Biographies & Memoirs



FROM THE EARLIEST days of my adolescence, my love life was conducted in secrecy. My behavior centered on a paralyzing reluctance to engage my mother’s anger. Her conviction that I was destined for the Church led to hostility toward any expression of my sexuality. Late one night after an orgasmic session in the front seat of my car in front of one of the university residence halls, I hung my blue jeans in back of my closet, planning to wash them later. With an uncanny sixth sense, she found them there the next morning and waved the proof of my sin before me, accusing me of having “wasted a baby.” I felt humiliated. I began to keep as much of my life as possible a secret from her. If my father had been alive it would have been different, I believe, but he was not alive.

My early social life was conventional. My first date was for an official graduation dance at the Thelma Leah Ritter Dance School, above the Princess Theater. Here I was enrolled after failing to master the fox-trot, the samba, the mambo, and the waltz while practicing with my aunt Martha in the living room of my grandmother’s house on Clark Street. My grandmother, my mother, my father, Martha’s friend Jean, and my uncle Bob, who had never danced a step in his life, sat around offering suggestions.

For that first dance I invited a St. Mary’s classmate I was good friends with, but her name is gone from my memory. We were dropped off at the corner and walked up to the steps, only to find the door locked. I had the wrong night. The evening was saved and much improved when we went instead to see Bridge on the River Kwai at the Princess. Here I enacted the ages-old ritual of casually resting my arm on the back of her seat and then advancing it so slowly that had it not been a long movie it might never have reached her shoulder. When the bombs went off my arm made the final decisive leap.

In high school and the full flood of adolescence, I had powerful crushes and even what I took for the time as love. At some point I made it clear I would not be going into the priesthood—I had no “vocation”—but my mother warned against liaisons with non-Catholic girls. “There’s no future in it. You can’t ever marry them. It’s not fair to the girl.” When I got the euphoric freedom of a driver’s license, she could no longer be sure who I was seeing, and I began a pattern of denying I was seeing anyone at all. I was out with the gang. Or “working over at the News-Gazette.” Or “just down at the Tigers’ Den,” our chaperoned Urbana hangout. Or “I went to the movies.” Eventually I did acknowledge the reality of some of my high school romances: Mary Scott, Marty McCloy, Judi Irle, my senior prom date Carol Zimmer. My mother approved of my high school dates, they were very nice, they came from good families, but I was reminded that I could never marry one. “Why don’t you date a nice Catholic girl?” If I had, my life might have turned out differently. But somehow I had known all of the St. Mary’s girls too well for eight years, and when I reached ninth grade the public school girls seemed, well, women and not playmates. I pointed out that my mother herself, after all, had married a non-Catholic. “Yes, I did. We had to be married in the rectory. I don’t want you making the same mistake.” Apparently a church wedding was more important than my happiness.

The roots of my hesitation began before I even dreamed of romance, much less sex. They involved a fear of my mother’s emotionalism. My parents didn’t have many domestic quarrels, but they left deep wounds as I curled under my blankets and heard angry voices raised and footfalls up and down the little hallway, between the bedroom and the kitchen, and the slamming of doors. Many children grow up with unspeakable abuse. My parents were always loving and kind. Perhaps that made this anger seem more shocking. In my memory, it is my mother’s voice, raised and hysterical, that comes through the bedroom door, and my father’s voice sounds lower, placating, reasoning. What was really going on I cannot say, although I had the impression the arguments always began over money and their two families and then escalated into denunciations, “you don’t love me,” and so on.

I felt a deep aversion to my mother’s anger. I began to avoid confrontation by deception. This pattern deepened in college, and I began a double life. During those years I was drawn eagerly into the campus world of beatniks, bohemians, liberals, writers, artists, theater people, the Campus Folksong Club, and hangouts like the Turk’s Head Coffee House, the Capitol Bar, and certain tables in the basement of the Illini Union frequented by students who seemed thrillingly nonconformist. I began as an enthusiastic Phi Delt and even moved into the house for a semester. What began to change me was a growing liberalism, in those years before the upheavals in the late 1960s. Representing the Daily Illini, I starting attending the summer congresses of the National Student Association. Judy Johnson, the news editor of the DI, brought back from her first one the Port Huron Statement of the new Students for a Democratic Society, and in reading it I found a powerful appeal to my developing feelings. SDS was still then “the Student Department of the League for Industrial Democracy,” an element of the Socialist Party USA, the Norman Thomas group of democratic socialists. The card carried an anti-communist statement on its back. I read Thomas’s books, and as editor of the DI began to run his syndicated column. By “syndicated,” I mean that he wrote it for New America, the party newspaper, and mailed us a carbon copy from his typewriter for two dollars a week.

