Child abuse takes many ghostly forms and has a multiplicity of fathers. I can still remember, decades later, the one time I was enticed by an older man and how the awful hauntings of that dungeon-like experience still threaten me today.
The older man was a popular entertainer in my hometown. He was probably 40 years older than me at the time and he’d always been a supporter of mine as I worked as a stage actor and a television performer. I’d known him for five years.
One day, he invited me over to his house for “thinly sliced ham, croissants and strawberries with rough sugar.” As a Midwestern boy, the idea of thinly sliced anything was a curiosity in itself because bigger was always considered better. I accepted his invitation.
The guy came over to my house early one Saturday morning — I was too young to drive — and we drove over to his sophisticated house in the right neighborhood. His backyard was the country club golf course.
The plan was, as I understood it, to eat breakfast together and “go over my resume” to try to better position my talent in the marketplace for future employment.
When we arrived at his home, I was surprised his wife wasn’t there. She was “out running errands.” He then excused himself and returned dressed in a red satin robe and choking down two fingers of whiskey in a beveled glass.
We sat down, ate our thin breakfast — I didn’t make eye contact with him wearing that ridiculous robe — and he took a cursory look at my resume and then invited me downstairs to his basement to look at some older resumes of his he had on file.
As we descended the staircase together, the pit of my stomach turned a bit — I blamed it on the rough sugar and thin ham I’d just eaten — and I saw that I couldn’t see very well. His basement was dungeon-like and musty and dark.
We sat down on the couch and I yelped as something wet and furry brushed my naked leg.
“That’s the dog,” he said. “She’s blind. Don’t worry if she bumps into you. She’s looking for the stairs to go outside.”
The faint smell of wet animal permeated the room and encircled me as I began to wonder what I was doing there.
“You want some pot?” He looked at me with dripping, earnest, eyes.
“Uh, sure.” I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to seem like a bad guest even though I’d never smoked anything a day in my life. “But aren’t we here to look at your resumes?”
He nodded and pulled a pipe and a bag of weed out of the folds of his satin robe. He began packing sticky greens into the pipe bowl. He struck a match on the coffee table and took deep breaths of the sweet smoke.
Then he handed me the smoky monstrosity.
I didn’t know how to use a pipe so, as I watched his eyes close and his body go limp, I pretended to inhale. I imitated holding my breath as he had.
After a few minutes of me sitting there on one end of the couch, I handed the pipe back to him.
He smiled at me, spread his legs a big and revealed a growing erection that was starting to lift the folds of his satin robe.
Alarms were going off in my head. I was instantly sickened and scared — but I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I wondered how I’d get home. It was too far to walk.
Everything became a blur as I decided to stay within myself. If he touched me, I vowed to myself, I would clobber him and run up the stairs and out the door and never go home again.
For now, I reasoned at that time, he was in his own world, and as long as he stayed there, I would be fine. I felt like I was in a dream. I imagined various scenarios for my escape.
He asked me questions. His breath was tinged with whiskey and the smoky sweetness of that swirling weed.
I refused to answer. I would not look at him. I was relying purely on twitch reflex and sensory perception, and if he “violated” the bubble of my private space, I would attack him.
I used that extrasensory ability to track the movement of his blind dog in the dark — she was still roaming in circles looking for the stairs. I wanted to make sure if I had to make a quick exit that I would not stumble over her.
The next thing I knew, we were walking back up the stairs. Behind me, he said, “See? I didn’t touch your dick.”
It was then I was snapped out of my protective haze and the fury began to build. I hadn’t imagining anything, even though I sort of convinced myself I had. Every awful thing I’d been thinking about him was true. I re-named him “Dungeon Man” to never forget the experience.
He changed back into street clothes and drove me home. We sat in complete silence. I leapt from his car and ran inside the house. I never saw him again. I didn’t tell anyone what happened because, I reasoned, nothing had really happened.
I also knew if I told anyone — including my family — I would be ostracized and not believed because that man was famous and “important” and a “member of society” and to question his morality, even privately, was just not done. You just avoided future interaction and you let the past rest in the past.
