From New York to Hollywood [Running The Gauntlet - By Jim Ward]

2: From New York to Hollywood

In the early sixties I spent a couple of years at the University of Colorado in Boulder majoring in fine arts. Frequently on weekends I would go into Denver to cruise the gay bars.

As I recall there were two gay bars in downtown Denver: the Court Jester and the Tic-Toc Lounge. The Court Jester was fun for an occasional drag show, but the crowd was heavy on queens reeking of cologne. The Tic-Toc had a more collegiate, masculine crowd. It was there one night that I caught the eye of a slightly older guy whose name turned out to be Bud. We developed a friendship and I saw him occasionally for a little hanky-panky. Several times we met up during his lunch hour at an inexpensive little Japanese hotel where no questions were asked. Early on Bud arranged a three-way with his lover Tom, but that wasn't exactly a big success because Tom was very jealous and made it clear he didn't want any competition. Though Bud and I enjoyed each other's company, I didn't consider myself a home wrecker. Thus by the time I ended up in New York, I had lost contact with Bud.

Consequently it came as something of a surprise when Bud showed up in Brooklyn one day in the company of my friend Steve. Turned out Bud was visiting New York and they had met at one of the leather bars.

Bud bares it all.

Bud was delighted to see me again and for the duration of his vacation we spent a lot of time together. By the time he had to return to Denver, romance was in the air. Bud wanted me to move back to Denver and live with him and Tom. He assured me that he'd talked it over with Tom and that everything was okay. What can I say? I was in enamored and fool enough to take the risk. I packed up my belongings, said good bye to friends, and took off for the mile-high city.

Bud and Tom had bought a small house in North Denver. Bud's mother Vi lived on the main floor and did most of the cooking and household chores. Bud and Tom had the furnished basement to themselves.

I arrived to a chilly reception from Tom and Vi. Things were obviously not okay with them. As fond as I was of Bud, I also didn't want to break up his relationship. Soon after arriving I took Tom aside and laid my cards on the table, making my intentions clear. It relieved a lot of the tension, and in time we got to be good friends. Although we regularly went out to the bars together and sometimes picked up one or more guys for a mini orgy, my relationship with Bud and Tom rapidly became one of roommates. Once it became clear that I wasn't there to interfere, Vi too relaxed and came to depend on me to help her with grocery shopping and other errands.

It wasn't long before I connected with a handful of guys who were interested in starting a motorcycle club. We got together a few times and founded the Rocky Mountaineers Motorcycle Club which, like the Energizer bunny, is still going.

One of the other members was a hot daddy type named Rod. He rode a big Harley hawg, and I thought he was sexy as hell. We got to be good buddies and did a lot of riding together in more ways than one.

Rod on his Harley.

Astride the Big Shit Apparatus.

For some time I had wanted a motorcycle of my own. With advice from other club members and Rod's promise to teach me to ride — and even though the weather was beginning to get cold — I started looking for a bike. I found one in the newspaper that was within my budget and ended up buying it. It was a BSA, a product of the worst possible British engineering. I was soon convinced BSA stood for Big Shit Apparatus, though friends assured me it stood for Bastard Stopped Again. If nothing else it gave me something on which to learn to ride and get my license. But it was clear that taking the BSA on a lengthy road trip would be risky.

There was debate among club members over the various merits and shortcomings of different bikes. For prestige and image nothing beat a Harley, but having ridden on long trips with Rod I knew their vibration was butt numbing. They were also expensive, and, unless you were a bodybuilder, impossible to lift if you happened to take a spill. BMWs were favored by some. With a drive shaft instead of a chain, they were quieter and virtually vibration-free, and had a reputation for reliability. But they too were expensive.

Someone mentioned that there was a new entry into the American market from Italy, something called a Moto Guzzi. One of the local dealers had started to carry them. I checked them out, took one for a test drive, and was favorably impressed. Like the BMW they had a drive shaft which gave them a quieter, smoother ride. They were also significantly less expensive than a BMW. This, I decided, was the bike for me, but I had to figure out how to purchase it. I didn't have the cash, and I hadn't lived in Denver long enough to establish any kind of credit record. To my amazement, Tom, without my even asking, volunteered to co-sign a loan. The Guzzi was mine.

Ready to ride on my new Moto Guzzi.

During the five years I lived in Denver, the Rocky Mountaineers organized a number of motorcycle runs. Guys from other clubs, even from other states, rode in to participate. On one of these I met a couple of guys from Omaha, one of whom was really taken with my nipple piercings and asked me to pierce his. This was the first time I ever pierced someone else. We shopped around and found a couple of earrings that would work, and I got a nice new pushpin and a fresh wine bottle cork. Crude as it was, he braved the process and went back to Omaha with probably the first pair of pierced nipples anyone in that town had ever seen.

My pierced nipples were also an inspiration for Bud, though he wanted something different. One night on his own he did a piercing in the center of his chest just below the clavicle. The piercing looked really hot with an open-neck shirt. But, alas, it wasn't destined to last. Bud had the piercing for about a year during which it healed and appeared to be permanent. Then suddenly, like many surface piercings, it started to migrate. The skin became thinner and thinner and within a few days time healed out. By then Bud had decided not to try again.

The downside of being one of the first guys around with pierced nipples was that many of the men I played with simply had no clue what to do with them. They tended to avoid them completely or treat them like the dials on a radio. It frequently became necessary to explain some of the finer points of nipple play.

