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August 10, 1993

Dr. Salvo and Tim

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dear Boss,

The quantity and quality of the mail you've received lately have saddened me and made me worry about you. Your sanity was never your strongest point and all these Bible pounders and tub thumpers for happiness have strained it to the breaking point. You wondered aloud to She Who Must Be Obeyed why I was humming an old ditty called "King of the Road." Well, not because of all the fine Havana cigar butts I find in the gutters of Montrose. It was a song of longing and resolve: If you don't lighten up, I'm hitting the road to Key West, dog days or not.

This "Viewpoint" editorial page from Baldwin Press Register (that was left on the floor under my food and water so I could read with my breakfast?), well, it has some stimulating ideas. The article entitled, Wasting Away In The Keys made it sound pretty alluring, but it did not deal with heat phobia. Most motorists/vacationers are afraid to drive so far south in July, figuring the weather will be too hot. Not so. My family tried it a couple of years ago, and found the air got cooler as they went south. Since nobody had ever mentioned this phenomenon to me before, much less a theory to explain it, I will make bold to advance my own theory: Once you leave the panhandle and turn south, you enter a long corridor or dogtrot where the peninsula ranges from narrow to broad. For long stretches you will get a sea breeze from the Gulf as well as from the Atlantic. This will be in the afternoon, like the southwest wind that blows on the Eastern Shore every day. All night you'll have the land breeze and plenty of ocean on both sides for it to blow into. (Oh dear, I do hope I haven't got it all backwards. Oh well, if I do it will stimulate letter writers.) At any rate, the coolest point on the journey was Key West. Coolest in every sense.

There were and are certain dangers in this trip, and I would be irresponsible were I not to warn you of the Indians in the Everglade Park. Doubtless you know that the Seminoles never surrendered to the United States, despite some barbaric, would-be genocidal raids we inflicted on them. They simply picked off from ambush as many Pale Faces as would satisfy the claims of honor -- then faded into the swamps, bayous, and hammocks. (Or, is it hummocks? Drat this Seminole talk.) They never come out. They never forgot or forgave, either. Some of their more cunning and merciless great grandchildren built attractive cypress and pine eating-lodges by the site of the big trail north and south through the Everglades. There, around the lodges, they dug attractive canals and ponds for their poisonous gaiters (gators?). These were underfed, and lay in wait by the water's edge ready to snap up small children and canine Research Associates.

Inside the Lodge the medicine men mixed up Mickasuckie Magic, which in turn was mixed up with the hamburgers and other suspicously feral looking protein offerings. The Pale Face, or tourist, never knows what hit him until one or two days later when he is unable to tour: It is not safe to depart from the bathroom more than 2-3 paces. It is then that his feverish mind names his tormentors: Salmonella! With or without treatment the victim will be hors de combat till the deadly Injun Medicine goes through his system.

I have no complaint with this old custom of the Mickasookies. I am just glad they are not dispensing leprosy, syphilis, and AIDS. Key West used to be a paradise for gay tourists and would be residents. That is, until the great plague of AIDS began its mortal ravages, largely among the homosexual citizens. Prior to that memorable disaster there was a funny side to the gays' situation: It became fashionable to "declare," i.e., come out of the closet. People vied with each other in their choice of eye-catching milieux in which to announce their new public status, some of them even emerging at the sundown ceremony where every body could see them. One man was working on his roof while his wife steadied the ladder. He was up there about 2-3 stories. When he made his joyous announcement she kicked the ladder out from under, leaving him hanging by his fingernails. She at least hung around until he had hauled himself up on the roof. During this interval she unburdened her mind of some ideas she had on him and the subject he had broached.

I heard all this from a couple of gay Irish Wolfhounds, who live next door. Another item on the Baldwin Press Register editorial page, gives the serious side of the controversy about gays in the military services. The article, by Sarah Overstreet, reminded me of some things you told me about the Korean War, your part of which was 1951 and 1952. You were having a comfortable war in Japan with all the amenities, while a few hundred miles away the Chinese were engulfing our little hilltop garrisons/outposts with thousands of bugle blowing cavalrymen. The last of our survivors, exhausted and shot up, some times "bugged out." That is when this expressive phrase became popular.

You were serving as a psychiatrist in the Army, and had had one year of training. Not being excessively modest you had signed up as a Captain. You were busted to 1st Lieutenant inside of six months, and there you stayed for the duration.

One of your duties was to recommend retention on active duty, discharge, or change of assignment for soldiers with mental symptoms. At times a soldier, professing homosexuality as the reason, would ask to be sent to the Z.I. (Zone of the Interior!) and given a medical discharge -- or even a dishonorable one. These petitions usually coincided with a new series of defeats. Not many asked for discharge when things were going well on the front.

As I recall from your account, the attitude at G.H.Q. as relayed to you by the Chief of Psychiatry in the Far East Command, was entirely pragmatic and flexible: During the hard times, your mission was to maintain the fighting strength and nobody gay or somber was to be let off from serving his country. Some gay people went to extremes to establish their diagnosis and right to be sent home, though you told me the proportion of pacifists and faint-hearted was no greater among the gays. One gay fellow was earnestly pleading to Col. Al Glass, the Chief Psychiatrist, that for him to live in a barracks or tent with other men was a cruel and unusual temptation. The Col. grinned, as you recall, and replied, "Soldier, look at the gorgeous behind on that nurse swinging down the aisle. Can you even imagine the torments I endure, being tempted like that every day? I guess you and I will just have to behave ourselves, soldier. That way we can avoid court-martial. Next!"

However the very next week you would receive instructions, usually verbal, that the time had come to discharge homosexual soldiers, starting with the swishy or indiscreet ones. They never, or rarely, made an issue of it for the soldiers who preserved a reasonable degree of respectable facade. Many of these men were good soldiers, brave fighting men, or longtime, trusted administrators. Their loss to the service would have been quite damaging, and many of them had one or several superior officers protecting them against the latest purge from Washington.

Although the old policy seems a little hypocritical, Boss, it seems to me fairly civilized, and in practice it worked well enough regardless of what was laid down or engraved in granite in D.C. I expect that the newest policy, about which many criticize Clinton, will turn out to be the same as always. After all, it has had two hundred years to evolve in the United States and a few thousand years in Europe and Asia, so it is not likely to change radically or rapidly.

Oh, Boss, I overheard you chatting with Her Who Must Be Obeyed (She?) about the Mobile School Board. My suggestion is that they all resign or fire one another for dishonesty and incompetence. Just before that act they should vote to bring back Magann and let him serve without a Board!

Cheers, your Research Associate
Tim

P.S. It is of interest to us, even the canine researchers, that Magann mentions Kozol. His name is unlikely to cross the lips of anyone on the Board, but he has been one of the best critics and supporters of public education for 30 years or so. It was he, or one of his followers, who suggested that children, who can't vote and can be easily exploited, are our last colonial class. Whom else can we swindle with impunity? This must be why we keep them poor and ignorant, and deny them the vote.

I propose that all children aged 13 and over be given the right to vote on all issues relative to public education. Plus a chance to vote out a superintendent or a Board member on a "no confidence" vote. Then -- perhaps things might change.

Ferociously yours,
Tim

--August 10, 1993


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