TIME TRAVEL: My First Apartment
This is the first of what may be many Time Travel posts.
If this post only gets a few comments I may not likely continue the series, as this will evidence a lack of interest. So, if you enjoy this post, let me know by commenting! It is not like anything I have ever posted before.
This post took an absurd amount of time as I had to find old images buried away, and recall old memories muffled by time.
What a year that proved.
For, in 1975:
- I turned 18!
- I graduated high school!
- I came out to my mother as gay! She was not happy!
- I got my first job!
- I moved out of the family home and into my own apartment!
I was free free free!
Oh, it was glorious. But, it is only in retrospect that I can appreciate the enormity of 1975. At the time, I had little idea that it would unfold as one of the most important and significant years in my life.
Mt childhood was…
I endured endless, vicious abuse from my bother, Tommy, who was four years older. One, he almost suffocated me to death, and then kicked me so hard, repeatedly, that I recoiled up in pain. For many years, I had a permanent bruise on my upper left arm because he endlessly punched me, hard, always saying: “You’re so stupid!”
My dad, Tom, was distant to an extreme and radiated hostility. Every night, when he came home, the hard slam of the front door announced to us kids: scurry away! Living with an angry father was like living with land mines under the wall-to-all carpeting. We never knew when an explosion would occur so we lived in constant dread.
I had then, and still have, what is called restless arm syndrome, whereby I often bang my arm on the bed while I sleep. My sister, Dede, had restless leg syndrome. But my dad never went after her. But me? He would wake in the early morning to go to work and, hearing me bang the mattress, would storm into my bedroom and ram his fist into my side so powerfully that I would be winded. He would growl: “Stop that!” He would then walk out as I writhed in pain. This went on for years.
There was also the horror of school. When I was very young I was slightly effeminate. You can imagine the abuse I received from schoolmates. “Faggot! Sissy! Queer!” When I reached puberty this abuse, at least, largely stopped as the effeminate mannerisms somehow fell away.
And then there was, I think, a sexual abuse incident from my father’s mother when I was six. Her name was Gerry. I will not detail this.
Then, when I was about twelve, my siblings and I were sitting at the dining table in Gerry’s kitchen with my grandfather. We were all laughing at some story granddad had just made. With no warning, Gerry picked up my plate, filled with mashed potatoes and peas, and shoved it in my face, screaming: “Stop laughing! Why are you always laughing! STOP LAUGHING!”
The whole table went silent. Then my siblings started to giggle. So did Gerry, as peas and mashed potatoes dripped from my horror-stricken face. Grandad though slammed his fist on the table and, in a low, quiet, but deadly serious voice, said: “Gerry, take Ross upstairs and clean him up. Now.”
The tittering stopped. None of us had ever heard granddad talk like that to Gerry.
And so this, this, was my childhood. An endless parade of violence, humiliation, fear, and sexual abuse.
Then came 1975. And everything suddenly got better.
My abusive brother, Tommy, who destroyed my childhood, had moved out several years before. So, at least that abuse had stopped. My dad, due to a lack of work in Florida, had temporarily moved to Houston where there was plenty of work. So, that abuse, too, stopped. Thus, by the summer of 1975, it was just my mother, my sister, me, and my younger brother living at home.
Even though I was now 18, and working, my mother demanded that I be home every night by 11PM. I kept explaining that the disco clubs where I was now dancing the nights away did not close until 2AM. So, I would not be home until maybe 3AM. Or, as I did not fully explain, until the early morning if I, ahh, met up with some attractive man.
Me: “I’m an adult! I’ll come home when I want!”
Her: “As long as you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules!”
This was, of course, the exact argument played out between a young adult and a parent for thousands of years.
I kept thinking that my mom would become more amendable on the subject but she did the opposite. She dug her heels in. As such, during the summer of 1975 we bitterly fought as I ignored the 11PM rule. I had spent a lifetime enveloped and brutalized by fear. Yet, during the summer of 1975, I had discovered a whole new reality. It was as if I had found the door to Narnia. Stepping through, I found that I no longer had to hide who I was, and no longer needed to “fit” with expectations about who I should be. Most profoundly, I no longer had to be afraid.
