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Tanya Cull had mentioned on the phone in a final aside that Berkeley -- though by no means specifically the Languages Department -- had recently received bomb threats from nationalists of some Pacific island --an atoll vaguely related to some financial and scientific interests of the college -- demanding their independence. This explained the surprising security around Sproull Square, metal detectors at Sather Gate as well as at each building's entrance, each of which sported a white armbanded guard, although in the school's tradition, some security people looked as though only a few days before they'd hawked nipple rings and tattoos to tourists few yards away on Telegraph Avenue.

I was directed uphill to South Hall, which must have been the oldest building on campus, a great Victorian object with dormer windows and chimney pots that looked out of place in the sun-struck East Bay but would have fit with fogs off the Thames at Richmond Hill. A sign read "Library Sciences Annex" but that had another, hand written sign atop, with a stenciled hand pointed in another direction, thoroughly confusing me. Tanya would probably not be in 'til later on, she had told me, but she did give me the name of a colleague, Janet Carstairs, in the next office, who would let me in.

As promised Janet was in, and got me cleared into the Languages building. She was waiting outside the elevator when it opened, a statuesque, dark skinned Afro-American woman, still talking on a cellular phone as I got off. She signed off and closed the phone to warmly greet me.

"Sorry about all this," she said referring to the security. "The times we live in."

I had the feeling she'd expected someone different, younger or older, or maybe less casually dressed, I couldn't be sure. I wanted to calm her down.

"At UCLA they would try to electronically decal everyone on campus. Right here," pointing to my forehead.

"Sometimes Tanya and I wonder if America's universities are responsible for propping up every minor dictatorship in the world. She thought she'd be back by five." Janet led the way, her heels striking the wooden floor like rifle reports.

She unlocked the office door, flipped on the lights, saying, "You're going through her uncle's papers, right?Tanya said she left detailed instructions. If you need anything just knock."

Once inside Cull's office -- one not much bigger nor better furnished than those made available for instructors at UCLA, I noticed with satisfaction (although it had a great view of the Berkeley Tower) -- I was directed by Tanya's notes to the computer

terminal, and a tall file cabinet. Only one drawer was unlocked, marked "Mitch Leo." When I opened it, a sheet of instructions for it's use lay on top.

All this is available on the computer screen. I trust you know Windows 100. You

may access first lines, paragraphs etc. by striking MITCH:MSS and

going into Search or Global Search modes. For names, titles etc. do the same thing but go to Direct Search mode. Actual file names for anything on the screen

are always in the upper right hand corner. You may hardcopy anything you want, not to exceed ten pages. Or mark what you want to download with a double dot,

and enclose your net or modem address, it will be sent to you directly. But nothing else -- and no discs -- can either be inserted or physically leave the files

or room for computer virus reasons. University rules. Hope you find what you need.

As instructed, I typed in the first line of the questionable manuscript I'd found among Damon Von Slyke's papers, then went into Search mode. "Not found" was the response. So I tried Global Search mode. "Not found" was repeated. I then keyboarded in two more lines and tried again. Still nothing. I keyboarded in the first ten lines. Still zilch.

Disheartened, secretly wondering if the system really was as complete as Tanya Cull claimed it was, I tried the opening lines of the second manuscript I'd found, the one Thom Dodge had given me. Search. Nothing. Global Search. Again nothing.

Next I inserted the name "Paul" -- the narrator of the second, and a character of the first, new manuscripts -- into the system and following Tanya's instructions, put it in Direct Search. "File?" it asked. That was more like it. I asked it to check "All files" and waited. To my surprise, it responded.

"Two Files found. View #1?"


I struck "Access" and was rewarded by having a manuscript appear on the screen. Or rather the middle of a page of a manuscript, which I immediately recognized as not having anything to do with the anecdote about the two kids in the cars, as I'd hoped, but which I did recognize as being from somewhere in the first section of Mitch Leo's fourth book, AFTER THE PIANO RECITAL, published in 1983. The area highlighted by the cursor read, "We lived first with Tom's Princeton friend Paul, but discovered him to be pathological in too many respects -- including food, sex, drug use, and dress."

