Thursday, July 2, 2015

A week after the Stonewall riot

Thursday, July 02, 2015

I can walk this walk from the Heights to Hoboken with my eyes closed, I have done it for so long.
The world changes so completely that I can’t keep track of it, as I could not when I was a kid.
In many ways, I have walked back in time to when the righteous rose up and protested the ill deeds of a racist and homophobic world.
Church burnings, and gay pride mingling into a madness that comes out the other end as something hardly recognizable.
Gay pride week in Manhattan took on new meaning with the Supreme Court ruling against bans on gay marriage.  The celebration that normally took place at the Stone Wall Inn grew into monumental proportions.
This was a moment everybody needed to remember.
This made me think of Maxwell – a gay kid I met for the first time in the summer of 1968 when I spent nearly every waking moment in the Village.
Hank and I were doing our usual singing routine on the streets, pretending like we had somehow transitioned back to 1950s Greenwich Village when Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and others did their thing here. Suddenly, this relatively short kid starts singing at us – not folk songs, but show tunes. I remember him singing “Button up your overcoat” as he pranced pixie-like in front of us.
Hank, who moved into the East Village a short time later, because close to Max. But Max always fancied me, and flirted all the time whenever I was around.
He was often at Hank’s apartment the summer of 1969 when I got passes from the Army. He wanted to show me off, and so convinced me more than once to go out drinking with him. He said he knew great places where we could have a lot of fun. By this, he meant all the gay bars along Christopher Street and near Sheridan Square – among which was the Stonewall Inn.
He took me there about a week before the now infamous riot, and pretended like he was my date. I wasn’t completely aware of the game he played with other gay men and didn’t realize that he was showing me off to them to make them jealous. But I do remember the catcalls and other remarks that generally came our way during that walk of fame. Max was more than a little amused. I was not.
Although I vowed not to make the same mistake twice, I agreed to accompany Max again a few weeks later. Everything had changed. The innocence of the first experience had evaporated and there was a sense of militancy among the gay expatriates, and the feeling I got when we wandered back into these bars was similar to one I got a few times when I managed to wander into the Black Panthers headquarters – or even the clubhouse of the Hell’s Angels on the other side of town.
Although there was still a sense of play in the back and forth between Max and those he sought to make jealous, there was also something stronger, a bond that bound them together in a way that I rarely experienced before except in the hospital at Fort Dix where I met wounded veterans returning home from Vietnam.
Max and the others had gone through some common experience that no petty jealousy could overcome, and were part of something much larger than what had existed before – and my default during that visit, I became a member of their society.
Max and I later worked together uptown and had plenty of strange adventures, but I never again felt what I felt on that night, a week or so after the Stonewall Riot.

I’m pretty sure Max did not survive the holocaust of the 1980s AIDS epidemic. But I think of him often, and his face was the first face that came to mind when I heard the Supreme Court decision, and in my head, I heard his voice rising up from the first time I met him, singing “button up your overcoat.”

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