All the years I made the rounds of gay bars in NYC, it often felt like a duty, something required, like haircuts or dental cleanings. The only difference was the frequency with which I needed to visit: dentist twice a year, haircuts every five to six weeks, bar-hopping several nights a week with compulsory weekends. I was driven to them in my quest to find a mate. I’d been schooled, however, by my handful of gay elders, that “nobody I know ever met serious boyfriend material in a bar”. That sounded like a ridiculous adage to me and if it were true, I would be the one to prove it wrong. “You’ll only find tricks and the clap there, my dear”, would be their retort. That one shut me up, because my fear was they may be right.
Around mid 1975, one of my best college friends moved to Manhattan. When we’d originally met, he was a grad student in his late twenties and I was in my junior year, fall semester. I hadn’t found a place yet and was living in my Corvair Monza convertible, crashing nightly on the floor of various theatre department friends’ apartments. He was sharing a place with two other roommates. His name was Perry and I fell instantly in love with him. But he wasn’t gay. Right. Neither was I. Oh please, he was so queer it hurt! Perry couldn’t believe I was literally homeless, so he offered me the living room floor where I camped out most nights on and off for several weeks. He would stay up with me long after his serious roommates went to bed, and we’d chat, giggling like girls at a PJ party.
Eventually he admitted his dark secret to me in strictest confidence. I told him not to worry, that everyone in the theatre department knew he was queer. We were all just waiting for him to realize it. The two of us grew to be very close, forging an exclusive gay relationship, just sans the sex. I was thrilled to know Perry was back in my life after nearly a three-year hiatus. It would be fun to play homo with him in the big, bad city.
Perry got a job in the Design & Decoration Building, so we’d meet up daily either at lunch or after work. There was a bar nearby on Second Avenue and 53rd Street called The Roundtable (I believe) where we’d go for Happy Hour. It was an old-fashioned gentlemen’s bar kind of place. The hangout resembled a large neighborhood watering hole our fathers or grandfathers might have frequented back in Ohio or Any-town, USA. There was a massive oak bar and lots of old brass, beneath a cloud of thick smoke from cigarettes, cigars and even pipe tobacco. And speaking of grandfathers, we soon learned this place was termed an ‘elephant’s graveyard’-a bar frequented by men of a certain age. Since Perry was still struggling severely with catholic guilt, this was about as daring as he could get in sinful Manhattan for the time being. I enjoyed his company so much it became a regular pastime.
We came up with a verbal shorthand as we assayed the men who came through the saloon doors:
O Q = Obvious Queer (we didn’t like them)
H M = Husband Material (a plus for us both, but seldom spotted)
O O Q = Old Obvious Queer (the general population)
We were greatly chagrined that we both were frequently being pursued by the OOQs. Politely we refused their overtures via the always attractive bartenders, declining any drinks these unappealing gents attempted to send. After each visit, the two of us would stagger to the subway, laughing hysterically, accompanying each other home downtown. In all our many Happy Hours clocked there, we neither ever once made a connection.
In time I was able to convince Perry to come along with me to some of my Village weekend haunts. There were more HMs than OQs and almost no OOQs. I was a pack a day smoker and enjoyed a joint or two to get into the mood. Perry detested smoke of any kind, but loved his liquor. Knowing him as I did, I longed to see him stoned, as I knew he’d be able to relax and enjoy a buzz as we cruised together. As luck would have it, an OOQ who he worked with made and sold this incredible pot fudge that proved as tasty as it was potent. After his first sampling, Perry was hooked. It became a tradition, before our typical Friday or Saturday night trips to the bars, that the two of us would first get “fudged up”-he on his candy version and me with my reefer.
Ty’s was a bar I had grown very comfortable in and Perry took to it like a fish. The men there were friendly, the place was always jam-packed but still felt open, probably because of the huge window onto Christopher Street. It was truly a West Village neighborhood hangout. One of our first nights together there, I had spent the better part of an hour watching a guy halfway across the room, certain he was the man of my dreams. Perry was extremely fudged up, perhaps a little too, and he kept prodding me to go up and talk to him, poking and pushing me. Being certain of rejection, I told him I was content to simply stare and fantasize our entire future life together as one.
Having none of my nonsense, Perry stomped over to my Mr. Right. I should interject here, that Perry is most probably the smallest man I’ve ever known. He was maybe five-foot-two on his best, tallest day. The incredible thing about him was that he was short but certainly not tiny. He had a wonderful physique-perfectly proportioned broad chest, solid arms and legs, together with a cherubic face and smile that could melt the coldest heart. He literally accosted this guy, so I walked over, preparing to apologize in his defense. Mr. Right was grinning, but uncomfortable as he told me “Your friend has just been assuring me you’d make a perfect boyfriend. I didn’t have a chance to tell him I already have one”. I believe Perry’s last comment, as I dragged him away, was something to the effect of: “then you should be at home with him, not alone in a bar”.
