Although fonder to recall, there were some pleasant outcomes after trips to gay bars in my history, but are those worthy to recount, I wonder? They typically occurred whenever I’d fly solo. Maybe because there was no one to entertain me, or distract me from my mission that it frequently would happen that way. My friend Jennifer from college, a single woman also in The City at the time, had just finished reading LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, which she immediately lent me and demanded I read at once. She was concerned that I’d end up strangled or chopped into little pieces by some crazed homo I might pick up in a dark tavern one lonely night. Although a great read, the book’s ending never concerned me. I felt my own character judgement was fine, making me fully capable of evaluating whether a man was date worthy or not.
Frequently I was waylaid when finding myself attracted to men who were unavailable. No, not already partnered with another man-they were married, often with kiddies left home on a Saturday night along with their mommies back in New Jersey or a lovely town somewhere on Long Island. Those were the ones who had balls enough to admit it. There were others who’d never own up to it, mendaciously rubbing the tan lines on their ring fingers while making excuses as to why they couldn’t invite me to their place. So often the claim was they shared an apartment. Right, I am supposed to believe a thirty something year old attorney with his own practice has two roomies in a one-bedroom. How stupid did I look, which often was the question I posed to these lame deceivers just prior to hightailing to the opposite corner of the bar. Yet those selfsame men helped to peel the innocent layers from naive, mid-western me and toughened my skin.
The ultimate cad in this category had to be a guy I met at the original Uncle Charlie’s on the East Side. It was an uptown, upscale place where the crowd looked a bit more well-healed, but all were very welcome, which was how denim clad me could be there too. This guy in his mid-thirties: (in-shape, well manicured, starched dress shirt open at the neck, khakis/loafers/no socks, expensive sweater draped artfully over the shoulders), was cruising the bejesus out of me for at least fifteen minutes. Finally helping the poor man out, I sauntered over to him.
We introduced ourselves. His somewhat unusual name was identical to a best-selling author of a non fiction book I’d read for a college class. “Yeah, that’s my dad. I’m junior but I hate to use it”, he quietly admitted, glancing about the room as though checking for eavesdroppers. Although he looked the same as most of the men in the place this night, something about him didn’t one hundred percent fit properly. He did not read gay.
The more personal bits he openly shared without hesitation, the less he appeared to belong among the rest of us. “Pardon me”, I interjected at a particularly awkward moment in our conversation, “but you just don’t seem gay”.
“Well, I am. And I’m also married.”
“Ah-ha”, I smirked, “but what, your wife doesn’t understand you?”, getting my motor going, ready to ditch this loser.
“No, she knows I like men too. We have an understanding.”
His subsequent explanation of their compact went roughly like this. Before they were even married, Mr. Bestseller Jr. explained to his wife how he was sexually wired. It didn’t stand in the way of her sexual needs if he found a man he was attracted to. In fact, it heightened her arousal, as his type of guy was also her type of guy. How nice that the two of them had found one another, I remember thinking. He could go out trawling for boys as long as she could share them too. At this point, my eyes grew big, like Orphan Annie vacant saucers. But wait-it got even weirder.
He is always totally honest with his victims from the get go, admitting he’s married. Junior brings the guy home and wifey is not there. He and his new buddy start going at it, ending up in bed. After much foreplay, they start to do the nasty and-you guessed it-the wife comes in, discovering the boys in the act. She verbally humiliates hubby, then joins in to finish as a threesome. At this point in his narrative, my mouth begins to mimic my eyes. It is gaping open in disbelief. I’m waiting for Allen Funt to step up at any moment, but no, these people are for real.
He questions why, if I was genuinely attracted to him, this proposition doesn’t interest me. Knowing NYC was full of all sorts of people, I refuse to be judgmental, certain that there is someone else to fill the position, possibly right here in Uncle Charlie’s within cruising distance. It just wasn’t me. He looked up my number in the phone book and called several times the following week, hoping I would have come to my senses. How long could a couple maintain a relationship like that, I still wonder? My evenings with married dudes brought me down with a thud. I would trudge home, asking myself “why are you wasting your life like this?”.
The Ninth Circle was originally a Village restaurant which converted into a bar that further transitioned to a gay bar in the early 1970s. I loved the place because it was a hotspot and attracted absolutely every type of everybody. In my time, there were tourists who still walked in, looking to enjoy another steak like they’d eaten over a decade before, or straight couples who came back to celebrate a first date of years ago, only to find a ton of gay guys cruising at the bar while sweaty, shirtless hunks gyrated to disco in the basement. In my single, downtown days it was the place to be, especially on weekends.
One Saturday, after enjoying a beer or two in the smokey, boozy upstairs savoring the eye candy, I worked my way down to the lower level, smokier and amyl nitrate scented by the dancers in the disco. It was wall to wall seething maleness. This night, something in the air felt specially charged. I was in a particularly good space and just knew I was in control. It was like being at an amazing party, where even though I didn’t know one of the hundreds of faces there, I felt as though tonight they were all celebrating me.
