Saturday, February 21, 2009

Naked Boys Swimming
I was recently talking with my friend Lyle about the subject of locker room gym behaviors. We discussed the comfort levels of men who are comfortable being naked in front of each other. Some are quick strippers, down to the buff and on comes the towel (I fall into that category) but for the most part, I've gotten over my fear of being naked in the gym.
Some “if you got it flaunt it” guys. Mostly Koreans. Nudity means nothing and culturally is just natural. Some are prudish with putting a towel around themselves and slipping out of their clothes like they are doing a magic act.

I confessed that it took me a long time to get over my fears of the locker room; years of gym classes where even the slightest deviation from the status quo, from underwear to penis size, was cruelly mocked by the alpha males. When joining a gym in my 20's I remember the irrational fear of going in there and changing my clothes. As if some businessman was going to start to pick a fight with me or steal my underwear and throw it out of the room.

Lyle asked me if in High School I had to swim naked. "No one ever believes me when I say that all the boys swam naked in high school…" Talking about this brought back a flood of memories. I'm not sure if this is uniquely Chicago or if this happened in other parts of the country, but as a teenager, I was forced to undress in front of all my other male classmates and swim naked for an hour a day. It was as strange and humiliating as it sounds.

I believe the rationale behind this comes from a bygone era. The era that taught that it was good for boys to bond together naked; I remember my gym teacher telling us it was healthier for us to swim naked. The other rationale was that the school didn't have to pay for swim trunks for boys. Could it also have been that it was expected that after high school the boys would naturally be going into the armed forces and this would be a way to toughen us up. Whatever it was until I was 17 I skinny dipped at the public school pool.

I went to Kennedy High School which was a fairly new school relative to the other ancient structures in the city. It was built around 1962. Connected at one end of the high school, attached by a bridge, was Kinzie Elementary.  From age 4 until I was 18, those two buildings were where I grew up. Rumors about naked swim began to surface when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. And we knew it was true… because we could see them; The swimming pool's slightly frosted windows looked out on our playground. Year after year during recess and lunches we would watch the parade of naked boys walking past the window, occasionally they would lean back against the glass and we could see their squished buttocks. It terrified me. Someday I would be on the other side of that glass.

The legends spread through the grade school playground about naked swim. “They just make you stand there naked in front of everyone and then they push you in the pool. If you try to get out they poke you with a stick. If you start to drown they have a big metal hook that sticks through you to pull you out.” And we all believed them… how could we not? These stories were passed down from older siblings who were there in the high school and reported back to us. We were doomed!

I graduated to Kennedy High School in 1977. That summer was a nervous one as I fretted over the future of naked swim and showering in front of people in general. I would practice taking a quick shower and drying myself off with one towel and getting dressed as quickly as I can. Filled with as much fear as a teenager can hold, I started as a freshman.

High School Gym class seems to be the turning point for everyone's personal development. Stephen King depicted it well in “Carrie”; all of us who were shy or outsiders could feel her rage and would have easily used our psychic powers to destroy the gym and everyone in it. Janis Ian wrote in her song “At Seventeen” ' To those of us who knew the pain Of valentines that never came And those whose names were never called When choosing sides for basketball'. I look back on those gym classes with no nostalgia, but still a relief that they are over.

My gym teacher's name was Mr. Gaylord (no kidding). He was a tight, muscled, short man with thinning hair. Thinking back, he was probably pretty sexy, but then he couldn't have been more horrifying with his just out of the army, drill sergeant style of yelling, butt smacking, and name calling. We were being trained to go into the service you know, we needed to be made strong, and they only way you can make a boy strong is to break him first and build him up. And the way to break a pack of young boys is to strip them and make them all fall in line.

(the pool today)

The pool at Kennedy was huge. Olympic size, built in the early prosperous Kennedy years when physical fitness was one of the president's high priorities. We were all lead into the locker room and told to strip down and put our clothes in the locker; I was terrified to forget my locker combination and repeated it over and over for a week before school started. Trying it again and again like the shower tests so I could open the locker as quickly as possible. We all stripped and stood in a line. The showers were going full blast and Mr. Gaylord stood at the front of the shower with a squeeze bottle of some pink slippery goo that he was shooting out over each boy as he went into the shower. Sometimes he would rub the soap down the back of the boys. We had to shower before getting into the pool; it was the rule. The soap or whatever it was had a chemical smell; did it have some sort of insecticide to kill lice?

