Wednesday, June 25, 2008

1973: Pride (In The Name of Love)

Stashed somewhere in my apartment is an issue of David magazine, dated August 1973. It's really not much more than a glorified national bar rag, a prehistoric version of HX. In fact the ratio of drag queens to naked boys was pretty much the same then as it is today.

On page 19 there's a half-page photograph of that year's Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade Rally in Washington Square Park. Yes, children, that's what it was called way back then. A march down Sixth Avenue, and a rally in the park, attended by oh, perhaps several hundred. It's a beautiful warm and sunny end of June day. The photographer is shooting from the elevated make-shift stage, capturing a panoramic view of the large crowd of attendees enjoying the speakers and entertainment. Sprawled against the police barricades up front are a rather inelegant group of revelers, set slightly apart and thereby in relief from the rest of the mostly young, mostly long-haired throng. They've been caught in mid-cheer!

There's William, my very first boyfriend, standing a little apart from the group, looking bemused and skeptical. He's not sure the libertine sentiment of the day meshes with the conservative rhetoric he usually spouts. There's Peter, the very first human being I came out to, the bright sunlight illuminating his halo of red curls. There's Liz & Eileen, great and good friends from high school who took me to my very first gay bar, and Miles, who I was crushing on real bad for a while back then. I even wrote a song about him. You'll never hear it. Oh yeah, his boyfriend is sitting on the barricades. I forget his name.

A the apex of this group is your correspondent: tall and thin with aviator glasses, horseshoe moustache extending to my chin and that black curly hair. I'm wearing a blue chambray western shirt and my arms are straight up over my head applauding. Can you pick me out?

I have no idea who was on stage at the time the pic was snapped, but I do remember that it WAS a show. The stars of our very small orbit, Alaina Reed, Sally Eaton & Cliff Grishman, our singing buddy Steven Grossman and Miss Bette Midler performed as Sylvia Rivera of S.T.A.R. waged war with Jean O'Leary, sparring for stage time to vent their opposing viewpoints as regards drag.

My very first celebration of Gay Pride and and my personal Liberation.

I marched the next year with Bobby, my second boyfriend. That June we marched up Sixth Avenue to rally in Central Park. The following year I marched solo, but made out in a summer storm with Gary, whom I met at the rally. I remember licking the rain off his teeth. Funny how some details never fade. The next several years fade into a blur, and then I have no recollection of parades or rallies. Robert and I would spend Saturday night deep into Sunday morning at Flamingo, 12West and later The Saint, and would be too wasted from our weekly ritual to partake in the yearly ritual.

Flash forward several years...a much less happy time. I'm completely cut off from anything that resembles a gay community, such as it is. My friends are either in the process of dying or have just up and done it. And I'm feeling the need to re-connect on any level. With anything. In fact, I mentioned this to the woman I worked for at that time. Who told me it wouldn't be good for our business for me to attend the parade, and besides, people like us didn't associate with that riff-raff. Or words to that effect. Needless to say, that Sunday I was down at the corner of 12th and 5th Avenue, watching the parade from start to finish. I stood, all goose flesh, during the minute of silence, and gasped, moved to tears, by the cheer that roared up immediately after. The young Act-Up boys and girls were tremendous; just what my anger needed. Was that the year they lay down in the street at various times throughout the parade route to dramatize our impending deaths? Perhaps their courage planted a seed in me to seek my own freedom again.

I went back to the parade, either by myself or with new-found, hard-won friends in later years. Of course Tim and I got to go for a few years, and had the best time of all. We would marvel at recurrent themes: screaming Hispanic drag queens, topless lesbians in wheel chairs, pneumatic muscle boys in ice cream colored wigs and matching speedos.

But Tim's been working the bar on Sundays for the past several years. And it's PRIDE now. On Christopher Street! Big business. It used to be his best day of the year, even if the work was grueling, and the bar never seemed prepared for the hordes of humanity that would descend, post-parade on the foot of Christopher Street and the river. He still does pretty well, but there are other, more popular bars now, and at least he's out of there at a somewhat decent enough hour.

So Pride has become an excuse for me to spend the day at the gym, clean out my kitchen cupboards, or mope at home. I won't go down to the bar, it's just too insane, and I hate to see Tim so stressed. Valium only helps so far.

I posted this three years ago, found the picture two years ago, and combine them here for you today. It's still a heady rush to see those young people on the barricades. I'm not sure of my Pride schedule this year. I still won't head down to the bar, and the notion of watching the parade appeals in a rather limited fashion. However, I could very much do with an event that reinforces the idea that we might still be a community, something I'm finding difficult to believe these days. I would like to be proven wrong. I'd like to believe that all I fought for, all I marched for, all I protested and all I lost in the battle was not in vain. That the rights we're still trying to attain, are in fact, attainable. That, when push comes to shove, we will storm the barricades again, young and old.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'll Keep It With Mine much as the priest tried to capture the importance of Mr. Saint Laurent, it was his former companion and business partner, Pierre Bergé, who spoke most movingly.

The two men, who remained business associates and friends long after their romance ended, decided to create a civil union together in the days before Mr. Saint Laurent died, Mr. Bergé said. The French union, known as a “civil pact of solidarity,” carries mutual rights and responsibilities, but is short of a marriage.

“It’s going to be necessary to part now,” Mr. Bergé said, addressing his friend in the coffin. “I don’t know how to do it because I never would have left you. Have we ever left each other before?"

