wishing never to. I can’t count the number of men I had sex with but I can count the ones I remember on two hands.

I called my sister one afternoon. Marcy and I had always been very close. We made arrangements that she was to get my bank book, some clothes and a few other things pack them in my suitcase and I would sneak back to town meet her close my bank account give her half the money and then be on my way. I had managed to save quite a bit of money from a factory job I had while in high school. Mr Barley drove me up to Goon City we met up with Marcy and was out of town within an hour. Saying goodbye to her was most difficult but we both understood. She wanted to split with me as she said things were not good at home. I didn’t seem Marcy again until 1985.

By 1968 I had it with NYC. Ethan was getting let me say more and more “straight” everyday, telling me once, “I got to get my shit together if I ever want to be a doctor.” Do you really Ethan I asked. You seem so much happier playing your music doing gigs with your band members and just maybe you should concentrate on that. We’ll never get anywhere, I suppose I could audition for one of the groups playing at the Electric Circus and go out from there but its too risky. If I did that I know my parents would disown me and any money coming to me would be out the window. I began to see more and more that we were not on the same road anymore, that to be honest and admit it we had grown apart and it was time to move on. He wanted to move up-town, missed his parents and wanted them to come to the city to visit him. “I just want to be normal,” he whined. Well that was enough for me. I hated normal. Everything that folks considered normal made me, shall I say want to puke. What normal? Like those who didn’t question a damn thing and sent their sons to war? Normal like those who were climbing up the ladder stepping on and over anyone who got it the way and couldn’t reach the first rung? Standing there and not saying a word as Black people were being beaten and murdered just for asking for their rights?

A bus ticket to San Francisco was all I needed as shit I really don’t want to stick out my thumb at this time. So began my second part of my wandering.  I have always loved this song ever since I first heard it. This version by Buffy Sainte-Marie is on of my favorites. It was written by Patrick Sky and sums up what many in my generation were up to. Yes, “I’ve seen your towns they’re all the same. The ending of the song tells us, “But I know outside there’s a light somewhere, Maybe my rambling will take me there.” For me I have never found that anywhere I have been and now I am just too damn old to bother.

San Francisco Here I Come

We parted our ways as Ethan was rushing out the door. Over and over we had discussed my leaving and now it came down to when are you going. He was starting to pack up boxes for his move up town and felt the same as I did. He was on a different road. I left my key on the kitchen table, really the bathtub covered over with a piece of plywood and a table cloth looked over the place and closed the door on that chapter of my life. I got on the Greyhound bus, I think it was about $98.00 for a trip across the country. I don’t remember if that was one way or a round trip. I was over a year late to wear flowers in my hair but by now it reached past my shoulders. About a week later I arrived. San Francisco. After renting a single room with a small kitchen I was able to secure a job at the hotel. Going through the lobby I over heard a man screaming at Lady who ran the place, “You can shove this job right up your ass I am done working for you.” He then stormed out the door. I approached Lady and asked what the job was. She told me its cleaning all the halls, doing the lobby, and helping to spruce up any vacant rooms. The pay was $65.00 a week. If I continued to stay at the hotel she would deduct the $15.00 a week I paid in rent. I took the job and began where the man had left off cleaning the lobby. In my off hours I explored all the gay hang outs that the city had to offer, seeing the Grateful Dead and other groups at the Fillmore West, hanging out at the Gangway and of course needless to say picking up men and having a great time. I was sometime during the next year that Bobby a kid I had been having sex with told me about an article that he had heard about that a columnist at the Sand Francisco Examiner had written a nasty piece calling us gay scum that hung out in bars. The newly formed GLF was calling for a demonstration and Bobby and I joined in. The police showed up and began to break up the demonstration using their nightsticks and beating people. This was the first time I had been beat up in a demonstration by the police. It was during this picket line that employees at the Examiner dumped purple ink from the windows above. Got ink write Gay Power on the building, print your hands all over the place, then the police came. Bobby got hit pretty bad and ended up in the hospital.  It was on that day that all the peace and love, all the love one another as I have loved you, all the bless those who persecute you was knocked out of me. Why I thought should we allow the state to do such things to us? Why should we allow the state to have such control over us? Why do we allow the state to jail us, why do we pay a fine to the state and add to their coffers. If we were for a new day that new day certainly didn’t have the state as the state as it was a part of it. We were suppose to smash the state not comply with it.