This extremely minor character, Paul, returned once more briefly, much later in the novel, as I discovered when I asked the machine to access the next place in the file where the name was mentioned. That read: "Around two o'clock in the morning, we heard something hit our hull, and looked over the side to see Paul in a small boat shaking hands with its sailors. He came up and asked, 'Anyone got Hashish? Mother's brains are simply marinated from being screwed by the crew all night!'"

And that was it. Unfortunately. As it proved at least that the computer's search mechanism was working. The question now was if it was working for all the files or only for the files of the published work. What I needed was to get into something I knew was not published. Not there was much that Mitch Leo had written and not published. A true follower of the literary aesthetic of Flaubert, Leo had written little, worked slowly, carefully reworked his writing many times, and had at last released it only with difficulty. This, despite the fact that once his 1979 novel, REFITTING TOM DEVERE, had "broken through," Leo had become a regularly published author for the few remaining years left him.

Wait a minute! There was a possibility. The bulk of Mitch Leo's unpublished work probably lay in his letters to fellow Purple Circler, Aaron Axenfeld! They'd known each other for two and a half decades and had lived far enough apart during at least half of that period to have corresponded weekly. Once the Leo-McKewens began making regular Spring pilgrimage to Europe -- mostly residing for two to three months in Florence -- the letters were even more regular. Ditto once the Leo- McKewens would arrive at the Leo family beach house, every August through October. Axenfeld had left Manhattan in 1982, further adding to their distance and need for correspondence.

Those many missives, and their responses, had formed the basis of an entire chapter of Erling Cumming's group biography on the Purples, focusing at it had on the Leo-McKewens as the gay literary couple of the era, and had in addition provided the meat for that section of Thad Fleming's study of the group, in which he'd concentrated on their and the other Purple Circler's experiences in Europe, which he had titled a la Twain and felictiously I thought, given their many sexual adventures --"Tramps Abroad."

I'd begun typing in Axenfeld's name when I thought, wait, the Leo-McKewens never called Aaron by his real name. They'd never called any of the other Purples by their real names either. According to both Cummings and Fleming, they had fabricated "drag names" for all of the Purple Circle's members. Or more precisely, pet names, since they were seldom female monikers: more like names coined as a result of peculiar circumstances or odd personality quirks or that arose who knew how, most of the circumstances were lost in the miasmas of the past.

Each other, the Leo-McKewens called "Baby" or "Babe". Mark Dodge of course, was Marco. Or Marco Polo. Or sometimes The Pole. Odd but understandable. As was Rowland Etheridge's nickname "Metheridge" or "Meth" or sometimes "Drina," the latter two names being short for Methedrine, a recreational amphetamine stylish in the 'Sixties (although there was no indications that Rowland used or abused the drug). After that the naming became more complex. Von Slyke's sobriquet of "Dame" -- short for Damon, used by the other Purple Circlers -- wasn't enough for the Leo-McKewens, who had changed it to "Camellia" or, more simply, "The Lady C." In reference, to DumasFils novel LA DAME AUX CAMELLIAS. In a similar bit of legerdemain, Cameron Powers' name had gone from "Cammy", which the others most often used, to "Cameron of Sulleyville" -- a town not far from where Powers had grown up in Mississippi -- to "Sulley" and, via some unknown incident, to "Sulky," with an occasional reference to "Miss Sulks" or "The Sulky One." Dominic De Petrie's name had undergone similar transformations from "Dom" to "Dome" to the nearly anagrammatical "St. Peter's Dome", thereafter landing most often on "Saint Pete" -- when, that is, it wasn't "Sneaky Pete." But neither biographer had located the exact foci through which the name Aaron Axenfeld had become transformed into "Glum Gus" or more simply "Gus." Cummings had suggested one pathway from the name Axenfeld through Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" character, Von Aschenbach, to that character's first name Gustave, to Gustavus, and finally to Gus -- which did make a weird sort of sense. Anyway, Gus was what they called Aaron.

I keyboarded the name Gus and went to Direct Search, All Files.