Several years later, a childhood friend of mine — who was older and living in Los Angeles — and I, happened to have a discussion about our shared local roots and common entertainment interests, and the topic of “Dungeon Man” came up.
I told my friend what happened that day in the basement.
He sat there and stared at me in disbelief.
I told him it really happened.
He gathered his thoughts and said, “The same thing happened to me.”
It was my turn to stare in disbelief. “Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m going to confront him.”
“No, you’re not,” I said. “I still have to live here with him in town. You got out. You’re safe in Los Angeles. I have to live with the reaction of your confrontation. Don’t do it.”
“I’m doing it.” My friend was getting upset. “We can’t let him do this to anyone else.”
“He doesn’t do anything, right? He just hopes for something to happen.” I didn’t sound very convincing. I relented, “If you do it, fine, just don’t use my name.”
“He needs to be stopped. Yes, I’m using your name, or there’s no point.”
“Don’t use my name! Confront him on your own.” I was yelling. “How will you stop him? Call him on the phone and tell him… what?”
“I’ll tell him I know what he is. I’ll tell him there are no more secrets. I have to use your name to make it more than just me.”
“Better not use my name.” I was getting uncomfortable because — in our town, at that time — the accuser was guilty by default and the accused was always presumed innocent in the court of public opinion unless proven otherwise with undeniable photographic proof.
“There’s no point to it,” I said, calmer now. “He’s untouchable.” I pulled on my coat and went home to prepare for the worst. My friend and I stayed in touch, but we never again discussed the matter.
Several months passed and I didn’t get a phone call from “Dungeon Man” and nothing appeared in the newspaper or in rumors on the street. It seemed as though my friend had decided to not confront the man because if he had, I would’ve known about it, even if he didn’t use my name.
A couple of years passed and I happened to read a small article in the local newspaper that “Dungeon Man” had been arrested in a local pornography store for exposing himself to other customers.
I picked up the phone and read the entire story to my friend’s answering machine in Los Angeles.
Five minutes later, my friend called me back hollering with joy and we celebrated together that the old man was finished and he would no longer be able to prey on anyone else again.
He was finished in society. He was through in the community.
My friend told me he decided not to confront the guy because he understood that the blame and all the ramifications of his actions would be put on me because I was the one left behind.
I thanked him for that consideration, and together we selfishly prayed that no one else had been touched between his getting caught with his pants down in public and our decision to not confront him.
A couple of years later, “Dungeon Man” died — and while I felt incredibly happy that his evil life was finished — I was still residually angry that he had stolen some of my childhood joy and the evidence of that suffocating, secretive, blasphemy against the purity of the innocent human spirit is proven right here before your eyes decades after the fact.
The old man is still with me. He’s right there — still suffocating me with a sickly, sweet, smokiness — and a blind dog still looking for a way out.
Throughout my whole childhood, my mother fiercely protected me against anyone that seemed at all dungeon man like, even if I was oblivious. I’m sorry that you suffered so at the hands of such an evil doer.
You have a good mother, Gordon! Sometimes, though, these demons are wholly respectable pillars of the community, and you can’t squeeze them out until they act out. They use that power to get what they want. It’s sort of awful and insidious to say this — but in some awful way I felt a little better knowing I wasn’t the only one he tried to ensnare.
terrible story. So glad you told it. A good lesson that parents should listen to their children.
Good point, Anne. Sometimes supporting family is more important than saving face in society.
Well that sucks. Sorry about it. Good lesson shared.
It was, and is, sorta sucky, Karvain. But that’s life, isn’t it? Finding your way out of the suck. It was a valuable experience, though, for all the vows I made that I’d never be caught in that sort of vulnerable position again.
I wonder if today a guy like that could have power like that? Could he still bet on the silence from the kids he preys on?
There is certainly more education about this sort of beast today than there was when I was growing up, but telling on a man like that requires perfect listening and action. That, I fear, is still lacking in a staid, Midwestern, upbringing.