In the summer of 1975, stepping into a disco full of men just like me was glorious. For the first time I felt like I belonged. For the first time I felt safe. For the first time I felt accepted for who and what I was.
I was not going to curtail this, 11PM be damned.
During yet another epic fight, while standing in the kitchen, my mother screamed: “If you’re going to live in my house, you WILL live by my rules!”
I instantly calmed down. Because I had two bombs to drop.
Gently, I replied: “I’ve been giving all this a lot of thought. I’ve never disagreed with your establishing rules, and I do understand that it IS your house.”
My mother looked startled.
“It bothers me though that you’ve been unwilling to change the rules based on new conditions.”
“It doesn’t matter that you’re now 18. My rules are my rules!”
Again, I calmly said: “Yes, I understand that finally.”
My mother started to look victorious but this expression did not fully realize. I got the impression she was thinking: Have I won? She did not look sure. Mostly, she looked confused. And wary. “Well…I’m…glad about that.”
During all these arguments we both had been studiously ignoring the elephant sitting right next to us. For, we both knew that all the sound and fury was not really about a curfew. It was about me being gay. And of consorting with—EEK!!!!!!!—homosexuals.
I continued, dropping bomb #1: “So, while I agree that you’ve a right to establish rules, if I decline to live by such rules the only option is that I move into my own place.”
My mother stared at me. It appeared that she could not process what I’d just said. “What?”
“I signed a lease today on an apartment, and will be moving out right away.”
Again, she just stared at me for what seemed like a long while. “What?”
“I think you heard me. I’m moving out.”
And, with that, she erupted. She screamed, cursed me, and kept saying: “You’ve no right! You can’t do that!”
I remained calm. “Actually, I do have the right. And I can move. Again, I signed a lease.”
Then I dropped what I knew would be an even bigger bomb. “And Dede is moving in with me.”
“Dede is moving in with me.”
She blinked furiously and then, without a word, stormed off and into my sister’s bedroom where a fight of terrifying intensity played out.
Soon, Dede and I were in our own apartment. We had been allowed to take our clothes but nothing else. Not our beds, dressers, or even clothes hangers. “If you didn’t pay for that, it’s not yours.”
I barely spoke to my mother for a year.
The rent was, I think, $110 a month which Dede and I split. She was religious in having her half of the rent on time. I almost never did. And every month we would have a fight which basically went like this:
Dede: “You don’t have the rent? But you purchased a sofa a few days ago?????”
Ross, nodding dumbly: “Well, yea. But it’s not just any sofa. It’s a fabulous 1940s sofa!”
In short, I was a terrible roommate.
That fall, the Vinoy Park had closed and had an auction. I snapped up everything I could.
Dede was not happy. “So, you don’t have the rent this month because you purchased a chandelier?????”
Well, umm, yes. But it was not just any chandelier! It was a chandelier from the Pompeii Dining Room of the Vinoy Park Hotel! How could Dede not understand the importance of this? The rarity of this? The monumental convergence of events enabling the chandelier to be…mine. Did she not understand cosmic destiny? With such forces at work, what did rent matter?
(The chandelier went with me to New York City, where I sold it in 1979 to buy food. Big mistake. The chandelier warranted hunger.)
There were two areca palm trees behind the sofa. I under-lighted these with 7W bulbs.
There were also three 1920s floor lamps in the room, all with silk shades dripping with fringe. Also all with 7W bulbs.
The Pompeii Dining Room chandelier hung in the center with, yep, more 7W bulbs. I couldn’t read in the room at night but it all sure looked dramatic.
I never turned off the lights which caused Dede no end of consternation.
She: “You’re wasting electricity!”
Me: “They’re only 7W bulbs! How much electricity is that per month? Nothing!”
I did this because I loved coming home, particularly with a, ahh, new acquaintance, and walking into an always dramatically lighted room.
