Thursday, April 27, 2006

Antic Hay

Yes, I know I've been AWOL.

I'm not the most prolific of bloggers. Some of you manage two or three posts a day! I'm quite lucky if I can get two a week out. I'd been doing that with a fair amount of consistency, and then, well, April arrived.

We went to San Francisco. I know...weeks ago. Dammit! We came back. I had major projects at work that all managed to coalesce into some hellish, beastly thing that only now shows signs of retreating. There were religious holidays, requiring one to deal with one's familial unit(s). My allergies have been beyond fierce. Tim had his knee operated on. The dog ate my home work.

It just got away from me. Mea culpa.

I'm glad the month is winding down. It actually did feel overwhelming at times, and the fun to be had was a bit sketchy and spare.

However, there was a small Good Friday cocktail gathering at the Farmboyz pied-a-terre, where we enjoyed some excellent conversation with the usual suspects and, of course, some major Manhattans. Afterwards, we trekked down to my neighborhood and tipped a few at the Phoenix. By that time, I'd had enough alcohol not to mind that I was the oldest person in the room, by far. At least Jim, the barman, was friendly, and spoke with us at length. Otherwise, we might as well have been in exile.

There was the weekend it rained Friday, Saturday and Sunday, after having been lovely and spring-like all week while I'd been cooped up 12 hours at jobsites. We stayed in, mostly, dashing out now and then just to shake off the cabin fever that was setting in.

We took advantage of the downpour on Saturday to actually walk into Trader Joe's, newly established nearby. Since it opened, there have been lines trailing down 14th Street; people actually waiting to get into a grocery store. New Yorker that I am, I won't wait in or on line for anything. I had great fun walking past the people cued up and speculating whether any of them actually had a life, in my loudest Irish Whisper. As Tim and I walked down the street the past few weeks he'd peer into people's brown paper Trader Joe carrier bags, and report the contents to me: "Chips, chips, snacks, frozen desserts, chips, salsa". Upon actually visiting the store, that turned out to be fairly accurate assessment of the stock, plus some condiments. Tell me something's popular with everyone else, and I'll find a reason to hate it. That's just the way I am. It must be that musty old counterculture thing I picked up in the late '60's. I don't understand jumping on a bandwagon, and I guess I never will. Perhaps I require a tour guide to point the finer assets. I'm not getting it.

My allergies are truly beyond belief this year. I've managed to give myself a sinus infection and bronchitis, due to the incessant drip. I know, pretty image. My head feels like it's been filled with Portland cement, while my eyes have come to resemble burning lumps of coal. I'm sure you'll all be totally charmed by the effect when you see me. If I sneeze or hack in your immediate vicinity, please accept my apologies in advance. I've only just Googled Allevert Overdose. Apparently, I haven't. Yet.

Tim had a partial meniscectomy performed yesterday at Lenox Hill Hospital. It does sound rather worse than it is. A piece of cartilage was removed from his knee through a series of small incisions. We took him back to Jersey City for recuperation and Turner Classic Movies and hopefully he'll be back in the action again shortly.

When he's literally on his feet again, we'll be off for more adventures. He's asked me to take him to Snaxx some Friday. His curiosity has finally got the best of him. Be assured, there will be an open call for volunteers to escort us, should this actually happen.

And now off to bed. I have an early appointment to get my hair cut and beard trimmed, and then on to client meetings all day. I'm off to Tim's tomorrow night to check up on my favorite patient and collect a Martini or two.

I hope to see y'all as soon as we can.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hold Your Head Up

It was a run-down Victorian firehouse in an equally decrepit neighborhood.

Both would have been razed years earlier when the late and hardly lamented Robert Moses proposed running a multi-lane highway across lower Manhattan connecting the Holland Tunnel and various crossings over the East River to Brooklyn. God knows, no one wanted to live in Manhattan then, least of all in this godforsaken cast-iron wilderness.

Strangely, people actually did care that Mr. Moses was planning to ring this neighborhood's death knell as loudly as the one he rang for the Bronx and many said so, loud and clear. Somehow his plans were halted and the area between Houston Street and Canal Street languished; a moldering, vacant ruin.

Outcast artists, seeking space and cheap rents had been colonizing this area for the past decade. With no amenities to speak of, few other people wanted to live there.

During the days, the streets rumbled with the sounds of heavy trucks careening on cobblestones. At night, it was quiet as a church yard.

With the exception of a small corner where Wooster and Spring Streets intersected.