Pay dirt! It listed seventy-five files. Just to make sure, I accessed one and got a letter from Florence dated April 17th, 1976. Okay.This meant the two manuscripts were not on the computer. That was disappointing, if not particularly revelatory. Why should they be here if Len or Mark or Jeff were their author?

I decided to move past Tanya's instructions and went backward looking for a listing of "All Files" under Mitch Leo to see what of her uncle's work she had listed. This proved to be the titles of his published books, a few book reviews he'd published, a speech he'd given on "Gay Literature: the Future" for a midwest university, and the many letters. Nothing else.

Only one more possibility to try. Bobbie Bonaventura had told me after the bank heist involving Jeff Weber, Len Spurgeon, the possible author of the two little mss., had been hanging around with the Leo-McKewens. While I couldn't completely trust her yet, the other thing she'd said about Len -- that he and Mark Dodge had a previous relationship before Len met Jeff Weber -- had proved true. Mark Dodge's letter to his brother Thom confirmed that. It didn't prove that Spurgeon was a bank robber. Even so. . . I opened the file for Leo's letters again, went into Direct Search mode and typed in the name Len Spurgeon. I accessed for all files and waited.

Three entries showed up. The first two were dated June and September of 1979, exactly when Bobbie had said Len and the Leo-McKewen's were hanging out together. The first in a letter to Axenfeld, merely mentioned Len Spurgeon as "an old flame of Marco's whom the Babe is sure he still has La Grandissimo Crusheroo on. And why not? Len is hot as the Fourth itself. One of those muscular, but somehow loosely muscled bodies you seldom see on white boys -- which he very definitely is -- but more often find on very deeply Southern raised Afro-Americans. (I know, I know, I'll always be a BlackHawk at heart) Only medium height, but the languid pose, the downright dirty way he walks and gestures makes him seem a lot taller. Yessiroo, this Len got the old gonads going for moi meme not to mention scads others in the room. Waco on the other hand, hated him at first sight. Must have been a chemical thing."

Waco -- sometimes Wacky-o -- the Leo-McKewen's name for Purple Circler, Jeff Weber, was, not inaptly, in honor of his Western upbringing. And if Bobbie hadn't been lying to me, I now knew better than Mitch Leo that it hadn't been hate "at first sight," but exactly the opposite emotion.

The second Mitch Leo letter mentioned Len again, saying "this time without Marco, Len came over for High Tea yesterday." Present at the occasion had been the Leo-McKewen's usual assortment of those in the arts, socialites, people with summer houses the couple wanted invitations to, and Spurgeon, "dressed in tight fitting black denims, black T-shirt, silver and ebony vest and excellent, hand made boots from Texas." One of only two women present, a vacuum cleaner heiress, had flirted outrageously with Len, who was not amused by her attentions. Frankie McKewen had come upon the two of them smoking cigarets on the little dining room balcony, and he'd overheard Len saying, "Well, I for one, damn well know the difference! And I very much prefer having male buttocks bouncing in the palms of my hands, and a male rectum on the head of my cock." Which had been duly and immediately reported to all present indoors. With the expected, sensational response. According to Leo -- "many were the barks and (masculine) giggles that ensued."

So far, so good. If not telling. So, I went for Letter Number Three. As soon as it appeared on the screen I knew I had found something of significance. First, because across the top was written. "Not Mailed? Confirm with A.A." Which I supposed to be Tanya's note to herself. And beneath the comment, another note. "Confirmed with A.A. This letter was never mailed."

The letter, in its entirety, read:

La Citta
October 18th, 1983

Caro Gus,

One hates to be here before the Season has really begun. Yet once it has begun, it's so much better if the weather's boring, which it's been. Even better if one has a new experience to report. A new experience to have experienced. We jaded old Hussies so seldom do have them. And so seldom are they as "downright ego-satisfying" then as "purely mortifying!" as what I am about to report. In secret, s.v.p. The Babe is not to hear a word of this except from my own lips, when I choose the time and place. Do you remember that divine Len Spurgeon who several years ago came to a few of our Teas on West End Avenue?

