Audio Interview, Robert Harris, May 18, 2012

  • ROBERT HARRIS: And over the years
  • we see each other here and there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah, well, we're here talking to Bob Harris,
  • right?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Yep.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: About his early years in Rochester.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: What he remembers of them. (Laughter)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Early years in New York City,
  • because I understand you were at Stonewall.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: I was at Stonewall that weekend, yes.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Were you actually in the bar when--
  • ROBERT HARRIS: The next--
  • well, OK, not the night of, but the night after we
  • went into the bar.
  • And I mean the place was a shambles.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What-- did you just go into the bar
  • because that's what you going to do, or did you hear?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: We had heard and we--
  • I-- OK, four friends and I drove down to New York
  • in a convertible--
  • I was so sunburnt--
  • to visit mutual friends down there.
  • And they-- it's all-- as I said, I was really
  • sunburnt that one day.
  • We had-- we heard something had gone on at Stonewall.
  • And one of the guys from New York said, "Well,
  • let's go down.
  • Let's go to Stonewall."
  • And me being me, "OK."
  • We went.
  • And as we're going down, is it Christopher Street?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: As we're walking down Christopher Street,
  • the four of us or five of us-- there was five of us by this
  • time, maybe six--
  • we could hear hubbub, to do, going on.
  • And someone in a doorway grabbed ahold of me and said,
  • "You might want to step into the doorway, into this doorway."
  • And I'm like, (mumbles).
  • And I'm peering out of this doorway
  • trying to track down my friends, because we
  • had gotten separated.
  • Up there in front of a Stonewall coming down
  • the street is this whole line of gay men and women
  • doing sort of a kick line routine down the street,
  • as I recall.
  • And then I heard noise to my left.
  • And I looked, and here's a whole line of the cops coming up
  • the street.
  • And I'm thinking, what the hell?
  • You know, I mean, I'm a little country boy.
  • What's this all about?
  • And I eventually stepped out of the doorway,
  • because I could see where my friends were.
  • And I thought, well, I'll just skip across the street
  • and join them.
  • And I was stopped by a cop, who told me
  • I couldn't cross the street.
  • And I said, "But my friends are over there."
  • "I don't care, you can't cross the street."
  • I said, "But I don't know my way around New York City."
  • "You can't cross the street," and he wrapped me
  • in the shoulder with his billy club.
  • I was like, what?
  • So I eventually did connect up with my friends,
  • who were standing on a street corner a block or so away.
  • And they were standing there looking for me.
  • "Where's Bobby?
  • Where's Bobby?
  • I don't know.
  • Wasn't he with you?
  • I thought he was with you."
  • That routine, you know?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: And they were standing
  • there being orbited by this very tall, yeah, on rollerskates
  • besides, black drag queen, who was just skating around them
  • and chattering away.
  • And so-- I finally caught up to them and I said,
  • "I don't know about anybody else, but I want a drink now."
  • So we went to a different bar, and had a drink.
  • Then the following night, we went back down.
  • And that's when I believe we went into Stonewall.
  • It was open, but I mean it was obviously had been trashed
  • and mirrors were broken.
  • And you could smell liquor that had been--
  • bottles had been broken and so on.
  • And, I mean, there wasn't anything going on.
  • There wasn't a bartender--
  • I don't think there was the bartender working
  • at that point.
  • But we just-- you know, we peered in and left.
  • And, I mean, it was just--
  • that was the last time I was ever in New York City.
  • But it was a very strange experience,
  • because I was gay obviously.
  • I mean, I was born gay, and had gone
  • through the family finding out.
  • And that was a whole scene with my mother and father.
  • And even though they had met friends of mine
  • here in Rochester, but at the same time
  • they had met girls that I was going out with.
  • I was in that stage with what do I want?
  • Even though I knew what I wanted, but what do I want?
  • Because back in the late 50s, early 60s the idea of being
  • a homosexual-- particularly from a small town, you know,
  • Oneonta, New York was just--
  • I mean it was just not done.
  • And I had reconciled myself to the fact
  • and thought, well, yeah this is--
  • I am gay.
  • And I can deal with it my own self.
  • So-- but still going to New York City--
  • even though I was familiar with the gay life
  • here in Rochester a little bit-- but New York City was,
  • I mean, a whole different animal.
  • (Laughs) I mean--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: And so that's what it was.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was there--
  • did you observe as these two lines--
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Converged.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Converged?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: I did not see any--
  • if you're asking did I see any overt violence or anything, no,
  • I didn't.
  • The group of gay people that was coming down the street
  • were singing, whatever they were singing.
  • I can't remember.
  • And the cops were in riot gear, though.
  • But I was so verklempt the only thing I wanted to do
  • was get to my friends, you know, my own little comfort zone.
  • Because I just--
  • I didn't really realize until a day or two
  • even afterward that-- all that had transpired.
  • And, of course, I did know that Judy Garland died.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: And that was like emblazoned in the sky.
  • But as far as a police raid on a gay establishment,
  • I had never experienced anything like that
  • here in Rochester, even though I had gone
  • to Martha's on Stone Street.
  • And, of course, the cops every now and then would
  • come in there.
  • And Martha would dutifully unplug the jukebox.
  • And anybody that was dancing would stop.
  • And she'd talk to the cops, and there'd
  • be this handshake thing going on, and the cops would leave.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: More than handshake.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • Money was changing hands.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Of course.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: But the only others-- let's see the--
  • well, Martha's was a gay bar.
  • I officially came out, I suppose, in a bar
  • at Bullwinkles.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Bullwinkles.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Bullwinkles, which
  • used to be a very mixed crowd.
  • And one year I had gone home.
  • I was teaching at this time, and I had gone home
  • for Christmas vacation.
  • And drove back to Rochester a day earlier
  • than my apartment mate was going to be there,
  • with the idea that I was going to go to Bullwinkles.
  • I mean, I wanted to go.
  • I had heard about Bullwinkles.
  • So-- and I had been in there.
  • I mean, that used to be--I taught in Greece.
  • Friday nights, teachers, we all gathered at Bullwinkles
  • on Friday nights.
  • You know, and party and hooted and sang and carried on.
  • And so-- and I was aware of what the bar area was like.
  • So I waltzed in there one night all gussied up.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: For Bullwinkles?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Really.
  • Well, yeah.
  • Met, was picked up by a guy, actually,
  • which was a new and interesting experience.
  • And I--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Are we talking late 60s, 70s?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: OK, let's see, I--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Was this before or after New York?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: This was before.
  • That was before, yeah.
  • And because that's when I started.
  • After Bullwinkles, Martha's, and so on,
  • and led a sort of freelance life.
  • But by the time I was in New York,
  • I was partnered with somebody, who's now dead.
  • In fact, of the four of us that went down to New York,
  • two are dead.