Downstairs was so jammed, you were dancing along just by sharing the same floor. The music was loud but wonderful. As I moved around the perimeter, gently jostled by the dancers in the center, I came face to face with a waif-like creature who was attempting to work his way in the opposite direction. The boy had big, soft, grey eyes, dirty blonde hair and this gentle smile that took me by surprise. It was a corny movie moment, when eyes lock and you can do nothing but stare into one another, coming together like magnet to iron. I read his lips which formed the words “dance with me”, and I grabbed him or maybe he grabbed me. In an instant we were absorbed by the energy in the mass of syncopated bobbing men.
We must have danced for two or three long disco version songs-perhaps fifteen minutes. Due to the intense volume we couldn’t speak, so we studied each other as we wiggled our littles asses, smirking playfully. Closer than close now, under the morphing colored lights, I could see tiny laugh lines and smile wrinkles that told me he wasn’t the boy he initially looked to be. He was in his early thirties, perfect for my dream of the ideal mate. With a fair complexion, he had silky, straight hair which longishly brushed his shirt collar. It appeared so soft that I had to feel it. I ran my fingers over each small ear, pushing his hair back. We expanded this tender exploration of each other, still moving to the beat. All of it was innocent and above the waist, as though sightless too, we were being forced to discover one another only by touch.
He took my hand and pulled me off the dance floor, then slowly maneuvered us towards the wall. It was every bit as loud, but we’d stopped moving enough to return to a semblance of reality. Burning with excitement to know this man-who he was, where he’d come from and what his plans were for the next forty or fifty years, I asked “what’s your name?”. I nearly shouted it directly in his ear, my lips nestled for a second inside. What I heard him reply loudly back into mine was not a name I could recognize, sounding more like a long series of vowel sounds like “ooouuuooo”. Politely I begged him to repeat and again came his volley of strange sounds. He asked for my name. Deliciously grinning, he pronounced it back to me with not so much an accent as a cadence, which doesn’t often occur in our brand of English. Dammit, I cursed to myself, if this guy is a tourist only in town for a week I’m going to slit my wrists right here.
“Can we get out of here, please?”, he begged in the darlingest way. Of course I would follow him. He offered his hand like a school boy and we fled The Ninth Circle for a nearby coffee shop, where our ears gradually lessened their ringing. Once back amongst the hearing, we drank our coffee and I apologized, admitting I still had no idea what his name was. He was Rune Nilsen. He was from Norway. He wasn’t just here on vacation. He had a job, a green card and his own apartment in Brooklyn. Less than an hour into it, we knew we wouldn’t just be each other’s trick for the evening. Something had clicked. For me it was a flash back to junior high, because being with Rune was all new to me, like when dating was as foreign as caviar or brie. You don’t know what to do or what comes next. After a few refills and half a pack of smokes, we parted for our own places, phone numbers on coffee stained napkins exchanged.
So began our intimacy. Rune was gentle, intensely quiet yet smolderingly passionate. We spoke once a day on the phone while at work, got together at his place or mine several weekday evenings and spent our weekends in Park Slope, Brooklyn at his place, which for me might as well have been Oslo, it was so far away from my Manhattan world. He was a highly tactile man who found a way to tenderly touch whenever we were close. He lit my cigarettes without thinking, held doors for me, wiped food remnants from the corners of my mouth and was an incredibly caring individual. Every one of my friends who met him bonded quickly and voted their approval.
Weeks went by and the sex was still great and he hadn’t grown bored with me. Nervously I waited for the other shoe to drop, for some craziness to overtake him and spoil it all, or the CIA to come knocking at my door warning me he was a Soviet operative with a wife and children in St. Petersburg.
Instead, about six weeks or so into our romance, (avoiding the term relationship for fear that might put the kibosh on the entire thing), he suggested either I move in to his apartment or we look for a place together. This wasn’t the other shoe I feared dropping, but rather a ton of bricks tumbling onto my head. How to answer Rune. I adored him, loved every minute spent together and honestly longed for a thousand times more, but realized I had no earthly idea who he was.
My peculiar charm has always been to share my intimate biography with any person I was interested in, from training pants up to the moment we’d met, with great attention to detail. I knew Rune’s name, address, phone number, place of employment, country of origin-that he was not an orphan, but an only child, loved his parents deeply, his country as well, and that was about it. After six weeks of intimacy I doubted that he would wish to share much more of it. It wasn’t in his DNA and that didn’t make him a bad person. Rune Nilsen was not THE one for me.
We avoided breaking up. We just phased out portions of our relationship bit by bit. In the end, we kept in contact by phone…occasionally. We couldn’t remain friends, because we never were friends, and that had been the problem I was unable to detect while under the softhearted charms of Rune and our especially lovely romance.