The windows all had…
The sofa was wonderfully 1940s and retained its original gold on gold damask pattern in reasonable condition. It was an extremely expensive piece in its day, and the long seat cushion was down-filled. Sadly, the design of the legs, which dramatically flared out, were unstable and the two back legs had long ago broken off. I use bricks to hold the sofa up.
Adjacent, was a 1940s chair in a highly stylized wingback style. It was covered with burgundy Naugahyde. But, this has a tear on the seat. One day I came across a white rabbit fur at the flea market. Coming home, I glued the fur to the Naugahyde, covering the tear. Problem solved! Yet, every time somebody went to sit on the chair they would tug at the rabbit fur, thinking it should be removed. I would shriek: “No! That’s supposed to be there!”
There was a rug on the floor which a friend gave me. It was an Oriental-style rug but astonishingly threadbare. The main color was dark blue.
The TV sat atop a tall 1930s radio which, amazingly, still worked.
The dark lighting helped disguise that everything was shabby, scratched, tattered, and worn. It was however intensely dramatic and within a few months, as I would be dancing the night away in a disco, some attractive man would approach and ask: “I hear that you’ve got a really wild living room.” Then, looking me up/down, and leering: “I’d love to…see it.” And, off we would go to the perpetually lighted parlor.
One Saturday, while enjoying my ritual stay-home-night with Royal Castle, I was laying down on the 1940s sofa watching Mary Tyler Moore, alone in the apartment. Then something hopped onto my belly. My hands flew into the air, and my cola and fries went flying. I was scared to death. WHAT had just happened? WHAT was on me? Had a rat dropped from the attic somehow?
I looked down.
A cat was on my belly, looking at me.
I looked back.
Dede and I did not have a cat.
The cat rubbed its head on my belly.
How did the cat get in? How long had it been inside?
The cat never responded to these questions. But, it seemed, I had my first cat. Or, rather, a cat had me for the first time.
It would not be the last time. Sigh.
I no longer recall how long I lived in the apartment. Six months? After I left, my sister stayed for several years until she (and her then husband) purchased a house. I have no memory of visiting the apartment after I left.
My memories though of the apartment remain vivid. This was the place where I, for the first time, felt like I could be myself. This was, for the first time, a place where I felt no threat of being abused.
(In 2003, the two units sold for $43,000. Three years later they sold for an astonishing $223,000. I assume this is when the building was fully updated, as seen in the above pictures.)
Looking back, and inviting ancient memories to come out from dark corners and say hello, I am appalled at my so-very-young self.
In the bathroom, the tiny stall shower was missing numerous tiles. It never occurred to me to repair this, something I would do today, STAT. It never occurred to me to clean the many windows, all filmed over with grime. Today, these would all be cleaned week one. In my bedroom, the paint was peeling off the walls. I simply scraped and repainted. In gloss paint, which highlighted every scar. Today, I would skim coat the room before priming and painting. The kitchen, as mentioned, had kinda cool 1930s cabinets which needed attention. I ignored them because I could have cared less about the kitchen as it was not a decorating opportunity (or so I thought). Today, I would carefully clean the wood cabinets with Murphy’s oil soap, remove all the chrome hardware, polish it, and reinstall.
And so on.
Young Ross was only concerned about getting an immediate return on decorating glory. In short, I was more into stage design than real life.
I recall one young man that I got together with on a semi-regular basis. He had a total nerd thing going on which I found quite attractive (still do) and after we had some, ahh, ahh, conversation on the 1940s sofa, he looked around the room, at Bette, at the over-the-top Vinoy drapes, at the fraying upholstery, and asked me: “Have you ever moved a single piece of furniture to clean behind?”
I did not understand the question. My stage set was complete. Why pull it apart to…clean?
Still, although I had no response to the question, it nagged at me. Deeply. And, as things would prove, that question—a single question—would have a profound impact on me which manifested in my second apartment.
