A debut author reflects on different periods of his life, from being a closeted Navy man during World War II to being an out-and-proud businessman in the 1970s.
Klein was born to a family of “Volga Germans” in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1924. Growing up, he felt that he was clearly different from other boys, and he was drawn to what were considered “feminine” tasks, such as cooking; later, he found that he was attracted to other men. However, he hid this part of himself away. After high school, toward the end of WWII, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he learned quickly that being openly gay would hinder his career. He also felt that he “had to prove that I was a ‘man’ and could do things better than anyone else.” To that end, he engaged in sexual activity with women at every chance. Klein survived boot camp (and several harrowing plane landings), and his military career would take him from Texas to Alaska and elsewhere before he was discharged and wound up in Manhattan. There, in 1954, he flirted with the gay culture of Broadway and downtown while buckling down to become a journalist for Air Force Magazine. At this point, Klein fully embraced the fact that he was gay. During this time, he also met eccentric characters, such as New Orleanian Howard Lane, who would become a dear friend. A move to California in the early 1970s would lead him to become a restaurant owner and the director of a ski association. The memoir’s later chapters deliver some of the most memorable imagery, such as a scene of Lane drunkenly dancing while wearing a tutu. However, the timeline of Klein’s life starts to become a bit blurry—his initial introduction into gay life in New York, for example, is glossed over, and some chapters would have benefited from a more careful edit to excise some repetition. However, these faults are easy to forgive, as Klein proves to be a great storyteller; his voice feels young and energetic as he cracks jokes and tells of encounters with celebrities, such as Marlon Brando and Joel Grey. Indeed, it’s impossible to not get swept up in his memorable tales.
A memoir that, despite a few flaws, offers an engaging slice of 20th-century American life.