After High School
After graduation I read the Help Wanted ads and found there was a job at the newspaper for a typesetter. Interviews were being held immediately and I was excited! There had not been an apprenticeship open in El Paso for four years and here was an opportunity. I had taken a short course in printing at the art school in town and had worked one summer at a publishing house that printed baseball programs, general printing, and the Labor Advocate, a leftwing weekly of some questionable patriotic value. The printer’s union actually did the interview and only needed management’s approval after the selection was made. For some reason they decided to hire two of us. Willard Sensiba, who was to play an important role in my life, was the other apprentice. Willard was a few days older than I. Even though we sometimes worked different shifts we were able to get acquainted and compare notes.
Since I had pretty good art training and was planning on majoring in Art at Texas Western College, they decided to put me in the second year training as a page makeup compositor. This suited me fine; I had already observed job shop printers making up pages in my summer jobs and my sense of space and proportion were well developed. For the next five years Willard and I would alternate training programs and would be in daily contact.
Three months later I would
at Texas Western College. The newspaper allowed me to work nights in
go to school. The Korean War was still on and the draft was getting
There was also an edict going out to the colleges to get serious about
since it was the only way to get a draft deferment. Students not in
might be drafted. This is something I had not counted on. I figured I
pretend to be of soldier;
after all, I had been a Boy
Scout. I looked okay in
a uniform, besides I was almost 5 foot 2 now, and weighed 115 pounds.
surprise, when I picked up my uniform I found that I already knew my
officer. He was the older brother of a kid I knew in school and was
being a disk jockey. I had made requests on the phone and he played my
Sam Donaldson was not the nice guy I had known on the radio. He was a power hungry egomaniac that would make my life a living hell for the next three months. Upon giving him my first salute he ordered me to stay after class and polish brass, then put me on flag patrol at 5 AM, full dress uniform and on and on ‘til he wore me down. I was working the newspaper from 4 PM to 1 AM, traveling 18 miles each way to school, sleeping two or three hours on flag days, getting to school at 8:30 AM; and I was feeling the stress.
Of course, Sam Donaldson went on to become the voice of the US Army and then to Washington where he became the ramrod stiff Washington reporter for ABC and the brunt of Murphy Brown’s jibes at competitive news personalities. She spent many episodes getting even with Sam Donaldson.
My first class of the day was conducted by an idiot English teacher who was the department head. I expected her to be much smarter than she was. Within the first week we clashed. She asked us to read some poetry and comment on it. One of the items was about a man observing the morning light as it broke over his home town. He used terms like matrix, column rules, picas. I commented that the man was a newspaper typographer getting off from work after the graveyard shift and seeing the city in terms of his work objects. He was addressing a limited audience and was using the jargon of his trade. Most people would not appreciate his imagery because it was peculiar to his craft. I myself had never seen a matrix until three months ago. “No, Mr. Goodman, you are wrong, the word matrix is from the Greek and, la de da de da.” I stood there with red face and realized this woman did not have a clue. I was the only person in the room who had picked up a newspage matrix and rotated it in the light, observing the dimensionality. I was paying my hard earned money to take this class and I had been betrayed into thinking I was going to meet someone I should listen to. I was disillusioned with my teachers. I begin to doubt the wisdom of further education. Some years later I would doubt that the President of the United States would be telling me the truth when he looked straight into the camera and talked to me. When Dwight D. Eisenhower looked straight into the camera and said the US was not flying U2s over Russia, I already knew that Francis Gary Powers was the pilot and had been photographed in chains after being shot down over Moscow. And then every President after that lied to me.
I had too many irons in the fire. I decided not to pursue a degree after about three months and signed up for a correspondence course in TV repair as a possible hedge on my printer’s apprenticeship. Eventually it was my trip out of town.
If the last half of my senior year in Ysleta was a little weird, the next year was going to be even weirder. I was working graveyard shift at the newspaper and I thought I would drop back into art class at Ysleta and see how the gang was doing. Some of the art students in their last year were doing what I had initiated in my last year, hanging out for a double dose of art. The afternoons were full of general art projects like stage sets, etc. and there was a new art teacher, Dolores Mafei, a 25-year-old petite beauty who was actually shorter than I. The other students were glad to see me back and Dolores didn’t seem to think anything was wrong. In fact, we got along swell. She needed a night club act for a football dance and I volunteered. I did magic one week and she wanted a French Apache dance the next time; so I worked something up with Osceola Segulia, a talented dancer who was in the art program. We had a great time. I had a pickpocket act in my routine; which should have been funny, but I underestimated the mental capacity of my audience, who identified with the victim and almost beat me to a pulp.