There, the Gay Activists Alliance had set up a community center, to be forever known as The Firehouse. Seemingly, no one cared that a few hundred hippie queers had elected to gather in this no man's land.

I first saw their listing on the back page of the Village Voice. Just two or three lines. Something to the effect of: Gay Dance! Every Saturday Night! Admission: $2.00! 99 Wooster Street!

Now, I was no newcomer to Gay Life. I'd been to a gay bar. Once. And I'd been haunting the bookstores and peepshows along 42nd Street since I was 16. My best friend's older brother introduced me to some of the finer aspects of male bonding when I was 12. A gentleman I met in the loge of the Oceana movie theatre during a showing of the film "Charly" was kind enough to help refine and enlarge upon that knowledge in 1968. I'd been to the Everard Baths, and had even stood on that little island created by the uptown IRT subway entrance in Sheridan Square until a man came by and took me home to spend the night. As I said, no novice I!

But dancing....somehow, that terrified me.

But not enough to keep me from trying to check it out. Hell, there were men there.

Of course, on my first attempt I realized that, while I thought I knew a good deal of Greenwich Village, I had no idea where Wooster Street was. I wandered up Sullivan Street and down Thompson, walking around Washington Square and finally asking a policeman. I was convinced he knew that only fags wanted to go to Wooster Street. In fact, the directions he gave me were so convoluted I gave up.

A month or so later, I was hanging out at a classmate's apartment. Tom had two room mates, Peter and Bruce, all living together in a large apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. I was always cozy there. My grandparents had lived around the corner for many years before moving to Florida. We'd all finish our art classes, head back to their place, smoke and listen to the music of the day: Lou Reed, David Bowie and Bette Midler. She'd just released her first album, and we all joined in, high as kites, singing along to Leader of the Pack. It was a fun, giddy evening.

When I got home Tom called me, telling me that Peter demanded to know if I was gay. I gulped and told him to tell Peter I was. I'd never said those words before to anyone. Tom repeated my answer and I heard Bruce and Peter whooping in the background. Peter grabbed the phone and said:

"So, honey, you wanna go to the Firehouse on Saturday? "

Finally arriving, the Firehouse proved to be just that. A long, fairly narrow rather high-ceilinged room, paved in cobblestones, with a spiral staircase leading up to a second level, and a DJ stand where the pole would have been. A photo-mural covered one entire wall, depicting the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, held two years earlier.

If you successfully navigated the wobbly sprial stairs you'd arrive at a large lounge, where, if you were careful and minded the gaping holes in the floor you could watch the Joan Crawford movie that always seemed to be on the Late Show every Saturday night in those days, and talk with friends as the music wafted up through the floor.

If you crawled down the sticky stairs to the cavernous basement, you could buy a beer, or drink free flat warm soda. The various vapors accumulating in that fragrant old building condensed on the ceiling down here, dripping down, much to the dismay of the inhabitants, like rain. Most would flee out into the street to sit and smoke on the rusting corrugated loading docks. Now and then, a cry of pure pleasure would echo off the steep walls of the narrow street; a pent up spirit, newly released.

Peter and I spent little time in either place, confining ourselves mostly to the dance floor. We took dancing very seriously then. It was confrontational; two men dancing proudly together. We'd see the older men on the side lines nodding and smiling towards us, as if signaling their approval. We made a game of finding their faces in the mural above them. We'd stumble and shake across the cobblestones in our high-heeled platform stacked shoes, purchased at Flagg Bros. or Arrowsmith, all the while dancing to:

  • Girl You Need A Change of Mind, by Eddie Kendricks

  • Armed & Extremely Dangerous, by First Choice

  • I Like What I Like, by Everyday People

  • Suffragette City, by David Bowie

  • Rain, by Dorothy Morrison

  • Law of the Land, by The Temptations

  • Hold Your Head Up, by Argent
and many so other songs I can still hear to this day, all the while pumping our fists in the air, shaking the sweat out of our long hair and dancing our way towards liberation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I Met Him On A Sunday

I was newly single and living on my own for the first time since 1976. It had been almost a year since I first came crawling from the wreckage of my previous relationship. I had cautiously re-entered the scene, chastened and more than a bit nervous, but none the less resolved to get on with my life, such as it was.