It is horrible that your local society/environment did not allow you to report this man on the spot – and that as the “accuser” you would have been perceived as the guilty one. Hopefully we have now ALL moved on from that.
Unfortunately, “respect your elders” is still pretty commonly instilled in young people in the Midwest and to accuse one of something like that is incredibly risky.
David–You have a lot of courage to tell this story here, but then again I don’t know why I should be surprised about that!
I’m so sorry you had to experience this real-life horror show! You must have been so frightened but thank God you had the strength to get out of there and escape that dungeon.
When these awful things happen to young men and women there’s always alot of self-blame and that’s the heartbreaking part. How wonderful you could talk to another male about this.
I think there’s a great deal more education out there about these predators in the schools and by parents and so many more children are saved. I here many stories in the clinic of stymied attempts. So that’s the good news.
But the bad news is that these perpetrators are smart and clever and know who might be vulnerable to this sort of thing. Young men with absentee fathers and working mothers are the perfect victims.
I remember my mother telling me about this sort of thing, but I was so naive as a girl that I might not have even recognized something like this until it was too late.
Again, these guys are charming and respected in the community. It’s a shame that we have to teach our children that they can’t trust anyone and, sadly, that may include their own fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins and trusted friends.
I appreciate your thoughtful comment so much, Donna! Thank you!
I have had this story in my writing queue for several years now. I always wanted to write it, but I didn’t want to give it a glossing or a fast write. I’ve been pretty busy, so I kept saying to myself, “We’ll tell it soon.” I didn’t think yesterday was really the right time, but I just decided it was due to get the thing out there and over with because it might help someone else know they are not alone in that kind of experience.
I guess when I shared my story with my friend it was more of a gossip thing because it had been so long since it happened and I was pretty much over the horror of it all and I wanted the word to get out about him in the back channel. If I’d known my friend wanted to directly confront him, I never would’ve said a word to him.
I was pretty terrified as I look back now. I’m glad I was smart enough not to take a hit of his weed pipe or I may not have been able to make clear decisions. The fact that I was inhaling that smoke second-hand didn’t help much, but it was better than a direct toke, I guess.
More than anything, I think I was disappointed in him and I was shocked that he was such a lech. He was a big drinker, but I thought that was his worst vice. I’d known him for five years. We worked together on several projects and I wasn’t special in that — he worked with lots of people all the time.
He did have a sort of social power that was overwhelming. He was the local entertainment critic, so theatres and movie houses lived in fear of him and if he didn’t like you he would ruin you.
He was also the regional “bounty hunter” for theatrical publishing houses in New York. If you were in his territory, and if you didn’t have the rights to produce a musical or a play, he would report your illegal production to the publishing house and collect a reward as they sued you for Copyright infringement and you always had to pay…
He was also a theatrical producer — that’s how I met him when he hired me for my first paying job — and he would play the piano at the country club and the harp at the local elite eating establishment and for the legislature. He was everywhere!
I agree these predators are patient and practiced. They know how to set the table and make an attack look like an innocent gesture.
You’re right we have to teach our kids to trust no one. It’s better to have trust issues later in life than abuse issues that you didn’t cause — but that never leave — you later.
What a story, David! Thanks for additional background information on this man.
I was going to say that these abusers can often be powerful members of the community and in this case he really held much power!
Very interesting and thank you for sharing and providing a written visual of this entire event.
Children and adults need to know and continually be reminded of what “evil” looks like. And you certainly did a fantastic job of that! I felt like I was in that dungeon right along with you!
I’m sure it can’t be easy to bring up this painful and traumatic experience.
There is no doubt this will help someone somewhere out there!
Thanks, Donna. I hope the story does strike some warnings somewhere that are helpful.
Yes, the guy had intrinsic power. He gave away a lot of money. He was married. He had several jobs. He was above suspicion.
However… he wasn’t untouchable… and he would’ve been finished in his social circles if even a hint of impropriety with a child was out there against him… because his sorts of friends were more strategic than personal and he was more performer than policy-maker.
what an awful thing to happen! thank you for sharing this.
I appreciate your support, Dananjay!
