My Life as a Boy — Chapter 51

I remember posing for this shot at our apartment building on 186th & Grand Concourse in 1943.

1943 was an exciting year. I was able to understand a little of what was being reported on the radio. My “Respawn Day” was December 27th, only 20 days after Pearl Harbor, the surprise Japanese attack on the American Naval Base and Henderson Field, that took the lives of 2400 Americans and wounded another 1400.

The attack wasn’t actually a surprise and eventually the truth will come out. The United States couldn’t enter the war to help the British in both theaters of war, because sentiment in America was to keep out of it, as if they could.

Had Great Britain been totally defeated and England occupied, there would never have been a D-Day Invasion of Normandy, and the Germans would have gone right on to attack the mainland U.S. as soon as they were able, so they could set up a 1,000 year domination of the planet.

That sounds terribly effective, but another couple hundred years, nobody ever heard of them. That’s the way Nature operates. There’s a big ball of luminous dust where the planet on which you were its leader used to be.

Nothing is stable. Homeostasis, the point where there is zero fluctuation in the body, is not a state you’d be likely to enjoy, although if you’re a big fan of heavy drugs and downers, you’ll do just fine inside a body that is essentially dead.

“Did you have a good time?” I asked, as the social ritual demands. “No,” she said.

One of my girlfriends who worked at the Pink Pussycat told me she’d gone on a date with the club emcee the night before.

“Did you have a good time?” I asked the ritual question as expected.

“No,” she shook a waist-long headful of ringlet curls, “I had a rotten time. I took a sleeping pill, and I fell asleep before I could enjoy it.”

What’s to enjoy about a sleeping pill’s effects? You drop off to sleep. For this you shaved your legs? Of course, her date ignored the fact that she was asleep, and may have preferred it that way — many men do, and I’m not dissing men, it’s just a fact that some men, quite a few, prefer a passive partner.

Then there are the cowboys. They ride a girl like they ride a steer or a bucking bronco, and you’re expected to go along with this. Guys like to hurt girls a bit, too — it shows how manly they are. You’ll get used to it, I’m told.

It brings up an important point; you can’t change the guy, so you’d better find out how compatible your tastes are, in all areas including sex acts and other arenas, too, like food, clothing, living habits in general, and DEEP attitudes, those things that ordinarily only com out after a few years living together.

Renee working out in a black slip, Chelsea Towers, 1959.

In the photo, you can see the deadly stiff left hand that killed her chances of being a superstar dancer — she never overcame it.

In June of 1959, Renee and I were locked out of our apartment and had nowhere to go, middle of the night. We had money enough on us — there was no such thing as a “credit card” nor any electronic means of transferring funds at that time of night, but we both had cash, she in her purse and I in my boy-wallet in my pants pocket.

I had full I.D. under my boy name, and carried it, along with my draft card, in a leather wallet that was very different from the red wallet I carried in my purse, in which I’d left the door key.

The thing is, I was in boy drag that particular night, just coming back from my job as undercover investigator at a downtown shop called “S. Klein On The Square” in Union Square on 14th street.

I’d come uptown and checked in at the offices of Management Safeguards, and as usual, gone out the back building exit and boarded an uptown IRT train to 86th Street, gone upstairs past the kiosk, picked up a newspaper as usual — there was no CNN — and went through the lobby, upstairs to the apartment, gone inside, and found Renee sitting and waiting to go to our dance class on 46th & Broadway.

Renee trying to go aerial — I snapped this with a Leica iii-c prewar camera in 1959 — it was my first attempt at professional photography.

We went to dance class as usual, went over to Mama Leone’s for a light snack, then returned to our East-Side 87th Street flat, where we both discovered that we’d left our keys in the apartment, but now it was way too late to wake up the super and ask to be let in. Of course, by law, the superintendent of the building had to have a key to every apartment.

We sat on the steps and thought a moment.

“Let’s go to a hotel,” Renee suggested. “It’s not that much money. There are a few just a block away.”

We walked over to the nearest hotel, a very old place that must have been built in Lincoln’s time, like the grade school I’d first attended, that still carried the dedication cornerstone proclaiming Abe Lincoln as the dedicator.

Walking through that antiquated, drafty, narrowly-built school corridor, with its tiny, cramped classrooms and its 1930s electrical fixtures dimly illuminating the rooms and halls, you’d have no doubt believing that Abe Lincoln dedicated this building and probably walked through it several times, as well.

It was SO not-new.

Renee and I were always dancing, always making dance-moves,  like she did on this walk we took through Central Park, in June of 1959.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to stay there very long, as I’ve already told you. By 1950, all was well, and I was happily ensconced at Downtown Community School with a bunch of wild-eyed and eager-to-learn kids from all over the planet — my idea of Heaven on Earth.

So there I was, in boy drag to dance my part, and Renee in girl-drag and we’re both partly costumed for the rehearsal, with stuff thrown over. We looked like we’d staggered out of a nearby bar after a three-month drunk, frankly, and had I been the hotel desk clerk, I’d have had the same reaction he did.

“Sorry, full up”, he said. Renee explained that we lived right around the corner, had gotten locked out of our apartment. He softened and said, “Okay, I’ve got a room at $28, but it only has a small double bed, is that okay?”

“Sure,” I supplied, in my deepest most masculine voice.

“No problem,” echoed Renee at almost the same time.

“Okay,” said the desk clerk, “I just need to see your marriage license, and we’re set.”

I’m on the left with my friend Joe, at Riverside Military Academy, 1959.

I really had it down pat, after three and a half years at military school, dodging around corners and hiding behind locker doors, so when I walked down the streets in New York, you got out of my way to avoid being trodden down — that’s how you learn to survive on the street in the rough & tumble New York City of 1959.

If you were married back in the day, you carried your license with you, if you expected to be let into any hotel. We weren’t married — hell, we weren’t even boy and girl, but it would have been a whole lot more complicated to tell him the real story — so of course we had no license.

Renee fishes around in her purse for the license she never had, turns to me and hisses, “You said you had the license!” I got the drift and picked it up without missing a beat.

“Oh, yeah? I never said I had the license. You’re supposed to carry it with you in that stupid purse.” Her purse was very big, because she had dance class items in it, plus a bottle of water.

“You idiot,” she hisses again.

“Stupid,” I replied.

Renee poses dramatically — how else??? — Central Park, ’59.

The desk clerk handed us a room key. “You’re married,” he concluded.

And that’s my point. He “knew” we were married when he heard us arguing. That’s a tell-tale sign that a couple is coupled.

We all know this to be true. Instinctively, you have “collective experiential evidence” to support that superstition which, even though it is purely superstition, is heavily supported by what we’ve seen along the way.

Want to see a couple argue? Go to any supermarket or package store and stand around at the checkout counter or the produce department. You won’t have long to wait.

For the complete Volume II of My Life As A Boy, visit