$4.75 for Camel lights or $1 for DataLounge. Keep your thrills cheap. Give us a buck or click on an ad. I Turned John Paulk Straight! by: anonymous 09/22/2000 @ 12:29AM The Changing Room by Jim Provenzano

I think I turned John Paulk straight.

In looking through an old address book, actually my first address book, the 1983 Playgirl Pocket Address Book, which featured a buff blond sitting naked on a pile of hay on the tiny cover, I found a curious entry.

A few names did not ring a bell. Who were these college chums, and where did they go? One became an acrobat and worked with Cirque Du Soleil. Another died of AIDS. One runs a gallery in New York. Another died of AIDS.

But one of them definitely went somewhere. I had to read the listing a few times to get it.

John Paulk 2034 North High Street 209 Columbus Ohio 43201

That John Paulk? Exodus poster child? Full-page ad “look at me, I’m cured” John Paulk? Round-faced to the point of resembling a “South Park” character, but grown-up and with no sense of humor, smirking and obviously torn John Paulk? THE John Paulk?

You all know him. You may be unfortunate enough to have had one of their new fascistically comfy ads slither into your living room between margarine commercials.

Last year, in the most poorly timed PR campaign since the release of the Edsel, Exodus, with the help of minister and former pro ball jock Reggie White, unleashed a smug series of “you can change” propaganda ads in major newspapers. Shortly thereafter, Matthew Shepard was murdered. Cause and effect? That’s still debatable, as Matt’s killers have been proven illiterate.

Paulk was interviewed in slews of publications that still have yet to feature a proudly out gay person on their cover, “sharing” his tattered life as a forlorn drag queen in Columbus’ demi-monde, which in Ohio terms, is more of a micro-monde. If “Tina” wasn’t appreciated, she could have switched eye liners. As a theatre queen, I had plenty.

So why did John go straight? It must be my fault.

I couldn’t even recall if I’d ever visited him at this address. Unfortunately, the adventures of youth are the victims of memory loss and a few too many college keg parties.

Perhaps I should visit Columbus on a trip home, just take a peek at what I imagine is one of many run-down student dwellings that fill the streets surrounding Ohio State’s campus, each apartment reeking of the sheer funk of twenty-something comings-of-age.

I must have met John in 1984, the George Orwell’s worst literary predictions came network-ily true. Amid the sea of Reagan Youth, I was one of those cute punky “alternative” boys who dismissed others too easily who weren’t as witty or cute or brilliant as my own clique of witty, cute and brilliant friends who went on to fame, some fortune or died of AIDS.

We were cultured down there: Lar Lubovitch, Devo (they were from Kent, after all), Paul Taylor, Lena Lovitch, The Smiths; they all came to town. Between the Plasmatics at the Agora and live orchestra accompaniment of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon,” every weekend was packed with date material, offering plenty to discuss before and after that first furtive smooch.

Maybe John Paulk saw me in a scanty dance costume at one of many concerts where I performed in Sullivant Hall. Maybe he had a crush on me. Maybe he came to one of those wacky performance art events where I convinced dozens of dancers to twirl around to Philip Glass in the quad. Maybe I never called him, and he got frustrated with one more rejection.

Maybe there was something I found charming about John. Maybe not. Whatever happened, the proof that we met is somewhat like finding a thank you note from Fred Phelps. "I did what?"

Maybe I rejected John and from that day forward, he became determined to rid himself of the pressures of rejection we all sometimes suffer. He just associated it with gay men. I associate it with publishing corporations bought out by German conglomerates.

I know I didn’t sleep with him, or else you’d be reading about this in “The Star,” and fax-modemed from my villa in Tuscany.

But while some memories are lost forever, in that department, I’m cursed with total recall and a shred of integrity that would prevent me from admitting having had sex with the poster child of the next anti-gay Kristallnacht, even if I had. Remember, the first Nazis, the SA, were ex-gays, too, and their pyromania was also preceded by PR.

But I wonder why I found Columbus to be such an empowering totally gay-ifying experience, with each day bringing me new opportunities to come out to new people, or at least be naked and toweling off near new people. This is before they even had a gay community center or bookstore, but thank the gods they had the Jock Mall known as Larkins Hall.

Was this my advantage? Mere comfort in that sweaty realm where martial arts Zen boys, lanky basketballers, dolphin-like swimmers and twin gymnasts– yes, twin gymnasts–collided in steam rooms the likes of which San Francisco hasn’t seen since the Year of Big Brother?

Why was John’s experience one of misery and bad eye makeup? What opportunities did he miss that I had? Did he think gay bliss could only be found at the dance clubs with the turntable perpetually stuck on Madonna’s “Borderline?”

Was it the gym, or the art department or the library (oh my gosh, the Library!) and the half a dozen gay bars that were only a bus ride away, and if that was too distant, fraternity row, and the beer that made their butts sore the next day?

I remember punk bars and coffee houses where all sorts of jocks and freaks and nerds gathered who made intense friendships and studied all night and nobody killed anybody else because they looked different. We had the National Guard for that.

I remember debating bisexuality in bed with beautiful boys who may have gone one way or another, but at least I was honest and instructional while I held them.

I remember a boy in the showers of Larkins Hall walking right up to me with a stiffy, saying hello, that friendly overture disarming the sexual tension and making way for friendship as well as a great date that to this day makes me smile.

I remember the last days of pre-AIDS sex. Columbus can be cold and grey in that bleak wintry Ohio style, but there was always hope in overheated dorm rooms.

The problem wasn’t “Where are the gay guys?” The problem was picking which one, because there were so many.

They grow homosexuals in Ohio, cornfed and healthy, and despite the bastion of conservatives and homophobes, they do a pretty good job of it.

So John, if I was rude to you one cruisy night in 1984, if I walked away from you because you had the gall to admit you voted for Reagan, if I didn’t respond the way you hoped, and that turned you away from being a part of this glorious, fabulous, unstable, infighting, catty little queer community that I am so happy to be a part of it’s making my keyboard turn all blurry now since I'm getting misty-eyed, please accept my sincerest apologies, and consider coming home.

Your recent foray into a gay bar in Washington may be a sign of hope. You may not get a husband, but I’m damn sure that, unlike the crew you hang with now, you’ll be forgiven.

(Jim Provenzano is the author of PINS and writes Sports Complex for the Bay Area Reporter.)