I threw myself into the current social whirl, albeit without a single clue as to how to interact socially in this fairly foreign environment. My teenage trick of leaning against a wall with a sullen, slightly wounded look clearly was not going to work for me twenty years later. I'd head over to the Dugout on Sundays, grab a beer and stand outside, glowering under the shade of a tree, smoking a cigar. Sometimes, men would approach and offer beers, but I truly could not decipher their motives. In some ways, I was a wild child, raised by wolves, and desperately in need of socialization.

Slowly this occurred. An assortment of men, braver than I, scaled the barriers I had erected, and I found I had a very small circle of acquaintances. We'd see each other on weekends and hang out at the Spike, the Eagle, Ty's and the Dugout. Creature of habit that I am, I immediately took to the ritual hours, assignations and rendezvous. Soon, I could be counted on as a regular.

Early that spring, I was standing in Weehawken Street with one such friend, Blaine. The weather had recently turned temperate, and the crowd filled the street from curb to curb, spilling all the way back to the old oyster house that has been standing there for over 155 years. Blaine had decided that I was "fun" one wintry Sunday evening, and had taken to showing me the ropes around town. We stood in the center of the street, as group after group of his NYC friends, his Connecticut friends, his Provincetown friends, his Florida friends came by and I was introduced. Most were moderately friendly to this new face.

A handsome blonde doctor from Hartford hung out with us for a while and passed a joint, as he regaled us with tales of a wild threeway he and his partner had had the night before. I felt totally unsophisticated, a country mouse in the big city, as I listened to his story. As the joint came my way, I partook, inhaling deeply. I wondered what part I might play in this new world and took another hit as the joint passed again. The sensation that I might be getting into something well over my head was amplified by yet another deep inhalation. We finished up and the doctor moved on, to be replaced by a group of men who had just gotten off work from their stint at the Spike, where brunch was served on Sunday afternoons.

I was introduced to all and sundry. I smiled and shook hands, well aware that the pot had plastered a stupid grin across my face, veiled my forehead with a sweaty sheen, and rendered me somewhat speechless. The last person was a good friend of Blaine's, and stayed to chat. I looked him over as the two of them laughed about various indignities suffered at the hands of patrons during the course of the long afternoon's brunch service. I took this opportunity to check him out. He was wearing jeans and boots, a white Russian River t-shirt and what used to be called bar vest: a black leather vest cut short and straight at the waist and deep at the shoulders to show both off to splendid effect. He had dark brown hair and clear blue eyes. I kept thinking how neat he was, not in that 50's Dobie Gillis sense, but just how well put together he was. While his upper torso was sort of boy-ish, his lower half was solid as a Shetland pony's. He had a winning smile and a laugh that cut through the crowd.

I realized after a while, that I hadn't said anything in all the time we'd been standing there. I'd been struck dumb by the pot. Aware of my appraising glances, he would look at me quizzically from time to time. Finally, I realized I must say something, anything. I leaned in, grabbed his wrist and said:

"I'm so sorry, I'd like to talk with you, but I've just smoked pot and I'm really high."

Oh. Great. The interior storm trooper, liberated by pot consumption, took control and began the self flagellation I felt I so richly deserved. What a moron. Those remained the first and only words that came out of my mouth as we stood there. I lost track of the rest of their conversation as I continued to inwardly kick myself.

The gentleman was gracious, however, and when he was ready to call it a night, announced that he was going to head towards the PATH station and home. We volunteered to walk him to the station, on our way to Ty's. At the station, I at least had the presence of mind to slip my hand under his vest and kiss him. He regarded me with his cool blue eyes and headed down the steps.

I found out he was in a relationship. Soon, I'd see him and his boyfriend out wherever we went. It turned out we had several mutual friends and orbited around one another for the next two years, meeting up, laughing, drinking with our respective intermingled groups of friends and enjoying each other's company when we spoke. Once, the New York Times ran an article about panhandling on the PATH train. It was accompanied by a photo of a poor destitute man working the car. Sitting behind him, quite proper and erect, was a man in a leather biker jacket. My telephone rang all day, as people saw it and called to ask if it was my friend. It was.

I saw him one night in Ty's, on his way out to a bigger and better evening, standing under a spotlight in a pair of molded leather chaps and that same biker jacket. The image remains seared in my brain.

After a year or so, he and his partner called it quits. I watched from afar, as he dated some other guys we mutually knew. He clearly wasted no time.

On a Friday night, some months later, I was standing against a column in the Lure. I had been talking with the bartender about the quiet evening. It was the first night of Passover, and all the Jewish leathermen were attending Seders elsewhere. In fact, I had just come from one, having eaten myself into a food semi-coma. I had gone home, changed clothes, and headed out, feeling bloated.

