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Jan. 9  Durham, N.C.  15 degrees.

Again. A Swarthmore deadline blown. All-nighters in the basement laundry room at M.L. (warm in wintertime, no sleeping roommate). One spring, the happy sounds of Commencement through the Bio. Library windows. Here today, file folders left, right; little stacks of notes, paper-clipped. Through the blinds, a downy woodpecker swings on the suet feeder. On my table, half an empty grapefruit atop my clipboard.

Which reminds me of a balmier January morning, thirty-one years ago. In the kitchen on Vale St., prepping juice. I vowed right then to squeeze grapefruits forever if it would keep Carl alive. Lord knows I owed it to him. Through that month his crocuses came up and bloomed all around the yard. He died on the 26th.

Part of the trouble for me at Swarthmore, mid '60s, was sexuality. Or the denial of it. There was another self whose body was nervous, compressed fog. I tried to ignore him. He kept hanging around.

One night Peter and I were walking back to M.L. A station wagon slowed down, then stopped. A man about our age, or a little older, rolled down the passenger window and asked for directions to the Pike.  Peter leaned down from the curb to reply. The driver asked something more, in a quiet voice. Where we were going, perhaps. I can't remember. They talked back and forth, with gaps. Finally the car moved on.

"He was trying to pick us up."

I'm embarrassed now to own how naive I was, at 19. I didn't know exactly what P. meant. I kept quiet. What good was understanding it all? What could I do?


Now out of the blue, here's a request from the Bulletin, re. a queer issue/website: 1. What was yr experience as a member of the LGBTQ community at Swarthmore?  2. What are you doing now and how did yr S'more experience influence that? etc. etc.  "Will they give me a diploma?" I tease Jonathan.

Sometimes I daydream of a gathering for failures. We who were thrown out, along with those who fell apart, didn't make it later on, went wrong. Are you there? (You're probably not reading this website.)

I wish I could have gone out in a blaze of rainbow fireworks.  But there's nothing sexy in my interrupted transcript, which a silverfish gnaws in some rusty file drawer in a Parrish closet as I type here, two-fingered.

What comes to mind: One morning setting out from M.L. in the glorious sun, when a motorcycle roars up and suddenly idles. It's Jeff Carter ’68, curls bobbing. "Need a ride?" I must have slung bookbag over a shoulder and then held on to my centaur. We roar across the playing fields, under the tracks and up the hill. For a spectacular moment the fog-self vanished.

Now and then I'd go down to the Crum with my sketchpad. One afternoon I sat on the bank alongside a path there, drawing my bare feet. From up slope came the thunder of runners, and then the cross-country team galloped by. My heart ran after them. Can I be a Methodist monk? I wondered. 

And there were the conversations with Adrienne Asch ’69, who was blind. You who knew Adrienne remember thinking, "I do wish she'd stop seeing right through me."

Sometimes we'd review our friends. "What about Mike?" she'd ask. "He must be handsome."

I'd pause for his wise, kind face to focus in this new light. "Yes. He is handsome."

Then she laughed her deep whoop of delight. Those sessions were premature lessons for me in "looksism."

Sometimes I hated how easy it was to avoid Adrienne, coming the other way. And I hated skulking to Mrs. Hall's little room for the weekly reading session. She'd open The Invisible Man and we'd begin where we left off. None of it helped. 

Books piled up around my carrel and more than one overdue paper got ellipsissed (ellipsized?). Martin Dodsworth asked, in a plummy, well-meaning voice, if I spent too much time at billiards. My adviser, Professor Hynes, said I was his most difficult advisee ever.

On Valentine's Day, 1968, Dean Cobbs summoned me to her office to say they were kicking me out for good. I wandered down to the woods and sobbed, for the first time since I was little.

For a week or two I walked from class to class, like Emily among the living in Our Town. Then I took the train back home. Soon, friends gathered some of the ephemera I had too often been busy with, and put it on display in the new library. Then came this letter (which I just found while looking through boxes for stuff for the Bulletin):

18 April 1968

Dear Allan, 

Julie Johnson has given me your address, and I am happy to be able to write you this note. Its cause is the exhibit at the Library…

The exhibit was a great success… I was completely delighted by everything I saw. 

… It occurs to me that your work reflects… your own unawareness of your gift. … So, no particular advice from me, but this: keep working, no matter what! Let nothing whatsoever stop you… make anything, from senseless doodles to carefully worked-out drawings… find time to draw, to commune with yourself in even the simplest way… And forget about external aspects of that work: exhibits, or appreciation, or criticisms, etc.; that is of no essential concern. The only central concern must be that you yourself can feel that not a single day may pass without your engaging your gift in some tangible (only to you) way.

I am sorry not to have known you better when you were here… 


Claudio Spies

I had just begun playing with the college orchestra, which Professor Spies conducted. Otherwise we had no connection. I was still numb from my relocation (and the fog man's vigilance). I never replied.  

Now I read his generous, spirited advice—wonderful for any young artist—and I appreciate anew the college boilerplate about "unique, supportive relationship between student and professor." The Wikipedia entry for Claudio Spies is still in present tense. I hope to thank him yet.

And a few years later, I heard from Sam Hynes. I'd sent him a set of drawings, all with subjects beginning with "SOL": solstice, solanum, solitude etc. The last included my Vermont address, where I was finding my way as an open gay man.

Dear Allan,

… It's very satisfying to me that among all the students I taught at Swarthmore who wound up as Ph.Ds like myself, there is one who is working with his own special talent, and doing it well…  [G]ood luck with the work and the good life… 

As to Question 2: How did my S'more experience influence life now?  Well, Carl Wittman ’64 and I might have met anyhow. He and my brother Chris danced the Maypole together in the forest amphitheater; and for one year, in high school down here, I read his editorials in the Phoenix. But it was getting thrown out that began what seems the inexorable path to each other.

Stripped of my college draft deferral, and a sissy deep in my bones, I declared myself a conscientious objector. The Guilford Co. board approved, thanks to years of witness by the New Garden Quakers. I found a C.O. job in Boston with a group of organizers in Boston, several who had worked with Carl in SDS.

Looking back, most everything radiates from there—coming out, gay politicking, the years with Carl in Oregon and then here, all our dancing… Which I'd still like to share with you sometime.