Vito Mastrogiovanni (1951-1991)

Contemporary Issues Forum

Vito, top left

Vito Mastrogiovanni was a friend of mine when I was at Binghamton Central High School in the late 1960s. He wasn’t the first gay person I met, but he was the first person I knew who was “out of the closet,” as they used to say. My sister Leslie was disappointed because she thought – and she was right – that Vito was very cute.

Our school affiliation, Contemporary Issues Forum, advocated against the Vietnam War and fought racism, among other issues. Socially, we referred to ourselves as Holiday Unlimited, swiping the Beatles’ line, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Vito, George, Jane, Michelle, and Harry, and others in our coterie were a semester ahead of Karen and me. They graduated in June of 1970, and we in January 1971. Karen and I had attended our 10th reunion in 1981, and pretty much hated it. The night was salvaged by a party afterward hosted by a local friend.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

In 1990, Karen and I went to the 1970 class reunion, and I had a surprisingly good time. But Vito did not attend, though he did come up from New York City, where he was working in the theater. BTW, he has a credit in the IBDB: The Nerd (Mar 22, 1987 – Apr 10, 1988), Hair Design by Vito Mastrogiovanni.

Vito was understandably angry that he was suffering from AIDS during a period when it was almost certainly a death sentence. As his sister recently noted, he was amazingly thin in these photos. I never saw him again, but I understand that he became more, if not accepting, then at peace with his mortality. He died on 15 May 1991, so just over 30 years ago, before he reached his 40th birthday.

As I noted WAY back in 2005, Vito was commemorated on the famous AIDS quilt. At my request, sections that included his piece came to Albany at least twice. The section is in no way as dynamic as Vito was.

Jane, Tom, Roger, Vito, George, Karen, Harry

By request, a Facebook meme

Chuck Taylor

bulldogBy request, one of those Facebook memes about high school. “Think about your SENIOR year in High School…if you can remember that long ago!! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be! It only takes 5 minutes, do it!!!” Or don’t. I’m not all that invested.

Incidentally, one of my friends suggested that people ought not to participate in such memes. Nefarious folks might use your information to figure out your password. I think this is a legitimate concern. So for all you bad actors out there: the password for everything I use is Binghamton37. So now you don’t have to look for it. You’re welcome.

1. Did you know your current love? Well, no.
2. Type of car? No idea. I don’t even know what my parents were driving at the time. I have no automotive memory.
3. What kind of job did you have? At some point, I was a page at the local library for seven months.
4. Where did you live? Binghamton, NY, the Parlor City.
5. Were you popular? I suppose so. I was elected president of the student government. But I was never a class notable. I was popular enough among the antiwar crowd, and the music/theater people, I guess.

Thomas J. Clune, choir director

6. Were you in choir or band? Choir and male glee club! I loved glee club. And there are choir songs I can still recall.
7. Ever get suspended? Not exactly. It was more of a severe dressing down.
8. If you could, would you go back? Oh, God, no.
9. Still talk to the person that you went to prom with? Yes, at least once a year.
10. Did you skip school? Not unless it was to go to an antiwar demonstration.

prom

11. Go to all the football games? Some of the home games.
12. Favorite subject? History. It had been math before that year. Intro to Calculus confounded me.
13. Do you still have your yearbook? Yes, though I never got a senior picture.
14. Did you follow your career path? I thought I’d be a lawyer, so no.
15. Do you still have your high school ring? Never bought one.

16. Who was your favorite teacher? Helen Foley, public speaking and theater maven, and mentor to Rod Serling.
17. What was your favorite style? Nerd, before it was cool.
18. Favorite Shoes? Chuck Taylors. Don’t know that I could wear them to school, though.
19. Favorite food? Lasagna.
20. Favorite band? By the time I graduated, the Beatles had broken up and Diana Ross had left the Supremes. Maybe The Rascals?

21. High school hairstyle? I never could do a ‘fro.
22. What favorite perfume? n/a
23. How old when you graduated? I was 17, going on 18.
24. Who do you think will play along and fill this out? I don’t even ask.
25. What high school did you attend? Binghamton Central, which hasn’t existed as an entity since 1982.

 

Dear old dad in Newspapers.com

the Ongleys

When I was on my genealogical journey for my father’s biological male parent, I got a subscription to Newspapers.com. You know, memory is a peculiar thing. I took a deep dive into the records that mentioned Les Green. There were over 300 items in the Binghamton, NY newspapers, most before 1974.

The earliest may have a picture of Les and his stepfather McKinley in 1942 with other Boy Scouts and their dads. I discovered that he was involved in the 1960s as a leader in scouting at the Interracial Center on 45 Carroll Street. Yet in my brief tenure as a Cub Scout, I never got the sense that dad was interested in scouting at all.

I remember that my father was the production chairman of the Civic Theater, the community performance troupe. Specifically, I recall his involvement with the 1960 production of Guys and Dolls, which was very successful. Even then, I thought the show, starting with the title, was rather old-fashioned. (Sidebar: my wife saw Bob Hoskins perform as Nathan Detroit in London in the early 1980s, so she’s more favorably inclined.)

The previous Civic Theater production was Separate Tables by Terrence Rattigan. What I didn’t know was that Helen Foley, speech and drama instructor at Binghamton Central HS was the director. She was my public speaking teacher a decade later, but neither my father nor la Foley ever mentioned to me that they knew each other. Helen Foley, BTW, was also the favorite teacher of Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, back in the early 1940s.