At a congress at Indiana University, I met not only Hayden but Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Julian Bond, Andrea Dworkin, Barney Frank, Jonty Driver, the famously exiled president of the National Union of South African Students, and others who were about to become famous. Their politics were far more advanced than my own. With “We Shall Overcome” ringing in my ears, I returned to live in the Phi Delt house, and I became uncomfortably aware that it was an all-white house. When my semester in residence had ended, I moved back home and never returned to the house for the rest of my undergraduate years. Again I avoided a confrontation. Many of the brothers were my close friends, and I explained, “It takes all of my time to edit the paper.” This was cowardly, but consistent. My life as a liberal bohemian, the labor union songs I learned at the Campus Folksong Club, the women I dated, my handful of black friends, my fellow faux beatniks were all in a separate compartment. I had schooled myself to avoid confrontation through separating the categories of my life. Not many people ever saw me whole.

Sexually, I was incredibly naïve. After childhood as a Catholic only child and high school in a more innocent time, I remained a virgin until the summer of 1962, when I accompanied a team of the university’s wheelchair athletes on a tour of South Africa. I was twenty and acutely aware of my virginity. At a time before the Pill, middle-class sex was more rare than it soon became, but all the same I feared I was missing the boat and was determined to swim out to it.

One night in Durban a group of us went to a nightclub and my inquisitive gaze was returned by a woman on the dance floor. I asked her to dance. Her name was Mary. As our bodies pressed together, it became clear she was not shy. I had a quick erection. “Friendly chap, aren’t you?” she said. I drew back but she pulled me close again. “Want to become better friends?” she asked. The next afternoon I called her number and visited her in a beachfront apartment. She was clearly naked under a shift. She was also friendly and tactful. “Let’s get the business out of the way,” she said, but after I handed over my money I lost my nerve and said, “I don’t have a whole lot of experience. Maybe we could just talk.”

“Stand up here,” she said, and put her arms around me. She laid her head on my chest. She moved against me. She took my hands and pressed them against her breasts under the shift. These were the first breasts I had touched that were not encased in a brassiere. They were full and indescribably gratifying. “Now you’re friendly again,” she said.

Afterward I walked out into the Durban sunlight and my heart sang. I was a man. My head was held a little higher, I put my hands in my pockets and scuffed my feet. This was what it was all about. I went into an Indian restaurant and ordered a curry.

“Mild?” said the counterman.

“Hot,” I said.

“Maybe you like to try medium?” he said.

“Hot. I know what I’m doing.”

My lips burned for twenty-four hours.

Returning to Illinois, I didn’t find sexual intercourse any more easily available, but once I had experienced the delight of orgasm I discovered that girls also knew of such things, and then began a time of adventures made possible because I owned a car. At the National Student Congress at the University of Minnesota in 1964 I finally performed intercourse with a female undergraduate for the first time. I had good luck in 1965 at the University of Cape Town, but it was not until the early winter of 1966, when I was in graduate school, that I finally experienced intercourse with a student in Champaign-Urbana for the first time. I was twenty-three.

My delayed sexual initiation was perhaps not as unusual as it seemed to me. Sex was problematical in everyday undergraduate life. The likelihood was that you might get nowhere—or if you did, you could be disciplined, arrested, or expelled. The university took aggressive steps to prevent sex among undergraduates. They weren’t allowed to live in their own apartments. In women’s dormitories, a strict curfew was enforced, and too many “late minutes” in a semester would get you hauled up before a disciplinary committee. Campus cops patrolled the parking lots of motels, looking for student stickers. It was assumed that by locking down the women, you would prevent sex. If a couple returned to a woman’s dorm early, they could share a sofa in the lounge, monitored by matrons who enforced the Three Foot Rule: three of their four feet had to be on the floor, if you follow me. Car crashes were blamed on speeding toward women’s dorms to meet the curfew.

In 1960, Leo Koch, an assistant professor of biology, wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Illini that led to a furor over academic freedom:

With modern contraceptives and medical advice readily available at the nearest drugstore, or at least a family physician, there is no valid reason why sexual intercourse should not be condoned among those sufficiently mature to engage in it without social consequences and without violating their own codes of morality and ethics. A mutually satisfactory sexual experience would eliminate the need for many hours of frustrating petting and lead to happier and longer lasting marriages among our young men and women.

