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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Postcards from the Past: My Wasted Youth

New Year's Eve is always a time for remembering. The last post's trip down memory lane inspired me to go dig out and scan some of the few pictures of me from the early 1970's. There aren't many; perhaps partly because I thought I was so goddamned ugly. Yeah. I hated myself in every way possible, including my body and my face and everything. I thought I was repulsive; it was literally painful to look in the mirror back then. I used to wince, looking at myself.

Now, of course, I realize all of that was a direct result of all the internalized homophobia I was living with. If the whole world - even God himself - hated me, how could I possibly like anything about this miserable wretch that I was, who absolutely did not deserve to live?

The first pic is from oh, about January of 1973: at the height of my young Mr. Christian routine, so nice, so devout, so good. At least that's what other people said; only I knew different. My cheap little Kodak didn't take such great pics, but you can get the general impression here of how upright and uptight I was then, growing too fast for my clothes.

The haircut may not seem remarkable now, but my contemporaries will recall that in 1973, everyone else under 30 was growing their hair down to their shoulders, a la Tony Orlando, and sprouting beards and mustaches. So my very old-fashioned look stood out from the crowd very much at that time.

Then the other photos are from a trip my mom and I took to New Orleans after my grandmother's funeral in May, 1974. And here's the footnote to all I said in the last post about not ever seeing any other gay people back then: when we got to New Orleans . . . OMFG! I saw plenty of 'em then, buddies, I tell you what.

My God, there was more than you could shake a stick at, in the stores and shops, on the streets and everywhere, in front of God and everybody - and not even trying to act straight! Country boy got his eyes opened there. Now, I wish I could tell you a wonderful story right about here - about a look, a wink, a touch, a kiss - and mad passionate love under the moon and the Spanish moss in some dark, fragrant courtyard.

But hell, guys - I was there with my mom, you know? I didn't come out to her till five long years later.

Besides, as enlightening as it was, seeing all those gay guys - it was more terrifying than anything else. If anybody had made a move on me, I'd probly have run like a scalded dog, all the way home.

But here's me at 18, having a good time in the Big Easy - a nice, polite time squiring my mom around to Pat O'Brien's, the Court of Two Sisters, and Antoine's - the first of several delightful visits I've made to that lovely town.

In front of Andy Jackson's statue on the square. Lordy, was I ever really that thin? What I wouldn't give to have that 29-inch waistline again.

On the other side of the square that same day, I sat for a chalk portrait by a sidewalk artist - which my mother loved immediately, and which I thought was even uglier than my photographs.

After my mom died, I left it boxed up for years. Now it hangs in the dining nook. I finally got used to it, and made peace with that ghost of my former self - so young, so vulnerable, and so wounded.

Yours truly in front of Antoine's, and about half toasted from drinking a couple of Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's before we went on to dinner. Can you tell? Oh but my, them big red drinks was scrumptious, boys, just dee-lightful. I tell you what. In a box somewhere, I still have the big tall glasses.

I still have the menus from Antoine's, too, where my college French came in handy. Dinner was memorable: escargot, poulet roti, and for dessert: flaming crepes Suzette, prepared at our table by the waiter. When he put the match to the brandy, a colleague turned out the lights in the entire dining room, so everyone could ooh and ahh at the big blue flames. A lovely memory.

After dinner, a carriage ride around the Vieux Carré; a delightful end to a magical evening. Later, all my friends who saw this picture remarked that that was just the kind of conveyance that suited me, that I looked very natural riding in a carriage.

I never did understand exactly what they meant by that.

The odd thing is, looking at these pictures now, thirty-five years later - all I can think is, Who is this guy? God, he looks so kissable. So far from being repulsive.

Would it be wrong to kiss yourself, if you could?



Ultra Dave said...

You are still kissable Russ!

David said...

Hate to break it to you Russ, you were way kissable then, and like Dave says, you're kissable now. =)

Russ Manley said...

Aw you guys are so sweet . . . why don't you come a little closer and say that again?

Mareczku said...

OMG, Russ, what a beautiful young man you were. You were so cute and you didn't know it. I wish that I could go back in a time machine and give you a big hug. You are surely right in your comment, "What I wouldn't give to have that 29-inch waistline again." I think a lot of us feel like that. Sigh! So much of what you say strikes a cord with me. I suppose a lot of us went throught what I call an "ugly duckling stage" when we didn't feel that good about ourselves. I am forever thankful to one of my classmates that told me at the end of my senior year that I had a nice body and he liked looking at me when we took showers in gym. I felt better about myself after that. Thanks for another touching story. Sending you warm hugs.

Stan said...

Damn Russ you were a very handsome young man back then! I know I would have love to kiss that handsome face. (And more!) Not that your not good looking now of course. But I know what you mean about wishing that thin waistline back for sure! Don't we all.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks fellas, you guys are the best. Hugs & kisses to all of y'all.

Funny how a negative attitude can change your whole perception of yourself. If only I knew then what I know now . . . you know what I mean?

Sebastian said...

Well, it's clear you were an attractive young guy, even if you didn't know it. I suspect that part of your charm in those years was that you didn't know it, and it kept you from being stuck up and self centered.

We do awful things to ourselves, don't we. And we allow others to plant poison in our minds. But time and the wisdom that time gives help us to see ourselves more clearly.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks, buddy. "part of your charm was that you didn't know it . . . " Funny you should say that. A couple of different lovers said something like that to me, way back. But I didn't understand what they meant, then.

Yes, time brings great clarity eventually, about ourselves and others. But sometimes too late for it to do us much good, I'm afraid . . . .

Which brings us to the conundrum of this mortal life: just about the time you've learned all you need to learn - it's nearly time to depart. A waste? Or a blessing?

Wolf said...

As always so Handsome and the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen

TomS said...

Russ, thank you for sharing your recollections--and pictures--with us. I think that by knowing how many of us would have wanted to kiss you then (as now), you might not feel the need to do the deed yourself!
Great stories.

Russ Manley said...

Tom - appreciate ya.

Wolf - You always did say the sweetest things. Thanks, and bless you.

I see you are blogging now, I'll have to go check that out, will holler at ya over there.

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