Thursday, January 26, 2006

Vaguely Reminiscent... Yes.

I was invited by my roommate (and trusted, best friend) to attend a birthday happy-hour for one of his workmates, Maury. There was no mystery behind the fact that Maury was firmly gay. Now when I say “firmly”, I am being very specific about the mold of gay which Maury fit neatly into. He never came across as someone who was unsure about his gayness, or worried about how others, gay or otherwise, would consider his sexual preference. Firmly. Comfortably. Gay.

Being straight, I do not have a true idea of how difficult it may or may not be for a gay man (or woman, for that matter) to function in this hetero-driven society. So much is my ignorance, that periodically, I can be blissfully callous. Sometimes, I manage to catch my callous comments. I used to piss myself off whenever I would refer to a gay friend, and felt compelled to add: “but he’s cool” after pre-announcing their sexual preference. As in: “I was eating with a bunch of friends last night, and one of them, Daryl – who is gay, but he’s cool – told this funny joke…” As if the baseline for all homosexuals is that they are, at their core, by default “un” cool. BUT, lookey here! I found one who is particularly cool! So particularly cool, that I feel compelled to append his description with an announcement that the listener should not worry about me having to hang around one of those standard, garden-variety uncool gay men! Because fear not: THIS one, against all odds, is cool!

Fucking ridiculous.

Needless to say, I stopped that. Now I just say “I was having dinner with friends, and one of them, Daryl – who would willingly ream a tutu-clad circus bear, if it were male- told this funny joke…” Kidding!


Back to Maury’s birthday.

At that time, I had not met Maury yet, but my roommate was going to a birthday happy hour for him. I, never being one to pass up a happy hour, took the invitation to show up. But I had never heard of the bar, even though I used to work three blocks away from the intersection where the place lived, right next to the state capital. Very strange, but probably not coincidental that this particular bar existed less than a block from the capital building.

The hour of happiness arrived, so I went and picked up a work-buddy named Mark (a fellow bender-taker) and we headed to the rendezvous spot. When we arrived, it was raining, so we had to run from the car, up to the door. It was a shoddy looking establishment, with the tattered remnants of a once-proud patio area out front, which had apparently been hit by a localized party-tornado of some sort.

Five years back.

There were no windows. The landscaping was left for nature to sort out, and the exterior had probably begged for a fresh coat of paint since the Nixon administration. Flatly, the place looked like it needed to be torn down. “Charlie’s” it read, happily across a torn banner out front. Nice and friendly. Anyone named Charlie is automatically your bestest of friends from WAY back. The name has lots of positive ju-ju.

We pushed through the entrance into the front room. This bar was designed as a three-segment bar. There was the front lounge, full of ratty and mismatched furniture pieces. Then there was a middle room with a couple of pool tables in it. And in the rear was a much larger, darker room. We edged our way through the lounge, and as we were passing through the brief pool table room, Mark started tapping my right shoulder, with a slightly urgent whisper.

“Dude, dude, dude.”

Mark was never one to pester me like that, so I should have taken heed, but I was busy trying to locate my roommate. I had my priorities. After all, it was an unfamiliar establishment, and I needed a friendly face to help me with the drinking thing.

“Dude, dude, DUDE!”

Mark kept at it, but I kept pushing forward, ignoring him, past the pool cues and into the threshold that lead to the big room. There was a large bar in the center, a dance floor waaaaaaay in the back, rickety café table sets to the left, and runways with the shaved, t-backed asses of naked men prancing up and down on the right.

Hold up. How strange is that? What kind of bar is this again?

“DUDE. What. The. Fuck?” Mark was pointing at one of the runway wanderers, with a slightly trembling finger. “That guy is naked and shit…”

Mark was whispering, almost paranoid. Like we had wandered into a cave full of hibernating bears. Suddenly, I became very sensitive to using the word “gay”. I was not, and am not, completely sure why this bothered me. But it felt like everyone was staring at us, spotlighted, so nothing we could say would go unheard by strangers’ ears. He continued anyway, in a hushed voice, gritting his teeth.

“This place is totally gay. This isn’t the kind of happy hour I thought you were talking about.”

Mark was rather displeased at this accidental bait-and-switch. So was I.

“I, I, I didn’t know either.”

Honestly, I would not have cared if I had been told up front. But this was too much to be springing on me. Not cool. I did my best to quell Mark’s growing irritation.

“You grab that pool table and I’ll find my roommate. He better fucking be here.”

Mark, reluctantly took the pool table furthest from the crowd. To my knowledge, he was not homophobic, but he could feel the vibe. He agreed to come along under the impression that he would be rewarded with half-off margaritas, but somehow ended up dry and surrounded by an army of creepy, middle-aged, middle school “theatre arts” teachers. To say he was pissed would be a rude understatement.

I made my way around the bar in the big room, searching for my deceiving roommate. I was half the average age in the place, and I was not the only one who made that notation. I found my roommate sitting amongst his coworkers, all the way in the back, next to the dance floor. I do not believe there were any standard light fixtures back there, only candles and the spotting movement of reflected lasers off of an obnoxiously large disco ball. It took me a minute to adjust and hunt him down. I approached with dead-panned sincerity.