Mr. Bergé’s voice broke. “But I also know that I will never forget what I owe you, and that one day I will join you under the Moroccan palms.”

-an item that appeared in the Paris Journal of The New York Times on Friday, June 6th that made me cry on the PATH train to Tim's house. The gentlemen in question who created their Civil Pact of Solidarity were 71 and 77, respectively.

I personally do not intend to wait that long.

Friday, June 06, 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties

Tim and I enjoy a good German meal now and again.

Years ago, we'd hop on the IRT and hit Yorkville, having lunch at the Ideal on 86th Street. Sometimes, we've had late night dinners at Rolf's. But those days are over. The Ideal is long gone and Rolf's has gone from bad to wurst. We've been hitting Heidelberg these days, with mixed but mostly pleasing results. I could and have complained about the heterosexual-to-a-fault clientele and the staff that seems to have been cast from a roadshow production of Dracula's Daughter.

So it was with great joy that we remembered another neighborhood option. This particular restaurant is located on a popular Gramercy Park side street, across from one of Zagat's big boys and a myriad of boites that serve as gathering places for all those newly revived Sex And The City zombies.

Now, I've spent quite a bit of time in this part of the city. I worked on Park Avenue South for several years. I went to college just a few blocks away. One of my best chums lived in the Hotel Irving, now a smart condominium, then a Single Room Occupancy hovel directly overlooking the gated Park. To cheer his tiny space up, we painted it Kim Novak lavender, replaced the dim bulbs with orchid tinted spotlights and played the Velvet Underground non-stop. Why is it that the coolest people always come from Ohio or South Dakota? When not cutting classes to promenade down the Morton Street pier, we'd climb a bar stool at mid-period Max's Kansas City, which was on it's way from the Bad and the Beautiful to the Scrawny and the Strung-out. Our tenure there coincided with the Glitter and Glam days, and it was not surprising to open Rags or Interview and spot one or another of my classmates adorning a banquette in a Biba shirt and the latest maquillage for men.

William, my first boyfriend, moved to this neighborhood from Clinton Hill shortly after I left him in a most unceremonious manner. Broadway, in those days, was lined with printing and publishing establishments, and he relocated to those empty streets to be closer to work. His previous position had been a bit further down the avenue and I was heading there to meet him one Friday afternoon when the Broadway Central Hotel collapsed in a huge heap right in front of me. Though we were no longer together, we did remain friends, at least for a while. Now the Broadway side streets were peppered with photographer's studios. I spent many nights crashing on his sofa, staring out the window as flashbulbs exploded, momentarily illuminating the varied ateliers across the alley.

I've had a long and storied history with these blocks. The restaurant we were heading to has been in place for probably 18 or 20 years. I'd always noticed it in passing, but in those days it seemed a bit expensive. Today, that's less of a consideration. So we made our way there, entered, noting the lively yet low key scene at the bar, and were seated in the intimate dining room beyond that. The room had clearly seen better days. One could see ancient ghostly shadows where artwork had once adorned these walls. Those had been replaced by framed magazine ads, an intriguingly motley collection of cookbooks and an odd assortment of seemingly random bibelots scattered here and there. But it was dark enough not to matter, and the beer was excellent. As was the meal that followed.

Tim feasted on Oxenmaul and Schweinshaxen. I had herring and a rack of wild boar. We were extraordinarily happy with our choices. As the neighborhood crowd began to slowly vacate the premises, Tim and I shared strudel and coffee. Studying the room, I became aware of a dark lithe woman, who was in the process of pushing the vacated tables up against the walls, changing the linens and tidying up. As she worked her way around the room, I could hear the bar behind me beginning to fill up. She finally reach our table, and in a basso profundo whisper said:

"Hi, I'm Ina. We have a party here every Saturday night and you are both more than welcome to stay as our guests".

Thanking her, I looked around. The bar was now full and spilling over into the dining room, where we were being regarding with curiosity. We had much curiosity of our own, as the denizens were decked out in ways we had not seen in years.

There were huge Amazonian women in miniskirts with hands the size of dinner plates. One, in particular towered in the vicinity of seven feet, aided by platform shoes and a back combed wig. Her skirt was slit to reveal linebacker legs and her polyester lace blouse was torn at the seams from the strain of those powerful latissimus dorsi. There were women who looked like Donna Jordan, the eyebrow-less star of Andy Warhol's L'Amour. There were women who looked like Rose Kennedy and and women who looked like Sister Parrish. There were women in smart business suits and women in couture that could only have been purchased on E-bay. There were women who looked like Reba and women who looked like Tootsie. And there were just a few well dressed men scattered among them like Arctic explorers.

Tim and I glanced at each other, not quite knowing how we'd slipped from Teutonic to Tranny in such a short time.

When I got home that night I Googled the name of the restaurant and that of the hostess we'd met. I was amazed to learn that this was a rather long standing and famous party for gentlemen who enjoy the company of gentlemen who enjoy the company of gentlemen in dresses. It had been going on for at least seven years, and we had no clue, never knew of it's existence. But then, these are not circles we get to travel in frequently.

Of course, we've gone back since, to partake of the excellent cuisine and watch the beginnings of the evening take shape. We don't stay too long. I wouldn't dream of ruining the fun. We brought M. one evening, but he was severely traumatized when he entered the Men's Room and was confronted by a lovely lady with her skirt hiked up at the urinal.

For those so inclined, I've left enough clues here to lead even the living dead to this spot, if they were of a mind to attend.