Still, I got a lot of enjoyment from my piercings, enough, in fact, to begin thinking about piercing my dick. Like many men I had a thin web of tissue (the frenum) between the head of the penis and the shaft. I thought it would be really erotic to put a piercing through what seemed a natural placement.

I had a local jeweler make a small white gold ring with abutted ends, about 3/8" in diameter and about 12 gauge. Unfortunately many white gold alloys are very stiff and can't be annealed (softened) the way yellow gold can. Consequently the ring was extremely difficult to open and close and required two pair of heavily padded pliers to do the job. Still I somehow managed to do the piercing and insert and close the ring.

But the piercing wasn't destined to last. Since I really knew nothing about the nature of these things, I had no idea that the placement was wrong. It's also possible that there was something in the white gold alloy that my body didn't like. At any rate within a matter of weeks the piercing began to enlarge. The ring was hanging by a thread of tissue. There was no way to save the piercing; even removing the ring couldn't save it. Within days the thread broke and the piercing was gone.

A motorcycle is less than ideal as one's sole mode of transportation in a place where winters can be severe. Bundled up in a snowmobile suit I managed as long as the streets weren't too icy. In really bad weather I would catch a ride to work with Bud and Tom who worked in the same neighborhood. It was becoming clear I needed a car.

Though generally reliable, my Moto Guzzi had a minor problem, which came close to destroying it. The breather valve would occasionally stick open allowing the oil to be siphoned out of the engine. This happened on a long trip with a friend who didn't notice when the oil light came on which resulted in a damaged crankshaft. Although I was able to have it repaired the bike never sounded the same and had more vibration.

I don't think that riding a motorcycle is, in itself, terribly dangerous. The major danger comes from people in cars who either don't see you or deliberately try to do you harm by doing things like try to run you off the road. When a fellow biker lost a leg in a freak motorcycle accident on the way to one of our club runs, my enthusiasm for my cycle began to wane. Shortly thereafter I sold the bike and used the money as a down payment on a Volkswagen.

By the late sixties and early seventies, the influence of the hippie movement was being felt throughout society. Changing the tense of a Bob Dylan lyric, "The times they were a changing." Many people were trying to find some meaning in their lives and were exploring ways to better understand themselves. Of course they were also looking for quick and easy fixes. To meet the demand, all kinds of therapists and self-help gurus were coming out of the woodwork. The Beatles were doing Transcendental Meditation. Werner Erhard was raking it in with EST, "a hodgepodge of philosophical bits and pieces culled from the carcasses of existential philosophy, motivational psychology, Maxwell Maltz's Psycho-cybernetics, Zen Buddhism, Alan Watts, Freud, Abraham Maslow, L. Ron Hubbard, Hinduism, Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, P.T. Barnum, and anything else that Erhard's intuition told him would work in the burgeoning Human Potential market." If those weren't to your liking, you could chose from Zen, Yoga, Scientology, Silva Mind Control, Krishna Consciousness — the possibilities were endless. Unfortunately for every sincere and legitimate visionary, there was a snake oil salesman waiting with outstretched hand to take your money.

Thus it should come as no surprise that I joined a gay encounter group. One night a guy named Victor got to talking about something revolutionary called Primal Therapy. I didn't think much about it at the time, but shortly thereafter I was browsing in a bookstore and noticed a copy of The Primal Scream by Arthur Janov, the book about the therapy that Victor had been talking about. It looked interesting, so I bought it and read it.

Janov's premise was that as children almost everyone shuts down emotionally rather than experience rejection and loss of love from their parents. This repressed emotion is then expressed in countless neurotic and even psychotic ways. The cure comes when a person gets in touch with and expresses those shut down feelings and no longer has to "act them out."

The book recounted the almost miraculous experiences of a number of people who had been through the therapy. Within a matter of months they had supposedly undergone life-altering transformations.

Janov claimed that homosexuality could be cured with Primal Therapy. I had long ago come to terms with my sexuality and was quite comfortable with it, so I didn't find this claim compelling. The thing that suckered me in was the glimmer of hope that here was something that might help relieve the chronic depression that had plagued me since childhood. Well, I'm nothing if not gullible. After all if this therapy could entice celebrities such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, there much be something to it.

I sent my application to Janov's Primal Institute in West Hollywood and flew there for an interview. Soon after I was notified that I had been accepted.

It was never my intent to stay in LA. I thought I would just take a leave of absence from my job for a few months and return to Denver a new man. It didn't quite happen that way.

Right after Christmas, 1972, I flew to LA to start therapy. It soon became apparent that this was going to take longer than I had expected. I sent a letter to my boss explaining that I would need to be away from the job a while longer. I waited, but no response came. I returned to Colorado in February of 1973 to tie up some loose ends to discover he never received the letter. His wife who didn't like me had intercepted it, and he, thinking I was not going to return, filled my position. There was no longer any urgency to return to Denver, so I packed up my VW and headed back to LA. Little did I realize that regardless of any therapeutic outcome, the direction of my life had changed.

Next: The Beginnings of the Modern Body Piercing Movement

Jim Ward is is one of the cofounders of body piercing as a public phenomena in his role both as owner of the original piercing studio Gauntlet and the original body modification magazine PFIQ, both long before BME staff had even entered highschool. He currently works as a designer in Calfornia where he lives with his partner.

Copyright © 2003 LLC. Requests to publish full, edited, or shortened versions must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published September 12th, 2003 by LLC in Tweed, Ontario, Canada

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