Did you ever meet him? I think Marco said you eventually did, although he didn't say in what context. Well, said lovely Len vanished from sight and when I severely quizzed Miss Polo about the lad, Marco claimed he knew rien pas. Perhaps he was in Parigi, from which I gathered Marco had "made the move" and been repulsed. Or, more likely, they'd done the deed and it hadn't worked out as planned. L'amour, L'amour as Mary Boland always said. . .

Well, the lad resurfaced -- with a vengeance. Last Monday night, I was at some stupid quasi-literary shindig at someone's drearily furnished but v. nicely laid out flat at the Parc Vendome on West 57th Street and I left about midnight. Alone. The Babe was home with La Grippe.Could locate no taxis going uptown. So I wandered around Eighth Ave and noted right there a place I'd heard about for years but never actually been near, although doubtless The Lady C, not to mention The Sulker know it v. well- I'm writing of that sleazy bar named The Hay Market. Second most famous hustler bar in the citta. Since I'd never entered, that oversight had to be immediately rectified. I went in, ordered a drink, and looked around. Mostly older gentlemen. As expected. But in the back pool room was all the youngmeat. And among the youngmeat, there was one partikularly cherce cut of darkmeat, just the way I like it. "Wayne" -- made up name, I'm sure. It's probably Cato or Norman. But despite that, v. special. And obviously trade. There too, leaning on the arm of another piece of trade, after a minute I see, is our old pal, Len Spurgeon, also looking pretty damn tasty, in rubbed raw 501's left unbuttoned at the navel and a tee that don't quite meet the pants. He, alas for my interest that soir was Caucasian and unquestionably "our age."

Len however does me the kindness of remembering me fondly, is amused when I ask "Buying or selling?" and buys me a second beer. He also points out that I'm looking pretty good myself and that one older gent looks v. interested in me. He points out the guy, who is maybe four years older, but v. square and out of town. Actually, handsome face, nice bod. Bad clothes, if not quite polyester. But almost ostentatiously "out of town."

I tell Len what I want, and he introduces me to Wayne. I take off my jacket, reveal tight bod beneath, lose a game and a dollar to Wayne playing pool. Afterwards, Len says of Wayne, "That'll cost you seventy five bucks the hour." Well, who has that on me? And anyway, who wants to pay? So I'm glum, until Len suggests the following: he'll introduce me to Mr. Out of Town. I'll go trick with him at his hotel, then come back and use the money to buy cafe au lait Wayne.

I can't believe this is a realistic scenario. But Len does intro me to Herbert WhatsisName from WhereEver, Indiana, who's in town for a tool convention if you can dig it and wears a double wedding ring and wants sex bad enough he'll pay me. The only way to be quite such a putana however, is if Wayne knows about it in advance. So I go up to the pool table and tell him what I'm going to do, asking him to wait for me. He smiles widely and promisingly. And with the excitement potential, I go off. Halfway down the tackiest part of Eighth Avenue, feeling truly cheap, I wonder how I'm going to pull this off. It's worse in the hotel lobby. And worse in the elevator, where I'm sure everyone is looking at me and thinking the truth. Upstairs, inside the door, I'm about to give Herbert a chance to rethink the scenario, but he's instantly all over me. And he is the roman candle of all time. Four time shooter, in short, once against me in his shorts necking at the door, once on top of me, a la frottage, and twice when I've mounted him and am copulating like all get out. Turns out he's nice, he's handsome, he has a nice body and he excites the shit out of me. Terrific sex. So good I almost give back the money.

I don't. I leave when he's half asleep, and I go back to the bar. I see Len and we wink conspiratorially. He connects me up to Wayne and we three laughingly discuss what I just did and after another half hour or so, Wayne and I leave and we go to some fleabag room he tricks out of, which uses up both my twenty-five dollar tip from Herbert and my taxi fare home. Wayne prefers posing, being adored, and being caressed. But finally relents and allows a blow job. He's beautiful and it's okay, although truth to tell, if I'd not fucked my brains out earlier, I'd possibly be a wee bit disappointed with how I was spending my money. I get home at three a.m. The Babe luckily, is dead asleep.

