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     The United States Army subsidized my first visit to New York City. My Akron, Ohio, Reserve unit scheduled its two weeks of 1956 Summer Camp in Fort Meade, Maryland. Having been no farther east than Pittsburgh in my life, I planned to visit Manhattan in the free weekend.
     I knew I didn't belong in Akron. No one in my family even wanted to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio on Saturday afternoons; I couldn't tell anyone that I wanted to SEE those operas. All the other boys talked about baseball and football while I saved copies of The New York Times and marveled at ads for movie theaters that showed only one film for over a month. I was the only person I knew who enjoyed watching Leonard Bernstein on Omnibus on TV. There was no one in Akron to talk to.
     New York promised to be a different world. A high-school friend went to Columbia College and came home every summer to tell me about the lights, the people, the expensive entertainments, and the unending rush of life. Maybe I could get a taste of this feast.
     There was something else too. Books were my only contact with a larger world, and books informed me that I was homosexual. Donald Webster Cory's The Homosexual in America even told me that I was gay, and that gay men could meet other gay men in larg e cities. I wasn't the only one. Totally mystified about the "meeting of eyes" that he described, I desperately wanted some adult contact with whom I could talk.
     Pre-teenage friends had long ago stopped "playing" with me. Akron had a bar in the black section of town that had a strange reputation, but I was too young and too frightened about being "found out" to do more than stare at it hungrily while walking on the other side of the street. Maybe I could be gay in New York City.
     I left Fort Meade on Saturday---a tall, skinny, pimpled gawk of twenty who felt as ignorant and scared as a kid of five taking his first reading test. My brown hair was neatly crew-cut and I wore my white shirt without a tie under my wrinkled seersucker suit. From a train window I spotted my first piece of New York: the bulk of the Empire State Building rising above the smoke and swamp of New Jersey. I looked at my watch. It was 5:01 PM. The butterflies in my stomach starting playing bongo drums.
     Pennsylvania Station overwhelmed me even before I learned that it had been patterned after the Baths of Caracalla. Walking out the first exit I saw, I found myself staring at the 102-story symbol of the Empire State. I may be the only tourist who didn't establish communication with his first New Yorker with the question "Am I going east or west?" I headed toward the tip of that golden tower as toward---honey.
     I was totally awed by the view from the 86th floor and gaped at the lozenge of Central Park, the domino of the United Nations Secretariat Building, the sliver of the Chrysler Building, the glitter of the rivers, and the towers of Wall Street beyond the haze over Greenwich Village and Chinatown. All these I named from my new-bought map of Metropolitan New York. It was all more bright, more detailed, more crowded than I could ever have imagined.
     As the Statue of Liberty lit her torch over the darkening city at 7:30, I looked down and saw that the neon had already been glowing in Times Square, my next destination. I came back to street level and used my map to locate those dazzling marquees, complete with waterfalls and smoke rings. I ate dinner with my friend, Howard Johnson; I hate eating alone.
     "New Faces of '56" sounded excitingly current, so I bought my first honest-to-Shubert theater ticket, carefully preserving the stub that gave me seat H8 in the orchestra of the Ethel Barrymore TheatRE---such an elegant spelling!---for $7.50.
     From that seat I was enthralled by T. C. Jones. The theater impressed me as the pinnacle of plush; the audience was the summit of sophistication: surely all the rhinestones were diamonds and all the fur stoles were mink.
     At intermissions I was torn between looking at the Playbill ads for Macy's or the 21 Club and staring at gentlemen who were all corporation presidents escorting secretaries who looked like Marilyn Monroe. Later I learned that they were probably all tourists like myself.
     The production was fast-paced, full of double entendres, and unbearably lavish. T. C Jones would NOT be at home in Akron, Ohio. I felt terribly superior to my family and friends. The only sad thing was that there would be no one back in Akron to communicate my excitement to. My high-school friend would be returning to Columbia the day I would get back from Summer Camp.
     For a few hours in the theater I was too happy to be nervous about being alone on this island that flowed with granite and concrete.
     I left the theater smiling with pleasure, rounded the corner, and saw the marquee of the Warner Theatre advertising an 11:40PM performance. I saw Cinerama Holiday from seat D106 for $2.80. I knew when I bought the ticket I wouldn't be close enough to the front, but I was happy to find that I could move to the front row after the lights went down. It was the only way to watch Cinerama. The orange carpet sloped upward to the curved screen and I had the thrill of feeling the theater tilt as if I were sitting in the nose of the jet as it flew over the mountains of Switzerland and the natural wonders of the United States. I wanted the flying to go on and on.