How innocuous that seems today. There was an uproar. Outraged citizens’ groups and the Chicago Tribune called for the university to take action. President David Dodds Henry directed Koch’s dean to relieve the biologist “immediately” of his duties. The American Association of University Professors, while not siding with Koch’s views, said he had a right to express them and noted he had been summarily fired without a hearing. The AAUP imposed censure on the university, which lasted until 1964. In that year Illinois redeemed itself by not dismissing the classics professor Revilo P. Oliver after he wrote an article for the John Birch Society magazine charging that John F. Kennedy was a communist agent murdered by other communists because he “was about to turn American.”

Believing I was far behind the curve in my sex life, I hid that from friends who seemed more experienced. I thought I must be one of the last to get on board. I knew many graduate students who were living together. Others were “going to Chicago for the weekend.” I was a member of the Capitol Crowd, the graduate students who drank in a beloved Green Street bar and eatery. I met most Fridays after classes for the $1.15 perch dinner with Chuck Mullins, a math student whose laugh had an influence on my own; Claire and Alex Gaydasch, who brought along shoe boxes filled with computer punch cards; Mike Bobis, a self-proclaimed universal authority; and Jerry Sullivan, an English major who perpetually seemed to be reading Tom Jones. We were the local bohemians, such as the town possessed, and the bar was equidistant from an art theater and the Turk’s Head Coffee House, where students declaimed their poetry. The Capitol’s atmosphere was relaxed. One Friday night an assistant journalism professor took off his clothes and madly ran about. On Monday morning, he met his class. The incident, as they say, “didn’t get back to anyone.”

It was one night in the Capitol that I saw for the first time one man, an actor named Lara Maraviglia, kiss another man full on the lips. We all fell silent, our eyes evading one another’s, and none of us bold bohemians could utter a single word. Something like a mild electric shock ran through my body. No, I didn’t “discover I was gay.” I discovered that other people surely were. Until then homosexuality had been known to me only in novels, poetry, vague scenes in films, and rumor. I knew lots of “queers,” by which I meant “effeminate men,” but my imagination stopped more or less with them laughing about the same things.

Yet I had an active sex life. In the words of the good professor Koch, I petted, although I never heard anyone use that word. The privacy of the photo library at the Daily Illini was a godsend. On the desk of the editor’s office I did some intense proofreading. In the front seat of my father’s ’55 Ford I experienced delights made all the more exciting because they were restricted. We kissed. I fondled breasts. My hands strayed to her netherlands. My own movables were rummaged. Orgasms in the case of both parties were far from unheard of, although you had to know the girl pretty well, and you might pretend they came by surprise. Eventually I progressed to the point where “Oops!” became a word of delight, but that took a while.

Part of the game was to get… right… up… almost… to the Oops! Point. If you helplessly hurtled past it, well, as Dean of Men Fred Turner used to warn, “Always remember, boys! A stiff prick has no conscience.” So he was widely quoted, anyway. I never heard him say it. It was always someone else who had heard him.

As an undergraduate, these evenings were explained to my censorious mother under “working at the DI” or “studying at the Undergraduate Library.” In the spring of 1964, there was a sudden blowup between my mother and her second husband, George, who was accused of treasuring possessions that reminded him of his first wife, Berenice. I walked out and rented a fifty-five-dollar attic room on Green Street, providentially across from the Steak ’n Shake. One afternoon there I was being visited by Lyn Cole, an editor of the Roosevelt University’s Torch. She answered the telephone. It was my mother calling. When I picked up the receiver, I heard her fury. I was living with a woman. I was lying to her. I had forgotten my Catholic training. Now she knew why I’d really moved out. At this time she had never met a single girl I dated in university. Did she think I was celibate? I have no idea what she thought. From that day forward, she met very few of the women I dated, and they were allegedly just “good friends.” Believe me, I know this is pathetic. I’ve never discussed most of it, except with Chaz. It shows a sad emotional obstruction. I am writing about it here because I’ll write these memoirs once, and if I were to suppress such an embarrassing area there is no point in writing them at all.

In Chicago, my first serious girlfriend was Tal Gilat, a young architect from Israel with Asian Jewish eyes, and we grew very close. She was a woman who seemed to fit naturally under my arm. She lectured me on architecture; Mies was her God. She took me to my first Japanese restaurant. She slept with me in my attic flat at the Dudaks’ house on Burling, and I would wake in the morning to find her up on an elbow regarding me. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” she said. Some months passed before I found out what she meant by this: “You have to make a choice, between me and O’Rourke’s.” The pub had by then become the center not so much of my drinking as of my life. I told her I chose her, but she decided I had chosen O’Rourke’s, and in a few weeks she was gone. We remained friends. In her late thirties she inexplicably began smoking, and a few years later she was dead of lung cancer.