Naturally I keep all this to myself. Then last night, a week later, the Babe and I join La Simplessa (the Ribs Heiress) as her escorts at the Met Opera for a black tie charity do, a production of La Boheme. V.High Society.Guess who's in the lobby with three or four other tuxedoed to the toes v. attractive guys who all turn out to be A-List gays, but Len Spurgeon? We meet at the first interval and I like who he's with, and so does the Babe and even La Simplessa. So we all meet again at the second intermission. And we're in a circle, talking, near the big horseshoe bar under the awful Chagall mural. I'm a little bit getting to know these men, when one of them whom Len and I have moved a little bit away from the others to talk to -- Rick something or other -- really the neatest of them all, asks me what I do for a living. I say I'm a writer and am about to go on being mock-modest yet sincere (you know the act: hell, you invented the act!) when Len turns to Rick and says, "Of course, Mitch is also a whore. Aren't you, Mitch?"

Well, Gus, I could have died right on the spot. But I found that I could not say one word in my defense, and I could feel my face get deep red, which would have lied for me if I did try to defend myself. Len goes on to say: "A hundred dollars a throw! Isn't that right, Mitch? Or is that only with a tip?"

Rick looked surprised and Len smiled oddly at me, and a second later, we were with the others again. And I knew that wherever I went from now on, wherever Len Spurgeon or any of these people said my name or had my name mentioned to them, one of them would bring up the fact that I was a hundred dollar a night whore.

It's unbearable. Yet what can I do? You're so clever. Do you know what? Is there anything at all?

The "Doughty Lion" or sometimes just "Our Lion," Dominc De Petrie had called Mitch in his letters to Aaron Axenfeld, and the name was more than just a play on Mitch's last name. According to all testimony, Mitch Leo's character was strongly independent, protective, self-sufficient to the point of arrogance, leading, at times dictatorial, at all times socially conscious,dignified, and above all, proud. What had happened with Len Spurgeon must have been mortifying to Mitch Leo.The fact that he'd never sent the letter attested to that. He'd probably never even told Frankie.

True, Mitch wasn't perfect. And, in a way, it was a pretty good, if spontaneously planned, comeuppance he received. De Petrie often accused the Leo-McKewens of being unadulterated social climbers, and although he himself attended a half dozen "High Teas" at their apartment -- a rent-controlled Pre-War five room on West End Avenue and a Hundredth Street -- when he wrote of it to Axenfeld or to others, invariably it was to make fun of the event and some of the more outre characters to be found there. "Severely aging heiresses in equally aging satin skirts and bad make-up," he'd written. And, of some of the artists: "He derives his iota of fame from having painted a portrait of a Surrealist Poet none of us ever heard of about three minutes before the old fraud died." Even so, the Leo-McKewens often had four or five "real" i.e. currently successful authors and composers present along with what De Petrie described as the "usual crowd of ancient interior decorators, overdressed landscapers and questionably garbed Sotheby's solicitors."

The monthly social Teas had come about for one reason: the Leo-McKewens had run out of money and couldn't afford dinner parties. The afternoon events were accomplished by guests bringing cookies, cakes and candies. Their hosts provided the place, the atmosphere, the tea and the china.

Exactly why the Leo-McKewens had run out of money is a bit more complicated. Cummings had written about it at some length. It mostly had to do with unmet expectations on Mitch's part. The Leo family were successful ethical drug manufacturers, providing among the first so called "generic" brands on the market. During Mitch's twenties and thirties, the company money had flowed and had been sufficient not only to buy the family large homes in horsy Montclair County as well as at the Jersey seashore, but also to send the kids to private schools, colleges and to pay an annual stipend to Mitch while he became a writer. Shortly before his fortieth birthday, Mitch's mother died, and on his forty-first birthday, the family birthday card contained a single check for ten thousand dollars -- with a note from his father saying this was Mitch's share of what was left of his mother's estate and that with her death, the annual fund would no longer be continued.