When it came time for the senior prom I took a chance and asked Dolores if she wanted to go with me. I was a very decent dancer. To my surprise, she said, “Yes.” I knew there was no chance for romance there. She would be going back to Salt Lake City to marry a guy when her teaching contract was up in May. We danced every dance and necked in the limo and stayed out for breakfast and I had a better time than I had at my own senior prom. We had a delicious scandal right under Clyde Wafer’s nose.
“At 20 years of age the will reigns; at 30 the wit; at 40 the judgment.”
- Ben Franklin
Tom Lea was already a noted artist, muralist, and book illustrator when he published his first novel, The Brave Bulls, in 1949. This story of bullfighting in Mexico became a 1951 movie starring Mel Ferrer and Anthony Quinn. Tom Lea was from El Paso and his book inspired people everywhere to come to Juarez and try the bulls. Getting the movie out just put the idea into more heads.
Patricia McCormick, a former student at Texas Western College, not only wanted to fight bulls but went on to write a book also. Patricia was a class act, she did not try to wear the matador’s suit of lights which were skin tight on a man’s frame, but tailored her own buckskin colored, western cut suits to accentuate her tall, slim, womanly frame with a Spanish flat brimmed hat to match. She also went through the training and worked her way up with credible fights in border rings.
Another wannabe took the glamour route. Betty Ford, not the President’s wife, but a model in Hollywood, dressed in Corte de Luz (suit of lights) and she was very voluptuous. She pretty much got laughed out of the ring in Tijuana and soundly booed when she was knocked down and screamed out in fright. Both of these fighters were eventually gored. Patricia’s injury was very severe, but she eventually healed and came back for a few fights.
One of the interesting lady fighters also had a trick of her own. She was Georgiana Knowles, who was in my sophomore class at Ysleta High School. I think she was the youngest of 11 kids in her family. She was a very beautiful woman but had burn scars on her back and shoulders; which she tried to keep hidden. She rode bareback in western attire using only a loop of rope from ankle to ankle to hold on to the horse and fought the bull in a semi-Portuguese style. She fought and trained in Nogales. I am sorry to say I never saw her fight a bull. I have heard that she was very good but did not find her in the historical works on bullfighters.
The reason I mention this is that I began to hang out with the bullfight aficionados on practice day at the Juarez ring and began to meet lady bullfighter wannabes. There were a pair of ladies, 19 and 20, that I fell in with. The older one, Jeannie, had just broken her ankle at her first novella trial and was on crutches. She was from El Paso and was well connected with a lot of people. Her brother was the Drum Major at Texas Western College and was quite remarkable with his six and a half foot height and the great white beefeaters headdress he wore. I forgot his name but I will call him John for a great friend I met many years later in California. Jeanne introduced me to John when he was doing The Glass Menagerie at a local theatre. He was very tall and slim and dark featured and had a marvelous operatic baritone voice that could penetrate the theatre even in intimate conversation. In this character he stood at the edge of the stage and addressed the audience. He was very friendly to me after the performance and invited me to socialize with him and his friends later on. Jeannie encouraged me to join them and said their parties were really a lot of fun. She told me about one where all the men dressed like women. Some were funny and some were really very good at it. Well, I had done something like that once.
When I was a sophomore, there was a turnabout dance like Sadie Hawkins Day where the women were required to make advances. They called it TWIRP season (The Woman Is Required to Pay). We thought this was a great opportunity to tamper with tradition. In those days there were several price structures for a dance, Stag and Drag, but girls could come free anytime. Stag meant a boy without a date. Drag meant a couple. For this dance, stags were not permitted, only couples where the woman paid the entrance fee. We thought it would be very funny to subvert this rule by having one of us dress like a girl and attempt to crash the dance with another boy. I was short, so I was elected to be a girl.