In O’Rourke’s one night I met Sarah Nance, a divorced nurse who was the mother of three children, and I felt a quick chemistry. She had a loud, natural laugh, and we shared a sense of humor. She was a little taller than I, a Czech American whose father was a doctor. She’d had an unlucky first marriage and was divorced before her oldest child was five. We were together almost instantly. We shared expenses (I was far from an upper bracket). I loved her children, Rita Marie, Gregory, and Britt. I loved being fatherly. I loved telling them bedtime stories, and we went to the circus, Great America, movies, museums. The cat had kittens and we all lay on our stomachs and watched them under the bed, nursing.

With Sarah I played house. We cooked together night after night, undisciplined gargantuan feasts fueled with horrible wines. Friends would drop in, especially her sister Mary Therese, John McHugh from the Daily News, and Scott Jacobs from the Sun-Times. Also Jim and Mike Tuohy, known as America’s Guests for their willingness to drop in on friends. Her children were much loved and included in these meals, although the food might not have been on the table until after what should have been their bedtimes.

I was in love with Sarah. We were invited to the Tuohy family picnic, which many from O’Rourke’s attended, thrown annually by a large Chicago Irish clan heavily invested in the police department, the law, and journalism. Jim Tuohy was a reporter for the Sun-Times and his wife, Michaela—Mike—was a freelance writer. They agreed one night at O’Rourke’s that they were born to fill the roles of Drinking Companions to the World. I decided the Tuohy picnic would be a good occasion for my mother to meet Sarah and her children. “This is the woman I’m going to marry,” I told her. Sarah looked lovely that day in a summer dress and big sun hat. Her cleavage was turned to the sun. My mother sparkled at the center of my friends. She was a live wire, remembered to this day as charming and funny.

I put her up at the Ambassador East and slept as usual at Sarah’s house. At six a.m. the telephone rang. “I knew I’d find you there,” she said. “How can you even think of marrying that woman, with her tits hanging out?” I’d never heard her use language like that. It came from the drinking that began with her second marriage, to George. I felt betrayed and treated unfairly. How could she put on such an act at the picnic, lead me to believe that it all might possibly work, and then start screaming at me about Sarah’s tits? Why did the world think she was such a great character, when my stomach knotted every time the telephone rang? In those days I knew little about alcoholism and the personality changes that sometimes accompany it. I had been raised by one Annabel. Now I met a different one. This wasn’t her fault. It was a disease, the same one that made it painful for me to deal with her.

Sarah and I continued to live together, but now the telephone calls came regularly. My aunt Martha, steady as a rock, took the train to Chicago to try to calm things. She and Annabel were friendly, but Martha saw her sister with clear eyes and was a realist free of any prejudice, a Catholic without malice, a liberal without even needing to think about it, and my best friend in the family. I looked more like her than any other Stumm. She clearly observed the situation, hit it off with Sarah while we ate cheeseburgers at Billy Goat’s, and told me at the train station, “Your mother will never accept this. Do what you have to do.”

The following Easter I invited my mother to attend Rita Marie’s confirmation; I thought that might be a fire-free zone. The night before, we all went to dinner together, and then Sarah and I dropped her off at the hotel and continued drinking. I was certainly already by 1970 an alcoholic, and the next morning I overslept, fetched my mother late from the hotel, and arrived at Sarah’s to find delay, disorganization, and Rita Marie sitting in the living room in her confirmation dress, in tears.

Martha had advised me to do what I had to do. For her that meant choosing Sarah. Martha herself had forthrightly lived for years with her friend Jean Sabo, another nurse. Their presence was necessary; Bob couldn’t have taken care of their mother, Anna, and Jean and Martha in the house provided around-the-clock caregiving and nursing. Did I realize this involved a thankless sacrifice by Jean? After the deaths of my mother and Bob, Martha and Jean Sabo made households with my uncle Bill in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Wapella, Illinois. Together they bought the houses in both places. Martha had done what she had to do, and it had been best for everyone concerned.

What I should have done, she thought, was marry Sarah. That might have led to disaster. I had the decade of my worst drinking ahead of me. Sarah also drank too much, which is why, unlike Tal, she tolerated my own boozing. It’s likely that the result for the kids would have been the misery of an alcoholic household. Once years later when Rita Marie and Britt were visiting Chicago for a family reunion, we had a long talk. I saw that while Rita had a clear view of the reality of those days, Britt felt abandoned by me. In his mind, I had left. He never knew his birth father, but I was the father who had walked out, and that still hurt.