At first, the Leo-McKewens thought all would be well. They would live off their earnings as authors. Hadn't Frankie's last two books gone into hardcover and paperback? His 1978 tome on the "new sexuality in America," titled SWITCH HITTERS had been reviewed in the Sunday section of the New York Times. As had the next book, published a year later, McKewen's first truly gay opus, titled WHITMAN'S SONS AND SAPPHO'S DAUGHTERS, an early study of the roots of gay male and lesbian poetry. Frankie was on something of a roll: working on two autobiographical novels -- one about growing up in the midwest, the second about his adventures as a young man in Europe -- as well as another sure-to-be-profitable non fiction title, a cultural history with lots of character sketches about that most openly homosexual period between Ancient Greece and modern times: Fifteenth Century Florence, the era of Michelangelo, Leonardo and Pope Leo the Tenth.

If Frankie was heading toward a career culmination, with six books behind him and sections of the two novels already being accepted for magazines and anthologies, Mitch Leo's star was only now for the first time seriously on the rise. By comparison with Frankie's, it had been far dimmer for the past decade or more.

In fact, since the two of them had collaborated on their first book: a curious, precocious, partly autobiographical study of UFO sightings and touchdowns, as well as alien abductions and "definitive" signs of time travel (such as the Nazca Carvings). Titled SIGNALS IN THE SKY, that book -- seldom brought out for guest to inspect at Tea, De Petrie acidly noted -- had been issued in 1967, when the Leo-McKewen's, according to the back cover photos, were in their mid-twenties, lavishly coifed, bearded and mustachioed, tanned, lithe-bodied in their snorkeling gear, and not much different than the Euro-Trash to be found sniffing coke in corners of Regine's and The Peppermint Lounge or in beachshack bars on Montego Bay. Oddly enough, while the book was remaindered within two years of publication, SIGNALS had found fans enough since then: it had sold constantly in a "special" edition, meaning at about half its original price, and available in hardcover only from wholesalers, prominently listed in the "Arcana" or "Psychic" sections of their widely distributed mail order book catalogues and flyers.

While Frankie had rapidly followed up that volume with another, then another, trendy non-fiction book -- Rock Music and Native American Indians were two subjects, for example-- Mitch had returned to his first love, fiction.

That, after all, was what had initially brought the two together at that famous writer's colony deep in the Vermont woods, to which each had received grants upon their college graduation in 1962. It had been there, while reading each other's work, they'd fallen in love, and begun an affair, and while it had been touch and go for another two years after as Frankie moved to Manhattan and Mitch returned to Montclair, at last they'd both managed to spend time together again in Florence. There, on the sizable outdoor terrazzo connected to the seventh story flat of a nondescript Contessa, amidst abundant geraniums and a bevy of tipsy guests, in view of the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, as the sun culminated in Gemini, the Leo-McKewens had exchanged gold rings and married for life.

Mitch was himself then a potential heir (along with his two brothers) to a third of what promised to the nicely sized Leo fortune. He needn't work. He could spend a decade writing what would turn out to be an enigmatic, Jamesian novella, THE YOUNGER, published in 1977, with a lovely cover wrap and wonderfully apt interior black and white etchings by a dilettante older friend, whose current beau celebrated by throwing Leo a very toney book party in one of the generally unused galleries of the Frick Collection.

No one was more surprised than Mitch himself when, in the wake of the novella's publication, his next book, REFITTING TOM DEVERE, more or less "wrote itself," as he put it in a letter to Axenfeld. No one was more surprised and thrilled when that novel found a good publisher and caught the wave of gay lit hitting the country at the cusp of the 'Eighties.

It had been terrifically reviewed, had sold well, and in "trade" paperback had sold even better. Further opening the creative flood gates. Again, before TOM DEVERE was out, Mitch was already working on AT THE PIANO RECITAL and while that book -- odder in content if very Mitch Leo in its interests -- didn't enjoy the same success of its predecessor, it led to an even more easily penned third novel, SERIAL CHILDHOOD, which took up the character and life of TOM DEVERE and which eventually outstripped both prior books in both sales and critical acclaim.

