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Early Gay Liberation Movement at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 1971-1978
Lambda Line

Janitors and More: Living Arrangements

Janitors

The Personal is the Political

This was in the "early Jurassic period" of the janitor years for much of the Iowa State Counterculture. Anyone who was anybody who was gay or communist or leftie and or all of the above; and who had dropped out of school (or been forced out, as I had been), or was forced to pay their way through school, or who spent hours considering the meaning of life over a pitcher of $1.25 draught beer at Dugan's, seemed destined to become a university janitor. The University physical plant sucked us up like their wet vacs stripped the old wax off their floors. I was a floor expert, actually. It paid decent, though not extravagant, wages, wasn't hard work by and large, and, being a state job, often offered free time to write diatribes and do political work at the taxpayer's expense, only fair considering how oppressive taxpayers had been up until this point in time, eh? Finally, working the 5PM -1AM janitorial shift as I did, it still gave me time after work to hit Dugan's and have a beer with the other friends before going home.

Being an ISU janitor was a great diversion at this point in time while you did other important stuff like "getting your head together." For some people it took longer than for others to get there, and some folks learned to love getting together or janitoring so much they may still be there getting their heads together for all I know, but hey, that's far out. I don't know if I ever got mine together, but I really did try.

The House on Welch Street

The House on Welch Street.

Back Track: Living Arrangements

I have a few earlier memories filtering in… Summer before this September dance had been the months I lived in a house on Welch, down south of Lincoln Way a few blocks, maybe two blocks from the Towers. Originally Steve Duhr and I rented it but Allen Bell and Jim Osler, (Jim soon if not already to be known as Harold), joined us before the summer was through. The whole house was dirt cheap for the summer, out of our range once September came.

In September we went our own directions.

In September I moved in with four other janitors, one of whom was on my "crew" at the time. These folks were: Kent, Karen [on my crew], Patty Abrisz and Jim Prouty, the latter two having moved up to Ames from Des Moines. They were political people. So was Karen, but she was in women's groups, Jim and Patty were in the Phoenix Party. Patty was originally from Burlington, so that was cool that we had a mutual Southeast Iowa reference point. Kent had an old piano in the house and I liked that since I rarely had sat down for some Chopin during the past year, and it was a talent that was fading sadly due to that lack of practice.

Patty and Jim had friends in Davenport who were working on the revolution, or at least on getting their heads together, and their whole group had taken over, or rather attended, a Methodist church in Clinton I think. They had a cool credit card bonfire once when they got the whole congregation to burn their plastic, and eventually these folks from Eastern Iowa meshed in or around with my branch of our Ames culture via this living/janitor connection. The connection lasted for a good number of years; even after I moved to California.

Karen and Kent were originally from Massachusetts; she was striving to become a lesbian to liberate herself from the shackles of all male oppression and Kent, her lover and male oppressor at the time, was, unbeknown to us, in the background of his own particular kind of closet, planning a transformation we never would have dreamt. Yes, Kent surprised us all later when he became Kathy, though he was undergoing electrolysis for it during the time we all lived together, which we also didn't know. Actually maybe he didn't become Kathy, he became maybe Kaye. I kept hearing about name changes for his new identity, but it seems he probably named himself after one of his favorite lesbian friends, and apparently he eventually moved to Nebraska to tune pianos.

The three of us who weren't from Massachusetts didn't appreciate the way he and Karen wouldn't heat the house beyond the upper 50s in the winter.

"I lived in England as a child and they keep their houses cooler than we do. How hot you want to be is a cultural thing," said Karen.

"Well, this IS our culture and we're used to heat," retorted Patty, during one of our required communal style house meetings that were hard to speak at as we shivered.

(Note: According to most meteorologists, England is actually warmer than Iowa in the winter.)

Patty, Jim, and I moved out of the Grand Avenue house after a rather nasty fight in about December or January to a house on North Duff that had orange or red carpeting. It was not in the style of anyplace else I lived in Ames; children's wallpaper with clowns and cowboys covered the walls in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Kent McClure (not the Kent on Grand Avenue) lived with us there, I remember he once forgot to take his lithium and got pretty depressed for a few hours one night in ways I'd never seen, and a fourth roommate was Greg Menard, who we stashed way upstairs in the attic, I think. I had a bedroom without much privacy on the ground floor, directly off the living room. I had fish tanks everywhere, and my new pet piranha, Alex, was growing nicely. (This particular Kent and Greg Menard were both involved in the Gay Men's group.)

There were people in and out of the house all the time. The revolution seemed likely and hopefully was going to be imminent. While we waited we did fondue and on every weekend I hit the bars in Des Moines where I'd learned to embrace the developing "disco music." And if this governmental overthrow happened soon, I hoped we could afford to get different colored carpeting for the house after we appropriated it from the oppressor class.

You know, thinking back on it I doubt if the landlord of that place cared much for us. After a few months he sold the house or did something anyway, and told us we had to move out. We hadn't damaged it or anything, but we did bring a new element of people into the neighborhood. We didn't bother worrying about why, we all went separate ways.

I moved to South Maple and soon after that had a place of my own on North Grand. At least I think that was the sequence. I am fuzzy a bit here, but I believe that was my course of action.

—Dennis Brumm

Intersecting Symbols Line