So what does 1972 have to do with a series of short stories that I’ve titled Naptown Tales? It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with them. So much of who I am today was shaped by that pivotal year.
Before proceeding, let us reconsider 1972. The Vietnam war was still raging and Richard Nixon was in the Whitehouse. He was running for reelection when a group of misfits was discovered breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Complex. Although the break-in was bad enough, the ensuing scandal wasn’t enough to stop Nixon’s reelection and only later did we learn of the cover-up. As in most cases since then, it was the cover-up that brought down the presidency. The Democratic challenger was McGovern, an honest man who had the right message, but at the wrong time. Americans weren’t ready to believe that so many young men had given their lives for nothing - a lesson we’d do well to learn from today.
For me, 1972 started rather inauspiciously. Growing up in Indianapolis, I got my learners permit by taking Driver’s Ed in school the previous summer, as had most of my fellow high school sophomores. As was common at the time, junior high consisted of grades seven through nine and senior high of grades ten through twelve, so I’d just started senior high that fall. I was a true geek and not part of any clique, so I hadn't attendend the Homecoming festivities and missed what was then called the Christmas Dance. I sat with a group of my fellow nerds at lunch and was in all of the accelerated classes the school had to offer.
Even though I’d been driving with an adult in the car since the previous summer, getting my own license was still a very big deal for me. By state law, I couldn’t get my license until one month after my sixteenth birthday, so it wasn’t until near thevery end of the school year that I walked into class and had my turn at showing off my temporary license to everyone, complete with its misspelling of my street address. Months later, I got a bunch of junk mail with the same misspelling, so I guess someone in the BMV was making a little money on the side.
Not one to be idle over the summer and having parents who didn’t believe a kid should work until after finishing school, I found myself intrigued by a summer science program for college credit offered by a university in a nearby Midwestern state. There were other programs closer to home, but this was the only one open to high school juniors. That summer, I left home for the first time in my life. It was a six week program and my first time interacting with other kids without any significant adult supervision.
Everything went fine for the first four weeks. I made friends, went out with them in the evenings, looked at porn (in magazines - the Internet was in its infancy back then), swore up a storm and did everything most high school students did when their parents weren’t around. Then one evening when a bunch of us who tended to hang out together were in one of our dorm rooms, one of the kids asked me if I’d ever had sex before, or even been on a date. After a prolonged silence, I guess I finally admitted I hadn’t. One of the other kids then accused me of being the head of the local chapter of the gay liberation front, and then accused another kid in the room of being the head of women’s lib. I’d never heard the word “gay” used that way before and, not knowing what it meant, I sure as Hell didn’t want to take a chance on digging myself in even deeper by denying it. Surprisingly, the kid accused of being the head of women’s lib didn’t deny it either. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure he was also gay, but equally in denial.
The long and short of it is that the other kid and I were teased mercilessly for being faggots throughout the remaining two weeks of the program. We weren’t beaten up or anything and we still hung out and ate with the same group of kids, believe it or not, but they called us fags and made all kinds of sexual remarks about us. Looking back, I’m not sure why we put up with it, but teenagers have fragile egos and I guess we were too scared of what might happen if we rocked the boat. We were also, at least in my case, afraid to admit the truth. Strangely, we never once discussed it with each other or made even the slightest attempt to explore the other’s sexuality.
Not only did the summer of ’72 help to shove me deeply into the closet, but it also set me on a path that would delay my social maturation for more than a decade. One of the things we were told as participants in the summer science program was that admission to the program constituted admission to the university. In effect, we could enter college without ever graduating high school. That was pretty cool, but there were just too many bad memories from that summer that I’d shared with no one, including not only the way the kids treated me, but also a summer flood that left much of the university under two feet of water. I really did want to start college early, but not there.
Still, the seed was planted and I resolved that I would hightail it out of high school as soon as possible. A quick check of my high school credits showed that with summer school, I could graduate the summer after my junior year, and so that’s what I decided to do. There was no need for a senior year when I was ready for college. Yes, I was definitely ready academically, and thanks to advanced placement, I could start college as a sophomore - wow! To my way of thinking at the time, after my experience in the summer science program, I was more than ready to leave the high school social scene behind. Academia built for me a closet of reinforced concrete. It would be more than ten years before I went out on my first real date. The problem was that while you can side-step growing up for a time, you eventually have to do it and it doesn't get any easier.
1972 was far from over, however. Some three years earlier, my sister and her family had moved to California, but after tripping and falling and having people ignore her cries for help, they decided to move back. My parents delight was short-lived, however, as she immediately had a falling out with them and denied them access to their only grandchild for many, many weeks - a situation that thankfully resolved itself the week before my father suddenly died of a heart attack. I don’t think my sister would have ever forgiven herself had it been otherwise.