I was sipping bourbon, thinking it might have the effect of a Trou Normand on all that food. I peered out over the meager crowd, eavesdropping on the conversations going on behind me at the bar. Friends of a much younger gentleman I had been recently dating were discussing me. As I struggled to listen, a pair of strong hands landed on my shoulders and started massaging them. Clueless, I allowed this to continue for some time, before turning around. To my surprise, it was my newly single friend, with a most interesting look in his eyes I'd never seen before. I smiled and allowed him to continue a bit, before I turned around, put my arms around him, pushed him up against the column I had been leaning against, and kissed him hard and long.

This went on for some time, and the group of gossips sitting behind us started hissing like a gaggle of geese. I took his hand and led him outside.

I sat down on the rusting iron loading dock that adjoined the Lure, pulled him between my legs, and continued kissing him, pausing only now and then to look down and admire his growing excitement. I'd had no clue he felt that way.

I was in no shape to take him home that night, but I asked him to call me.

He did. The next morning.

We've been talking ever since.

Tomorrow, Tim and I will celebrate our 11th year together.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fly Translove Airways....

It rained every single day.

That said, we had a splendid time, as we always do. I was sorry not to do many of things I love in San Francisco, as most of them involve walking and being outdoors, which was pretty much limited, given the circumstances.

However, now and then, the winds blew the clouds away, the sun or moon would come out and illuminate the shiny new greenery, assuring us we'd be back next year, rain or shine.

On Thursday, we checked into the notorious brothel that is Beck's Motor Lodge and noticed a new addition. Gates! Yes, gates on every staircase. For years, men in the Castro have trooped up and down those storied steps to enjoy a bit of window shopping. I'd known of it's reputation for years before I first checked in, and frankly, I must say, I have always been somewhat disappointed. I know people who have had some very seminal experiences here, but it's always seemed rather tame to me. In fact, I think all that cruising around is fun. You know me. I don't mind it a bit. I guess enough patrons did, however, and now the place is as cloistered as a monastery. The boys are left to either import talent in, or mingle amongst themselves. The guys in the next room had set up their laptops in the window and were busily perusing Manhunt everytime we passed by.

I like the small town that San Francisco is. We change into t-shirts and head up to Castro Street for a welcoming cocktail. We walk into 440 Castro (nee Daddy's) and run into our friend Noah, recently relocated from New York. We make the passing acquaintance of young bartender Nick, who will reappear a few more times during our stay. We have several drinks, a slice of pizza at Marcello's and head home.

Watching the Weather Channel the next morning we note that it's going to rain the entire time we're there. I realize I've only brought my leather jacket and I need to get something lighter to run around in. We decide to walk through down 16th Street from Market, all the way through the Mission, down to Bryant Street where there's an Old Navy. I get a jacket, put it on, and as we stand on the corner, a truck pulls up and the guy inside shouts at us. It's our friend Flavio, who saw us standing there and rescues us from the downpour that has just started. We hang out, drive back up to the Castro and chill. Since it's raining, maybe we'll go to the gym. Sure! Good idea.

Pumped, we change and hit the Edge for Friday after-work drinks. It's packed to the rafters and we're surprised and happy to discover that our friend Bruce is now bartending there. We're meeting some other friends here in a bit, but in the meantime, we're enjoying the attentions of the rowdy crowd. I mention to Tim how nice it is to be fresh meat, to which he replies:

"Sweetheart, three months in this town and you'd go from prime beef to Mary Kitchen Hash!"

I do love my man.

We meet lots of guys, I get called Daddy a lot, and there's much drinking and random kissing. We have a blast. Several guys ask if they can feel my chest. Tim reminds me of what a well endowed acquaintance of ours says whenever he's asked a similar question:

"What kind of fiend would I be if I didn't let you touch it after I've been parading it around all night for all to see?"

It's winding down when we decide to head over to 440 again. At the bar, Nick reaches across and grabs my chest. People in this town are so friendly. We grab drinks and head towards the back only to be approached by a gentleman who is apparently Nick's wingman. He shares all kinds of good press with us about Nick, but it's not really necessary. Tim and I know a hot man when we see one.

I'm not sure where and if we had dinner. Actually, I know exactly what we did, but I ain't sayin'. We head back to our sequestered room, and sleep 10 hours.