Looking back, I realize that there is a big difference between 18 (my age at the time) and 20 (Dede’s age). When I reached 20, I was vastly more adult about rent and bills and responsibility. At 18, I was still a child, used to having thing provided for me. Two years later I had learned to understand that, oh, I really was on my own. With each passing year I grew ever-more into adulthood in terms of understanding responsibility and I cringe at the torment I caused my sister.
In writing this post, I kept thinking of how extraordinary life in 2020 is, and at how things now common would have seemed impossibly magical in 1975. Like, these words are being composed on a computer. A computer sitting on my desk in my home. The machine is connected to the internet. Once finished, this story will be published on my blog. The images were taken by my smart-phone.
Personal computer. Internet. Blog. Smartphone. All things unimaginable in 1975. Indeed, at the time I thought getting a touch-tone phone was the epitome of technology!
In 1975, I did not initially even have a car after moving into the apartment. I still rode a bike. The apartment was on 22nd Avenue North. My job was on 22nd Avenue South. So, forty-four blocks, twice a day. Then, my bike was stolen. Some days, when I could not beg a ride, I had to walk to work. Why I did not rent an apartment close to work is beyond me as my life would have been vastly easier.
I have no memory of a phone in the apartment. There was certainly no vacuum. The small TV, as mentioned, was black/white. Dede’s stereo was on the credenza.
Yet, my life felt luxurious as having my own place was the best thing that had happened to me.
In 1975, I was young, scared, scarred, and, well, an idiot. In 1975, it was unfathomable that coming out as gay would eventually become mostly OK during my lifetime, and that there would be hit TV shows starring gay characters like Will & Grace. And marriage equality? Unimaginable. Ludicrous, even.
Forty-five-years later, I am old, not scared of much, still deeply scarred though, and being an idiot is now an occasional thing rather than a constant. I glory in how much better things are for the LGBTQ community yet I still have seared into my memory a conversion I had with my mother in 1991. We were talking about some movie and I said this about the main actor: “He’s soooo sexy!”
Her: “You know, I hate when you do that.”
“Talk about men that way. It’s disgusting.”
Me, stunned: “Huh?”
“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about. Ever since you told me you were gay, you’ve always assumed I was OK with that.”
Me, stunned: “You never offered a word of disapproval. Not once, doing all these years. So, I thought you were cool with it.”
Her, spitting out the words: “And that is what so infuriates me. You mistook silence for approval.”
I gasped. “You mean you don’t…approve of the fact that I’m gay?”
“No. I never have. I think your lifestyle choice is disgusting.”
“Yes, choice. You’ve always liked doing the contrary thing. So you chose a disgusting lifestyle.”
I felt punched in the stomach. “My being gay isn’t a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation. I was born this way.”
Her, rolling her eyes into her head: “It’s a choice. And you chose to be gay. And this disgusts me.”
I paused. Then, I calmly asked: “And at what age did you choose to be a heterosexual?”
“What? What a ridiculous question. I never chose to be a heterosexual. I was born this way!”
My only response was a raised eyebrow. She didn’t get it.
That conversation was in 1991. The following year my mother, father, and sister did something to me which was so horrific, so shocking, that I pulled away from my family and became what I call a voluntary orphan. I have not spoken to them since. What they did led directly to my losing everything and becoming homeless in early 1996. What they did led directly to my improbable move to rural Kansas. What they did was THE shattering event in my life, a life which has had numerous shattering events.
In looking back to 1975, I hardly recognize myself, and the times. Yet, 1975 is powerfully imprinted upon my memory. Moving into my first apartment, my life made a sudden lurch from suffocation to freedom and I relished this.
What I would give today to have my young body back. But…I would never want my young brain back. I treasure my mature brain, mature sensibilities, mature sense of history, and…calm. My aging body aside, I am happy with who I am today, and of the times I now live in (the current political horror notwithstanding).
Sometimes, I fantasize about old me being able to whisper into the ear of young me. “Don’t do that!” “Beware of this new friend!” And so on. Such whispers through time would have made my young life easier, and many idiocies could have been avoided.
They say that youth is wasted on the young. This made no sense to me when I was young.
It makes perfect sense today.
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