  • One of them was one of the first people
  • that I know of in Rochester that died of AIDS,
  • and that was Jimmy Pinell.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Now what year was--
  • ROBERT HARRIS: OK, let's see.
  • I would have been about twenty-six,
  • and I'm going to be next month seventy-three.
  • So--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Forty seven years ago.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So what does that put us back at, '66?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Well, Stonewall was what year?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: '69
  • ROBERT HARRIS: '69.
  • OK, yeah.
  • So--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Forty seven years ago would be '65/'66.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • So you were teaching at that point in--
  • ROBERT HARRIS: I was teaching at Greece, Greece Arcadia.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But you grew up in Oneonta.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: I grew up in Oneonta.
  • And went to-- did my undergrad work at Albany.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • And in Oneonta there was not really any recognition or--
  • not by you, but in terms of was there
  • a community, a gay community?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: No.
  • No.
  • Even though Oneonta at the time--
  • I mean, there are two colleges in Oneonta, there's Heartwick
  • and there's Oneonta State.
  • And-- but back then gay, you just didn't know from gay.
  • I mean, there were.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: No rumors about a particular bar?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Well, I mean there were always
  • sort of rumors.
  • You know, as my dear sweet departed mother--
  • and she was-- her--
  • my mother would never-- even after--
  • my mom and dad found out that I was gay and for two weeks,
  • I did not exist for them.
  • And this happened in Provincetown, of all places.
  • But my mother would never say the word gay or homosexual.
  • It would be, well, you know, he's peculiar.
  • I loved that, he's peculiar.
  • Yes, Bobby is peculiar.
  • So--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what about in Albany,
  • when you went to college?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: In Albany is when I--
  • yeah, it was obvious that there were gay people there
  • in Albany.
  • And the man that I am living with now, that's when we met.
  • We were lovers in college, and lived together for a while
  • after college.
  • Then I ran away from the situation,
  • because I was saying to myself I'm not gay.
  • And we were living down near Binghamton,
  • we both taught down in that area.
  • And I moved to Rochester, because our third roommate
  • from college--
  • we shared an apartment-- was already teaching up here.
  • And said-- at that time Greece Arcadia
  • was expanding to a four year high school,
  • and they needed an English teacher.
  • And they needed somebody that would develop a drama program.
  • And I somehow fit the bill.
  • So I moved up here, and started teaching at Greece Arcadia.
  • Then Andy finally moved up to Rochester.
  • And he was very distraught.
  • He was very upset with me.
  • He fell in love with me and--
  • you know even before.
  • But he came to Rochester because there was
  • teaching positions for here--
  • for him up here, too.
  • And for about two years when he lived in Rochester,
  • if he saw me out in public he would just--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Ignore you?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Yeah, ignore me.
  • And that finally reconciled itself.
  • So-- and since, I mean, we've lived together now for decades.
  • But we're housemates, that's all we've been.
  • He's had relationships.
  • I've had relationships I've had more relationships than he
  • has had, but we still we live in this big old house.
  • That's why we come together, because it's a big old house.
  • We've got three floors.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: And neither one of us
  • are sexually partnered with anyone,
  • I haven't been for quite a while.
  • Because the last relationship I had when that broke up,
  • I was devastated.
  • Just I totally wiped out and decided--
  • well, when it first broke up I thought, OK, fine.
  • I'll play the whore of Babylon on the Genesee.
  • And I did that for a while, then I got bored with that actually.
  • And that's when AIDS started rearing its ugly head.
  • And I thought, you know, I had never--
  • I had never practice safe sex.
  • And more and more people that I knew were dying.
  • And I just thought, I don't want to deal with this in that way.
  • So I became celibate.
  • And, I mean, I have been for years now.
  • It's a way of life that I sort of accept.
  • I mean--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: There is porn, so--
  • (laughs) But it's been--
  • I don't regret anything that I did in my life, actually.
  • You know, there are times--
  • I have said this to many people--
  • that depending on whether you believe in God or not,
  • I'm living proof that whoever it is does protect fools.
  • Because I mean, I think back.
  • I mean, I was bookstores, baths, parks.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Everywhere.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Yeah.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I want to talk a little bit still about--
  • stay with the-- excuse me--
  • stay with some of those early years.
  • You know, those mid to late 60s and you're
  • going to Martha's and wherever.
  • What was the gay scene in Rochester like?
  • I mean, other than just the bar scene?
  • I mean, what were the conversations
  • that people were having?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Oh, well, OK there was the bar scene.
  • And I became aware of-- fairly early on, I don't know why I
  • became aware of it or how I became aware of it--
  • that the people that we saw in the bars--
  • and you saw the same people all the time--
  • were only the tip of the iceberg.
  • That there was a big gay community in Rochester.
  • But it was a very--
  • I don't want to say cliquish.
  • But I mean there were groups that, you know,
  • congregated together and were friends.
  • And I managed to get connected up with some of these people.
  • And, I mean, very talented people.
  • They-- many of them influenced my whole way of thinking.
  • I mean, you think back to this was--
  • Mayor Barry was not mayor then, or was he still mayor then--
  • but he was gay.
  • And he was partnered with a man all of--
  • you know, but it was still the gay community knew about it.
  • And I'm sure the straight community knew about it,
  • but it wasn't--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It wasn't talked about.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: It wasn't talked about.
  • And yet, the mayor and the mayoress
  • would have these gala parties at their home.
  • They lived I think on Mount Hope.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: And they also had a place
  • down near Honeyoye Lake, a cabin getaway place.
  • And I was at parties there.
  • You know, and there was this whole group of a lot of older--
  • well, to me there were older day-- well,
  • they were at the time, they were older--
  • of gay men that had developed a whole life for themselves.
  • And they lived a very dual existence.
  • And I think a lot of us did when we were younger,
  • lived a dual existence.
  • It was a very sort of coded existence.
  • There were bars that we could go to.
  • There was always Provincetown that you could go to,
  • and I mean, Fire Island.
  • I never went to Fire Island, but I knew of Fire Island.
  • But we lived in a very insular life.
  • We lived a double life, really.
  • Even though when I was teaching though-- when I finally
  • finished teaching I was teaching in Penfield, again
  • English and drama.
  • And I-- my students knew I was gay,
  • but it was just not anything.
  • I think-- it wasn't like I went to class in drag or anything
  • like that.
  • It's just that the younger people were picking up
  • on things more, because I guess it was becoming more known.
  • And there were--
  • I know there were gay kids that--
  • I know I taught gay kids.
  • But we never touched on that gayness.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: You couldn't really.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: No, you couldn't.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No.
  • ROBERT HARRIS: No, you couldn't.
  • No.
  • And, I mean, today I get-- it's the kids that I
  • work with at Nathan's on Park Avenue, they all know I'm gay.