     Staggering out cross-eyed at 2AM, I felt ready for a look at Wall Street. I never thought of going to Greenwich Village. Surely I wouldn't see my first gay person until I'd lived in the city for months. So I boarded a subway headed south and tried not to worry that the end of the line was in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was TERRA total INCOGNITA; I was adventurous, but that was going too far. There weren't even any trees there.
     A class of people lower than the Broadway crowd rode the subway, but there were sexy men wearing blue jeans at which I stared furtively. How could I meet them? What could I say? Where would we go and what would we do? My ignorance enclosed me in a plastic sphere of non-contact: I didn't know ANYTHING.
     I relaxed on the subway as long as the train stopped at every station and all the streets had numbers---42nd, 34th---but tensed when the rocking cars shrieked past stations and stopped at 14th Street. Then the train sped past stations that weren't numbered. I can still feel the cold sweat at the worst suspense of the night: would I be carried under the river to Brooklyn? I couldn't understand the map on the subway and got off when I couldn't take the tension anymore.
     When I climbed to the surface, I was surrounded by a satisfying labyrinth of tall buildings. And ghosts. Tents of Con Edison Arabs had been set up in the streets, emitting cotton-candy vapors.
     The buildings and streets were deserted, but there were hisses and clunks and underground roars all around me: I wondered how many Wall Streeters had ever seen it like this. I enjoyed frightening myself by thinking of the films I'd seen: King Kong rounding the corner, the buildings swaying in an earthquake or falling under a tidal wave as in the serial Rocket Man. Or there had been an atomic war and I was the last man left alive on earth. The last felt closest to the truth.
     After an hour of this uncanny solitary wandering, I left the dark tombstones and started walking uptown. I'd heard awful things about the Bowery and vowed to avoid it; I walked up Pearl Street and looked to the left at the turned-off signs in the dark valley of Chinatown. The short narrow streets repelled me and I continued north.
     I began to long for the sight of people, but I found the wrong kind. Soon I was passing smelly bodies apparently dead in doorways and bare saloons that were sparsely occupied. A man limped past with a bloody bandage around one hand, stretching it out to me and grumbling something. As in a dream, the street had transformed itself into the Bowery. I ran for the brightest street I could find.
     At last I saw the arch at Washington Square. My map said that Greenwich Avenue started near the northwest corner of the square; on that street, I assumed, I would find the essence of the Village. Into the wide, looping walks of Washington Square, surprised to find the benches along the walks, even at 5AM on a cool Sunday morning, crowded with Villagers.
     Two clean-shaven collegiate types in charcoal-flannel suits were sitting directly under a lamppost talking about sex. I was becoming an expert in suppressing envy. The sides of the square were bounded by an iron fence on which were sitting people who appeared to be addicted to dogs. Did dogs really have to be walked at five in the morning?
     The men looked like members of a fraternity whose passwords I'd never learn. My plastic sphere was back; I could look and smell and taste, but I touched no one and no one touched me. I began to understand why some New Yorkers talked to themselves.
     My hands were getting cold in the morning breeze. The Village curled upon itself like a cat, inscrutable: the streets were quiet, most of the bars were closed for the night. I hadn't eaten since eight last evening, so I stopped on a well-lit corner at a place that advertised "Nedick's Orange Drink." The unshaven counterman took a swipe at the counter with a gray rag.
     "Yeah?" he said in a voice that made me wonder if I'd done anything to annoy him. The "conversation" made me feel more of a stranger. I ordered a hot dog---uh, sorry, frankfurter---and pop---oh, um, soda.
     Two young men, identically dressed in white shirts and Levi's, came in to eat. I was disconcerted when they out-stared me. Whenever I looked at them, they were looking at me. I wanted so much to talk with them, to share their togetherness, to ask their advice. But how could I do that? They had each other; I had no one.
     A man I judged romantically to be about thirty, wearing an unpressed white sports jacket and blue cotton trousers, sat down on the stool next to me. His skin clung so tightly to his head that the unshaven skin on his neck almost flapped with looseness. His eyes were surrounded by doughnuts of gray, wrinkled skin. He asked me for the time; I told him. He grinned and the stubble on his chin stood out.
     After paying my bill and pocketing the change---who knew about tips?---I returned to the cold morning, knowing what I WANTED to do but having no idea of what I was GOING to do. Possibly I was tired; it was simply too late for anything to happen. I felt miserable. Nothing would EVER happen.
     I tried to cheer myself up by finding a bookstore. Aimlessly, I looked at the books in a window while the man who had been sitting next to me at the counter appeared in the reflection. Coincidence, I thought.
     He came up to me and said, "Pardon me, but weren't you sitting next to me at Nedick's just a while ago?"
     Suddenly I felt embarrassed and excited at the same time. Human contact! Conversation! "Um, yes, yes I was." Something about him gave me the feeling that I was blushing. I found I couldn't look him in the face.