“Hey man, when you got a minute, Mark and I are in the front playing pool. Head up there.”

I did not even bother to properly introduce myself to his group, or the birthday boy. I was a little miffed that due to an obvious and egregious miscommunication, MY coworker was suddenly under the impression that a) I was suddenly gay and b) more disturbingly, that I had tricked him into going to a gay bar so I could plow him full of bottom shelf tequila, no doubt so that I could take advantage of him. I was more than miffed. I was livid. My roommate obviously made no note of my heightened irritation.

“Sure. Let’s go. Did you bring Mark?”

I was a bit stunned that he missed my cues.

“Yeah, I brought him. Let’s go talk to him. Right now”

I wanted this little communication error explained. I wanted to be exonerated, and I wanted my roommate to smooth it all over as some sort of prank. Whatever was necessary to get me out of the sling.

Mark was visibly shaken when I finally dragged my roommate over. There was a small pack of middle-aged ex-hippies who had moved in on him after I left. I later learned that the night we were there was considered a “trade” night. That is to say, younger men showed up with the intention of hooking up with the older fellows. Good times for all involved, to be sure. But Mark was feeling somewhat intimidated by the situation, and just wanted to be left alone.

“Shit man, these guys just walked right up and started hitting on me like I was supposed to fuck ‘em right here! I mean, I was in theatre arts in high school, so I never bought into that whole “predatory gay” thing. But shit, man. Shit! This place is CRAZY, and not “good” crazy. BAD CRAZY.”

I did not believe him, and ignored his paranoia.

“You’re not gay, Mark. Look at you. You’re sweating. They can tell that. No one is hitting on you, so calm down.”

To my roommate, “dude, this is kinda fucked up, actually. You should have said something. We walked in here like it was TGI Friday’s or some shit, and it’s the goddamn Blue Oyster Bar from Police Academy.”

I tried to be stern, but it was not working. My roommate just shrugged it off.

“Sorry man, I thought I said something. You probably forgot.”
“Forgot? No, no, no. No fucking way I would forget that kind of warning.” Me to Mark, “no. Fucking. Way. There’s no way I would not have dragged you here if I had known.”

Mark remained in skeptical shock.

My roommate, always a fair diplomat, was determined to help us be comfortable. “It’s no big deal. Oh, and the margarita special ends in like thirty minutes, and it’s buy one: get the second half-off. You don’t get a free one like I said earlier. AND, they’re in these little-ass cups, so you’ll probably want to get a few at a time.”

Fuck me. This was disappointing news. Horrific, when combined with the greasy, dancing weight-lifters all over the place.

“Are you serious? That’s not a happy hour, man. And look at this shit.” I pointed to a nearby dancer who had started to wag his please-touchables around like a meat tassel. “Just for having to see that, you’re buying. Man, shit.”

Against our better judgment, we followed my roommate to the table by the dance floor and sat down. Introductions were made, and I got to know the coworker crew. Turns out, all the dancers there were “straight”. Most of them were dating women my roommate worked with. Apparently, men pay men a hell of a lot more to dance than women will. Big surprise. Women do not want to pay to see dudes strip? Why’s that? Oh yeah, men do that willingly, for free. Got it.

I sat with my back to the whole of the place, facing the group. I figured it best if I eased myself into this environment. No sense in overdosing, I guessed. And that includes “eye contact” with the wolves out in the crowd.

So there I was, knocking back the half-dozen piss-cups of gut-rot margarita, grumbling to myself about the awful “drink specials”, when this huge paw of a hand grabs my left shoulder from behind. I looked at the thick, veiny hand, and then fearfully followed the attached arm, up to my right to greet the owner.

The turning of my head caused the tip of my nose to graze a rainbow-striped banana-hammocked nut-sack. I almost had a seizure. No one likes a surprise dick-in-the-face. Even if you like dick in your face, it is never a welcomed surprise. Damnit.

“I hear it’s your birthday,” said the hammock man, with his left hand firming up on my shoulder. I wanted to cry. It was quite possibly the most awkward feeling I have ever had toward a strange man. I was in repelling shock, but he took it as me being coy. I felt like he was trying to pull my face into his nether-regions, and that my resistance was just me “playing hard to get”.

Welcome to Oz, bitch.

Everyone at the table, including Maury, began shouting “NO, NO, NO! He’s not GAY! It’s Maury’s birthday, not Craig’s! Maury is over here!” Pointing at Maury, who had gotten out of his chair, quite jealous of the treatment I was receiving, and was demanding that the dancer give him his birthday spanking. Without missing a beat, the jiggling birthday gift and his package sauntered over to the birthday boy. No apologies to me from the dancer, for the future therapy I would need as a result of his mistake.

Maury proceeded to get his dance, and I flew to the bar for more sippy-cups of bucket-mixed booze. I figured another two hundred “specials” and I would be able to forget the last ten minutes of my life.

Bartender: “What can I get you?”
Me: “Four specials. The margarita things, in the test tubes or whatever.”
B: “You got it.”
Me: [not even letting them hit the bar top]: “Keep ‘em coming.”

