Chapter 40: Demanding Justice

Andreas Fisching/

At the start of my legal career, demanding cases seemed to have neutered me. I recall few significant incidents of male attractions. It was all I could do to rise to each new career challenge and try to be there for my wife and family too. I had no time left to think about men, and I was grateful for the relief.

However, that state of affairs would not continue.

One demanding case brought me once again opposite Bill Hunter, one of Louisiana’s most lethal and ruthless trial lawyers. Our client’s truck had negligently struck a vehicle occupied by a…

Chapter 39: Arabian Adventures

Mayer Maged/

Even though I’d just discovered evidence of an erotic gay world in San Francisco, distracting career challenges left me no time to ponder the intriguing revelations. Instead, learning to be a lawyer consumed me. I was determined never to be poor again. I was determined to become so respectable that I would never be called a pussy again.

No more drugs, no more collegiate behavior, no more being a slacker. The struggle of life began in earnest.

Then the legal case of a handsome young man named Ricky Harrell brought me to the Middle East. He had been working on…

Chapter 38: San Francisco and a secret world

Amogh Manjuna/

A deadly catastrophe took me to San Francisco on business. I didn’t know it, but a small afterthought during my visit would expose a secret world that would disturb my life for years to come.

The 1979 disaster involved a jack-up oil drilling vessel, The Ranger I, which capsized in the dark of night a few miles from Galveston, Texas. Jack-up vessels (technically Mobile Offshore Drilling Units or MODUs) are towed from one offshore location to another to drill oil wells. …

Chapter 37: Mastering the Law, No Detours!

Joe Calata/

I always thought becoming a lawyer was the big challenge.

I craved the profession’s security and status to save my defective, same-sex attracted self. I never imagined that after I was licensed, I would have to struggle to teach myself how to practice law. I never dreamed all the money I borrowed to earn my degrees wouldn’t pay for the skills I needed to succeed in life.

Alone and without guidance, I wandered around in a confused fog, worrying I’d never pay off my debts.

Mr. Waitz ran the law firm I worked for with a simple philosophy. “Root hog or die!” Meaning my training was not his concern. I…

Chapter 36: Faking it!

Tonik UOwwiY6n/

Widow Linda Burson’s civil trial to collect damages for her husband’s wrongful death at sea began as scheduled. I met two other LSU Law School grads who had also come see what they could learn. One of them, Mike Pellegrin, turned out to have just been hired by the Waitz firm. His father had talked Joe into giving him a job, like Richard had done for me.

I would learn that Joe Waitz had such a hard time saying no that people in Houma considered him a sort of Godfather. If he could help with problems, he would, or at…

Chapter 35: Life as a closeted professional

Anastasia Rozum/

“RECESSION” headlined the New Orleans Times-Picayune in June 1974 when I graduated from law school. Jobs were not to be had, and certainly not for less than outstanding law students.

My class rank fell just below the magical top third required for consideration by top law firms. My own opinion that I belonged there was belied by an F in Legal Writing my first year because I did not know about a writing requirement disclosed on a single sheet posted on a heavily papered bulletin board in a side hall. …

Chapter 34: School’s Out!

Marty Melville/Getty Images

As graduation approached in the spring of 1974, a new college craze called “streaking” overtook the nation. Students across the country began running nude through their campuses. A streaker even ran across the stage during The Academy Awards stunning actor David Niven, who commented,

“Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man ever will get in his life is by stripping off and showing off his shortcomings?”

That streaker happened to be a gay rights activist, but that part of the story didn’t circulate as widely as Niven’s quip and certainly did not reach me. …

Chapter 33: The UpStairs Lounge tragedy

Kris Karidis/

While I labored on in 1973 looking forward to graduating law school in the spring of ’74, New Orleans endured a tragic year.

January opened with the Howard Johnson Hotel sniper. Mark Essex, seeking retribution for police killings of African Americans and Black Panthers, embarked on a killing spree that took him to the top of the hotel on the 18th floor. There he encountered three black hotel employees, saying, “Don’t worry sisters. We’re only shooting whites today.”

Before police shot Essex dead, he killed nine people and wounded thirteen others, including hotel management and guests. Julie and I watched…

Chapter 32: Things Look Up!

Drew Dau/

We took no honeymoon unless you count one sleepless night in an Effingham, Illinois Holiday Inn with Julie’s cat Mateus yowling in the window threatening to get us evicted.

We married before a Rabbi in Madison, Wisconsin on Friday, August 27, 1971 and headed to New Orleans to unpack so I could begin classes September 1. Julie worked for an optician at D. H. Holmes, a popular Canal St. department store. She earned sixty-five dollars a week, and our one-bedroom apartment cost one hundred dollars a month. …

Chapter 31: The Sin Of Omission

Andrew Neel/

It was all so inevitable, even at twenty.

It was what we did in those days. It was happening to everyone. Now we know the divorce rate exceeds fifty percent, so people are more cautious about marrying, but then we were fearless and eager to take the next step into adulthood. Girls wanted to marry and boys wanted sex, whatever that required.

The magical draft lottery number 356 had freed me to plan my life instead of perhaps sacrificing it in Vietnam. Everything lay ahead of me. Except the freedom to be different.

My high school love Julie and I had rebuilt our relationship long distance, between New…

Laurence Best

Larry Best is a retired trial lawyer who writes about the alienation that led him into the closet until he was 42 years old and his life since coming out

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