Ah, Youth!—Three Memoirs

by Charles Troob

Ancient Greece 

In 1966 I was in a master’s program at the London School of Economics. Over the long winter break I traveled to Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The day before my departure, London friends gave me a Blue Guide to Athens. An hour into the flight from Heathrow I put down Thucydides and picked up the guide. One entry caught my eye. “There is a wonderful view over the city from the top of Mount Lycabettus. It’s recommended that one should go at sunset or sunrise.”

I was on a red-eye, arriving in Athens at 4 am. When the lane landed, I took a bus to a terminal downtown, where I checked my suitcase. Blue Guide in hand, I explored Syntagma Square, then followed the map to the foot of Lycabettus. On the steep road up I passed nondescript apartment houses–this quiet city was disappointingly dull. But the air was fresh and stars twinkled in the cloudless sky.

At the top of the hill was a lookout. Greece was hidden in the dark. I impulsively took off my clothes, and stood naked in the cool breeze. As light began to surround me, the shoreline of the Aegean came into view; then, to my amazement, the Acropolis lay right below. Piraeus, Corinth, Argos–here I was, not quite twenty-one, communing with the ancients.

The exaltation lasted an hour or two. Then I descended into modern Athens, where hardly anyone spoke English, and I felt stranded, alone, exhausted after a night without sleep.


Army Life 

I dropped out of grad school in 1970, and thereby relinquished my student deferment. I had a fairly high number in the draft lottery, so I thought I might be safe—but in December I received an induction notice. Along with hundreds of others I reported for my physical to Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. When I got to final clearance—it looked like the checkout area of a supermarket—nearly everyone else had been loaded onto buses and sent off to Fort Dix and a dangerous future.

I handed my papers to the clerk—along with a letter from a psychiatrist in New Haven. When his eyes got halfway down the page he trembled slightly and called me over. In a very low voice, he said, “This letter says that you are a homosexual. Is that true?”

“Yes,” I was appreciative of his tact, amused by his discomfort.

“Have you committed homosexual acts?” He paused, gulped, continued. “Oral? Anal?”

“Yes, yes,” I said airily. To my surprise—I was very much a closet case at this time—I was enjoying myself. I hoped he’d ask for additional graphic detail—that would make the experience really perfect. But he just nervously wrote a few things on my papers, then stamped them and waved me away.

I wondered idly if this official documentation of my infamy would stay buried in Army files, or might come back to haunt me at some later time….

When I went to get my coat there was one other man in the locker area. “You’re not going?” he said.

“No. I told them I’m a homosexual.”

He laughed. “I said that too! I just thought of it when I got here. What an easy way to get out!”

“I was telling the truth,” I said. “I had a note from a shrink.”

He gave me a funny look, turned, and walked away.



In 1976 I got a job in Washington DC. I returned to my New York apartment on weekends. Friday evenings I’d queue up at Union Station, waiting for Amtrak to teleport me from a world of offices, malls, and soccer moms to a hothouse of culture—and sex. A few hours later I’d emerge from Penn Station onto Eighth Avenue, assaulted by the energy of the city. I could hit the bars and sample the sleaze. I could climb a dingy warehouse stairway and applaud some crazies who were reinventing theater. New York was dangerous at that time, but hey, it was a danger to flirt with and dance around, not one to avoid. My weekends were filled with adventure and exploration—and then on Sunday night I went back through the wormhole to Dullsville-on-the-Potomac.

But somehow I was happy on Monday morning. In DC I felt myself growing and stretching.  Working for DHEW—the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare—was like grad school on steroids.   I was quickly promoted, with a choice of jobs. So I was never sure which phase of this cycle was the main narrative, and which the parenthesis.

Still, in time the ping-ponging back and forth wore me down. The double life felt like a refusal to commit to an identity. Put that way, the choice was easy—I was a New Yorker. After three years I cut the DC knot. Without a tinge of regret, I slipped away from the dream career and came home to rejoin the carnival full-time.

Or so I thought. Soon AIDS hit New York—and Reagan hit Washington. The 70s were history.


These three pieces were written for the IRP Writing Workshop.  Charles Troob joined this workshop when he entered the IRP in 2010.  After a few enthusiastic semesters he was invited to become one of its coordinators.