Mary Glennon: Resourceful renaissance woman stands up to diagnosis
by Suzi Nash
Jan 17, 2013 | 842 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In September, Lehigh Valley resident Mary Glennon was given six months to live. That gives her two months left on the clock, but don’t count her out just yet. Even though she already had her wake, she still has some fight in her and is determined to beat this thing.

PGN: Tell me about yourself.

MG: I was born in 1947 in a sisters’ hospital on the crest of the beach in Santa Cruz, Calif. My parents were both in the service: My dad worked in the Coast Guard and my mom did a Rosie the Riveter-type job. They then moved down to California. Then when I was about 1, my dad got homesick for the coal region of Pennsylvania where he was born and we moved back. Both grandparents worked in the coal business. My grandfather died of black lung when he was 55.

PGN: What were you like as a kid?

MG: I carried music around everywhere I went. I had a little turquoise and white Philco portable record player that I’d take to school and friends’ houses and play 45s. Music has always been a big part of my life. I was semi-athletic. I played a little basketball but I was really too short for the game. A little softball, but I didn’t want to get hit in the face so I wasn’t very good at fielding balls. I was afraid of grounders. And dancing, I love to dance. We have videos of me dancing from since I was 10 years old.

PGN: Which family member had the most influence on you?

MG: My dad. He was always dancing and partying. He worked hard but he liked to have fun.

PGN: Who was your favorite teacher?

MG: Ohhh, how about the sexy one who used to lay on the radiator? She was our high-school English teacher and she made you want to go to school. I went to a Catholic school so it was mostly nuns, but there were a few lay teachers and she was one of them. She was so hot. I tried to switch all my classes over to her, study halls, etc. I used to follow her around after school, little lesbian that I was.

PGN: Something you got in trouble for?

MG: Well, I got caught smoking in 11th grade and was kicked out of school before 12th grade.

PGN: What was the scariest thing about Catholic school?

MG: [Laughs.] Getting hit! All the time, gettin’ caught and gettin’ hit. The scariest ones were the shortest nuns because they had a lot of issues. Not only were they nuns but they were too short and usually not very attractive so they’d take it out on you. You always wanted to dodge the little ones.

PGN: And what did you want to be when you grew up?

MG: I didn’t want to be anything. I turned out to be a hippie. I left Pennsylvania and hitch-hiked back to California and went back and forth across the country all the time. Went to Mexico for a while ... I wound up doing a lot of things. I was in retail for a few years, I worked at the Gay Community Services Center in L.A., I was in the garment business for a minute. You name it.

PGN: What was the worst or most unusual job?

MG: The worst was the half-a-day I spent in a boutique in Valley Forge with very pushy, obnoxious women. [Imitates with a nasal voice] “Can you zip me up?” You know that Philly accent? The most unusual job was driving a cab in Hollywood.

PGN: Celebrity rides?

MG: One time I had Tattoo from “Fantasy Island” in the cab. I didn’t know who he was and felt sorry for him because he was a midget. Little did I know that he was a TV star and loaded. In the beginning I couldn’t find him because he was so small I couldn’t see him. They kept sending me back to the address and I kept saying there’s nobody here! When I finally found him I decided to take a shortcut and cut through a McDonald’s. I got into a car accident and he was so sweet. He was trying to crawl out and I was trying to keep him inside. He finally said, “Wait, you don’t know who I am but take my card, and if you need any help or a witness, call my attorney.”

PGN: What was a crazy moment hitching around the country?

MG: Oh, there were so many; let’s see. One of my first rides was with the band 1910 Fruitgum Company. They had that hit “Simon Says.” They were all sitting around in their underwear in an old VW van with flowers on it. Another time was when my friend and I were hiking and we were in separate trucks that were caravanning one behind the other. They found out we were gay—I guess he must have tried to hit on the driver or something—and we had to jump out of the trucks and run during the middle of an ice storm. Living on the beach in Mexico and not speaking Spanish, there were a lot of stories. I could fill PGN! I liked being in Mexico because Liz Taylor lived there and I had a thing for her. I never met her but it was fun to hang around her house and stalk her.