BTW, the costumes for Separate Tables were done by my grandmother Agatha and “Mrs. George Ongley.” George Ongley was Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. My family visited their family for a time at the Ongley home in suburban Vestal. They had a couple kids if I’m remembering correctly.

Fighting for justice

Unsurprisingly, most of the clippings in the papers of dad were of him singing and playing the guitar. I knew my father performed at the Binghamton State Hospital, the “first institution designed and constructed to treat alcoholism as a mental disorder in the United States,” several times. But I didn’t know he was President of the hospital’s volunteer council c. November 1963. I wonder why he was so invested in that institution.

He was involved in a variety of civil rights organizations, such as the William L. Moore chapter of CORE. Once, his white colleagues sent me into the local Woolworth’s to see if I, like other black kids, would be harassed by the employees or the police. I was not on that day.

Dad headed the Binghamton-Broome Council of the NYS Division of Human Rights head by 1969. Interestingly, the formation of this body was rejected by the Binghamton city council five years earlier. That action generated a third of a page petition in the paper. “There is not a single day when a Negro does not suffer the indignity… of discrimination” in the city. It was signed by my mother, father, and McKinley, as well as over 230 other adults, many of whom I knew.

My father was Chair of the Human Rights Advisory Council in 1972. Yet I did not recall that he claimed that he was denied entrance to a public billiards parlor in Binghamton because of his race in July 1968, taking his complaint to the state Division of Human Rights in September of that year. I don’t know what the resolution of the case was.

Finally, he was Director for Joint Apprenticeship and Training for the Associated Building Contractors in August 1972. When he lost that position, he ended up moving to Charlotte, NC in 1974. Les Green was rather remarkable when I was growing up. Happy Father’s Day.

Paul Robeson, Negro singer

“Golden Age”?

Paul Robeson
Alston drawing from the National Archives
On page 13 of the Binghamton (NY) Press from Wednesday, May 5, 1926 is this headline: BASS-BARITONE TO SING SPIRITUALS. But it’s the subhead that caught my attention. “Paul Robeson, Negro, Will Be Hear In Concert Friday Night.”

He was to appear at Binghamton Central High School, my alma mater. The article extensively quotes the March 3 New Republic. “A sort of sublimation of what the negro may be in the Golden Age hangs about him and imparts to his appearances an atmosphere of affection and delight that is seldom felt in an American audience.”

This is hardly the first I’ve read about the “Negro” X recently. The “Negro girl,” the “Negro pastor” show up in articles about Raymond Cone and my grandmother, Agatha Walker, e.g. It is a reflection of a time when being white was normative. Anyone not described as a “Negro” or whatever they called Native Americans (likely Indians) and Asians (Oriental?) were assumed to be white.

But what the heck was the New Republic alluding to in terms of the “Golden Age”? Is it a reference to the Harlem Renaissance? Or perhaps the Golden Age of Black Business, when “leading black capitalists . . . reflected their success within a black economy, which developed in response to the nation’s rise of two worlds of race.”

Red Summer

This in spite of the white-on-black violence of 1919’s Red Summer, which most people, a century later never heard about. Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs. So “Golden age”… hmmm.

Incidentally, I was not looking for the Paul Robeson article. It sits just above a piece I was interested in. “A.M.E. Church Seeking $2,000 for Parsonage.” It described the three-day bazaar to be held to raise funds for the dwelling of one Rev. Raymond Cone. “Mayor Clarence J. Cook will the opening address.”

I have learned a great deal this past year about cultural norms by reading old newspapers. The listing of almost every church service, wedding and funeral, with the name of the preacher and often performers of special music. It would be as easy to fall down the rabbit hole on Newspapers.com as it would to overdo on Instagram or Facebook.

Bernie Massar, Barnyard (1953-2019)

The Professional Firefighter’s Cancer Fund is a non-profit 501(C)3 organization committed to raising funds for cancer research programs.

Bernard Massar.Jan KostyunKaren, Carol, Lois, Diane, Irene, Bill, Bernie and I all started kindergarten together at Daniel S. Dickinson, where we did K-9, and graduated from Binghamton (NY) Central High School together.

Because Bernie Massar lived in the opposite direction from most of us, down Clinton Street rather than up Mygatt Street, I spent less time with him outside of school than I did with most of the others. I’m not sure if I had even been to his house.

But he’d been to mine at least once. I had a birthday party when I was eight or nine. I don’t know if it was poor communication or something else, but only two people showed up, my Cub Scout buddy and classmate Ray, and Bernie.

He could be the life of the party, betraying his clean-cut look. I hadn’t seen him in a long time when he – and Karen, Carol, Lois, and Bill – attended a high school reunion c. 2006. I see this jocular fellow nicknamed Barnyard with a walrus mustache, who had been fighting fires for a living for 27 years.

Obviously, I have no current history with him. Yet however unconnected we had become, he’d show up unexpectedly in the back of my mind. Now, Bernie Massar, this guy I’d met when we were not quite five – his birthday is a couple weeks before mine, I still recall – has died at the age of 66 and I have this sense of wistfulness.

And from pancreatic cancer, making him the THIRD person I’ve known IRL who died from that dreadful disease in 2019, and the year’s not even half over.

It makes me want to donate to his designated charity, the Retired Professional Firefighter’s Cancer Fund, 4 Loretta Drive, Binghamton, NY 13905. It is a non-profit 501(C)3 organization committed to raising funds for cancer research programs, which has been doing great work, it appears.