  • One of them-- well Brianne I guess bisexual.
  • She was partnered with a woman when I first started--
  • when she first started working there and I was there.
  • And now she's been going out with the guy,
  • because she and her partner broke up.
  • But Walter, the original Nathan, he was gay.
  • Even though he was married and had two sons,
  • the sons eventually took over the business when Walt died.
  • It's just over the years, you know,
  • things have changed so much.
  • And at this point in my life, I am very comfortable being gay.
  • I have no problem with it.
  • If somebody confronts me--
  • I mean, I'm not going to start a fight or anything--
  • but if someone confronts me I just, you know, I look at them
  • I say, I'm not hurting you.
  • I'm not doing anything to harm you or your way of life.
  • I'm not saying anything about it, you know.
  • I'm happy with my way of life.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Still staying with those early years,
  • you know, when you were at those parties
  • or you were finding that, as you called it,
  • the tip of the iceberg.
  • You know, the other section that weren't at the bars
  • or whatever.
  • What were the conversations like?
  • Was there talk about, geez, you know, we
  • have to start standing up for our rights?
  • was there any activism?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Not really.
  • Not really, not that I heard.
  • I mean, it was all theatre, music, art.
  • Although one couple, Tim and Land--
  • who were now both deceased--
  • and we're very--
  • I suppose they were my gay parents.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That's recording,
  • so you don't want to play with it.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, I'm sorry.
  • I supposed they were my gay parents.
  • And they many, many years ago had a commitment ceremony.
  • And some of us that knew them just couldn't-- you know,
  • why are they doing this?
  • What does-- why?
  • I mean this was before it was--
  • it just struck us as so very odd.
  • And, I mean, they were definitely
  • in the vanguard at that point.
  • So--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How did you find out
  • about these parties or these social events?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Again, the people that I knew,
  • the people that I ran into and ended up spending time
  • with, they were a big entertaining group,
  • in all senses of the word.
  • I mean, they loved to entertain.
  • They did it very well.
  • And, you know, you got invited, and so you went.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did-- were you kind of involved in that group
  • because you were in theater, because you were a teacher?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: No, I don't think that was it.
  • I don't really know.
  • I mean, I was new in Rochester to them.
  • And I was this blonde, curly headed, blue eyed boy--
  • or a young man--
  • and then-- I mean, that eventually
  • evolved into the whole hippie thing.
  • And that was one of my nicknames was Hippy,
  • because I used to get my hair cut once a year on my birthday.
  • And I had a big blonde afro, a big, natural blonde afro.
  • (Laughter) Now I don't have an hair.
  • But, let's see--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: You you said that Mayor--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Barry.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --Barry was gay, and everyone knew he was gay.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: How did they know?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How did they know?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I don't know.
  • I mean, here was a man who was living with another man.
  • And they were both, at this point in their lives,
  • they were late, middle-aged I would think.
  • And the mayor, Mayor Barry was--
  • as I recall-- a very distinguished looking man.
  • Sort of craggy faced, as I remember.
  • A wonderful man to talk to, very kind and gentle.
  • And the man he lived with was very feminine really.
  • I mean, it was-- if you saw the two of them together,
  • you automatically went, top, bottom.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • So they would hold parties certainly.
  • And--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: There would be--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Would the people who came to those parties--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: There would be straight people there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --professionals?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes.
  • And there would be straight people there.
  • But they would be the lawyers, doctors, more educated,
  • more cosmopolitan.
  • People that had traveled, and so had been exposed to other--
  • well, European society and so on,
  • where apparently things were more open or more accepting.
  • And so I never knew of any animosity or anything.
  • Although, we were always, always careful, though.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How so?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I wasn't as open then out
  • in public as I will be-- as I am now.
  • Because I don't care.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But I can remember a few times.
  • One time I was living on Strathallan
  • in the building that got torn down for the Strathallan Hotel.
  • In fact, all of us that lived in that building--
  • there were apartments in this big old house--
  • everybody in the house was gay.
  • And I would walk downtown, and it was not--
  • it didn't happen often--
  • but there would be occasions as I would be walking down
  • East Avenue that a car would go by with two
  • or three teenage boys in it, "Hey, faggot!"
  • And I can remember just tensing up thinking,
  • oh god, they're going to stop the car.
  • They're going to get out, and they're going to smack me.
  • They never did.
  • And I wouldn't respond to them, I just
  • kept walking right along.
  • Now, if somebody does that to me--
  • and it's happened a couple of times, you know--
  • some kid will walk or be driving by and say"Hey faggot,"
  • and I just go, "Thank you," just go on my goofy little way.
  • So--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, you taught in Greece,
  • were there other teachers--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Who were gay?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --who you knew who were gay?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: There were other gay teachers there.
  • And I mean, everybody in the faculty knew I was gay.
  • They just knew.
  • I mean, I just assumed they knew.
  • But there was at least one other English teacher that was gay.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And did you kind of form a little group
  • in order to--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: No.
  • We didn't have to.
  • We didn't.
  • The faculty in-- this is Penfield
  • primarily-- the faculty in Penfield,
  • there didn't seem to be any problem.
  • Or if there was a problem it wasn't anything
  • that they were overt--
  • to me they were not anti-gay or anything.
  • They-- God knows what they may have
  • said when I wasn't in the room.
  • But--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: What years were you teaching at Greece?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: OK, let's see.
  • I came here-- let's see, I was twenty-six years old or so.
  • So that would have been, again, the late 60s.
  • I graduated from college in '62.
  • And I taught down near Binghamton for two-three years.
  • So '66/'67, '65/'66/'67.
  • And then I eventually went--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Penfield?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Then I went to Penfield.
  • I was in Greece for I think--
  • let me think about the shows that I directed.
  • That's the way to do it.
  • Harvey.
  • I was in Greece for three years.
  • And then I went to Penfield.
  • See, I left teaching in '77, but I had taught fifteen years.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: In Penfield?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Not in Penfield.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Total.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Looks like Penfield
  • may have been like, what 1970?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah, because when I first went to Penfield
  • I taught at Denonville, which was a junior high school.
  • And then when they--
  • went it became a middle school I went up
  • to the senior high school and developed the drama program
  • there, also.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And when did you retire?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: '77, from teaching I retired.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I took a year's leave and never went back.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: God, wish I could do that.
  • Well, then what?
  • CREW: Hello-hello.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Hello.
  • Oh, hi.
  • Do you know where any of the staff is from Gay Alliance?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where the what?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: The staff.
  • CREW: Staff person.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: If they're not upstairs on the fourth floor,
  • they're on the fourth floor.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Fourth or--
  • either fourth or fifth.
  • CREW: I've got a whole- but I can't seem to find them,
  • and they're not answering the phone.
  • I've got a whole bunch of food in the car for the prom
  • tonight.