PGN: How old were you when your family left California?

MG: I was about a year old when my parents put me in the back of their convertible, put baby oil on me and tried to cook me all the way to Pennsylvania. They were young and didn’t know they were frying their baby in the back seat. They were just happy to have a car because they used to hitch-hike everywhere. My mom would stand by the on ramps and when a car stopped — there weren’t many on the roads back then — and then my father would run up and jump in too.

PGN: Tell me about coming out?

MG: As soon as I started driving I’d come into Philly. I was too young to go into the clubs but I’d hang out outside. I met my first girlfriend at 13th and Locust. I’d go to New York and Philly ’cause there were only a handful of lesbians in Allentown. It was good for me in a way because I was a novelty, but it was boring.

PGN: What did you feel like the first time you walked into a lesbian bar?

MG: I was overwhelmed. I thought everybody looked like the three lesbians in Allentown. I had no idea there were feminine lesbians. I was engaged at the time and I left my fiancé for a woman. That was an easy thing to do. I didn’t have any trouble doing that at all. Once I saw what was going on in Philadelphia I said, “See ya!” and he was cool about it. He thought I’d get it out of my system and come back, but I guess I never got it out of my system.

PGN: You’ve seen a lot of things change. What time period would you go back to?

MG: Late ’60s, early ’70s were great. I worked in some clubs in Los Angeles. I was a bouncer at Palms for a while. Well, not a bouncer, but I worked the door. I also bartended at one of the women’s bars. There was a woman who owned the first topless bar in L.A. who had bought up the whole block. It was mostly men’s bars but there was one women’s bar called Peanuts. It was on Santa Monica Boulevard and it was a hot spot. It was really happening during the disco era. Donna Summer and a lot of the stars used to come in. There was a lot going on in Hollywood but if you say you remember it all, you weren’t really there.

PGN: That’s funny! What’s something you lost and wished you could get back?

MG: My lover who I lost in a car accident in Laguna Beach.

PGN: OK, not so funny.

MG: [Laughs.] Was that too dark?

PGN: Not at all. We haven’t even gotten to your cancer yet.

MG: Yeah, that’s no big deal. I’m determined to beat it.

PGN: When did you get your diagnosis?

MG: September. I was on my way to happy hour and my stomach had been bloated. It was bothering me so I decided to stop by the emergency room. They gave me a CT scan and told me I was loaded with cancer and had three-six months to live. I was like, “Yo, are you kidding me? I got stuff to do. I can’t check out in three months.” That was September and now it’s January. I’m going on my sixth chemo treatment and every time it’s something different. You just have to deal with it, getting nauseous and getting sick, or your leg suddenly going numb, weird stuff. Today there’s something wrong with the bottom of my feet and it feels like I’m walking on hot coals or razor blades. A day ago it was fine.

PGN: Did they tell you right then and there when you first went?

MG: Yup. It was a young kid and I could tell by his face when he came out that something was wrong. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going because I thought I was just dropping in, they’d give me something and I’d go on to happy hour. By the time he came to give me the news my girlfriend and friend had come by. When he came out, the guy was so upset I felt sorry for him! I thought, the poor kid, this is probably the first time he’s ever had to tell someone they had six months to live. I was like, “Come on, just spit it out so I can move on it.” After my diagnosis, a friend who works for Fox Chase [Cancer Center] found me a group up here and I’m making progress. I’ve lost weight but I still have my hair. It’s weird because it never goes away. It’s not like I have a cold and it’ll be better next week; I just have to manage it. Some days I can get up and go dancing and some days I can’t get out of bed. Plus I’m getting old, which doesn’t help. In my mind I feel young. My brain and way of thinking are the same, the body just doesn’t want to keep up.

PGN: Tell me about your wake.