Then from there into the large room where the pool was, again in lines of four or five. Some of the guys were really natural with their nakedness. Wrestling with each other, shoving and pushing. I don't know when I first knew that something was different about me sexually, but I'm sure it when I was seeing guys that I had just sat next to in history and now we were front to butt with each other going to jump in the pool. Dare I say at age 14 I had definite stirrings, although I didn't know what they were? I don't think at that time I could have given it a name.  But we were all comparing ourselves to each other.  Big dicks, small dicks.  There were two obese twins whose genitals were completely covered by rolls of fat.  I can't imagine what this experience did to them.   Other boys with big members proudly knew that they had something special and would strut around with semi-boners telling of how they screwed their girl friends last night.

One good thing was I did learn to swim and I loved to swim. There is a freedom to swimming naked; years later I did it in Lake Michigan and it really does feel wonderful. If anything was making it strange it was Mr. Gaylord and his army-like tactics for the boys that couldn't swim. One of these kids was Nemick. Looking back now I think he had some mental issues. There were rumors that he had killed his neighbor's dog. Nemick was terrified of the water. We would have to line up and jump off of the diving board into the deep end and do laps as part of our test to pass the quarter. Nemick had never gone into the deep end and he would just stay in the shallow end slowly walking from one end to the other. Mr. Gaylord would yell at him “Look out Nemick, there's a shark coming…” Nemick's eyes would fill with panic and he would try as quickly as he could to get out of the pool. And the kids would laugh. Once he got an erection and he stood in the pool beating and beating his penis. Gaylord laughed with another gym teacher, “He's trying to beat it down…” Writing this now, I wonder does this shit still go on?

Being one of the weaker guys I was not exempt from bullying. Once my locker was completely kicked in and I stood naked freezing in the locker room unable to get my clothes until the janitor came with tools to take the door off. Another time my locker was pulled open (so much for the locks) and my glasses were stolen. I am practically blind without them. I had to wear my mother's old glasses for a month until my glasses were found at the bottom of the pool. I counted the days until swim was over.

OK. On top of everything else, there was this weird thing about naked swim: The ROTC room was in the basement of the high school. A dank, spooky room where guys who were planning in advance to make a career of the military would go to do gun twirling or play RISK or whatever they did down there. In that room was a huge Weeki Watchee picture window that looked into the swimming pool. Are there 8mm films of years of naked teenage boys swimming somewhere? The other thing was there was stadium seating that looked over the swimming pool. This was never locked and years later we learned that it was common for the girls to sneak up there and watch the naked boys.

This went on until 1979 when in my Junior year the gym classes were made Coed. No more naked swim. My prayers were answered. However, in my senior year, they had decided that they would do separate swim classes again, returning to the tradition. A couple friends of mine decided to take matters into their own hands and snuck in late at night, broke some glass bottles, and tossed them into the pool. The pool had to be shut down while they cleaned it. Once it was cleaned and ready for swim classes, they did this again! Hence avoiding having to swim naked.

We are all shaped by these experiences; and although I don't dwell on high school and how horrible it was… but I feel I did learn the truth at seventeen. And I never forgot it.

It also makes me wonder... for the last few years there hasn't been a gay film that hasn't had some swimming pool scene in it.

A note about Mr. Gaylord:  That summer, after my first freshman year, Mr. Gaylord was found dead in the pool. He was swimming and had hit his head on the side of the pool and drowned. I'm just saying…

A couple links to other experiences and views:

Swimming nude in Houston:  HERE
Male coach swimming nude with girls:  HERE 

Sunday, February 15, 2009


This is my favorite video of my family and especially my crazy dancing Aunt Celia. She was always my favorite aunt; always so kind and funny. She is doing the dance on the floor starting at 2:59.