Later that same year I met Anthony J. Monteleone in Julius’. It had the reputation of being a pick-up bar. After all these years I don’t recall the particulars of our meeting. That’s not true. It was because the both of us were incredibly horny that night and needed to get laid. There is no way to romanticize a beginning like that. Chalk it up to a good buzz and lots of testosterone between us. I stayed the night and he cooked me breakfast the next morning. He was an instant crush.
Obviously Italian-American, he was Anthony, never Tony, because he couldn’t bear being Tony Monteleone. He was a very sexy guy, not as tall as me, greying at the temples and mustachioed, pleasantly hairy-chested with what can only be termed a shit-eating grin. Oh, and great teeth too. I remember Anthony as always smiling, always happy with an amazing zeal for living.
He loved food and loved cooking it even more. He never came over to my apartment (my first solo living in the Big Apple) without something good tucked under his arm. If it wasn’t a pasta he’d whipped up that afternoon, or some Italian delicacy he prepared the night before, at the least he brought bread from the bakery in his mother’s neighborhood in New Jersey. He visited her several times a week. A widow, she’d recently lost a leg to diabetes and found it difficult now to visit her son in his place in the Village.
I fell in love with his apartment even before falling for him. He lived near Our Lady of Pompeii Church off Carmine Street. His one bedroom was above a store, either a green grocer’s or a butcher shop, I believe. That had been a silly dream of mine, to live over a small shop in a charming little apartment in The City. Anthony had decorated his place cutely comfortable. It was my fantasy home, just waiting for a Mister and Mister to live happily ever after in.
A date became an evening where one of us cooked for the other and then spent the night. Anthony was a phenomenal cook.The adage about food and a man’s heart proved true for me with my Italian. I was hooked. He could make an incredible meal from the simplest ingredients and never repeat a recipe-except Spaghetti Carbonaro. I’d never heard of it until he put the plate in front of me in his tiny kitchen. I requested it so often, he finally taught me his mother’s version and occasionally I’ll still prepare it to this day and it takes me back.
Another new experience was the rediscovery of my own domestic roots, which I thought I’d left behind in Ohio along with my HARDY BOYS books. I forgot what an important part food had played in my life. I’d never experienced spending so much time being domestic with another man before, enjoying it like some bizarre form of foreplay. I recall how, when dinner was at my place, I spent more time preparing my menu and apartment than I did primping before the mirror as I always had before knowing Anthony J. Monteleone.
After about two months of being wined and dined and sexed by this delicious man, I was ready for the invitation that came so readily from my previous lover, Rune. I waited, hoping it would be forthcoming, knowing it wasn’t something one can coerce. When it didn’t come, out of frustration I broached the topic myself, asking if he saw a future in our relationship. I specifically mentioned ‘taking it to the next level’.
He gave me my answer with his usual smile and without hesitation. We had a relationship. He was giving as much as he could. He had an elderly mother in New Jersey to care for and worry about, and I was getting all that he had left. “There is no next level to take this to”. There was no anger or drama. It was purely statement of fact. I asked/he answered. End of story. And for me, end of relationship. What we shared was very good, but not good enough.
So to prove that all my tales don’t end with a maudlin final paragraph where every character falls victim to the plague, I can report that after some web research, Anthony is alive and well in his early seventies. He lives in New Jersey-perhaps inheriting his mother’s house. Finding that he’s still around after all these years made me smile and wonder if that shit-eating grin was still with his own teeth, or dentures.
Rune I could not track down. We had been in phone contact for sometime after our split, each of us taking turns touching base. Months went by as they often can and the calls were spaced a little further apart. I left a message, then another and perhaps a third and I heard nothing. I chalked it up to moving on-maybe he found someone who took him up on a similar proposal. Then a call came from a stranger, months after my last attempt, a friend from work. Rune had been in the hospital for months and months in very bad shape.
It was 1977, years before there was such a thing as ‘gay cancer’, but there already was gay-bashing. I’d heard of stories where it had happened to a friend of a friend of a friend, but this time it was my sweet Rune. He was leaving a disco by himself after 3:00 a.m. and a couple of thugs attacked him wielding two by fours. They battered him badly. His co-worker explained that he was kept in an induced coma for nearly a month, his head was smashed so much. He was now in rehab learning to do everything all over again.
Rune called me, maybe a month or so later, to catch up and say goodbye. He was leaving New York and the US. Just prior to the bashing, his apartment had been robbed and he’d been mugged. He began to get this feeling, perhaps this may not be the place for him. Norway was his home and his parents were waiting for his safe return. I never heard from him again. I still feel badly to this day. I fantasize that he found a nice guy to care about in Oslo. Maybe they are married now. Same-sex marriage came to Norway in 2009. He was a prize. You couldn’t find a greater catch than Rune Nilsen.