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…

Chapter 30: Was it a sick joke or something more?

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

The weathered door to Brothers, our frat’s favorite bar, was studded with iron bolts. It was still locked that Friday morning when our Teke contingent showed up for the 11:00 a.m. opening. Bruce Walker, Johnny Mims and I had decided to skip the rest of our Friday classes to start drinking early.

Besides general rebelliousness, a free pitcher of beer motivated us, in return for sweeping the place out and putting the inverted bar stools and chairs down where they belonged. …

Chapter 29: Benny’s Blunder

Sharon McCutcheon/

From high school on, my fraternity brother Rick dated only one girl, the vivacious and out-spoken Josie Giovanni, for whom he visibly ached. They planned to marry when they were financially able, and that day, to all of our surprise, came well before graduation. Josie was working full time while he was a student, given neither had any doubts, there was no reason to wait.

Halfway through college, the date was set. The reception was to take place at Metairie Country Club at the end of oak-lined Northline Drive in Old Metairie. Rick’s groomsmen included his brothers and his high…

Chapter 28: Sexual Assault

Callum Wale/

The salty air at the Lake Pontchartrain seawall is a hot blanket of humidity even for September, but that won’t deter our fraternity keg party. I’m wearing my usual wheat-colored jeans, madras shirt, and Weejuns without socks, stylishly correct but clinging with sweat. As the beer flows, the twenty-five or so of us gathered for our Friday Night Beer Bust will care less that we’re over dressed.

Evening dimness gives way to blue-white street light glare from Lakeshore Drive. An arriving car and pickup truck disgorge a group I don’t recognize except for my friend Bruce, a TKE and former…

Chapter 27: A vicious attack

Quaid Lagan/

A soldier in camouflage and polished combat boots marched in while we were playing Spades at the Teke frat table in the University Center. I figured him for an unwelcome military recruiter until Walter Senten introduced him around as a chapter member just discharged after two years in the National Guard.

Henry Smythe looked like he’d just stepped off his duty post, like he wanted to make an impression, or more accurately an entrance. That was ironic since people joined the Guard to avoid Vietnam.

His demeanor was flat and remote, and since the two left quickly, we newer members…

Chapter 26: My gay Odysseus

Lemor Zellermayer/

My high school frat brother Freddie Yoder asked me to join him for rush parties as soon as we registered for college. I probably would have skipped them if he hadn’t. He wanted free beer, but he had a specific fraternity in mind. His sister was the Teke Sweetheart and had dated the president since high school. I figured if I wanted a college social life, Freddie was the way in.

The fraternities were stereotyped. The Lambda Chi Alphas were the nerdy good students, Phi Kappa Theta were the cool guys, Theta Xi the gross-out gang, and Sigma Alpha Mu…

Chapter 25: Gay Brotherhood?

Compare Fibre/

The Monday after the Lafitte’s gay-bar blow-job debacle, I told my story to my closest fraternity brothers, disclosing I believed Will was gay. At the beginning of the semester, our chapter president Alan Lichtenwalter had confidentially informed a few of us about rumors from Ruston that Will left school because they had discovered he was gay. Since that was not the Ruston Chapter’s official position, Alan thought we owed him the benefit of the doubt. Our other officers agreed.

Now we saw there was likely more to it, but we agreed to take no action since there was no proof…

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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