My family every year would rent a cabin in Wisconsin. It's what you did when you were middle class in Chicago. You couldn't afford to go anywhere too fancy on vacation; so Wisconsin fishing trips were the thing. Each year my mother's brothers and sisters would rent several cabins and spend four days fishing. As I mentioned in my 25 Things About Me list... it would have been these trips that I as a small child had to be subjected to hours in the fish cleaning house.

All day fishing; Drinking and dancing all night at the local tavern. My mother can be seen coming in the door with a record in her hand following the portable phonograph. My mother still has a world class polka music collection. When I transferred these films years ago I scored them with music from my record collection. This clip I put a vocal by my mother. Pre-Karaoke, my mother and (very off-key) father sing the song in the first part of the video.

I love this because everyone looks like they are having a blast... Glad I can share this with everyone...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

25 Things About Me...

or the List that Changed the World
It's been about a month since I joined Facebook and have been captured by that "Time Vampire". Besides feeling now that I have to do a few blog posts a week, I feel like a have to think of witty "What Am I Doing Now?... Status updates twice a day. Really though, it is fun in a "Don't you want to know all about me..." sort of way.

One of the biggest things on there right now is the 25 Things About Me... I spent about an hour trying to come up with 25 interesting things about me that people actually might not know... I thought hmm... let's do some double blogging and double post this on here... So for your consideration... Here is my list.

1. I didn’t eat Peanut Butter until about two years ago. I used to lie to people and tell them I had a peanut allergy so they would stop asking me to “just try it”. Now I eat it all the time.

2. I once ran across Midway Airport. Completely across. No kidding. The runways are huge; It felt like I was an ant crossing a sidewalk.

3. When I was a child I would compulsively pull my hair out of the back of my head. It’s called trichotillomania. My parents never seemed to notice or care. My hair is still thin back there.

4. When I was a teenager my father once caught me lip synching to a Barbra Streisand song into a broom handle. I can still see the shocked look on his face.

5. When I was a child I was obsessed by the Flying Nun. I made a coronet out of a card board box and would run around the yard convinced I would be taking off any moment.

6. My first kiss by a girl was on the same day that Bobby Brady got his first kiss on the Brady Bunch. Even then I thought it was a strange coincidence.

7. Religion-wise I’ve been a Born Again Christian, an NSA Buddhist and I studied witchcraft. I just consider myself a spiritual mess.

8. I believe in angels, but I’m not sure about God.

9. I haven’t had cable or regular television in four years. I’m completely clueless about new shows until they come on DVD.

10. I obsessively watched every Dark Shadows over a period of two and a half years with my friends Erica and Thax Douglas. All 1100+ episodes. After we finished the last one This American Life sent me to the convention to do a piece about it.

11. If I start watching something like a TV series I have to watch every episode, even if I don’t like it. I mean I watched all of the Children of the Corn movies, because I had to.

12. My mother was so upset that I was going to prom that she ran out of the house before I went to pick up my date; she didn’t talk to me for a week afterwards.

13. I hate fish, and get sick even from the smell. But strangely I love tuna. My only explanation is that I used to go on fishing trips with my parents when I was small; I’d watch them gut the fish. But Tuna isn’t really fish… because it comes in cans.

14. After the stem-cel transplant my brother has my exact DNA in his bone marrow. If he were to commit a murder I could be convicted on the DNA evidence. I heard CSI did a show about this.

15. I moved away from home when I was 23. Since then I’ve always lived alone except for one year when I moved in with a friend. It was a terrible mistake.

16. I have vivid dreams, and often they include celebrities. For a while I had reoccurring dreams with Peggy Lee.

17. I love to sing, but I can’t stand the sound of my regular speaking voice or my laugh.

18. I would rather watch a bad old movie, than a good new movie.

19. I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since 2000. Patrick Hughes introduced it to me at a party.

20. I’ve have an allergy to cats, but I’ve had two cats over the last 14 years. Both with bad additudes.

21. I was beaten up (bashed) on my 21st birthday by a gang of neighborhood thugs. I remember as I was being kicked in the stomach thinking that it was a crappy way to spend my birthday.

22. The first song I ever sang in front of an audience was “You Needed Me” the Anne Murphy 80’s hit. It was at a community college as part of a music class.

23. The ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life” always makes me cry. Even thinking about it now I’m tearing up.