After the turning point of the Tuohy family picnic, my relationship with Sarah was on a death watch. After Christmas I flew to London as I did every year, and when I returned, I had the taxi drop me at O’Rourke’s and called Sarah. Her phone had been disconnected. It was after dark, bitterly cold. I drove to her house, used my key, and found it empty. I walked bewildered through the rooms, a few toys or socks scattered behind. I went to Mary Therese’s house nearby. She told me Sarah and her children had moved in with her new friend Bob in Wicker Park. I guess I wasn’t surprised.

Bob moved the family to Arizona, from whence came vague reports of the children being enlisted to manufacture sun-dried bricks for the construction of a house in the desert. I saw Sarah one last time, in Los Angeles in the 1980s. She was repping medical products to doctors. We had a long, nostalgic talk. All the chemistry was gone. We felt like comrades who had survived a battlefield where we might have been killed. That was what amounted to my first marriage.

Rita Marie, who later moved to Salt Lake City, raised two children on her own, put herself through school, and is an accounting and payroll manager. Our marathon cooking sessions may have had some influence on Greg and Britt. Greg taught himself guitar and piano, studied classical guitar, became a sous chef at the Space Needle in Seattle, and then, married with children, moved to Idaho, where he works in catering at a hospital. Britt put himself through school as a journeyman meat cutter, worked as a butcher and restaurant manager, and now works as a cook at one of the Utah resorts. He also has two children. Rita Marie tells me Bob, who died in 2011, kept her mother socially isolated; Sarah and Rita didn’t speak for twenty years, staying in touch through Greg.

With Sarah as with Tal, alcohol had taken the place that should have been filled with a relationship. My alcoholism was masking deep problems, but it was a dependable friend, always there, never critical, making me feel good after it made me feel bad, so that I could sing and joke with a raucous crowd of newspaper friends and Old Town characters, forming those undying barroom friendships that never survived outside a bar. Never again did Annabel meet a woman I was dating, except Ingrid Magan Eng, my love of the 1980s, who was always carefully introduced as a “friend.”

Ingrid had four children and had been divorced twice, and that made her ineligible according to my mother’s Catholic beliefs, and more so because of her possessiveness and jealousy. I will write this book only once and might as well not make it fiction. Her beliefs were not mine after the early 1960s, but my life was chained and governed by hers.

In 1979 I took my last drink. Ingrid drank but never alcoholically; I never saw her drunk. In the 1970s she had been a friend who was always still there after various short-term romances; during some of the annual New Year’s Eve parties I threw at O’Rourke’s she had to ferry me home semiconscious at 10:30. While I was drinking she was to some degree my caregiver.

After sobriety and a hiatus when I plunged into AA, we resumed our relationship in a deeper and more meaningful way. For years before we started dating, we both traveled the same Chicago folk-song circuit: the Earl of Old Town, Holstein’s, Somebody Else’s Troubles, the Wise Fools, the Bulls. We were an item before we became a couple. Her first marriage had been to a Chinese-American man, the father of Monica, Magan, Scott, and Stuart. As I understand it his church beliefs led to conflict with Ingrid’s folkie lifestyle.

I attended her second marriage, to a nice guy named Frenchie who ran a storefront restaurant on Armitage that later morphed into the Fifth Peg, another stop on the Chicago folk circuit. It was probably Ingrid who took me there the night I heard John Prine sing for the first time. He was still a mailman in the suburb of Maywood. I wrote an article for the Sun-Times and that was his first review. He is one of the great songwriters in American history. Ingrid followed folk music with a passion and introduced me to such artists as Queen Ida and Tom Waits.

She survived the upheaval of my transition from drunkenness to sobriety. That’s a transfer of emotion that can require fundamental realignments of friendship, priorities, and your idea of yourself. I was completely immersed in Alcoholics Anonymous for the first two years, dating only women I met at meetings, who knew why I never drank. AA continued, but as I gained a footing in sobriety Ingrid was still there, and so were her children. I met the kids when they were all under ten, at her wedding, and when Monica was sixteen Ingrid took the two of us to a Mexican restaurant for our shared birthday on June 18.