  • Can you help me find them?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where are you?
  • Where is your car?
  • CREW: In the back parking lot.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: If you bring the food in and bring it up
  • to the fourth floor, that's where they will have--
  • CREW: I need some help with that--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --the food.
  • CREW: --that's why.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Huh?
  • CREW: I need some help with that.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK, did you did you check with the fifth floor
  • though, the office up at the fifth floor?
  • CREW: Is the office on the fifth floor?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Office is on the fifth floor.
  • CREW: OK, so when I got off the elevator, turn right or left?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And I don't think anyone is up there.
  • Was-- did you tell someone you were going to be coming?
  • CREW: I told them I was going to be coming in the afternoon,
  • but I didn't say what time.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah.
  • Go check the fifth floor.
  • CREW: OK.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: If nobody's there then
  • I'll come out and help you.
  • CREW: I appreciate it so much.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I can.
  • CREW: Thank you.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Thanks.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Your question was Kevin?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: After teaching?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, what have I done after?
  • Oh my God.
  • Well, for a year, couple of years,
  • I bummed around and did odd little things.
  • Then for a while I worked for Rochester Public Library.
  • I worked for Edwards Restaurant when they first
  • opened the one which was the Red Rooster down on East Main.
  • I worked for Rochester Museum and Science Center.
  • I worked for Arthur Vitosh.
  • I tended bar for a number of years at Avenue Pub on Monroe
  • Avenue, then I worked at Nathan's.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So in those years in your--
  • did your-- how has you gay life evolved over these-- well,
  • it would be like forty years now.
  • I mean, did you get involved in any activism,
  • get involved with any of the AIDS, HPA dinners or--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Not specifically, no.
  • I know when they used to do the dining for dollars,
  • I one night hosted one of those.
  • Went to them all the time at other people's houses,
  • but my house mate and I hosted one one year.
  • As-- went to--
  • I went to the social functions, but, no, I
  • was never an activist per se.
  • No.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So then let's flip that question around then
  • maybe.
  • From your point of view, how have you seen the gay community
  • change over the past 40 years?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: The fact that it has become much more open.
  • Less fearful, definitely less fearful, from what I can see.
  • Accepted more, by particularly younger people.
  • And by younger people I'm being relative.
  • I don't think kids, twenties and so on,
  • are threatened that much by the idea of gay people.
  • Because very often I think it was just the idea of gayness
  • that--
  • at one time I think it was that if you hung around
  • with gay people you became gay, it rubbed off on you.
  • And I don't think that's that much--
  • the kids that I know that I work with,
  • it's not their attitude at all.
  • In fact, a number of the straight people
  • that I work with, a number of the straight guys I work with,
  • many of their friends are gay men.
  • And they prefer spending time with gay men.
  • They are not gay themselves, but they just-- they
  • enjoy being around gay men.
  • Because straight guys are straight.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: It's almost kind of flip flopped actually.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Now it's like if you don't have a gay friend
  • there's something wrong with you.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Exactly.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Exactly.
  • Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • What was your-- in-- let me switch a little bit
  • to your major, English.
  • Have you or did you or were you aware of how
  • much was written about gayness, homosexuality,
  • the gay lifestyle?
  • And has there been a change in how that has been portrayed
  • or described or communicated?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: In the earlier years
  • I wasn't really aware of gay literature as such.
  • Either through-- just because I wasn't aware
  • it was around or anything.
  • But, I mean, now it's--
  • there's so much gay literature.
  • And I think that has come about because of just the changes
  • in society and television and, you know,
  • Will and Grace and all of that.
  • You know, even though we something poo-poo that and say,
  • you're so Will and Grace.
  • But--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Opened a door.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So in gay society in the early,
  • or in the 50s and 60s and 70s, most people were closeted?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Most people that I know we're closeted.
  • But, again, there was this whole social interaction
  • that went on amongst these people that
  • would be very closeted at work.
  • I mean, they worked at Kodak, or they were professionals
  • somewhere, and they were very closeted.
  • But you get them at somebody's house party, and oh my god.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And so it was very much a quiet affair
  • versus a public statement?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: There were those.
  • There were those that were more public--
  • brave souls that they were-- because they put themselves
  • right out there on the line.
  • You know, if they were acting overtly
  • gay in a non-gay situation, there was definitely a chance
  • that they would be beat up.
  • And that existed.
  • And we were all aware of that, too.
  • And I think that was one reason that, for the most part,
  • we tended to divide ourselves.
  • You know, OK, I'll be this way with this group of people,
  • but I'll be my real self with this group of people.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Come in.
  • CREW: You are the only living people.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
  • You guys just keep talking, I'll go help her.
  • CREW: I'm so sorry to interrupt.
  • I don't understand how there could be, like,
  • nobody in the office at all.
  • You don't have a cell phone number?
  • So where are we going to put this stuff that will be safe--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The cathedral room.
  • CREW: It's all locked up.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: The fourth floor cathedral room?
  • The cathedral room was locked up, too?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That whole area?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: The cathedral room shouldn't be locked.
  • CREW: Oh, well, maybe I just don't
  • know where I'm going, then.
  • Thank you so much.
  • I'm so sorry.
  • Do you have a wheely thing or anything?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I mean, I get that the closet was
  • the place that people lived in the 50s and 60s and 70s.
  • And it is still, even, a place that people live today.
  • But what I'm also trying to get a sense of was
  • you mentioned a dual life.
  • Well, it seems to me there must have
  • been a dual life for the community, a closeted life
  • and a more public life.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, yes.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Can I borrow this?
  • Just between you and I, I don't know what kind of caterer
  • comes without a cart.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: There isn't a truck out there or something?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: No, actually this--
  • it's all right.
  • I'll just use this.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But it seems to me that there were certainly
  • bars out there.
  • And that was the visible part of the community.
  • And you observed, you already mentioned
  • you observed police coming in to Dick's, money changing hands
  • to protect quote unquote the clientele.
  • To not have the clientele be embarrassed
  • or put in a difficult position.
  • But Dick's wasn't the only bar.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: You know, let me think back.
  • Let's see there was Dick's and Bullwinkles.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Ma Martins.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Bullwinkles, Ma Martins
  • wasn't in existence when I was going to the bars.
  • It had already closed.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: All right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Let's see, there was Dick's 43, Bullwinkles,
  • and I think at that time those were--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The Red Carpet?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: The Red Carpet hadn't started up yet.
  • At one time the--
  • I only know of two early on.
  • And then-- I mean at one time there were
  • eleven gay bars in the city.
  • And that's in the more recent past.
  • And now we're down to--
  • I don't even know anymore, because I
  • don't go out that much.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Two really.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: OK, well, so that would be
  • the Avenue Pub and the Forum.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: OK.
  • But, I mean, at one time there was the OK Corral.