MG: We had an Irish wake, which was a blast. People came from all over the place — Florida, Colorado, everywhere — and everyone got up and spoke about what I meant to them. The best was one of my friends who said, “I can’t imagine the world without you in it.” That was so nice. It was quite a night. You couldn’t get in the place. I was thrilled to know that I didn’t make a lot of mistakes in life. It was obvious that I’d done a good job of picking friends and people to be a part of it. I don’t know if you know a woman named Froggy — she was a mulatto girl and she was the best dancer in Philadelphia, everyone used to go crazy when she hit the floor. When she was 14 she taught me how to dance. She came to the wake and dancing with her again after all these years was incredible. We’re 65 years old, she’s covered in tattoos, we both have the same hair cut — even though mine is messed up most of the time — and it was like it was old times. Twenty minutes before the party I was feeling so bad I thought I couldn’t make it. I was bent in half like the number seven, but then we pulled into the driveway and I saw all the cars and I got better right away. All the aches and pains went away and I had a wonderful seven-hour party.

PGN: Who was “we?”

MG: Me and my girlfriend. We’ve been together 13 years. I think the secret is that we don’t live together. She’s a clean freak and I’m a mess. She follows me around with cloth wipes. She’s smart and beautiful and she’s been taking good care of me through this — although there’s no food in the house because she’s a vegan! There’s nothing to eat but Ensure and a few Tastykakes here and there.

PGN: And what do you do now?

MG: I’m a real-estate investor. I have 11 properties, in Florida, South Carolina and here in the Lehigh Valley.

PGN: Hobbies?

MG: I love to listen to music, travel and shoot pool a little.

PGN: Farthest you’ve traveled?

MG: Amsterdam. I loved it. The people are so warm. Everyone walks around arm-in-arm. Around here we walk by ourselves but there you saw boys holding hands with their mothers, families arm-in-arm, everyone. And there were people from all over the world; of course they were all there to smoke pot, so everyone was mellow.

PGN: Something you’ve done that you impressed yourself with?

MG: Maybe buying my first house with no job, no income, no credit. I sold a Christmas tree and made up a company called “Trees R Us” and managed to buy my first property.

PGN: What’s there to do in Allentown?

MG: Very little. Most of my friends here are heterosexual. I’m the token lesbian. But everyone here knows me. I can’t go anywhere without people saying hi.

PGN: And I heard you do karaoke.

MG: Yeah, I love it. I sing at Diamonds, which is a lesbian bar owned by my dad’s brother. I talked him into buying it 24 years ago. At first they would only let me sing “Tequila” because it only has three words and I can’t sing, but now I’ve branched out.

PGN: Scariest moment being gay?

MG: It was probably a crazy woman I dated. We went from living in a wonderful big high-rise apartment to living in a sleazy hotel room in Hollywood, surrounded by gunshots and drug dealers. Hotel Argyle was where people would go to commit suicide; it was a favorite spot for jumpers. It turned out she wasn’t the fashion model I thought she was; she was a prostitute and well connected. There was also the time she tried to kill me, how’s that? I woke up with a gun to my head because she knew I wanted to leave her.

PGN: Yikes.

MG: Yeah, once I realized what was going on and that she wasn’t going to modeling sessions and that I was in the middle of a whole weird life, I tried to get out. I didn’t realize that she considered me bought and paid for and wasn’t going to let me go. Things had gotten abusive so I left, but she followed me across the country so I hitch- hiked to Mexico and that’s how I wound up there.

PGN: Do you believe in reincarnation, and wh0 would you like to come back as?

MG: Angelina Jolie without the kids.

PGN: I’d rather come back as Brad Pitt so I could be with Angelina.

MG: Oh, I like that better. Or Shakira. I don’t know what kind of pills I’d need to keep up with her but I’d sure try. I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation. It would be great to see people again, but whether or not I will I don’t know. I haven’t recognized anyone else coming back yet so ... I just don’t know about eternity.

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