I liked all four of them, but Monica was my Gemini twin (not that I subscribe to astrology). The boys and Magan had their own interests and priorities, but with Monica I can believe I had some influence. I was able to help both girls get jobs as copy clerks at the Sun-Times, and Monica stayed stuck in journalism; today she’s still a writer for the Chicago Tribune, and considering how many fine newspapermen have been axed during bad times, that speaks for itself.

At the time Ingrid and I segued from friendship into romance I was well into Siskel & Ebert and had money to spend. Ingrid, the children, and I sailed on the QE2 and visited London and Venice. Those were happy trips and happy years. Ingrid and I were close and loving companions, but I had no desire to face the wrath of my mother by declaring any serious plans. This is shameful and I cringe to write it, but I have to face the truth: I couldn’t deal with tears, denunciations, and scenes from the Second Annabel.

This became more of a problem because as my drinking ended, my mother’s began to increase. She was careful to conceal this from me, and it was during this time that I got a warning from her lifelong friend Ruby Harmon. Many people hardly knew that Annabel drank. It mostly took place in the evenings, and the caregivers I was paying for were essentially enablers. She grew thin and frail. I was never completely honest with Ingrid about my mother, but I believe she and many others guessed that I would never marry before my mother died.

I allowed my life choices to be limited by that fear. Now as I look back from the end, I clearly see that I should have broken free from Annabel as quickly as I could. It was not her fault that I didn’t. Nobody ever makes you do anything. What they want to do is their decision. What you do is yours. If I am to be realistic, my life as an independent adult began after I met Chaz. I could write the story differently, but I wouldn’t learn from it, and neither would you.

My mother was a good woman, and I loved her. I had a happy childhood and was loved and encouraged. Alcoholism changed her, and I should know as well as anyone how that happens. The Annabel people loved was lovable. She took baskets of food to poor people, not as a “volunteer” for some program, but because she personally knew people who needed it and she couldn’t let them be hungry. She sat with the sick. She prayed with the dying. She was funny and very smart. She was a “businesswoman” in the 1940s when feminism was unheard of. She drove her own car. She helped her family and my father’s. That was the mother I had. Alcoholism is a terrible disease and I am glad I had it because I can understand what happened to her, and how it damaged my own emotional growth. I buried myself in movies that allowed me to live vicariously.

There’s nothing unique about my behavior. There is everything wrong with it. There must come a day when parents and children approach each other as adults or simply break off ties. This is in the nature of things. That day never came for me. From early in my childhood I developed a fear of my mother’s storms, and perhaps observed my father’s strategy of detachment. My aunt Martha told me, “Your father lived for you.” This was true of both my parents and possibly explains the survival of their marriage and much of their undeniable happiness. If alcoholism brought me misery, it remained in abeyance long enough to allow me a happy childhood and adolescence, which took place after the end of my father’s drinking and before the beginning of my mother’s.

Why did the three most important loves of my life, Sarah, Ingrid, and Chaz, all happen to have children? I fell in love with them in the first place simply because of who they were. Then acting in the role of a stepfather came naturally. I took joy in the role and I loved the children. They represented children I believed I might never have. I never saw them as competing with me for their mother’s attention, but as sharing their family with me. I have always had a great desire to be a father, and in my life this is how it worked out. I am a man who has never fathered yet has had a role in the raising of nine children and four grandchildren.

Twice in my life I had reason to believe a woman was pregnant with my child. There were no abortions, but there were apparently no children. One woman lived out of state and reported in urgent detail the progress of her pregnancy. She was overweight in a pleasing way and was plump enough to plausibly be pregnant. I sent her money for expenses. In the middle of one night I received a call that her water had broken and she was on the way to the hospital. My child was being born.

An hour later the phone rang again, and an unfamiliar voice said, “Roger, we’ve never met. I’m the woman who lives upstairs. I know what’s been going on, and I want to tell you that woman has never been pregnant.”

Was this fake mother simply a con-woman, shaking me down? I’ve never thought so. She was delightful and I liked her, but she was a fabulist. I met Robert Altman for the first time because she was running an event that she assured both of us Pauline Kael would attend. Pauline later told me she had never even been invited.

There were some months when I believed that child, my child, was on the way. The woman lived in another state. I never went to see a doctor with her, as I would have in Chicago. I flew out there. I saw her. She could have been pregnant. Or (I hesitate to say this because I found her quite attractive) she could have been fat.

If the child had been born, I would have claimed it as my own and wanted to raise it, while marrying the mother. That would have been absolute. I related this story of “my only child” to Chaz, and told her, “If the telephone were to ring today and the person on the other end were to say You are my biological father, I would weep with joy.”

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