It still wasn't enough financially. Partly because Mitch's success turned out to be simultaneous with Frankie's appalling lack of same.The Renaissance study McKewen had labored upon several years and therefore had counted on to fulfill all, was when he at last handed it in, sat on for months by his editor before -- to the horror or all -- being eventually turned down. Although it was subsequently shopped around for the next several years by McKewen's agent, it didn't find another publisher and moreover was never finished.

Frankie's two novels came to more and more occupy his time and mind -- it couldn't have escaped him that all the other Purple Circlers were succeeding in the area of fiction -- but he found writing them hard going, especially as McKewen wasn't able to presell either book, which would have provided at least some fiduciary motivation. All those book editors who'd spoken so highly of the published excerpts at Lit. conferences and parties now refused to look at his work in progress and demanded to see "the finished book."

Which only added pressure on Frankie, who after all, was an essayist, a miniaturist, who believed in "intuitive" rather than highly crafted writing, and who knew his talents and limitations enough to know he'd didn't have the narrative sweep and psychological acuity of a novelist.

It could not have been easy on their relationship, this final period of McKewen's non-achievement, coming so directly alongside Leo's sudden success, but the couple did manage to weather it psychologically, which attested to the strength of their bond. Financially, it was a different matter.

Mitch's income, now only advances and royalties, (both of which were lower than what McKewen had regularly received for his non-fiction) was not anything like as large nor as regular as it had been when his income was a Leo family monthly stipend. On top of that, the Leo-McKewens had developed spending habits over two decades that proved difficult to grow out of. They would primly budget and prudently live a month or two at a time, then one or the other would see something pricey and gorgeous they had to have, and would blow the equivalent of three budgeted months on, say, a Persian Turquoise ring or an Erte Letter H watercolor or a Portuguese Lace tablecloth. After all, it was difficult growing up to believe someone would always be there to pay and at the same time learn to deny yourself anything.

Frankie and Mitch kept up the belief that the Leo's company would get back on its feet and return to its headier profit making days. If it ever did, his brothers -- now managing the company -- managed to skim the earnings towards themselves and their families, so Mitch only got it last and least. One could understand the brothers' point of view: They worked in an office nine to five, forty eight weeks a year; while Mitch sat a few hours a day at a desk, usually in terrific surroundings: in Florence, in Paris, at Fire Island Pines, at the family beach house. Anyway didn't he now have other sources of income?

Among the other Purple Circlers however the truth was more evident: it was clear to those who were better off financially that money to sustain the Leo-McKewen folie a deux would have to be loaned to the couple on a more or less regular basis. Axenfeld and De Petrie and Mark Dodge were the usual lenders. One time, finding himself with a windfall, generous Axenfeld had simply, anonymously, paid their Macy's account, knowing the Leo- McKewen's depended upon charging the gourmet basement to food shop when they were in straits. To his amused annoyance, the duo were certain the bill had been paid by one of the heiresses they cultivated, and they delightedly speculated for weeks which one it had been -- until, and to everyone's embarrassment but his own, De Petrie at last set the two of them straight.

Coming in the midst of all that scrimping, what had happened with Len Spurgeon must have been deeply troubling to Mitch Leo. The fact that he'd never sent the letter to his closest correspondent to whom he confessed all, attested to exactly how mortifying. I wondered if he'd ever gotten around to telling Frankie what had occurred. Somehow I doubted it.

Another problem that probably added considerably to Leo's troubles at this time concerned health. It's at this exact time, according to Frankie McKewen's journals, that Mitch Leo begins section three of SERIAL CHILDHOOD, i.e. begins writing about his narrator, Tom Devere's, still unnamed disease. Cummings believed that Mitch Leo had already been tested for HIV during the summer of 1983, following the hospitalization for pneumonia of David Caspar, a former "adulterously regular trick" of his, which Mitch reported in a letter to both Von Slyke and Axenfeld. Cummings was certain Mitch had already found out he was HIV Positive by August of that year. This naturally would have added to the psychological "boost" Leo would have received at first in the incident with Herbert from Indiana and Wayne, but which later blew up so disastrously in his face.