24. I’ve a black spot on my ankle from when in the 2nd grade I put a pencil in my shoe and the tip of it broke off in side of my left foot. I never told anyone about it because I knew I would get in trouble. The mark from the pencil is still there.

25. I’m proud of myself for finishing this list and not putting one filthy, sexual fact about myself in it. Hurray. I’m all grown-up.

Monday, February 09, 2009

RIP Blossom Dearie
I was so sad to hear that one of my favorite singers died a couple days ago, the great Blossom Dearie. Known to baby boomers as the singer of the haunting School House Rock song "Number Eight", she was one of the premier jazz vocalist of our time.

I really never listened to her until a few years ago. But once I started I was hooked. Such a sweet and simple voice that she could use be funny or heartbreaking. It was always a dream of mine to take a whirlwind weekend tour of New York and see Blossom play at the small jazz club she sang at until just a couple years ago. Sadly I never made that trip.

Here are some examples of Blossom's best... Someones' Been Sending Me Flowers is one of my favorite songs she recorded, The Surrey With the Fringe on Top (posted by Dan the Video Man), The video to Number Eight and a nice tribute and "I Like London in the Rain"

Passing it On...

It's no wonder that network TV is nervous about its survival.  With the number of fantastic youtube videos, who needs to watch Grey's Anatomy.    I wonder if in 40 years they will call this the Golden Age of YouTube...

This first video was forwarded to me this week by my pal Gary... Thanks Gary...  5 million views already... how did I miss this...  It's great that it manages to be cute and disturbing at the same time...  

Of course, a video that gets five million plus views is bound to have some tributes...  

The best is this one by Chad Vader... 

Chad Vader is a character from the on-line video comedy Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager.  A very clever web-com (Is that what the kids are calling these?) about what if Darth Vader were manager of a supermarket called Empire Foods.  Hilarity ensues.

After you watch that... Check out Chad's his take on David After the Dentist. 

Sunday, February 08, 2009

RIP Chicago Eddie Schwartz

In the 1970’s I used to be a big AM radio listener. With my little black transistor with the white earplug I would for hours scan the AM dial seeing how far of a signal I could get. Chicago AM radio consisted of news on WBBM, and rock music on WLS and WCFL, or country on WMAQ. On WIND was what we would today call Talk Radio. This was before talk radio became synonymous with right wing political talk. Talk Radio then had a quieter, less confrontational demeanor. (No matter what your politics, I don’t know how anyone listens to Limbaugh or Hannity or even some of the Air America hosts. Everyone is so constantly angry.) Radio was much more intimate, and the listeners relationships with the hosts much more personal.

The biggest name in Chicago in the 70’s was Eddie Schwartz. An unlikely radio show host who was an obese man with a wheezy, high reedy voice. Chicago Eddie Schwartz, as he was known, did overnights on WIND. His show was a combination of light conversations about the goings on in the city, show business interviews and hours of him playing tracks from his comedy album collection. It was great at that hour of the morning when there was ‘nothing’ else on. This was also at a time when television stations would go off at 2 AM, so when I say ‘nothing’, I mean nothing! If you had insomnia, it was Schwartz or a hot water bottle and a good book.

Growing up I must have logged hours and hours of time listening to Eddie as I would sneak my transistor radio under my pillow and lay with my plug in my ear. My biggest memories of listening to him were his comedy albums; it was the first time I heard Stan Freberg or Allen Sherman. It was exciting listening to Eddie during big snow storms as he would take calls from reporters treating our Chicago winters like they were the crash of the Hindenburg. Big stars like Bill Cosby and Phyllis Diller would routinely call if they were in town to promote their local shows. Believe me in 1974, this was a huge deal at 2 in the morning.