     "I thought so," he said. The next sentence flowed so smoothly it sounded rehearsed. "I was wondering what I would have to do to pick you up." He gave a slight, red-faced smile, and my feelings flipped to a combination of excitement and fright.
     My face slid around and my throat grunted a kind of "What?"
     "I wish you'd come with me; it isn't very far. I live just around the corner. It's not a very fancy place, but I like it. It's clean, you don't have to worry about that. Won't you come home with me?"
     I could only stand there, waiting for him to speak again, fearing to say anything myself. Elated but terrified, eager but helpless, I was flattered by him; I was repelled by him.
     "Well, what do I have to DO," his voice rose plaintively. "Do you want me to take you by the ear and---"
     He didn't have a chance to finish the sentence: I tried to laugh and found my voice. "Ha---I don't know exactly what to say; you see, this is the first time I've been picked up."
     "Well, that's fine; I'm new at this sort of thing myself. Oh, COME with me."
     So I did, too numb with shock to feel anything but my heart lolloping away. My knees had to be ordered to perform their ordinary functions.
     As we talked, some of his comments embedded themselves in my memory; "You're nice to come with me. I saw you when I was passing Nedick's, and I thought you were such a nice body. Isn't that wonderful? Your first night in the Village, and you've been picked up. How lucky you are."
     When I stumbled out of his bed about forty minutes later, I wasn't sure I was so lucky: I didn't like much of the very little that had happened---did men REALLY like to kiss?---and his stubble! Anyway, I could manage to look at the positive side and anticipate my SECOND experience.
     I had been excited by the situation but not by him. Yet I knew that if it could happen once, it could happen again. Maybe I wouldn't have to wait another twenty years for another meeting. When the delightful shock of the pickup faded, I realized that he was probably in his forties.
     Despite the fact that I hadn't liked the encounter, I found myself shaking my head and smiling as I walked uptown. I had attracted another man, had touched his body, had felt his pleasure in touching mine, and had talked to a gay New Yorker for more than a few sentences. It was a triumph that raised my emotional age from five to at least fifteen. For some minutes, my plastic sphere had opened and I breathed the air of a new freedom to talk and touch.
     I'd conquered another segment of New York and felt marvelous. I headed uptown for Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was by far the most splendid church I had ever seen, and an even greater splendor greeted me when I exited from the front door: the statue of the world-supporting Atlas immediately across the street. When I spotted the Apollonian glory of the golden Prometheus in the Radio City Promenade, I felt satisfied that the architects of the city had my personal interests at heart.
     After eating breakfast by happily pushing nickels, dimes, and quarters into slots at the Horn and Hardart's on Broadway, I bought a First Mezzanine seat for $2.50 for the first show of the day at Radio City Music Hall: I enjoyed the movie High Society and was flabbergasted by the lime-green stage production of "Wonders of the Deep." Mermaids flying through the "water," turning somersaults, impressed me as the height of stage wizardry.
     The New York equivalent of a side-show barker lured me onto a sightseeing bus bound for Uptown Manhattan at 2:30PM. We rode up Fifth Avenue alongside Central Park; I could feel tears rise to my eyes at the sheer SIZE of the Park, and I dreamed of spending days behind the white faĆ“ade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The bus cut across 110th Street in Harlem to St. John the Divine, Grant's Tomb---knowing "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb," thanks to Groucho Marx---and Columbia University.
     The tour leader escorted us through the iron gates surrounding the campus and I felt a strong desire to study there. In less than a year, the Atomic Energy Commission would award me a fellowship in Nuclear Energy Technology at any accredited university. I would choose Columbia and move into a room in John Jay Hall.
     The bus tour lasted until just before 5PM, at which time I bought a ticket to the Rivoli Theatre for $2.75 and saw Oklahoma! in Todd-AO from seat L109. I loved it. My mind was beginning to sag under the incessant bombardment of visual input. I'd seen more in New York in twenty-four hours than I'd seen in Akron in twenty years.
     After the movie I braved the last frontier, hailed a cab to Pennsylvania Station, and left the city at 7:30, catching a train that put me into Baltimore at midnight and in bed at Fort Meade at 4AM.
     I'd collected mental picture postcards of the tourist attractions of Manhattan and had had my first adult experience with a man. I'd spent more money on entertainment in one day in the city than I'd spent in Akron in a month. The noise, the hustle, the dirt, and the crowds of the city hadn't penetrated my plastic sphere, but I already felt more "at home" in New York than I did at my "real" home. Living, working, and loving in New York has since forced its less-romantic faces into my consciousness, but I remember with pleasure the varied, accepting face it offered me on my first visit.