  • There are some of those names I can't ever remember.
  • Of course Rosie's.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The Lyceum?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: No, I don't know that.
  • But Rosie's which is now the Bug Jar.
  • Jim's in its various incarnations.
  • Friar's in its various incarnations.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Rathskeller.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: That's right.
  • That's-- yes, of course.
  • I forgot that one.
  • Right.
  • And then, oh gosh, what was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The Red Fez.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Don't know that one.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The Blue Chip?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
  • OK, Blue Chip was in existence, that's right.
  • That would be the third one.
  • And that was-- the Blue Chip--
  • back when I first started going to the gay bars was--
  • how do I word it?
  • It was like, we're going to the Blue Chip type thing.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The clientele?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Sort of scary.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Actually it was sort of scary.
  • To me it was sort of scary.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The clientele in each of these bars
  • was different?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes, but there was overlapping.
  • Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was-- do you remember--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, wait, let's see.
  • When did Tara's open up?
  • That was several years ago.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That was after--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --the Pub and the Forum.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Do remember where the Blue Chip was?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Blue Chip was over on--
  • where the stadium is now, over in that Kodak area.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Brown Street or something like that.
  • Yeah.
  • It was a strange place.
  • Oh, there was also--
  • give it the right name--
  • the Riverview.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Which was a woman's bar.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Which we guys called the Riverbottom.
  • Went there a couple, that was scary.
  • That was a scary place.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Why?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Well, for one thing
  • the women that hung out there were the flannel shirt crowd.
  • They were diesel dykes is what they were,
  • or what we call diesel dykes.
  • And you did not see the--
  • well, I mean they may have been--
  • in their non-gay life they may have been professional women--
  • but not like you see professional gay women today.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And the one thing I
  • remember about the Riverview was they did have a men's room.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: However, it was this little room
  • with a hole in the floor.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Very welcoming.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: It was not nice.
  • Yeah, very.
  • It was-- yeah, you were very uncomfortable.
  • Very uncomfortable for men to go in there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Would you say the Blue Chip was more
  • of a professional bar or attracted
  • a professional clientele?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I don't know.
  • I mean, they had the go-go boys in cages.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Which was, you know, sort of an eye opener
  • to me.
  • The-- it was both men and women went there.
  • Maybe it was my perception of it.
  • I found it a little bit threatening.
  • Not personally threatening, but it just--
  • I wasn't comfortable there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK, but you were comfortable at Bullwinkle's.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I was comfortable at Bullwinkle's.
  • I was comfortable at Martha's.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what was it about the atmosphere
  • in those two specific bars that provided you
  • with a sense of it's OK, or I'm OK, or--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Well, even though Bullwinkle's was
  • straight and gay, I mean, the front bar was the gayer
  • part of it, the back area.
  • I mean, Betty was there.
  • You know, come on, I mean, the ultimate--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Who was Betty?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, Betty Meyers.
  • She owned Bullwinkle's.
  • And, I mean, here was this woman with big blond hair,
  • and she played the accordion and wore these leopard print
  • outfits, and skin tight.
  • And at the time, I mean, she was a woman of--
  • she had to be in her forties, maybe her fifties--
  • but she was glitzy.
  • And she was very campy.
  • And she had no--
  • seemingly had no problem with the fact
  • that the front part of the bar there
  • would be a whole bunch of gay men sitting at the bar.
  • Because she had all of her other clientele
  • in the little nooks and crannies in back drinking and singing
  • as she played the accordion.
  • And somebody was whittling away on the piano,
  • and all that sort of thing.
  • And the-- still within Bullwinkle's, though,
  • you wouldn't see many--
  • many of the gay men that were there--
  • and it was mostly gay men that would be in the bar area--
  • would not be too much in the other part of the space.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did Betty own--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --Bullwinkle's?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, yeah, she owned that building.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Betty and--
  • God, what's her husband's name.
  • I can't remember anymore.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Mr. Meyers?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: No, I don't think they were--
  • I don't think his last name was Meyers.
  • But Betty Bullwinkle Meyers was--
  • she was something else.
  • I mean, she was--
  • she looked like an aging drag queen, she really did.
  • But she wasn't.
  • I mean, you'd see her downtown at Midtown Plaza,
  • and she'd looked the same as she did Friday or Saturday night
  • in the bar with a big blond hair and the big earrings
  • and the tight leopard print outfits.
  • It's just like, oh my god, you go.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Describe to me Martha.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Martha Gronadario?
  • Dragon lady.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I-- we've heard different descriptions.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: She could be a bitch,
  • but she also was very much aware of the fact
  • that she had a goldmine there.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Here's my question,
  • because everybody we've asked about Martha
  • has pretty much had the same reaction about her.
  • She was not a nice person.
  • But why then did all of you guys patron her business?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Because that's where--
  • it was the only place to go.
  • We were allowed to go in there.
  • We were allowed to dance together.
  • Those that wanted to were allowed to shriek and carry on
  • if they wanted to.
  • And she paid the cops.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Now you frequented
  • Jim's, or did you not?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Which Jim's?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Let's talk about the first one.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: First one.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: First one, down across from Washington Park?
  • Yeah, because I was living-- by that time
  • I was living over in what was then known as the Third Ward,
  • it's now Corn Hill.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: In fact, I was part
  • of the group-- the first group of gay men--
  • that lived in that area and started working on the houses
  • and living in the houses.
  • And it was just, you know, I could walk across the bridge,
  • and I'm at the bar.
  • I could stagger out of the bar, walk home.
  • Hopefully not fall off the bridge.
  • But, yeah, Jim's on--
  • what is it?
  • Is that Court Street?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: It's either Court or Broad.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: OK.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: It wasn't a very big space,
  • but it was a fun place to go.
  • And a lot of the people that went there were people that
  • they had also gone to Martha's.
  • Because by that time Martha's had moved.
  • In fact, it had been torn down, and it
  • had moved down to Main Street.
  • No, down there with the--
  • across from the hotel.
  • Main Street.
  • Is that Main Street?
  • I don't know the downtown streets anymore at all.
  • I'm so isolated.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: State Street?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: State Street, thank you.
  • Yeah.
  • She was down on State Street.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: She was across from what
  • was then the Americana Hotel--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: --or the Plaza?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Jim's was owned by Ducky and--
  • no.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes.
  • Well it was owned by Jim--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Van Allen?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes, thank you.
  • Jim Van Allen.
  • Ducky was part of that also.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What kind of atmosphere?
  • What kind of--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Well, the original one, it
  • was a small space, actually.
  • It was just sort of long and narrow.
  • There was no dancing.
  • No, there was no dancing in the original one.
  • And then when they moved over to the big Jim's that was--
  • I mean, that space doubled in size over the years,
  • when they added the big dance floor,
  • and then started doing the drag shows, and all of that.
