In the 1970s, high school could be harrowing for those perceived as LGBTQ.
Sometimes, I’d wear a t-shirt from Bojangles to class.
“What’s that?” classmates would ask.
“A gay bar in Sacramento,” I’d tell them.
Bojangles, a notorious club where underage boys could meet older men. For a small-town teenager coming out of the closet in an era of homophobia, it was Oz.
Before the internet, before Craigslist, before Grindr, gay (and bisexual) men met through personal ads; found in the back pages of magazines usually sold in adult bookstores.
My father always had a stack of swinger’s periodicals and I’d read every ad, searching for “male seeks male,” answering once (or maybe more), which is how I learned of Bojangles.
“Older male seeks younger,” lived in the capital city, less than an hour’s drive. Despite not exchanging photos, we agreed to meet at a McDonald’s.
His Gremlin (the Edsel of the 1970s) should’ve been my first clue he would not be what I expected. I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not a gentleman who appeared old enough to be my grandfather.
After getting over the initial shock, we drove to his apartment, where there were other boys hanging out. They laughed about, and teased the old man, yet he gave them beer, cigarettes, and money, in-exchange for whatever they’d allow.
Not familiar with Sacramento, I asked him to take me to a place he mentioned, a bar where gays (and teenage boys) partied. He took me to Bojangles.
“Hi, what’s your name?” the bartender asked.
“Rob, what’s yours?”
“John, I’m John,” he answered, leaning towards me.
The man behind the bar was sexy, athletic, with short curly hair and beefy biceps. He could have any guy in the club, but he liked boys. Young like me, not yet twenty-one, or even eighteen.
John and I continued to flirt, the old man in the Gremlin disappeared, and men danced to a new sound called Disco. Diana Ross was The Boss in 1979.
“C’mon, let’s go,” he said, as I followed to his pickup truck.
The bartender lived in an apartment only minutes from Bojangles. Whispering “My roommate’s asleep,” he slowly and quietly opened the door. Inside, stored in the dining room were a couple of wheelie bikes.
“Here, try this,” he said, handing me a strange glass object.
“What is it?” I asked.
The next morning before sunrise, out of a bedroom came the owners of the bikes, leaving with just a nod. Neither of them old enough to drive, and I assumed, lived close enough to bike it home.
A shirtless older guy also exited the same room barefoot, wearing only tight 501’s, and sporting a mustache; a look known at the time as Castro Clone.
He had a natural but muscular physique.
“There’s always boys around here,” the guy chuckled. “Hi, I’m Jack.”
After spending a few weekends with the two, I eventually realized John had other boyfriends during the midweek.
We never did anything normal, like going to the movies or out to dinner. Instead, our dates were spent in bed, getting high on marijuana, and having sex.
The Bojangles tee I wore to school belonged to him. When he asked for it back, I knew he’d found another twink, and that we were over.
Jack began flirting with me once John lost interest. They may have passed boys to each other. It appeared so.
When I spent time in Jack’s room, he’d be more concerned with my being okay with whatever we did. Unlike the bartender, he was a gentler, more-experienced pedophile.
Jack and I grew closer once I started working weekends for his landscaping business. He confessed about a divorce, having been convicted of molesting a boy in his son’s scout troop (during a camping trip), and that he’d been incarcerated at a prison hospital (where he received shock treatments).
Without a heads-up, he once took me along to report to his parole officer.
“I need to check in with my P.O., so just sit here, and I’ll be right back,” he sprung on me.
Had parole known what was going on at Jack and John’s apartment, maybe the lives of many boys (including mine) would have turned out different.
I’d borrow the family car and spend weekends in Sacra-tomato, having one-night stands with men I’d meet at Bojangles, making my father late for work more than a few Mondays. Falling hopelessly in love on Friday, heartbroken by Sunday.
I was a teenage boy exploring my sexuality and experiencing a gay subculture.
My parents had no idea what type of life I was living, but didn’t seem to care. It was a world much different than what I’d known, and there seem to be no boundaries.