Lost and Found: The Front Row Club

I see the journey, the path I have taken like the wake of a great ship.

My vision is 20/200. I am legally blind by any state definition or federal standard. It is possible to google this and there are a couple of videos that put it a bit in perspective but I don’t think they come close to what it is really like. On an eye chart which everyone is familiar with I can see the big E and nothing more. Now my retina specialist has many different charts to keep anyone from guessing. Some of them have numbers. It does not matter as I can’t get beyond the first row unless it is one letter on the second but usually I cannot see the second row. Night is better and worse. If I am home there is comfort with the darkness and if I am out then all the lights, street traffic and car all bleed together. If I am sitting still this can be really pretty but when I am moving then it can make me dizzy, disoriented or just give me a bad headache. I don’t get out much, no one wants to hang out and be responsible for a blind person.

High school scared the hell out of me, a bigger place for me not to belong. I had gained some really negative ways of dealing with friends. I stopped friendships before they discovered what a loser I was. I had very few friends throughout high school. Nothing seemed to go right my sophomore year. I had one friend and we went around being as obnoxious as possible. Football was a nightmare. I switched positions to wide receiver and cornerback and soon got lost in the crowd. There were over a hundred sophomores playing foortball. My dad was away a lot each week traveling to some small town to help the post offices mange their books. When he was home the tension was unbearable and eventually my parents split. My sister had graduated and was gone. I knew of no one I could talk to. To compound this my parents left it up to me to decide where to live. It should have been an easy decision to stay with my mom but when all you have wanted was to have your dad love you and want to be with you I made it harder. My dad showed up one day while I was replacing shingles hat had blown from the roof. He talked to me while I was sitting on the roof and he on the ladder. He of course wanted to avoid any child support so told me whatever I wanted to hear and we spent some time together over the next couple of weeks.

I broke my mother’s heart when I decided to live with my dad. I remember the day I left, and I wet to say goodbye she was laying on her bed facing away from me. I can see it today. Things with my dad were bad from almost the start. I was an anchor and he would leave on the weekends, throwing some money at me ad leaving on Fridays and returning on Sundays usually late. I had my permit to drive but he did not want to drive with me so he got me a car and then told me not to get caught. It was way too much freedom for a fifteen ear old. I was drinking on weekends and staying out sometimes all night. I was falling apart on the inside lost. Looking back I cannot imagine why I did not kill myself but the thought never crossed my mind.

Some time that year when it was still cold, probably early winter I went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the 7th Street theater in Fort Worth. We took rice, water pistols and newspapers and I experienced that movie for the firs time. It also might be the only time I watched that movie in its entirety. There was a group that gathered on th first two rows that called themselves the Front Row Club. You had to be invited to belong and sit down there.  Most of them dressed up and they called all the lines. They did not engage in the silly squirting of water pistols or throwing rice and none of them carried a newspaper. They were all friends, some obviously gay or lesbian but many were straight. It was their free spirited attitude towards everything that appealed to me. What they did was more performance art. I wanted to belong with the front row club. The only way was to see the movie a lot, dress up and be as crazy as they were. I saw the movie ten times or so before I came up with my costume and by that time I had met a friend who was in the front row club name Mike who was a senior at a high school in Fort Worth. We stated talking before and after the movie and he introduced me to many of the front row club including a transvestite named Jamie who knew more bawdy songs than anyone I have ever met. Many times Jamie would stand in line with us and cut up and then leave before the move started. I started wearing an old straw cowboy hat and dressing like a Transylvanian. Eventually I was invited to sit with the front row club.  Then one night I stripped to gold underwear on a dare and did Rocky with half the theater chasing me. Yea I belonged. .I was also surprised I was not arrested.

Being fifteen and hanging with the front row club I guess compelled people to question my sexuality which as messed up as I was never really came up as an issue to me. I was straight. Maybe it was the gold underwear. Jamie said I was the straightest person he had ever met. It was not the front row club it was people from school that came to see the movie, with water guns rice and newspaper. I started to get the question which I answered so it surely did not win me friends at school although it was surprising how many of these asshats would show up  and ask to sit with the front row club.

Things came to a head with my father after I was arrested for minor in possession in a Podunk yown nearby. I eventually met with the judge and he let me off. My father grounded me for a month and then proceeded to leave telling me I had to stay at home. Yeah, right, sure I could be trusted to do that. It just led to more trouble and eventually after a lot of name calling by him I left that miserable situation. I ran to the front row club, and for a week stayed at various homes and apartments including staying at Jamie’s for two nights. For all those afraid of people different than they are, Jamie never once hit on me or attempted to molest me. Instead he stayed up late talking to me about everything that I was feeling. Someone on the front row club took me to school and someone else would pick me up. My friend Mike did a lot of driving but I could not stay at his house. He might have been more messed up than I was. Sexuality was a big issue with him. He was gay and he knew it but his parents had such impossible expectations for him that he was in serious trouble. It was Jamie who convinced me to call my mom and she attempted to play tough parent on me but she wanted me and I moved in with her. It gave me such stability to be with her. I was very close to her and could talk to her about anything. I was always truthful with he.

I kept going to Rocky on weekends throughout high school although somewhere in my junior year I stopped dressing for the occasion. I did this with my mom’s permission. She met many of the front row club including Jamie who hugged her and made her laugh. We tried to formalize the front row club but as soon as we did it started to fall apart. Most of the group were young adults and finding purpose to their lives. The leader whose name I don’t recall despite sleeping on his couch one night was nearly thirty and owned a business. So the old timers drifted away and seventh street changed the rules on us and started to kick us out if we got too unruly. We used to crawl across the stage when they talked about insects at the end of the movie. It was hilariously fun. I started attending sporadically, stopped dressing up except for some rare occasion but every time I went back someone knew me and treated me like royalty. I even dropped in at another theater that did midnight showings and found they knew me there too, the transylvanian cowboy. Surprisingly the last time I went was in college and I was recognized there by a grrl that had been on the periphery of the front row during its heyday. I think altogether I saw the movie a little over 150 times..

I thought about the front row club for a long time. They rescued me when I was lost. I know that AIDS took its toll on some of them. I ran into Mike in college. His parents had sent him to therapy to cure him. He was a mess and I seriously doubt he is alive.  He did not want to hang out or talk but I never saw him again even on campus.

The front row club helped me see people for who they are without labels. To me they were just friends, some gay, some straight, some questioning some not. I was a lost soul and they treated me like I belonged, like I was a friend. We are all on a path, following it blindly sometimes, making decision and branching off. Occasionally our path converges with others. These meetings impact us and we either see people for who they are or label them. I find their are more kinds of blindness that just vision just letters on a chart. any choose to judge, quote biblical scripture to rationalize their own blindness, their own hatred. They create laws to restrict people out of fear and a desire to control. The world is more than just letters on an eye chart. The Front Row Club taught me much that I value today.

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