  • So I mean, that was the big--
  • what would be equivalent to a club today.
  • And huge crowds of people on weekends.
  • Big.
  • I mean, really crowded, and a lot of fun.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: How about Buddy Wegman over at Tara's?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Tara's?
  • Tara's, to me, was always to me a sort of curious place.
  • I did not frequent it that much, although I would go over there.
  • But Tara's seemed to me to be a place where older men would go,
  • because that was a place where the younger man, hustlers went.
  • OK.
  • Yeah.
  • You could-- an older man could go there and find a rent boy
  • for a dollar or so.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Buddy himself?
  • ROBERT HARRIS: Buddy Wegman, he was a nice guy.
  • I liked Buddy.
  • Because I knew him also from the Avenue Pub, the Forum.
  • Back when the Forum was on East Main,
  • that's when I first started going there.
  • And, again, Gary Sweet, who owned
  • the Avenue Pub, Buddy Wegman--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Ernie (unintelligible).
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Thank you, Ernie and John.
  • They all knew one another.
  • Then you throw in, oh God, who was Forty Union was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Jesse?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: George Sidor.
  • They were a group of men who had gay bars.
  • And there was a rivalry, but at the same time
  • there was there was a strong connection between all of them.
  • Jesse Vulo was sort of outside that a little bit, I think.
  • I don't know why.
  • Maybe because he was a little bit younger when he first
  • started with Friar's.
  • Jim Van, Jim and Ducky--
  • Ducky was a-- he was so social to begin with.
  • There was-- everybody liked Ducky, as far as I knew.
  • Fred Brown, who had the OK Corral and a couple
  • of other small bars.
  • He-- they all--
  • they just all got along well.
  • And if you went to--
  • you would see them in one another's bars.
  • That would be it.
  • So, you know, if you figure--
  • OK, I hung out at the Avenue Pub a lot, but at the same time
  • if I went over to the Forum, Gary
  • would come in of a weekend night.
  • And, you know, that's just the way it was.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: In terms of the shift in the bar scene,
  • because--
  • and what I'm talking about is as more bars came into existence,
  • what about the clientele?
  • Was there more younger people?
  • Were there older people?
  • Were they--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: There, again, it would depend
  • on which bar you went to.
  • Tara's was definitely older people,
  • from my perspective at the time.
  • There were certain regulars that hung out at the Avenue Pub.
  • I mean, they even had a little brass name tags on the bar,
  • because they always sat in that particular bar stool
  • at that particular spot.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: And they're probably still sitting there
  • today.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Well, if they are some of them are 103.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yes, I know.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: It would also--
  • there was-- you do--
  • we got into-- the group that I hung around with we'd get
  • into--
  • we'd do a circuit of our Friday and Saturday night.
  • Say we'd go to Forty Union for supper,
  • because they had good food there at one time.
  • Then we'd go to the Pub, then we'd
  • go down to Friar's across to Rosie's, across from Rosie's
  • back to Friars, back up the avenue.
  • Because we all lived-- we also, a bunch of us
  • lived in the neighborhood.
  • So we could walk, or one person would drive.
  • One of our friends at that time, well, eventually,
  • one of the kids that we all hung out with was a MediCab driver.
  • That was our means of transport, the bar to the bar.
  • So here this big yellow MediCab would pull up,
  • all these faggots would come out.
  • And eventually Rosie's-- when it was strictly a woman's bar--
  • again you could-- a guy could feel uncomfortable in there.
  • But then that loosened up a lot.
  • And the same was with the Avenue Pub.
  • The Avenue Pub was very much a man's bar.
  • And over the years that I started working there,
  • I became friends with a bunch of gay women,
  • primarily through some of the guys that I knew.
  • And so I would say, girls, I'm tending bar.
  • You come on in.
  • We're having fun here, and I want you here.
  • And then it became a very mixed thing.
  • Been a long time since I've been in the Pub.
  • I live a block away, I don't go there anymore.
  • People ask me why I don't.
  • I say, there are too many ghosts.
  • Because a lot of the people that I went with--
  • that I went there with are now dead.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Sure.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: They all died way too young.
  • And it's just-- and I don't want to deal with it.
  • Plus, also, I mean, I used to drink a lot.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I mean, partying was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That was
  • BOBBY HARRIS: --a way of life.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --going to be kind of my next question.
  • What-- throughout that period of time
  • there were rises in excitement and in people
  • going out and having a good time,
  • and there were crescendos.
  • What impact did AIDS have on the bar scene?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Major.
  • Major impact.
  • That's why now there are so few bars.
  • I said at one time there were eleven gay bars in Rochester.
  • Names of some-- I tried to remember some of the names,
  • I can't.
  • Once AIDS reared its ugly head and people
  • started dying it just--
  • well, I mean, that was--
  • it just got too full of ghosts.
  • And a lot of the people that did survive it now
  • are now partnered, very happily so,
  • have been for years and years.
  • They still entertain at home.
  • In some ways it sort of reverted back
  • that there is a group of people that
  • do entertainments in their home, but may not go out to the bar.
  • Or if they do go out to the bar it'll be,
  • OK, we're leaving so-and-so's party.
  • Let's meet up at the Forum for a drink or two afterward.
  • And so there-- it's become sort of a curious sort
  • of cycle thing.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: The other thing, too,
  • that there was a shift, that this happened in my period.
  • I know this interview isn't about me, but in the 80s--
  • and really in the 90s--
  • there was a shift from the bar scene to the club scene.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yes.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: When I was out coming out,
  • I don't want to go to the bars.
  • I wanted to go to a club.
  • I wanted to dance.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Right.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So, you know, there is the Liberty
  • and there was Idols and there was--
  • God, it's Tilt now, but whatever it will before.
  • So there was a big crowd that used to only
  • have the bars as their social outlet, who
  • weren't going to the Forum or going to the Pub,
  • because we were all going to the places that
  • had big dance floors.
  • So there's part of it, you know.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And now, as you look at this community,
  • there are not many gay bars.
  • There are not that many places.
  • There are not that many clubs--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Not now, no.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --anymore.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Not in Rochester.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What has replaced those social outlets?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I think was it is, particularly
  • for the younger people, is that they can go to--
  • they don't have to go to a place that is gay.
  • They can feel comfortable wherever they go.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And as far as the big clubs,
  • Rochester was never really a major club scene
  • city, I don't think.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: A very short period.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But, I mean, are there other cities you'd go to?
  • There still are, the clubs are jumping.
  • But not in Rochester.
  • Part of it is this Rochester thing.
  • You know, Rochester can be very, very conservative.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • Did you ever have any experiences of harassment?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Other than what I said earlier.
  • You know, sometimes walking down the street, hey faggot.
  • But, no, I didn't.
  • Other people may have, but I didn't.
