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|
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|