The Atlanta Barb (gay newspaper)
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In an old attempt to tell of my days on The Atlanta Barb I began:
An idealistic gay guy of 19 wanted to be 'involved' in gay liberation. To do the right thing and make a difference.
Remember the Gay Liberation Movement? I guess it sounds about as creaky and antique as Women's Liberation.
When I first came out naturally the first thing I did was look for books about being gay. From the Savannah public library I checked out H. Montgomery Hyde's biography of Oscar Wilde. And went to Oglethorpe Mall's Waldens. Buried sideways under a counter I found something called maybe Gay USA or Gay America. In the cover photo the author had a neat hat with a feather in it. And I bought a book by two gay women (through the years it has been the rare gay may who didn't ask me why I wanted to read about lesbians, my straight friends never blinked).
I asked the manager, a real closet Mary if there ever was one, for gay books. He suggested Gide's Corydon which they didn't carry. I read a few of Gide's books but by the first time I saw Corydon I'd run my course with him - too priggish.
I don't remember why I had to go back to Savannah after my first move to Atlanta. I was working as a bill collector for a company that hustled housewives into buying magazine subscriptions. I was a ruthless collector. "Is your wife a liar?" I'd ask the husbands who didn't want to pay.
Back then long distance telephone calls were more expensive than they've become since Judge Green broke up AT&T. The company I harassed people for had a WATTS line. So I ordered Gordon and Ebba - up in Atlanta - a pizza (couldn't get phone pranks out of my system). Somewhere I found Bill Smith's phone number. He was listed as the person to call about gay liberation in Atlanta. Having escaped it once, Savannah felt even less tolerable on my return.
My idealism was much nearer the surface back then. I went to visit Bill to see what contribution to the cause. Nothing really he told me. Aside from the MCC, Dignity and Integrity there were no gay groups in Atlanta (well, there was ALFA - the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance - but they were separatist, had nothing to do with men). No gay crisis phone center. Bill was the homophile representative to Atlanta's Community Relations Council.
That was it. I came out a few years after Stonewall. To the degree that I can imagine what it was like to be a guy who loved guys I'm desperately grateful to have been born later. In the days when urban gays are often courted for their votes and money it is hard to imagine how unimportant we were except when the local DA ordered vice raids to aid his forthcoming campaign for mayor. The Manhattan firemen and Irish didn't want us in their parades. The Canadian government tried to sue one of our newspapers out of existence. (No double jeopardy up there.)
But I could help him with The Atlanta Barb the gay newspaper he edited. Sure, I said, hungry to do anything. During much of my years in Atlanta I had no settled place of residence; a footloose bum who had a job only when he couldn't avoid it. Pretty soon Bill offered me a place to stay so I could work on The Barb full time.
I didn't know a particle about layout or design (still don't, look at this weblog) but was soon pasting together ads. Most of the month there weren't many demands on my time. I could loaf about and chat with Ariel, watch Thunderbirds , listen to The Supremes, fuck. (The paper was a blessing for meeting guys without having to go to bars.)
The Atlanta Barb was named after the Berkeley Barb . The original publisher was a jewelry salesman. The Berkeley Barb was fat with personal ads back then. He started The Atlanta Barb hoping to get rich. Like many salesmen he was an aggressive jerk when he wasn't selling. The night he sold the paper his friends celebrated by giving him champagne they'd pissed in.
When we weren't putting the paper together my main task was typing copy for the typesetters. We sent copies to bars all over the South but our main source of income was Atlanta bar ads. Our Atlanta bar columnist was Phyllis Killer, a rather creepy old queen who had a series of dependent hunks living with her. The first time I handled her prose I made the mistake of normalizing her capitalization and punctuation. A big mistake, Billy (as his birth certificate read) was proud of having writ "AND IT WAS A HOOT HONEY!!!!!" and "MISS THING JUST KILLED THEM DEAR!!!!" And I learned that even though Billy bored me to death I should never chat with the hunk du jour but attend to Billy raptly. Billy had to be the center of attention and would be scared I'd lure the young bodybuilders away. (Even then nobody could really believe that I preferred nelly guys and muscle mass held no temptation).
The days we put The Atlanta Barb together, to press and out in the world were when I earned my keep and cigarette money.
I can't remember the name of Mr. Ware's newspaper. It was a small paper published for Atlanta's black community. He let us use space, equipment and printed it for us (not for free). He had considerable political connections. One day the Feds padlocked his doors. For many years Mr. Ware had neglected to pay his employees social security taxes. A quick call to Andrew Young(this was the Carter presidency) made the padlocks go away.
For several days we'd slave for long hours, sometimes three days without sleep - have you ever dreamed while standing and working - pasting up copy and ads. We stopped only to go to the International House of Pancakes for patty melts and coffee.
Once the paper was ready Mr. Ware's employees - it was my first meeting with black men who had a certain self-improvement ethic that dates from the late 19th century Free Thought movement - would burn plates and paste in the photos.
Mr. Ware would come down, run the press and we'd grab the papers as they came off and bind them. Earlier I'd type up the mailing labels, all too often on one of Mr. Ware's manual typewriters (my fingertips would sometimes turn dark). A big chunk of the papers were sent to gay bars throughout the southeast. My shipping manifests were half legible photocopies. Once UPS forgave us a $1500 debt because they couldn't figure it out. We almost cried with relief.
And we'd take copies to the Atlanta bars. At least once a month I went to every gay bar in Atlanta. But only quickly in and out.
Other times we'd go to bar to kiss bar owner ass (that, thankfully was Bill's job). Or judge hunk contests. Or just to beg them to pay their advertising bill. One bar owner groped me and I just stood there and smiled instead of slapping the shit out of him.
After a time we moved to a house with an extra bedroom. Bill, ever conscious of the need to save every penny, found a roommate. The poor guy had a boyfriend of sorts half his age. The guy was impossibly good-looking. He was so handsome that his finely chiseled pecks wouldn't have stopped me from doing anything he wanted. So Glenn as I think he name was moped and cried. Once for a diner Glenn poured Mad-Dog 20/20 in an empty bottle of a much better wine. Eventually he was replaced by Ariel, one of the better folks I ever knew in Atlanta.
Towards the end of my days with Bill and The Atlanta Barb I answered a personal ad that led to my meeting the most beautiful boy a year later in San Francisco. And I began my days as a gay pimp by starting youngman, incorporated.
Bill was a bitter, whiney, bitchy man. Probably being a one-man gay liberation movement in Atlanta was a terrible drain. Keeping The Barb afloat took tremendous juggling. We were never intimates, whatever other causes there might've been I never knew. Increasingly I just thought of him as a nasty creep. The gay newspaper wasn't making a difference in the lives of gay men. I was living on a treadmill or like Sisyphus.
From my earlier telling of this story:
The only moment relevant to gay politics was the night the raided After Dark, an exceedingly tasteful gay only porno store. I went to Bill's room, woke him up. He got to the shop. Called someone in the mayor's office and the cops faded away.
Another good memory was going to Boston to be at the charter meeting of a gay press network.
The details are forgotten. One day I found myself moving out, going to sponge off Ariel who'd already moved away. Siobhan and I visited Ariel several years later. Bill had become addicted to deciding to commit suicide. He'd take a bunch of pills and then call friends who'd rescue him. One day that didn't work. He died in his car in a hospital parking lot.
I was glad he died. I've never repented that. But Bill Smith, who really was gay liberation in Atlanta does deserve some footnote in American gay history.