Yes I was well aware of the high road to be taken that must be taken and that was taken by many. But I was fully aware of the road of dogs, fire hoses, nightsticks, mace, the National Guard and I began to reject being on the other end of the hard arm with the state wielding such power. I knew that I had been a pacifist from my early days of going to church. Hell I know for sure that Jesus was my first man love. No I didn’t jerk off over him but loved him more than anyone. I found that in his arms I was safe, in his words a beautiful new day, and with him no harm could come to me. I still have the picture of Jesus in the Garden praying that hung over my childhood bed. My sister saved it for me.

Like copy of the Jesus praying that I have. It is in storage.

I never missed a Sunday of Sunday School, and I could preach with the best of them. So good in fact was I that everyone in the neighborhood called me Pastor Bean. I believed every word that was taught to me. All men were definitely brothers so why would we kill our brothers, even if Cain killed Able, that we should lay down our swords and shields and study war no more, to comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, take care of the poor, yes I believed it all. Could I still believe all of that and not allow the state to persecuted me? Not allow the state to beat me, to jail me to have the upper hand. Did I really want to continue to be a love child? But was I brave enough to take that step that faced many of us?

Gay Liberation Front first manifesto from NYC stated: “We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished,” they began. “We reject society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature. We are stepping outside these roles and simplistic myths. We are going to be who we are. At the same time, we are creating new social forms and relations, that is relations based upon brotherhood, cooperation, human love, and uninhibited sexuality. Babylon has forced us to commit ourselves to one thing … revolution.” You know some of us, yes a small group still believe in those words.

Another important development was the Publication of The Gay Manifesto, written by Carl Whitman in 1970.  To read the full manifesto go to HERE.

The gay manifesto - Carl Wittman

The manifesto opened this way: “San Francisco is a refugee camp for homosexuals. We have fled here from every part of the nation, and like refugees elsewhere, we came not because it is so great here, but because it was so bad there. By the tens of thousands, we fled small towns where to be ourselves would endanger our jobs and any hope of a decent life; we have fled from blackmailing cops, from families who disowned or ‘tolerated’ us; we have been drummed out of the armed services, thrown out of schools, fired from jobs, beaten by punks and policemen.
And we have formed a ghetto, out of self-protection. It is a ghetto rather than a free territory because it is still theirs. Straight cops patrol us, straight legislators govern us, straight employers keep us in line, straight money exploits us. We have pretended everything is OK, because we haven’t been able to see how to change it — we’ve been afraid.”

The Gay Manifesto dealt with subjects such as coming out, different sexualities, Women, Roles, Censoring ourselves, Gay Stereotypes, oppression and the section that I have always love is this:

4. Gay ‘stereotypes’: The straight’s image of the gay world is defined largely by those of us who have violated straight roles. There is a tendency among ‘homophile’ groups to deplore gays who play visible roles — the queens and the nellies. As liberated gays, we must take a clear stand. 1) Gays who stand out have become our first martyrs. They came out and withstood disapproval before the rest of us did. 2) If they have suffered from being open, it is straight society whom we must indict, not the queen.

(Important words that I wish folks would have remembered over the years. Why folks want to use straights measuring tools is way beyond me. Why do our people want to straighten their genes and fit in. Why do they want to be like them? Once the homophile groups used to say, “we are just like straights except what we do in bed.” That’s nothing more than a please, please, please begging for their acceptance. I guess because it is easy that way. It is a lot like reform vrs. revolution. With reform a certain part is still there hanging over your head but you got some crumbs on your plate. With revolution we can sweep away all that oppresses us and others and get a meal.)

Bobby and I almost went and join the Red Butterfly but then we said, nah too much hanging over our heads more of  thumbs on us. Trading one oppressive state for another with the second offering a kinder gentler subjugation. We didn’t need to be told as Bob Dylan said which way the wind blew and we certainly didn’t need a leader up there imitating a straight white man leading the pack thinking he knew best. We ran into a lot of those off and on and in and out of the movement. Movement type leaders be they male or female have always turned me off. We still long for the day when there are no leaders. We had great hope for Occupy but then after a short time at least in this neck of the woods leaders emerged and everyone went along with it. Something is so wrong with that. Do we as humans really need leaders? Does someone have to lead and someone have to follow. Why can’t we all get the job done? Does someone have to be on the bottom and someone on the top. Isn’t that a lot like capitalism where there always has to be someone unemployed, someone worse off than the next guy to help keep order. YOu know, Shape up fuck head or you could be just like that bum.

