New Years Eve, 1993 and I'd spent money I didn't really have in an attempt to provide an evening of seduction.
My partner of many years had taken to his bed; a combination of illness, depression, ennui and an overwhelming dependency on pharmaceuticals had driven him there many months before. I'd leave him to go to work in the morning, and find him still in bed when i got home hours later. The apartment would be dark and Nolan, our schnauzer, would be half crazed from lack of attention and walking. After a quick dog trot, I'd have a solo dinner, a drink or three and then crawl into the unmade bed next to Robert. Weekends were just extended versions of the same dreary schedule. We'd had a lot of rough times in the past years, but this was beginning to seem insurmountable.
The holidays came and went; we'd stopped celebrating them years before. But this year, something was driving me to shake our routine up. I spent what seemed to be an exorbitant amount on excellent champagne and some caviar, thinking I could set a trap to draw him out of his cave. I was only partially successful. He seemed to enjoy the treats until whatever medication he'd ingested combined explosively with the champagne and sent him running to the head, and then back to his bed.
I sat there alone, knowing that somewhere, something had finally broken deep within me.
I don't know what deus ex machina caused Robert to decide he needed to visit his family down south a week or so later. He hadn't been down there in a couple of years, and even more surprisingly, decided to leave me alone for my first solo weekend in over a decade. I knew immediately I sure as hell was not going to spend it on the sofa at home.
Ty's had been on Christopher St. for almost 20 years at that point. I hadn't been in the bar since the late 70's, when Robert and I basically stopped going out. As a teen I would circle around the block on foot just so I could look through the big plate glass windows at all the big men in their scary leather jackets. Like some sort of demented homing pigeon, I headed back there on Saturday night.
All in all, not much had changed. A few tables had been added and the jukebox and cigarette machine had been removed to make room for a fairly boisterous crowd. I got a drink and quickly found a spot by the door, in case I had to make a quick getaway. Was I nervous? Fuck yeah. This must have been fairly obvious to anyone looking at me, and lord knows, they were. I was wearing a tan L.L. Bean field coat, an old school Banana Republic chambray shirt (remember when everybody wore chambray?), jeans and Timberland boots. Great for tramping through the woods, but hardly a suitable gay bar get-up.
Within minutes a guy walked up to me to tell me how much better I'd look if I'd only smile. I thought of my long-dead chum Hubbell's favorite reply to this opener: "Thank you, I have other plans." I turned up the corners of my mouth, finished my drink and left. It seemed untenable after having been out of circulation for 19 years to have the first person hit on me with such a withered and ancient line.
Standing on Hudson Street, I thought What the Hell? got in a cab, heading up to The Spike. If I hadn't been in Ty's in a decade, I was sure it was damn near two decades since I'd set foot there. The bar had changed a great deal since I'd last been there. It had practically doubled in size. And it was full. I got a drink and started to walk the circuitous walk that bar required. I had a lot of memories of this place; some really happy, some really hot, a few bordering on the dramatic. It felt good to be out among men again.
I ordered another drink and found a column I could lean against. I looked up at the DJ booth, which was surrounded by shelves containing thousands of LP's. Even then they looked archaic. I was studying them when a man in a leather harness walked up to me and asked me why he'd never seen me before. Word poured out of me like a torrent as I fingered the leather strap digging into his shoulder. I explained that I hadn't been out in years, and why. I could see his eyes glazing over as I continued, and realized this probably was not the best opening gambit I could muster. Bless him, he told me that if he had me at home he wouldn't let me go out either. Then he gave me a kiss and walked away.
I smiled to myself and listened to the music. Strange, something I'd never thought I'd hear in a gay bar. A song from Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, of all things. The owner of the bar was up in the booth playing the epic 9:33 ballad that closes the album. An overwrought melange of gangsters, guns, guitars and tragic love, it has two wordless interludes that always took my breath away. If I ignored the lyrics and surfed the melody, I would be transported. Tonight was no exception. Soon, I was oblivious to the room and the men circling around it. I was totally engrossed in the music, pressed back against the column, drinking and staring off into the lights and space. As the song built to it's climax I heard:
In the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
As the song ended the owner climbed down from the DJ booth, hugged me long and hard and welcomed me to his bar.