We considered the options of comic or authentic. We wanted to get away with it so we went all the way. My mother was amused and volunteered her red high heel shoes, hose, and the works. I cut my hair in bangs for the front and fashioned a snood with a rat in it. That’s a bag shaped scarf with a roll of hair in a net which was popular after the Rosie the Riveter days. I dutifully shaved my legs and armpits and did full makeup. After a little practice on the heels I was pretty convincing. I even wore perfume.
After parading my date past the teachers and chaperones near the door I put down my dollar and paid the entrance fee. Receiving my dollar was the girl whom I had refused a date because of this charade. She did a double take and her eyes widened. I put my finger to my lips and shook my head. She got it and didn’t give us away. So far, so good. We then proceeded to the area where the in crowd was gathering and begin to introduce me around. We got away with it until I started flirting with Alan Keown, who had the sense of humor of Red Skelton. He asked me to dance and then everyone knew. It was pure comedy from then on out. I was crowned the TWIRP Queen that night. I did not even know what a drag queen was at that time.
I never went to one of John’s parties, because it was just as I suspected and I was a devout homophobe. Several month later they were busted and after a while John went to California.
After Jeannie’s ankle healed she didn’t need me anymore and I began to see some of the other ladies of the ring. Then I met Delta.
Wanting to improve my ability to attract beautiful women I began to shop for new wheels and I found a tan, 1950 Chevrolet Convertible. Then I drove up and down streets to see what heads I could turn. And there was Delta Dawn Dunlap, a very beautiful girl with animal magnetism on the order of Marylyn Monroe. She was still in high school and did not have a clue as to what my life was like. It could be anything now, I was starting over. I wore a pencil thin mustache and a beret. I introduced her to Will, my friend at work, who was married by now and it almost broke up his marriage. Delta was a challenge to my determination to remain chaste. She was so desirable and so willing to bring me to the edge of submission that I was scared out of my wits what might happen. She was obviously the newest and best thing around and the competition was fierce. After about six months I lost out to a guy who only lived three doors away and could spend more time with her.
I was devastated and in a depressed state of mind drove myself to do dangerous things like roller-skate. After getting squashy blue knees and failing to break my legs, I found out I liked it and began to do more daring things like dancing backwards and turning in close proximity with female partners. I invested in a good pair of figure skates and some lessons and forgot about Delta. If you ever saw The Buddy Holly Story you would know that the skating rink was where it was at in those days. The one closest to my house, near Lane’s Dairy, was the best in town. There were good serious skaters who could teach the standardized dances and certify the RSOA badges (Roller Skaters of America). About half the evening was couples only dancing and the other half was free skate sessions. This allowed me to skate freestyle and practice my turns for the dance sessions. Once I had achieved a level of proficiency I bought some fancy charcoal pants with pink peekaboo pleats down the sides and polyester shirts and I created a new life for myself.
I should probably explain that before I go on. Since redemption is the theme of my life story, redemption should be explained as an evolutionary process. I was able to recognize whenever I had a need to re-invent myself and what it was that I was trying to be. In school I played the clown, the magician, the wise cracker, etc. I was small and tried hard to overcome the handicap. I had done so well as a magician that I was invited to a lot of functions on the chance I would provide a little life to a party; and for the most part I provided compensation for my privilege to be where things were happening.
One night as I was packing my bag into the car after a party, I realized I was alone and had spent the party in preparation and cleanup of something that left me alone when others had paired off and were heading for some private time before going home. I had already come to the conclusion that I did not want to follow the lifestyle of the entertainer. I had seen some of my older friends in magic try the Juarez nightclub scene and had talked to many sideshow and circus folk and knew that most people in that line were only a foot from the gutter. I saw one of my friends become a hopeless alcoholic before he was old enough to drink legally in the States.
If the only reason I was asked to parties was to entertain, then when was my opportunity to enjoy a party with someone I chose to be with? Why doesn’t anyone choose to be with me? I was alone, drowning in testosterone but looking also for someone with depth who was not beneath me. That night I spent a little extra time packing up and loaded all my magic into a big steamer trunk with a padlock on it. I quit, cold turkey. I got the sweats and set my jaw. I would stand firm. The next time I got invited to a party no one believed that I had quit. They kept waiting for the act to go on. I stretched myself and asked some nice people who did not seem to be involved for dates. Some were polite and some went and had a good time but did not seem interested in anything more. I found out many years later that I had tapped into the gay girl crowd. Gays were not out in those days.