Monday, April 08, 2013

"Where Are You?"



My all time favorite song sung by my all time favorite recording artist is "Where Are You?" by the late, great Dinah Washington. 

After I got out of the Army in January of 1963 I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to come out as a gay man.  My home (parent's) was in Downingtown, PA, a small town of 5,000 37 miles west of Philadelphia.  I choose Pittsburgh because a gay friend of mine, who was in the Air Force and I met while we were both stationed at Ft. Meade, lived in Pittsburgh.  He was going to show me "the ropes."  Another reason I moved to the anonymity of Pittsburgh was because I didn't want to come out in my hometown and embarrass my family.  Remember, this was back in the "bad old days" when being gay was a crime and considered a mental illness.  

Yep, this is where I worked for 2 1/2 years - the National Security Agency, second largest government building only to the Pentagon - I used to go in that entrance on the bottom right every day

After enduring three years of hiding in my gay closet in the Army, working for the National Security Agency with a top secret clearance, at risk every day for losing by clearance and getting kicked out of the Army for the "crime" of being born gay, I made the decision to lead the rest of my life as an openly gay man.  

Me during my Ft. Meade, MD days - 1962

Sal, my gay friend and his friends took me to my first gay bar.  The gay bar was actually a small neighborhood bar in the suburban steel town of Clairton, PA.  The "regular" (straight) bar your average small town tavern type bar where the locals hung out.  The "gay" bar was on the second floor, accessed by a rickety fire escape that one had to climb around the back of the building.  Yes folks, it was a "speakeasy" type bar.


Clairton, PA - a grimy steel town in western PA - not the most glamorous place to come out as a gay man but it was paradise for me in 1963

Well, the butterflies were going to town in my stomach as we climbed that steel fire escape to the "upstairs" bar.  We reached the top of the fire escape and stepped off onto the outside deck and knocked on the door.  Someone opened the door and we walked in.  The first thing I saw was all men, most dressed in suits or sport shirts and "good" pants.  Again, remember, this was back in the Sixties when folks dressed up to go out.  But the all enveloping feeling I got was the ALL MEN.  And they looked "normal." I guess I expected to see effeminate men and drag queens but instead what I saw was a Fifties type male, glasses, crew cuts, clean cut.  MEN. And they were dancing.  Oh the feeling that swept through my body from head to toe when I saw men dancing with men!  


Know the song that was playing?  "Where Are You?" by Dinah Washington.  Hearing that song in that welcoming environment forever stamped "Where Are You?" as my transition from a closeted gay man brainwashed to feel ashamed of himself to a fully realized human being who was with OTHER MEN JUST LIKE ME.



That feeling that went through my body has only come close to being duplicated once in my lifetime and that was the first time I visited Provincetown, Mass.  The feeling of being accepted as a normal, functioning, non-criminal, human being.  

My friends and I had hardly ponied up to the bar when a 30ish, crew cut, Clark Kent type man approached our little group and ASKED ME TO DANCE!  Slow dance.  And yes, "Where Are You?" was still playing.  Now friends, let me tell you this was the first time I ever danced with a man and I am here to tell you I LIKED IT.  For the first time in my life I knew why dancing was so popular.  I always liked to slow dance with women but I never realized how SENSUOUS it could really be.  Oh man oh man, I was in heaven.  
And I did notice that my dancing partner had a "ruler"in his pocket as I did.  Wow.  


After the song ended, my dance partner took me back to the bar to my friends.  As he was walking away one of my friends said "Do you know who you just danced with?"  I said "No."  He said "That was.....the police chief of Clairton.  He likes you!" Of course that information totally freaked me out.  

Not the police chief I met but similar - very nice!

He asked me to dance a few more times.  Each time he danced with me he would ask "Do you have to use the bathroom?"  After dancing with him several more times I returned to my friends at the bar again to finish my drink.  One of them asked me "How is he?"  I told them I enjoyed very much dancing with him but was puzzled why he kept asking me if I had to use the bathroom.  My friends laughed in unison and one of them said "You fool.  Why didn't you go?  He wants to DO you." 
Well friends, I as a virgin (men and women) back then and this newfound information totally blew my mind (no pun intended).  There was no way I was going to DO THAT.  My God, I was so naive in those days.  We left a short time later.  I never went back to that bar nor did I see that crew cut, 30ish Clairton Township police chief again. Not that I didn't find him attractive but I just wasn't THERE yet.  I needed time. But one thing I did take away from that experience was this song by Dinah Washington, "Where Are You?"  Every time I hear it I will remember fondly my coming out party and that "ruler."  


Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA - where I had an $8.00 a week one room, furnished efficiency apartment when I lived in Pittsbugh, PA in 1963

P.S.

I apologize but I have no photos of this period of my life in Pittsburgh.  I had just moved to Pittsburgh and had no money.  In fact, I had to borrow $250 from my brother Isaac just to get an apartment and pay the employment agency fee for my job at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel.  There are large swaths of my life where I have no photographic record and this is one of them.  But I do have my memories, good memories and this beautiful song that will always, to my dying day, invoked that day when I knew I was no longer alone.


"The Golden Triangle" Pittsburgh, PA - where I used to work at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel in 1963

23 comments:

  1. I have stayed at the PGH hilton several times since the 1980s. I think it has a different name now. but the view of point state park at night is FABU!

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    1. Anne Marie,

      It's a totally different hotel since I worked there in the winter of 1963. The view is fabulous!

      Ron

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  2. I think every gay person remembers that first time they saw other gay people and suddenly knew they weren't 'alone'.
    It's a great feeling.