Walking down Christopher from the subway to get to Ty’s, you had to pass a bar named Boots and Saddles. Perry and I were always traumatized as we walked by its windows. Quickly glancing in covertly, so as not to be noticed ourselves, we sort of nervously held our breath, gawking at the men inside. Patrons there were an obviously serious leather crowd, in jeans and thick black belts with heavy metal buckles, boots, vests, many sporting leather caps or daring to don chaps. Every one of them wore a hanky in their back pocket-left or right, colored red or black or blue. “Oh my god Perry, just keep walking”, I’d advise under my breath if he dawdled a little too long. Try as hard as we may, it took a long time to stop being two naive boys from Ohio. Over Thanksgiving I went back there to visit family and he stayed in The City. When I returned and asked what he’d done over the long weekend, he confessed he got fudged up and on his way to Ty’s, finally found the nerve to walk into Boots and Saddles. When I questioned what it was like he reported “Once I got inside I looked around and listened to the guys standing at the bar. Well…they’re just a bunch of sissies in leather drag! It should be named Bras and Girdles.” which, thereafter, was our name for the place.
It might have been someone he met in his showroom, who’d talked Perry into taking me to a small bar on the Upper West Side, “if we wanted to try something a little different from the Village”. I knew nothing of the territory beyond Columbus Circle, so this would be a real outing for us. If memory serves, the place recommended was off Amsterdam Avenue in the West 80s-a narrow little dive with about six light bulbs suspended from a heavily painted tin ceiling. It would have made a lovely bodega in which to sell gnarled, third-world root vegetables perhaps, but it was not making it as a gay bar for either Perry or me. A long bar ran the length of the establishment, with just enough room for a single line of men to lean against a mirrored wall opposite the bar stools. Even though the bartender had taken our beer orders in English, Spanish was the first language in here. Caribbean music replaced the Gloria Gaynor/Donna Summer musical fare one might expect to hear and the two of us never looked or felt so embarrassingly white bread as we did this hot summer uptown night.
We chose to cling to the wall, nursing our beers and watching as though trapped in an unsubtitled foreign film. The guys were animated, speaking loudly and extremely rapidly. At the time, neither of us knew any more Spanish than we’d learned by memorizing the score to WEST SIDE STORY. To my very stoned ears it sounded as though they’d had castanets implanted in their gums at birth. We got over our anxiety, studying these Latino brothers carry on in their sensual, intoxicating manner. Soon through the door came Fernando, whom everyone seemed to know and greet like a movie star. Hands down he was the handsomest guy in the place, dressed in tight, tight white pants, a pastel tank top and leather sandals. He looked like he’d just stepped out of a cabana on some gorgeous tropical beach, ready for cocktail hour. Whoever he was, he was adored by this crowd. Slapping backs, hugging, double cheek kissing some, he worked the bar stools like a politician, finally taking a seat close to where we were standing. “Wow”, was all I could muster to Perry and his face silently echoed the same back to me, as he too drank in the beautiful man himself.
I finished my beer a bit quicker than usual, needing an excuse to go up to the bar to stand next to Fernando while ordering another. Perry couldn’t believe I had the chutzpah to venture anywhere near him. “He’s v-e-r-y hot”, he agreed, “but he probably doesn’t even habla English”. I didn’t care. I just wanted him. I moved forward, standing slightly behind him to his right, then flagged the bartender. Fernando turned a bit to see who was there. I smiled gently, paid for the beer and returned to my wall. Perry thought I should have spoken, but I couldn’t risk rejection this time. I was hoping he’d pick up on my interest and make his own move. Within minutes of my studying the back of his carefully styled hair and even pretty nude feet, he swiveled out on his bar stool. He fixed his eyes on me, beamed a toothy-white dirty grin, and crooked his index finger, beckoning. I floated to him, nearly hypnotized, forgetting my good friend Perry was even in the same hemisphere.
He DID habla English, just not very well. I learned he was some years older than my own twenty-five, worked and lived in the neighborhood, had his own place and couldn’t believe we two gringos had ever found this bar. I don’t imagine we spoke for more than five minutes before he’d invited me to spend the night at his place “to make ticky-ticky”. And I had said yes without hesitation. He got off his stool to come and meet Perry and say goodnight to him. Just like I will never forget that erotically engaging come-on smile, the look on Perry’s face when I introduced Fernando and in the same breath announced I was leaving to go to his place was beyond words. As I hugged him goodbye Perry whispered “He could be dangerous”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine”, I whispered back into his mother hen ear. Fernando put his arm around my shoulder as though it belonged there, and we were on the sidewalk in seconds.