I’ll never forget the day my dad died. Today,
In retrospect, that was a horrible way to handle things. I was only sixteen-years-old and was asked to drive myself downtown for a family emergency. They should have called me a taxi or taken me themselves. In any case, I was in total denial and I just assumed my father had been admitted, but was alright. We’d had a similar scare a couple years before, so I reasoned it was the same thing. I arrived at the hospital without incident. I went first to the Emergency Room and was told my father had been taken to Intensive Care. I went up to Intensive Care, only to be told he hadn’t arrived yet. I went back down to Emergency, but this time I found my rabbi sitting at one of the desks.
“Rabbi, what are you doing here?” I asked. He took me by the arm and led me to a small room where my mother, my sister and her husband were already seated. Hospitals didn’t have dedicated grief rooms back then, so it was a sterile room with nothing more than a couple chairs and a stretcher. My sister was crying and, yet, I still didn’t realize what was happening. I remember my mother telling me, and I remember very little after that.
I remember my mother giving up her chair and me literally falling into it. I remember family members coming and going - my remaining grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins. I remember people gathering in our home to form a “minion” of ten people to say Kaddish for my father. I remember receiving a fruit basket from the students in my US History class. I remember crying for the very first time, not when told of my father’s death, but when the Yartzeit candle that signified the seven-day period of mourning, finally burned itself out. I remember going faithfully every day for a year to Congregation Beth-El, then a Conservative synagogue that later switched to the Reconstructionist denomination. Sadly, the temple to which we belonged, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, was Reform and couldn’t attract enough members on weekdays to form a minion. Other than that, I remember very little else of the end of 1972.
Oh yes, Richard Nixon did win the election. One other thing of significance happened toward the end of 1972 - I admitted to my mom for the first time that I was worried I might be gay. This was the first of several times I would approach her and as she would do time and time again, she pulled out article after article explaining that it was perfectly normal for shy kids to question their sexuality. I never even stopped to wonder why my mother had saved these articles in the first place.
So what does all of this have to do with the Naptown Tales series? Quite simply, Naptown Tales is an exploration of modern life in the place where I grew up, of the experiences that made me who I am today, and of experiences that passed me by. Recently, out of curiosity, I looked up the websites for my old school district and, specifically, for what is now the middle school and high school where I spent so much of my teenage life. I looked up the high school clubs and found that there is indeed a GSA. A good author does his research, but I was just too chicken to call up the faculty advisor, and the GSA doesn’t have its own website, nor would I expect it to. This is still the
After spending some time exploring my old schools and finding that very little had changed except for the existence of the GSA, I got to thinking about what it might be like to grow up gay in my old school district today. I wrote Broad Ripple Blues as my submission for the Gay Authors 1987 Summer Anthology and planned to leave it at that, but then I came across the Back to School Challenge at Codey’s World and decided to write Back-to-School Jitters as a sequel. I then wrote A Dance to Remember for the GA Fall Anthology, and other stories soon followed. I decided to pull them all together as a series under the title Naptown Tales, paying homage to what in 1972 was an oft-used nickname for
In addition, a Gym Incident Writing Contest was held in which the readers were given a chance to write a story based on an embarassing bit of Naptown history. David of Hope won first prize for his story, Chronicles of a Lonesome Teenager, and Cole Parker won second place for his story, The Spare Jockstrap.
There are twenty-eight stories in the series, including the five above plus Educating My Parents, Halloween Hero, My First Thanksgiving, The Un-Christmas, A New Year Resolution, All My Heart, Class Election, July Fireworks, Summer Camp, You Can Go Home Again, but Should You?, Positive, So Close, and Yet So Far, Home is Where the Heart Is, Spring Break, The Future Starts Now, Summer Internship, Fagball, Halloween Redemption, A Blizzard in Iowa, Winter Holiday, A New Beginning and Scouts' Honor. The series concludes in the Summer of 2010, three years after it began, with a seven-part story, ’Til Death Do Us Part. Each story is self-contained, but they are all interrelated.
The series of stories can be found on my GayAuthors Page, on the Naptown Tales Page at Awesome Dude and at the Nifty Archives. Slightly modified versions of a few of these stories that are suitable for younger teens can also be found on the Altimexis Page at Codey’s World. Unfortunately, Codey's World has stopped accepting my stories or even answering my e-mails due to strong differences of opinion regarding the inclusion of age-appropriate safer sex information. The notion that young teens will search for safer sex information on their own or that they will avoid engaging in unsafe sexual practices simply becaue of the omission of sexual content in the stories they read on-line is incredibly naïve.