I began this journey, which became this journal, forty years ago. When I decided to join the United States Navy in order to travel and gain worldly experiences. Prior to this, I had been associated with street gangs throughout the Chicago area growing up as a child there, and through my teenaged years. During this time I was also a Soul Train dancer. Soul Train was the televised inner-city dance show originating in Chicago in 1970. Soul Train soon left Chicago’s long brutal winters for the sunshine state of California and the glamour of Hollywood, via the ghettos of Watts & Compton. Being a dancer on Soul Train during it’s Chicago run wetted my appetite for fame and worldly success, at something. Riding on the Chicago public transit system at 15 years old and being recognized as one of the dancers appearing on Soul Train was pretty heady. Walking through the hallways in high school the next day following an appearance on the dance show was so cool, it couldn’t get any cooler, I thought in those early years. Everyone pointing and whispering through the hallowed halls of Edward Tilden High School as I walked past, in appreciation for my dancing, was intoxicating to me in my early teens.
I didn’t join the navy out of patriotism, I joined to see the world, to find out about life. I joined out of curiosity, I didn’t want to look back at my life in later years and ever wonder, what if? Anyway, it seemed like a logical step to me as a homosexual. I knew I wanted to be a writer, I had known this since middle school. I remember during this time, somehow, stumbling onto a copy of Hubert Selby Jr’s. ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’. A novel so full of characters rich in flavor, ignited my young imagination. Also, around this time, reading the writings of French poet Jean Genet set a tone. His prose resonated with me. I emulated his life vicariously, in my daydreams. I wanted to see Brooklyn and Paris, in all their seediness. Times were different around the world back then in the 1970s, that was when being an American meant something special. The world was not as dangerous as it is today. People in general were kinder in those days, it seemed to me.
My tenure in boot camp training was uneventful to say the least about this period of time at the Great Lakes Navy Training Academy. The details remain a blur, my thoughts concerning this experience are vague to hardly nonexistent. This may be my intent. These details are not necessary right now, at this point, I do not believe. America then, had come of a certain age, people appeared to be more tolerant of one another. Open to adventure, and to all the possibilities laid out before us, things really felt different, possibilities endless. Time was on our side, we were mid-century, wide open to it all, I sensed this in the air.
Naval Air Station North Island, located in San Diego, California is where I ended up being stationed after I had graduated from boot camp. North Island Air Station is where the aircraft carriers docked when they pulled into port after their West Pacific tours of duty. San Diego, California was a far cry from the barrios and rough neighborhoods of Chicago where I grew up. The weather was unparalleled! It seemed a perpetual summertime to me upon my arrival there in southern California in the late 70s. Once onboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, I was to serve as ships steward. I attended culinary school for this there in San Diego. These skills acquired there would serve to be useful, I was told. I was to be assigned to the officers mess once I reported to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
I joined the Navy in 1978, I was finally free of my hometown and it’s crime ridden streets. These were my thoughts at this time, I was headed down a troubled path before I made it out of Chicago, Illinois. My oldest brother had been murdered on it’s streets. Many childhood friends had lost their lives to the violence there. Many were losing their freedom to incarceration, drugs were taking their toll. I felt as if I had no choice, things were dark, painful. I needed to escape from Chicago, to discover who I was, as an artist.