Going back east.

I could have taken a bus back east but decided that I would take my chances and hitchhike. But at the last minute changed my mind and got a bus to Davenport Iowa. The Mississippi River flowed east to west and I thought well that is a good of enough reason to stop off there and settle in for awhile. I went directly to the Catholic Worker house on 5th street made friends quickly and settled in for a day or two. I had stayed on both coasts so I thought hell might as well try something in the middle. Maybe the change will do me good. I think it was the week after I arrive in Davenport that I got a job working in window display at a large department store downtown. Petersen Harned and Von Maur. I found a picture of the store on Wiki. Check it out. I will never forget the day 3 of us were working in the windows shown here in the first floor corner. I was working with a woman named Connie when all of a sudden she let out a loud gasp. My god look at that passing by, a man with an earring. Must be a sissy. I asked her, why is it so odd to see a man with a earring and she said we just don’t do that in this town. She then began lecturing me about “colored” people who were moving in and on and on about freaks coming to Davenport. My goodness what have I landed in. Is she referring to me? I knew the boss was a closet queen, and one of the young men who worked there was a fine fem who I never really could get it on with as it was more like the old expression of banging pocketbooks and then there was Connie. Let me remember to keep my mouth shut around her. One day we got to talking and I mentioned that I washed some of my clothes in the Bath Tub. She thought that was the worse thing that anyone could do. Well it all depends if one keeps a clean bathtub or not don’t you think? No I wouldn’t wash my clothes in some folks bathtubs or even in their sinks. I’ve seen some in my day that were so dirty with scum all up and down the sides that the only way I would enter them is full suited up from head to toe. Dreadful. I don’t think there would be anything wrong if I clean the tub with good bleach water and then go about laundry day. She walked away from me shaking her head. I continued to wash the few clothes I had in the tub until the day came I could go to the laundry like most folks or so I was told. You know Connie some folks are just poor.

redstone_building

Petersen, Harned and Von Maur Flagship store. Davenport Iowa

After a few weeks I was able to get an apartment down West 3rd street, Way down I mean. Almost down to what was called Hog Hotel. Read this little blurb I found when I did some research after I remembered the smell. Damn the smell, what a awful smell on the days as Boline told me they burned the parts no one wanted.

“For generations, the five-story, 120,000-square foot structure that loomed over west Davenport was the final destination for hogs in a meat processing operation that made the city one of the largest hog slaughtering centers in the nation.

Until it was phased out in the 1980s, the hog kill operation — under Oscar Mayer and its predecessor, Kohrs Packing Co. — had been a vital part of the city’s economy. Other packing plants such as Armour Packing Co. brought an overpowering odor to the west end, but residents didn’t seem to mind.

“We never complained about the smell. It was our daily bread,” a worker once recalled…From Vacancies at the Grand Hog Hotel, written by John Willard for the Quad Cities Times.

Well fuck that. I closed my windows as tight as they could go on those days shook my head and thought, those Germans aren’t fooling me no one can say that the smell of burning flesh is not a questionable odor.

Kevin or Petal, Boline loves Ruthie, 

Yeah we tried hard to be in love. But being in love meant two people should be having sex.  I was really the first man that he came out to other than a few one night stands. He was a tall thin pinkish white looking blonde who looked like a fragile petal of a beautiful bloom waiting in the wings to blossom. I don’t think we ever really had hot sex and both of us were true bottoms, laying there cuddling, talking, kissing, but stumped on what else to do. I worked with Kevin and each day we became closer. I think the boss was in love with him but thought it nice we were getting together Taking long walks along the river up to the park and just hanging out as sisters. Kevin and I did  windows together usually the better dress windows or housewares. I remember once we did a window called At An Art Show and it lasted 2 days. The big mucky muck walked by it did a double take and told us dismantle it now. I guess the art was a bit over his head never mind the manikins with cigarettes and drinks in their hands forget the pile of tires with one of the girls sitting in it with legs sticking out forming a V and arms pointing up in another V.  After that all of our windows had to be okay-ed before hand by the boss of the department. It was the bicentennial of the United States of America and for one year the owners of the store wanted the windows to reflect that. Oh, I thought somehow we will get through this crap. Ah yes those were the days the days of murder, genocide and slavery, when women and children were property, witches were hung, gays were murdered. The days of only white property holding white men were created equal, fuck everyone else. Oh yes we had so much to celebrate.