While the bartender poured me more foggy-mind juice from a warm plastic pitcher, I looked to my right and noticed an old man perched on a stool, pushing four strands of white-sauced pasta around on a Styrofoam salad plate, staring right at me. He had a creepish smile, which revealed the only four operable teeth in his quivering pie-hole. They were molars, and they had black caps on them. I do not believe the caps were intentional.

Unless deep-rooted tooth decay was the “look” he was aiming for.

He probably weighed in under a buck. 105 tops. His hair was crap-patchy and pathetically wispy, as is the case with most alcoholic men in their late sixties. It was too dark near the bar to note his attire, but I feel sure it was on par with the rest of his appearance: all kinds of fucked up.

The way he kept staring at me, made me begin to wonder whether or not he was operating with some sort of brain deficiency. Some sort of Adult Onset variety of retardation perhaps. His movements were almost slow-motion. His eyelids opened and closed at roughly half the speed of a normal person’s. And when he finally wrangled a piece of luke-warm pasta into his toothless mouth, he gummed it with the speed and urgency of a growing toe nail. It was quite a show.

“So,” he drooled. “You come here often?”

I replied, almost appalled, “Pardon?”

Him, trying to look less creepy, “I mean, do you live around here? Can I buy you a drink? [drawn out pause] I like your style.”

Me, fully appalled, “uh, no thanks buddy. I’m cool.” [pointing to bartender] “He’s got me. Just… eat that uh… pasta. Or whatever…” Which caused him to scare me with a “you sure are cute when you’re intimidated!” smile.

As creepy as he was, the old fellow was right. I was most certainly intimidated. Scared. Frightened. I wanted to duck out, but I felt that I owed myself another armful of those margaritas first, before the happy hour eclipsed. “HELLO, bartender! For the love of god, where are those fucking drinks, I’m dying over here!”

I abandoned the bar and went back to the table, with a small army of shots to dull the shock of it all. Dude would not let up. He was unstoppable. Worse yet, he was not even listening to me. His lines did not require any cues. As if they were pulled from a mental list of some sort, and he was just blabbering his way down the line. A list of busted-ass come-ons that he was throwing out there, like a set of jailer’s keys would be trial-and-errored to get through a single lock. It was as if he was under the impression that somewhere, buried in his pickled mind, there was one poorly turned phrase which would get his denture-needing ass some play. He just needed to happen upon it, and all would be golden.

I could have been a cigar store Indian, and he would never have noticed.

Through that treatment, I believe I received a small taste of what it is like to be a woman, at any random bar in bar-town USA. While she is trying to deflect unwanted advances from some persistent dick head who: Just. Does. Not. Get it. It was surreal.

And there it was. The first time a guy ever hit on me. And his lines were the absolute worst. I mean, who the hell asks that shit anymore? I know those bullshit lines did not work in 1972, and they sure as hell were not going to fly with me.

They say that such attention, even if unsolicited, should flatter the subject. Not that I have the right to shrug off such nonsense, because in a very strange way, it was flattering, but I was not flattered at all by the man’s advances. Further more, the whole thing frightened me. Horrified me.

Educated me.

Back at the table, Maury was critiquing his birthday dance. Apparently, gay men such as he, have a real issue with pimples on butt cheeks. Enough so, that one might consider not tipping a dancer who (sadly, I guess) needs some Oxy 10 briefs. Gay men, sensitive about the toosh? Who knew?


Glitzy said...

Was this a recent occurence? Craziness. I never thought of what it might be like for unsuspecting straight guys to walk into a gay bar (on a trade night, no less). Interesting that your reaction was to obliterate via alcohol though.

Truecraig said...

This occurred several years ago. 1997, I would guess. Maybe 1998. A while back.

I was just a kid looking for a cheap happy hour. I would have gotten tanked with or without the discomfort provided by the other patrons. It's all ridiculous, in retrospect, and that's what I find interesting about writing it. If it all seems so silly to me today, how could I have taken it so seriously then? Was it EVER serious, or did I just knee-jerk it that way?

Anonymous said...

Reruns, I'm shocked!

Truecraig said...

Did the title give it away? Oh damn.

Impulsivecompulsive said...

I feel your pain, man. Creepy old perverts are creepy old perverts, doesn't matter if they're gay or straight.
And no one likes a suprise banana hammock in the face.

Anonymous said...

Meat tassel, YIKES! that's a freaky image hummmmm...


Quel said...

Thanks for stopping by my place.

I LOVE your blog!

I'll definitely be back.

Benji said...

When I was a teenager, I went into San Francisco to see a show at Slim's. After, my Dad's Oldsmobile broke down South of Market, in front of the Lone Star Saloon. I'm thinking, 'I'm from Texas, I should feel right at home here.' It was me an a ninety pound blond girl, just a whisp of a pre-woman. We go inside. It is a hardcore gay bar whose motto is "Home of Bears, Bikers, and Mayhem." (I shit you not, I just googled it.) All I needed was the pay phone. I left with an incredibly increased world view. Who knew? Try to sneak out and go to a show, you end up in a cross between "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Internal Sunshine of the Spotless Behind."

mozzie said...

how brokeback