To back up Leo's changed health status at this time, Cummings found indications that Mitch was regularly going to a Harlem dermatologist he knew during this year. The biographer was certain the visits were so Mitch could have Karposi's Sarcoma lesions lasered out of existence on his face and limbs. Going so far uptown and out of his usual circles, Cummings speculated, Mitch might be relatively certain people he knew would not discover the visits. Financial records Cummings located showed treatments on each of seventeen dates from April through December. We know how proud and vain Leo was of his looks. It now seems clear that he either knew or strongly suspected he was sick with AIDS by mid-1983 and still hadn't told anyone, not even his old pal and correspondent, Aaron Axenfeld.

At the time, of course, Mitch Leo could console himself -- as the saying goes -- with his reviews. As well as with the fact that the reviews got progressively better right up till the end of his all too short life. Of course, there was the expected critical opposition to Leo's obliquity of angle as well to his "mandarin" style. Yet, the middle aged men and women who most often reviewed his novels in the book pages of the New York and Washington papers found them to be "balanced portraits of families in crisis with alternative life styles."

But to younger, more radical, class-conscious gays, the cosmopolitan settings, the haut monde characters, their elaborate social niceties and the sophistication of emotional conflicts Leo delineated so well all seemed to smack more than somewhat of a less contemporary and less interesting kind of gay life. "Useless except as a memento, and then only for retired decorators and beekeepers," one reviewer had written of

SERIAL CHILDHOOD. While the Advocate's critic had been even harsher: calling the novel's failure to name AIDS and to deal with it except as in an allegorical mode, "the Damnable Closet, homophobically prevailing even unto sickness and death." Even so, when Leo died in 1988, he could content himself that he'd opened up new avenues of discussion, especially regarding gays and their families in literature and that his vision would persist.

Subsequent studies, a decade later, ended up being altogether less certain. Once the issues of "mainstreaming," "gay adoptions" "same-sex marriages," and "gays in the military" were recognized to be transitory and ultimately peripheral to the true issues of the homosexual liberation movement, Mitch Leo's "breakthrough" was naturally re-viewed and re-evaluated as a less crucial position. Dr. St. George had written, "The Leo oeuvre will stand the test of time, although it's unclear what ultimate position he will hold among his Purple Circle colleagues. Surely not in the top echelon, as contemporaries assumed during his lifetime, yet not at the bottom either. Possibly he will be in the center, as he was in life, at least socially."

Erling Cumming's had enjoyed writing about the Leo- McKewens because they were such richly detailed characters themselves, as well as because of the romanticism of their "fated" love story and their early deaths, only months apart. But even he admitted that the couple as authors were "transitional: like Etheridge and Von Slyke, their coevals, they represented a Pre-Stonewall mentality, contrasting with the evidently Post-Stonewall mentality of Axenfeld, De Petrie and Dodge, who were writing at the same time. But unlike Etheridge and Von Slyke who recognized how their age might hold them back and who did attempt in their subject matter and approaches to keep up with the others, the Leo-McKewens never seemed interested in pushing forward into that Brave New World of topics and experimentation that gay literature had opened up."

Thad Fleming was even more critical, "In the end, Leo's work stands on that borderline leading to the new. The essential charm of his voice, the pleasure we derive from the stories he tells and how well he tells them does count. The novels are not so much `dated' as they -- gently -- often require the reader to constantly mentally redate them for him/herself during the reading experience, saying 'but wait, this must be happening in the Sixties!' Or "Right! It was different then!' Which seldom happens with the totally contemporary works by other Purple Circlers, written at the same time or earlier."

Mitch's never sent letter to "Gus" seemed a perfect example of that much discussed style of writing and thinking: arch and yet direct, "classicist" yet almost vulgar in its leering. Filled with foreign phrases, yet almost blunt in its other language. As I printed it out for myself, however, on the University bubble jet, I found my thinking revolving back and around to -- not Mitch Leo -- but the still unknown Len Spurgeon. Who was Len? In the words of the Bard, "What was He/ that all our swains commend Him?" Was he sinner -- as Bobbie and Leo -- assumed. Or savior as Mark Dodge thought? Or both in some combination?



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