We wake, refreshed, see the sun momentarily and then not again until Monday. We grab breakfast at Orphan Andy's and head down Market Street. I feel a hike coming on. We walk down to Polk Street and hang a left, traveling through such dizzyingly diverse neighborhoods as the Civic Center, the Tenderloin, Russian Hill, almost down to the Marina. We stop for a Bloody Mary at the Cinch. Hell, we're on vacation! We have doughnuts at Bob's. Hell, we're on vacation! We check the few remaining antique stores and visit a leather shop whose inhabitants seem to be playing the Stooge's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" just for us. In past years we've continued this hike up to Lafayette Park, then on through Japantown, stopping at Alamo Square and walking back to Beck's. Not this time. Our dogs are barking. We head back on Van Ness and avail ourselves of the public transportation.

We nap and dress for dinner. It's Tim's birthday. We're heading across the street to 2223 Market, one of the nicest places I can think of to celebrate such an auspicious occasion. It's a pretty room filled with pretty people. The service is sublime. The food is uniformly excellent. The portions are so big we could have shared everything. In fact, we should have. I was so full after dinner, I really wasn't in much mood to carouse. Or carry on. We have a nightcap at the Glass Casket and hit the hay.

Sunday was grim and grey. We have a quiet morning in the Castro, breakfasting at Harvey's and poking around that really nice shop that sells Stickley furniture on 19th Street, maybe. We parade past the Bitter Bear cafe, better known as Starbucks. Such a friendly crowd. Not. We wander. We nap. We ride the trolley down Market Street to see what the old Mint building looks like and head on over to the Eagle. By now the rain is getting serious, and the crowd is not as stellar as it usually is, nor as dense. We have a few beers before I switch to bourbon. Hell, a guy's gotta keep warm. We meet a few nice fellas and talk to with our handsome pal Doug, who manages the joint. We decide it's time for the Lonestar. It's packed to the overflowing in spite of the weather. The boys are having a cookout on the patio, and we realize we're starving. As the bourbon starts to kick in, the handsome hirsute guy at the grill tells me I definitely look like a burger boy to him. I inform him that I am, in fact, more wiener oriented. This provokes much mirth around the grill. Still, I'm very happy chomping on a hotdog under the tarp, surrounded by our unusually handsome new friends...kind of a surprise at this bar. After some serious imbibing, we need to hit the road. I'm done. Of course, it's teeming when we get outside...we walk a few blocks, trying to hail a cab, to no avail. I'm completely soaked and completely sober. Finally, a sweet lady cabdriver picks us up. In a scene reminiscent of On The Town, she tells Tim she thinks I'm very bite-able. I'm not sure about that. I do know I'm damp and tired. Time to get some shut-eye.

After breakfast on Monday, we decide we want go to an exhibit about the earthquake of '06 at the Historical Society. We trudge downtown in the rain, only to find that on Monday most of the museums are closed. Damn. We hit the gift shop instead and check out the books that have been published recently about the Quake Centennial. We get back on the trolley and head up to Castro, change for the Muni bus which takes us over the hill to the Haight. We wander down the street, admiring the formerly grand houses and the formerly funky shops until we come to Amoeba Records. Housed in a former bowling alley, I'm always in awe of this shrine to recorded music. They have everything! I'm always so overwhelmed, I almost never buy anything. On our way back to Beck's we stop at that little CD shop on the north side of Market Street that specializes in divas and dance music and soul. I always find something obscure like Valerie Simpson's solo albums on CD or the two Syreeta Wright albums produced by Stevie Wonder. When I pay for them, the owner invariably says "good soul choices", and smiles.

We meet up with our friends Eric and Tom and have dinner at Chow. We have drinks at the Pilsner while we wait for our table, and then enjoy a lovely low-key meal. I regret that I won't be able to have a burrito at Azteca, the tacqueria down the block, on this trip. We kiss our friends goodnight and head up to Castro for a farewell drink or two. We stop in to see Nick at 440, who tells us to save more time for him next year. A gentleman tells us it's Underwear Night, and we'll drink free if we strip down to our skivvies. I smile and tell him we're not wearing any. Time to go.

We stop one last time at...oh, okay...Twin Peaks and park ourselves at the bar. Tim orders a round of Manhattans. Then another. And another. They're small. We have four apiece, and sail on home.

Of course, it's still pouring when we get up. We say our good byes, check out, and head for the airport.

As the plane banks over San Francisco, I nudge Tim to look out the window. There it is. Our favorite town, all aglow. The sun has come out.