By spring of 1973 I was living in an apartment on Stanton Street that had walls painted black with exposed orange pipes (the colors were there when I arrived, not my own choice). I'd previously ended a 6 month stint in an apartment on West Street; Jimmy Bickford, a member of the men's gay group, lived in the same house, but the other folk, all males, were very much not gay and by and large not very clean individuals. Garbage filled the kitchen for weeks on end. I lived on canned pork and beans, campus town pizza, and Cave Inn Spaghetti (all you could eat for about $1.50 on Sunday nights). I was glad to have escaped to an apartment of my own, even if it did have a rather odd color scheme that I really couldn't afford to change.
During the previous winter I'd managed to end the government's interest in me as a potential candidate for their job openings as a Vietnam soldier. How did this happen? Since I wasn't a full time student and I didn't do very well in the grades department the previous spring quarter when I majored in basketball, I was reclassified as 1-A - Prime Rib Soldier. I wrote a pleading letter to my home draft board in Henry County telling them how I was back in class and I was striving to be a good citizen, but my notice to report to Des Moines came soon after I wrote the local folk.
I had to get up on a cold (minus 6 degrees that morning) and blustery morning at 5 AM to walk to downtown Ames to catch a bus at the city post office to take me to Fort Des Moines from where they examined Iowa youth and sent many of them away to die.
I was all ready for them and, when given a questionnaire about myself, I wrote down the word "homosexual" on a line where I was told to pen it telling them I was either a "homosexual, alcoholic, or drug addict," such a convenient combined group (they might as well have called it "One of Those People"!). What I neglected to do after writing in the word "Homosexual" with very carefully designed and legible penmanship, was to check a box to the left of that line which was in the row of answers on the test they were looking at.
They weren't very specific about the instructions for us who were "One of Those People." It wasn't really my fault they missed my status. I mean, the test page did say very clearly "homosexual" on it, so I couldn't conceive there would be a problem.
There was a problem though. They didn't see I'd written in the word since I didn't check the box to the left of it in addition to writing it down (they didn't grade very carefully if you ask me), and I was passing the multiple choice tests and other tests they were giving all of us (I could tell the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver, for instance, which was the level of testing going on). I was starting to worry.
Finally I pulled a rather nelly, in the gay sense, nurse aside and said, "I think you guys are missing what I wrote down on this questionnaire!"
He shrieked rather unexpectedly, because indeed I was correct, and he sent me off to talk to a Colonel who was very upset that I was interrupting his lunch by coming over to visit him in his office with this news.
"Did you bring a doctor's certificate?" he asked me. I could tell he didn't like me, and I'd barely even spoken.
"No, I used to have a pamphlet from Gay Liberation in Los Angeles telling me everything to do while I was here, but I lost it when I moved once."
He was not amused. "You're going to have to go 'Down-Town.'" Down-Town sounded very ominous the way he drew out its syllables, a real nice gap between the two of them.
I'd missed the shuttle bus with the other homosexuals, alcoholics and drug addicts who'd already left for Down-Town, so they sent me Down-Town in a taxicab and the taxicab driver started talking about us homosexuals, alcoholics, and drug addicts, but instead of saying "You" homosexuals, alcoholics, and drug addicts when he was talking about "Us" he said "They" or "Them" when he meant "I" or "Me." This made the conversation very odd.
"They used to take 'them' out to Broadlawns." [Broadmoor? hell I forget]. "I wonder why they don't take 'them' there anymore?" he asked me, obviously thinking I must be an expert since I was one of "them."
"I really wouldn't know that…" I said, hoping he would shut up rather than risk pissing me off.
Soon he dumped me off at the wrong stop in Down-Town and I still got to walk about 8 blocks, but thankfully it was above zero by this early afternoon time of the day.
I finally found and went into a psychiatrist's office so I could be certified as a homosexual, alcoholic, or drug addict. There were two other guys of my station sitting there with an army guy, but these two had already been categorized I guess. One guy was smiling and winked at me. I smiled back and it made me less uneasy. Another one was nervous, staring down at the floor and visibly upset. The officer or soldier with them didn't want to wait for me to get categorized since they were all finished, so he told me I was going to have to foot it alone and get a cab back to the base when I was done Down-Town. He and the two other homosexuals, drug addicts, or alcoholics, left.
Then the psychiatrist took me into his office. There were no couches; that was quite a disappointment. He sat at his desk and I sat across from him. He looked over my papers. "You're from New London, it says. Where's that?"
"Southeast Iowa, by Burlington."
Other questions followed, all intended to make me feel like a safe and comfortable guest visiting him rather than the de facto prisoner I was. After listening to me talk more than he probably felt was necessary, for I instantly warmed up to this favorite subject of mine, ME, he popped the big question.
"So would you say you have more than an average amount of homosexual inclination?"
I looked him directly in the eye and said, "I don't know. What's 'average'?" I feigned complete astonishment at the question very well!
He stumbled. He actually stumbled for a second.
"Well, let's see, would you say you've ever had a 'homosexual experience'?" he asked.
I was waiting for that question! Here's the ball game? I started to tell him everything I could think of about me and my previous year of life. I blabbered, I went on about my father, everybody I knew (not naming names of course), and soon he seemed to tire and just came out and said, "OK, that's enough." It was so sad having to stop chattering, and you know, I don't think he really cared about me as a person.
I felt pretty good about my spiel, but then things got very weird.
"Now I want you to go over there and stand up very straight with your back against the wall and tightly close your eyes," he said.
My lost pamphlet from Gay Liberation in Los Angeles didn't say anything about this. This was just too weird.
I did it. I vowed under my breath if he tried to touch me or kick me I'd kill him.
I closed my eyes for about five seconds. I stood up straight as a rail.
"OK, now you can open your eyes," he said.
Nothing had happened.
He began to pen down a little note on my official papers and then sealed it and passed it to me.
"Now you can leave."
I got out of there as quickly as I could, too. No wonder the army dude made Down-Town sound weird. It was fucking weird. Within an hour they declared me permanently unfit to be in the service. That was that.
My policy was not "Don't ask, don't tell," it was "I'll tell, you shove it. Bye."
It was such a wasted day of my life.
The next day Henry County's draft board sent me my 2-S student deferment back in the mail… And two weeks later I got my 4-F card.