  • And I think part of that was that I didn't put myself
  • in a situation where that would happen.
  • I was circumspect about--
  • I mean, OK, when I went to the gay bars,
  • but I hung out in a pack.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And, you know, two straight guys may have all that
  • testosterone going and everything,
  • but you run into a bunch of--eight gay guys--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: They may say a few things, but then--
  • I mean, some of those gay guys--
  • I mean, you know there are some gay guys
  • out there (unintelligible).
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Police harassment?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I never experienced any, no.
  • But there was police harassment.
  • We did-- I can remember years ago there would
  • be an article in the Empty Closet, you know, of the fact
  • that all right, guys, there is some sting operations going on
  • in the parks.
  • For those of you that have a tendency
  • to seek your anonymous sex in the park,
  • maybe stop for a while or be extra special careful.
  • But, no, I don't remember any specific harassment
  • or anything.
  • The police department-- as far as I can determine here
  • in Rochester--
  • has always been aware of the gay crowd,
  • particularly when there used to be the motor circuit late
  • at night down on the bridges.
  • People driving around looking for a pickup.
  • The police were aware of the fact that that was going on.
  • And I think what it was is that as long as nothing became too
  • obvious, the police would tend to sort of like,
  • OK, we know that this is going on, but.
  • You know, it's going on.
  • Yeah.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Let me ask you about life today
  • as a mature, gay man.
  • What is life like for--
  • what is the gay scene like for people
  • who are in their mature years?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Well, I don't go to the bars
  • any more hardly at all, once in a great while.
  • I go to parties.
  • I entertain at home.
  • I go to-- I mean, I have a group of friends
  • that we get together frequently to go out to dinner or dinner
  • at home.
  • We go to the movies together, like a bunch of us.
  • Well, this isn't a movie, but a bunch of us
  • are going to go see the new Calamari Sister's Show.
  • I think there's fourteen of us going that night, all gay guys,
  • and one straight woman who's celebrating her birthday.
  • Her brother is one of the gay guys.
  • But, no, guess there are a couple
  • of other women going, too.
  • But that's it.
  • I-- every now and then I, mean, as I
  • say I live a block away from the Avenue Pub.
  • And I think, God, I could go up and have a drink anytime I
  • want to.
  • But I just don't.
  • I just don't.
  • I pissed away too much money there, literally.
  • I mean, when I was a bartender there back
  • during the days of the major Sunday two
  • for ones and Thursday two for ones,
  • I would walk out of there on Sunday night
  • with close to $1,000 in tips.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Wow.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • But it was wall to wall people for hours and hours.
  • And I don't know if that's the case anymore.
  • I don't even know they still have two for one.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No, it's not the case from what I see.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But that was pre-AIDS.
  • I mean, hell, there was-- and I think
  • there's still is at the Avenue Pub-- but across from the bar
  • there's a shelf.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And of busy Sundays
  • there would be guys standing along the shelf
  • with their drinks and so on.
  • And some would be facing out toward the bar,
  • and some would be looking at the wall.
  • It's like, OK, why are they just standing there.
  • And, oh, I know why they're standing there and looking
  • at the wall.
  • Because there's somebody down there
  • under the shop giving them a blow-job.
  • It's like whoa, OK.
  • But that was-- again, that pre-AIDS.
  • And once that came about things just--
  • it took a while for things to change.
  • But they definitely did change.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What, in your experience,
  • was the most proud moment for you--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, my.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --as a gay man?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I don't know if there was a specific moment.
  • But I would say it it was when I realized
  • that I could be gay in the public
  • without feeling threatened.
  • And-- or sitting around with a group
  • of people in a restaurant, say four or five gay men
  • sitting around in a restaurant.
  • And, I mean, obviously it's a group
  • of five gay men sitting in a restaurant.
  • The rest of the restaurant clientele ditched.
  • You know, I mean, years ago there would be,
  • "Do you think they're queer?"
  • Now it's like, OK, fine.
  • A few years ago there were four of us
  • that travel in the spring.
  • And we always go south, we spend a week traveling down,
  • and then we can get in Hilton Head.
  • And four years or five years ago we stopped in Asheville,
  • and went to a restaurant.
  • And, me, I'm usually--
  • the line is, he's wearing forty pounds of jewelry.
  • So we stopped at this restaurant,
  • and we were going to eat there.
  • But we had to wait for a table, so we were sitting at the bar.
  • And the bartender was a little gay woman.
  • And so we got chatting and so on and so forth.
  • And then we got to our table, and she came out later on
  • and as we were sitting there at the table.
  • And she said, "Well, are you going
  • to be in town over night?"
  • We said, "Yes, we are."
  • And she said, "Well, I'm a drag king,
  • and I'm doing a show at whatever the place was downtown.
  • And do think you guys would like to see the show?"
  • We all said, "Yeah, sure.
  • What time does the show start?"
  • "Midnight."
  • Of course, we all looked at one another
  • and go, oh, yeah, midnight.
  • We're in bed by midnight.
  • We don't do that anymore.
  • No more disco naps.
  • and so she gave us directions and her cell phone.
  • I mean she-- we were amazed just how open and cool
  • she was, particularly in but then Asheville is a world
  • unto itself in North Carolina.
  • But after she left the table the four of us are sitting there.
  • Now, one of them--
  • three of the guys are heavyset guys.
  • And one is wearing orange shoes, orange shorts,
  • and an orange shirt.
  • Me, I've got all the bracelets and necklaces and so on.
  • One of the other ones can be quite--
  • gay.
  • He's just-- I mean, he's not effeminate or anything,
  • but he can just be quite gay.
  • And Tommy, one of the other ones, is just he's giggly.
  • So as he leaves--
  • or as this girl, the bartender leaves--
  • and Tommy looks at me.
  • I was sitting across the table from him, and he looks at me.
  • He said, "Well, how did she know we were gay?"
  • I looked at him and I said, "Jesus, Tommy."
  • I said, "Look at us."
  • I said,"Your boyfriend's in head to toe orange."
  • I said, "I've got forty pounds of jewelry on.
  • Ed's over there (unintelligible)."
  • I said, "How could she not know we were gay?"
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But, again, I mean we did not
  • feel at all threatened, in Asheville.
  • I mean, but then, as I say, Asheville
  • is a world unto itself.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: You know, as society matures--
  • the baby boomers society matures--
  • so do-- I mean the gay society is maturing as well.
  • What do you see as being maybe some of the biggest
  • challenges some of the needs for the senior gay community that
  • needs to be addressed?
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, well just the fact that we're seniors.
  • And all of the attendant problems that arise,
  • their health.
  • Many seniors now, gay seniors, I mean,
  • they don't have family, any surviving family.
  • Or if they-- I mean, they may have brothers and sisters,
  • but many of us--
  • I mean, we don't.