>his sorts of friends were more strategic than
>personal and he was more performer than
My thinking is that the persons who would have condemned Dungeon Man most loudly would have been closet gays, themselves very powerful folks who would relish the opportunity to lay low another like them who got caught. In such circles, everything is a game. For me, maybe everything is the Truman Show, and I would try to have compassion for Dungeon Man in his time of trial. Thanks for a very thoughtful thread which rings true to me. I worked in a corporate law department under a succession of five bosses, one of whom resembled Dungeon Man. He never made a pass at me, but I think a male friend of mine (married with two children) became a regular “consenting adult” for him. I say that even though my friend did not seem to get much career leverage out of the affair, and that leverage is what I suspect many such consenters seek and obtain.
Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego
I’m not sure why you have compassion for an old man that preyed upon underage kids for his sexual satisfaction.
If he lived in a different time, his life would certainly have been freer if he chose to follow a path of sexual expression instead of repression — but I still hold him accountable for his behavior with young boys.
As a further evidence of an active choice in a limiting time, there was another man who was around the same age as Dungeon Man. He had been married for 30 years and he had several children and a great job. He cheated on his wife with men, but only when he was “out of town” on business.
Then, when he was 55 or so, something inside of him snapped and he woke his wife at 3am to tell her he was Gay. She did not believe him.
He left her spinning and went full-force into the Gay lifestyle. He took care of his ex-wife in every way and to this day, a decade later, she still waits for him to come home from his experiment.
He is now living in the South, and “married” to a man his age and he finally feels alive. He was cross-dressing in private from his earliest childhood memory.
He told me, “I had two choices. Throw myself out the window and fall to my death. Or change my life and be the Gay man I always was.” He lost everything in his old life… friends, family, wife, kids… but he feels the exchange was worth the feeling of achieving the self for the first time in his life.
The real tragedy for men of that generation is they see only two choices: Die, or Burn and Run. No one comes out of that limited bartering untouched.
My earlier post said that I would try to have compassion for the Dungeon Man. Your reply assumes that I professed having compassion. I once was in a room with the Dalai Lama who was asked what was the most difficult feat for him. He answered, saying “having compassion for my enemies.” To me, striving for compassion even as to heinous felony committers is good — but I have to admit being unable, most of the time, to feel such compassion genuinely.
While the Dungeon Man did make passes at boys, he apparently didn’t try very hard to extort or coerce sexual acts the way, I’m led to believe, many Catholic priests have done. Have you seen the mock headline, “Abstinence makes the Church grow fondlers?”
Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego
Thank you for that clarification! We have a lot of international readers and sometimes, if sticky issues are not made absolutely clear through our continued conversation, people can misunderstand intention and meaning.
I take your point about compassion and understanding — I am against the death penalty and the ultimate test on that matter, for me anyway.. is… if someone in your family were murdered… would you still be against the state-sponsored killing… and I have to say, at least in my unpopular personal theory… that I would not want the killer killed in retribution. I hope to never have that resolve tested.
We have discussed the wretched predator priests here in the past. I’m so glad the victims are at least getting paid for their pain — even though they deserve so much more.
I have not seen that headline! Wild!
I kind of know what you are talking about.
Just beacuse I went to a residential school when I was 4 – I am always alert, on guard and so on…
And I believe my gut. If anything makes me uncomfortable I walk out.
Good point, Katha. It’s a sad thing, though, that children must always be on point to protect a purity they may not fully understand.
Is it protecting purity or not letting someone taking advantage of the situation?
It is unfortunately true that the alertness doesn’t let a kid remain a kid and enjoy…
The only way a kid has to fight back is to use physical confrontation or avoidance or tell an adult — sometimes those options can be less convenient and more punishing, Katha, than the original crime itself.
I agree with you David; avoidance is a relatively better choice but most of the kids do not possess that level of maturity – imposing the alertness ruins their childhood.
Yes, Katha! Sometimes you can’t avoid the predator if they are vowed to protect you — like a guardian or a teacher or religious authority figure! How can you run from their abuse when you are required to have their protection?