I have such crystal clear memories of Eddie’s frequent guest Richard Crowe, a local ghost hunter. This was a good 15 years before the advent of Art Bell or Coast to Coast radio. Eddie would dedicate usually a full six hours of talk about ghosts and local hauntings. I would sit and listen completely utterly petrified, unable to move as I listened to the callers tell of how their brother’s wife’s cousin actually saw Resurrection Mary. I recall that I was in my room listening on my transistor, while in the basement I had a reel-to-reel going at the slowest possible speed. However, even at the slowest speed the tape would run out around 3:15 in the morning. I had to gather all my 14 year old courage and go downstairs and turn the tape over. Even now I don’t know how I did that… (See download below)

As the years progressed Eddie became more popular and he moved to the bigger and more prestigious station WGN. During the 80’s he was a Chicago legend and easy fodder for the new shock jocks who were taking over the FM dial. Steve Dahl and Gary Meyer were merciless in their taunting of Eddie and his weight, high pitched voice, and old fashioned style. The odd thing was that Eddie made a decision to leave his cozy AM radio WGN and move to FM and the WLUP where all the young shock jocks were on during the day. It didn’t work for him; Eddie’s audience was older and conservative and I’m sure would never even think of tuning into an FM station.

It was around this time that my friend Randy, whom I’ve mentioned before, got a job as Eddie’s producer. Randy and I had spent many a summer night listening to Eddie. I couldn’t believe I was one degree of separation from this local icon. Randy found the experience less than glamorous. Eddie was bitter and extremely obese. During the day the shock jocks would mock him, including Danny Bonaduce. One jock Kevin Mathews even did a daily character based on Eddie and called him Ed Zeppelin; He continued doing the character for years after Schwartz had left the airwaves. At night Eddie would come on and continue to do his regular AM show with interviews with aldermen or has-been celebrities. Randy’s job consisted of pulling together the guests and making sure that Eddie had his cart with various stomach acid aides. “Go down to the Walgreen’s and get me more TUMS and some Diet Coke.” I would hear his daily horror stories about working the overnight show; how creepy Bobby Vinton was in his crushed velvet jumper hitting on the female interns; or once when I got a phone call in the middle of the night, “I’m putting you on-air in 30 seconds. Ken Barry is on the show and we are dying. No one is calling… Ask him a question about Mayberry R.F.D.”

I would listen in my roach infested studio to Eddie berating Randy for not having the cart to a commercial ready or some other on-air mistake. It was surreal. My favorite Randy/Eddie story was when Bob Hope was in town for some benefit. Eddie wanted Bob on the show. Randy worked for weeks to get Bob’s manager to give him ten minutes on the air over the phone. Randy personally delivered flowers to Bob the day of the broadcast as a thank you. That night I made sure I was listening. Eddie’s voice at this point I would describe as wheezy, slurred and a little unintelligible. Bob was probably in his early 90s and I think more than a little hard of hearing. The interchange went something like this:

Eddie: Mr. Hope I’m so happy you could join us... (garble, garble, wheeze)

Bob: Wonderful…love Chicago

Eddie: You are in town for the Heart Association Benefit. Have you been involved (garble, wheeze, wheeze, cough) with them for a long time.

Bob: Wonderful…

Eddie: Will you be doing anything else while you are in Chicago?

Bob: I’m at the Heart Association Benefit… Wonderful organization…”

Eddie: (cough, wheeze) Is that in the suburbs?

Bob: Wonderful love Chicago.

I got a call from Randy… “Are you listening to this…? Are you listening…? Bob can’t understand Eddie at all…”

Randy ended up leaving the show and going back to his airline job after not getting a raise. I think he was only making $17K a year as his producer. So much for show business.

The last few years of Eddie’s life were sad. He left WLUP with low ratings and broken spirits soon after Randy left the show. I don’t know if Randy leaving the show had anything to do with the end of his radio show; Randy was trying to produce the show like the ones we used to listen to in the 70’s with lots of celebrities and lighter topics. After he left the shows were mainly Eddie complaining about local politicians. And he never did regain his initial loyal listeners who were probably still listening to whomever was on WGN overnights on their transistors to AM radio.

Eddie wrote for a while on a local paper but his health and weight finally caught up to him. He spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home virtually penniless and recluse. As an ironic twist all the shock jocks who mocked him for years threw a big fundraiser for him when they learned that he needed money to pay for his medical bills.

I was truly sad when I heard he was gone. Another piece of the city I knew growing up was gone forever.

The links below is the full Eddie Schwartz show from some hot summer night in the mid-70s. It runs about 3 ½ hours.