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    1. Isn't that a great feeling Bob? Never to be replicated but also never to be forgotten. When I saw all those men slow dancing and looking "normal", I knew I wasn't "the only one" in the world. It is and was a great feeling.

      Ron

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  3. I love this story! I like so many things about it - about having to walk up a rickety fire escape to enter the gay bar, about the feeling you got when finally you were in the company of men like you, about the police chief dancing with you!
    You were in the army when I was born. You don't seem that old to me.

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    1. Java,

      That "feeling" never to be equaled since. I felt accepted and normal for the first time in my life when I walked into that bar and saw all those "normal men" dancing. Ad the police chief dancing with me! He was hot too! It's a shame I was so backwards and naive at that time,, I may have taken him up on his "offer"!

      Ron

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  4. Ron, what a fantastic blog post! I've admittedly never heard the song "Where Are You?". When I listened to it, I closed my eyes and I could actually visualize the bar that you described and all the new exciting feelings that you were experiencing. What a surprise to encounter the chief of police in such an unlikely place!!

    I can identify with so much of this. I'm always tempted to reveal some of my experiences on my blog - - but my relatives would drop dead and all my other readers (except you) would abandon me.

    I'm trying to remember the first gay bar I ever went to but my memory is hazy. It was in Garden Grove, California. It was probably the TIKI HUT.

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    1. Thank you Jon. I'm writing my life story bit by bit in my blog. I always meant to write my autobiography but never seem to find time to do that book so I'll just tell my story in my blog. Yes, I was very surprised to have the local police chief ask me to dance. And he was hunky too in a Fifties kind of way. First man I ever danced with, a policeman. I would have never believed that when I was a gay teenager deep in the closet. I have yet to make it with a policeman. One of my unrealized fantasies. Believe me Jon, there is a lot I haven't written in my blog and probably never will. I would probably lose half my following if I did.

      Ron

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  5. A wonderful story about your coming out, Ron! I loved the song and singer! First time I have heard her! You write extremely personal and interesting posts, Ron! Really enjoy following your blog!

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    1. Paul,

      Thank you ver much for your generous compliments! I have more stories. I'm writing my autobiography bit by bit in my blog. I'm glad I'm getting a positive response.

      Ron

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  6. I also love Dinah Washington. One of my faves is the duo with Brook Benton singing "Baby, You've Got What It Takes."

    Never knew that you also lived in Pittsburgh -- just knew about Philly. My nephew is now in the army and works in intelligence at Ft. Meade.

    David

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    1. David,

      I'm surprised how many people don't know of Dinah Washington. She is my all-time favorite. I think your nephew works at the same place where I worked for 2 1/2 years. At that time it was all a big secret and when I left we were debriefed never tot talk about where we worked or what we did. I imagine the same rules apply today.

      Ron

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    2. ooooooooooooooh, david, that IS a great song you mentioned! :)

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  7. I guess as an adult, it was going to a gay bar for the first time, too. I've blogged it, somewhere in dark recesses of my blog! Awesome post, Ron, it really is good not to feel so alone.

    Peace <3
    Jay

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    1. Jay jay,

      That Saturday evening at the bar in Clairiton, PA was the first time in my life I didn't feel so totally alone. WhenI saw all those totally "normal" men dancing I experienced a feeling like no other in my life up until that time.

      Ron

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  8. Sylvia8:28 PM

    Ron, this is your best post, ever. Thank you for sharing such a positive experience with your readers.

    Sylvia

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    1. Thank you Sylvia. I'm writing my life story bit my bit in my blog. That night I went into that little bar in Clairton, PA was one of the most memorable in my life.

      Ron

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  9. Anonymous9:08 AM

    I remember going to a " speakeasy " type bar in Philly around 1967-68 . I think it was called The Penrose Club , it was on the second floor where you had to ring the bell and show your membership card to enter .I was just 21 and my first gay bar experience , I also went to the Westbury bar and a restaurant called Maxine's, do you remember any of these places ?

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    1. Anonymous,

      Oh absolutely! The "speakeasy" type bar in Philly around 1967-1968 was called The Penrose Club. I had many a good time there. I know of Maxine's but that was considered a "wrinkle bar" by this, at that time, young gay guy. My friends and I wouldn't dare go into it lest we be considered an "old queen." Ah, the arrogance of youth. What is it Pogo said "We have met the enemy and he is us."

      The Allegro was another bar we frequented. All good memories.

      Ron

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  10. It is your blog Ron and you should write about whatever you want without being afraid of offending anyone. I do hope that all younger gay men
    are aware how hard it was in the "old days" to stay in the closet and hide your sexual orientation, or just not being accepted. This is a great post,
    reminding us what you had to go through, hardships... but also showing your hopes, dreams, wonderful events and memories...

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    1. Nadege,

      Back in 1996, I worked at a bank in Downingtown with a 21 year old gay guy. When I told him of the routine police raids on gay bars he asked "Why did they raid the gay bars?" I told him "Because we were gay and that's just what they did back then." He asked again "Because you were gay? Were you doing something wrong?" I answered "No, we were just in a gay bar and we were gay" He found that very hard to believe. No frame of reference. I told him "We accepted it, that was our way of life; the occasional police raid especially around election time." I don't think he believe me even then. Right now I'm finding it hard to believe that Bill and I can actually get married.

      Ron

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  11. Yikes! I was born in 1962 !

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    1. Dr. Spo,

      Old dude here. :)

      Ron

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