I felt no trepidation with him, but the neighborhood was frightening and nearly every apartment window we walked past was gated, giving the place a look even more threatening than perhaps it deserved. Except for street signs, nothing was in English, not even neon signs in the small shop windows, most of which were not ‘abierto’ this time of night. Somehow the subway we’d taken to the bar had transported me to a city in a parallel universe, and this Fernando fellow was my only translator. We spoke very little, however, while he tenderly guided me through the maze of streets.
His building was no different from any other on the block and his apartment clean and orderly. It was a decent sized room with a bed, an alcove kitchen and small bathroom. I cannot comment on the decor, because there simply was none. It was like I’d imagined a prison cell might look-again, my perception overly colored by the narrow floor to ceiling windows onto the street, heavily gated. I realized I’d never had the pleasure of looking out of barred panes before. “Fernando thinks eat ees time to be naked”, he announced as he bolted several locks on the painted metal apartment door behind him. He’d used the third person to refer to himself in the bar a few times, but I’d chalked it up to his lack of language skills in English.
Now latched and alone together, it made me a bit uneasy. I calmed myself, breathed deeply, reminding myself this was my first time picking somebody up…no, actually technically speaking I’d been picked up-but no matter…just relax, stupid…remember he’s not from this country. Fernando is a luscious hunk…just chill out, silly and stop with the Ohio hayseed stuff. In a millisecond his sandals were kicked off at the same moment as his white pants hit the floor. Fernando may well have been the first man I ever saw who went commando. He slowed down to languidly peel off the tank top, giving my eyes time to take in his pendulous endowment dangling there before me. Stark naked, he raised his arms in the air proclaiming “Fernando ees all for you, now!”.
Before this moment in time I had never found fault with my own member. It had been more than adequate for whatever the situation might require. Seeing Fernando’s abundance I grew hesitant to begin undressing, worrying that his gift, coupled with my own fears of this total stranger, might have shrunken what was still hiding in my tiny nylon bikini briefs. He lunged at me while I began to remove my shirt, quickly pulling it off without fanfare. He grabbed at my belt and jeans simultaneously, yanking them down around my ankles. I nearly stumbled as I tried to slip off my shoes to hasten his assistance. Pulling me towards his nakedness by my bikinis, we were groin to groin, and he slid his hungry hands inside to grip my maiden ass cheeks. “Theese ees what Fernando wants tonight”.
Suddenly it hits me, like a thousand kilos of plantains, what the definition of “ticky-ticky” is, and there is no way it is happening to me tonight or any night for that matter with this Latin looney. “Couldn’t we just maybe make out and get to know each other a little more, Fernando?”, I seductively suggest, holding his groping hands in mine to soothe him and take his mind off my ass. but my diversion tactic enrages him and those sexy, once soulful eyes now dart in their sockets as he shouts “Fernando always gets what Fernando wants”.
At this point I do not know if this is all just a sex game the guy typically enjoys playing, or if something has been lost in translation, but now I am scared. I’m getting the feeling Perry’s last words may be right and that indeed, they may be his last words to me because I’m gonna’ die. The only thing I know for certain is that tonight’s date is definitely not going very well. Scared to death for my asshole and quite possibly my life, I begin pulling away from the sex crazed Fernando, clutching those silly bikinis to my crotch as he backs me into one of the windows, my cheeks pressed against cool metal grates which prevent my butt from making contact with the glass. “Dunt play games weeth Fernando”, he angrily warns.
“I am NOT playing. I am going home”, I shout back, scared shitless but proud that self-preservation has miraculously kicked in at last. If he’s gonna’ take me out, I’m going down with a fight. I’ll be a crazier son-of-a-bitch than he is and those are huge shoes to fill. He froze in his spot. I felt if we compared dicks at this very moment, mine would be at least twice as big as his. Squeezing between him and the window I start for my clothes, working towards the security bolted door as I dress.
All the while he gruffly carries on a one-way conversation in Spanish, grumbling god only knows what. At least his rage seems abated, but evidently Fernando will not be content until he gets the last word, whether I can understand him or not. I fumble with the iron bar which impedes my exit, when he puts his hand over mine. “Baby, don’t go”, he coos breathlessly. I look at him only centimeters away. It is that same beautiful face attached to the Latin god who swiveled in my direction on the bar stool not even an hour ago. For a second I want to kiss him full on, drinking in all his gorgeous, tumescent nakedness. But only for a second. He is much more than this boy could possibly handle on so many levels. It has nothing to do with the language difference. He is from another world and I can barely deal with the one I’m living in. “I better go, Fernando”. He tries to kiss me, but I am already out the door when I realize it.
I made my way quickly to Amsterdam Avenue, but this time not because I was frightened. I treated myself to a cab downtown. It was an air-conditioned Checker. The cool leather seat felt safe under my ass. I needed to get home to my part of town to call Perry. He’d be back by now, I was certain. I had to tell him about Fernando, and how right he was about him, and how wrong.