  • And as you age, you age.
  • And it becomes a problem I think for--
  • I definitely feel that any older gay male his doctor
  • should know that he is a gay male.
  • There are-- not that gay men will have health problems
  • that straight men don't have.
  • But I think it's important for the medical people
  • to know that you're gay.
  • I'm very fortunate, my doctor I've
  • had him for years and years and years.
  • And right from the get go, I told him.
  • And not a problem for him.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But I think that that is very, very significant.
  • And I wonder what will happen as gay men--
  • some are going to--
  • some of us are going to age into senior care facilities
  • and nursing homes.
  • Are those places ready or able to--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: They better get ready.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: --to deal with gay people?
  • Not that we have any other--
  • oh, how do I want to say it--
  • special things, but the attitude.
  • I mean, I-- the group of us that I spend a lot of time in, I
  • mean, we joke about the fact that we're all going to have
  • to all buy a big house someday--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And all live in it.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And all live in it,
  • and have strapping young lads to cart us around.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: You joke, but it's more real than you think.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I know.
  • I know.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And I think the--
  • that the straight world has to realize that,
  • that there is this very large gay population.
  • I don't know if it's any larger than it's ever been.
  • It's just that it's more there.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Well, and you hear a lot of people--
  • older people-- who are going into nursing homes,
  • they feel like they almost have to go back into the closet.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah, and I-- why?
  • I mean, why is that?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Well, some of the nursing homes
  • are run by churches.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah, OK.
  • Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • I mean, but I still--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: You're dealing with a generation
  • of straight people who haven't been exposed to gay people
  • as far as they know,
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But at the same time
  • I know when my mom was in the senior care facility
  • that she was in, the a lady who was in the room next to her
  • struck up a relationship with one of the gentlemen who
  • also lived in the hall.
  • And I'd go down and visit my mom and she'd
  • say, "Jesus, I didn't get any sleep last night."
  • I'd say, "Well, Wanda that's not unusual for you."
  • But I said, "What specifically weren't you
  • not getting any sleep for?"
  • "Well-- whatever the woman's name--
  • she-- and whatever his name--
  • were over there last night.
  • The bed was banging against the wall."
  • I mean, I cracked up.
  • I said, "Well, god bless them."
  • I said, "They're both in their 80s, you know."
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: "I mean, are you jealous?"
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It is not only a problem,
  • but it's going to become an increasingly more--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Oh, yeah, I think so.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --prevalent problem until we come out.
  • If every elderly person who is gay came out,
  • we wouldn't be so isolated.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And that's--
  • I mean, that-- again, I've reached the point
  • in my life where, OK, yeah.
  • I'm a seventy some year old gay man.
  • What are you going to do about it?
  • I mean, I'm not hurting you in any way.
  • You know, I play in my gardens, and I keep my house up nice,
  • and I walk my dogs.
  • I'm a good cook.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And so far I'm reasonalby sane.
  • So--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, thank you.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: OK.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It has been fun.
  • It's also been very interesting to hear your perspective
  • on a lot of the bar scene, but also the dual life
  • and the lived closet that--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Well, if I could add a footnote to that.
  • I alluded to the fact that when my parents found out it was gay
  • I was in Provincetown for the summer.
  • I was supposed to be doing summer school,
  • and I decided I was going to stay up
  • in Provincetown with the man I was in love
  • with at the time, big mistake.
  • But I got a job in this restaurant in Provincetown.
  • And it was a dark and stormy night--
  • and it was.
  • I was working in the restaurant, and the owner
  • of the restaurant said, "Bob--" came out onto the floor
  • and said--
  • "Bob, your dad's in the foyer."
  • I'm like, well, OK, why is my dad
  • in the foyer in Provincetown?
  • So I went out to the--
  • out to him, and he was standing there.
  • And he said, "Your mother and I are staying at--
  • and we want to see you."
  • And I said, "Well, I get out of work at thus
  • and so time, I'll stop at the motel when I get out of work."
  • And I did.
  • And there the two of them were.
  • And I mean it was a scene from a grade B movie.
  • "What are you doing?
  • Why aren't you in summer school?"
  • "Because I want to be in Provincetown town,
  • and I want to work in this restaurant, and I'm with John."
  • "Jesus Christ."
  • And then it just started.
  • "You know, we wish you had never been born.
  • Had we known you were this way, we would have gotten you help.
  • We never want to see you again."
  • This went on for quite a while.
  • And, again, thunder and lightning outside.
  • And it was really--
  • and I finally reached the point and I said, "Well, you know.
  • I am your son.
  • And yes I am a homosexual.
  • And there there's nothing I can do about it,
  • and there is nothing you can do about it.
  • I'm leaving."
  • So I left, and went back to the place where I was living
  • in this little efficiency apartment,
  • grabbed a bottle of wine-- a full bottle--
  • and went down to the beach with a bottle of wine
  • and screaming seagulls and screaming
  • me and thunder and lightning.
  • And shrieked and cried and carried on all to myself,
  • well the gulls were with me, and got very drunk.
  • And went back in and slept it off and got up the next day
  • and went to work.
  • And two weeks later I got a letter from my parents.
  • And they said, "We think we probably have overreacted.
  • And, you know, please after you get through work
  • before you drive back to Rochester,
  • stop in and visit us for a while."
  • But, you know, I mean there was--
  • then, I mean, they traveled with me and my gay friends
  • and everything.
  • But--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: They needed a reality check.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Geez, oh man.
  • Come on folks.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: You know, this is not
  • the end of the world-- it was the end of their world,
  • briefly.
  • But--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I think when you walked out
  • that door the reality check was, "Damn, we probably
  • just lost our son."
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • And I think other gay kids have that--
  • I know that problems still exists for kids.
  • And it's just dumb.
  • I mean--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, it's very real.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And at the time, parents and children
  • feel they're right and they're doing the right thing.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: And yet several years before that my dad--
  • I was down in Oneonta visiting my parents with the girl
  • that I was with at that time--
  • we were both teaching up here in Rochester.
  • And we went out of a Friday night to the Foreign Legion
  • because they had shrimp.
  • We all love shrimp.
  • And we're all sitting there talking and chatting
  • and carrying on.
  • And I don't even know how the conversation moved
  • in this direction, but my father said to me,
  • he said, "You know back when I was in the army--"
  • he was in the second war--
  • he said, "There was this one guy who was in the same platoon
  • as I was."
  • And he said, "You know, he had the nicest hairiest chest."
  • OK.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: I would, OK.
  • And it was just--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I think--
  • BOBBY HARRIS: --odd.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: No, it's not odd at all.
  • I think every man at some point feels attracted to another man,
  • most men just won't admit it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • BOBBY HARRIS: But I have a feeling--
  • I often wonder, you know, did my dad flashback on that