Leslie aka Boline so named after the city of Moline and his girl Ruthie ran the building where I lived. Boline was a trash man for the city and his apartment sure looked liked he had picked up everything that he could find and then some. He helped me furnish my apartment with some of his finds. (right down to a pair of poodle dog curtains for the bathroom) I think I have this up in the attic, you need it I can tell. Ruthie got me dishes and cooking pans from the basement storage. Lady moved out and left all of her stuff behind. Boline and I got along really well and Kevin and I spent many a evening at his kitchen table drinking beer and listening to stories and funny jokes. Ruth told us she had a hole at the base of her spine and she could reach in with a finger and probably come out her ass hole. My goodness how we did laugh. Ruthie was real tall, skinny as a string bean with tightly curled brown hair. When she wasn’t keeping order in the apartment house one could find her end stool over at the bar across the street. She mopped up there that is what she said she did and made a little extra money. My apartment was just 2 big room. Come in the door there is a bedroom living room, and then the kitchen with a bathroom off to one side. The kitchen was big enough for a sofa and that is where Petal and I spent so much time together. Ruthie and Boline thought Kevin was a girl and Ruthie one day walked in on us when we were laying around in each others arms. You two should get married she told us. Yeah and have a baby and name her Ruthie Too.

Some Sundays long days in Davenport I needed a drink really bad. I was becoming so depressed that I didn’t know how I could make it. Damn I wish I could get some grass or some crystal. Something gotta give. Not a bar was open in all of Davenport on a Sunday so I walked across the bridge to Rock Island found a bar. Dive bar yes, with motorcycle men. Shit maybe I can score here.  Many a Sundays found me walking over this bridge just to get some booze in Rock Island Ill. More civilized over here I told Frankie who I met at the bar. You got to remember to buy your booze on a Saturday and then you won’t have to walk all the way over here. Yeah, but I’m really looking for some grass. Man its been so long since I smoked I’m itching to get high. “Let’s take a ride,” he said. Oh okay but this will be my first time on a bike and I really don’t know what to do. Just hold on to me and you’ll be okay. Holding on to Frankie damn did I get hard. I so wanted to slip my hand down  into his crotch. I think he sensed it through my hold as he moved his ass just a bit closer to my crotch. Oh lord I thought please don’t let him be a bottom.

rockiscentbridge

Bridge over the Mississippi. Many a Sunday I walked over this bridge for a drink and hoping for some hot sex.

Frankie made up for anything that I was missing from here back to San Francisco. Hot sex, good grass, a revolutionary perspective on live and loving. He had come back east from LA to visit his mother and after she died he stayed on. Born in Rock Island it was odd for the first few months to get use to it again. He sort of liked the simple aspect of it all not as rushed as the west coast stayed on in his mothers house got a job and met me. Yeah Frankie said I’ll stick around for awhile and when its time to go I will know. Kevin’s brother Jeff stopped by one day to show off his new car. When he saw Frankie there were big hugs, tight as could be a kiss or two. They had been in school together as as Frankie said, had some real hot sex in his mom’s sauna. Man you two had better get a room or let me join in right now as your making me hot rubbing each other that way.

End of Part 2

Notes:

Old men and their memories. You know I can remember some things so vividly that it seems like yesterday. The scene playing out in  my kitchen with Frankie and Jeff is so crystal clear to this day where I have no idea what Connie looked like, the boss looked like even his name or the 2 other workers in the display department. I remember distinctly Lady in San Francisco but can’t put together a face for Bobby except he had curly brown hair and big eyes. Of course in telling this story some of the dialogue is made up but as close to the true story as I can remember. I will never forget Ruthie and Boline. I still have a few of the little decorations that Boline gave to me and they come out each Christmas.

To read Part 1 go to HERE.

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