Friday, August 28, 2009

From the Closet to the Abyss

In my 20th year I worked second shift full-time at a local hospital. I had benefits, the money was good, and it was always possible to pick up an extra shift for time-and-a-half pay. I moved out, went to parties with the nurses after work and was frankly too busy to be bothered with anything as mundane as school.

The shift rotation was such that I was off one weekend out of three. You wanted friends on the same rotation so you had someone to do things with when your day off fell on a weekday. Lynne was on my rotation. We'd gone to high school together and had a lot of mutual friends. On a Monday night in September of my 21st year, we were off work and wanted to go dancing. We went to every club in town, but being a Monday night they were all dead.

Desperate to have fun on our only night off, Lynne suggested we go to the gay bar because the dance floor was always hopping. I absolutely did not want to go. But Lynne begged and pleaded and promised we would leave if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. So we went.

It never occurred to me that I might be gay. Gay people were either pedophiles (my scoutmaster, the manager at the movie theater where I worked in high school and his cronies) or flaming queens that liked to dress up as women. Perverts. That was not me, therefore, I was not gay. Besides, I always had a girlfriend. Made perfect sense to me.

The gay bar was called Johnny Angel's and at that time was more popular than any time before or since. The name changed several times but the place had been a gay bar since at least the sixties. Everyone referred to the place the same way no matter what the sign over the door said, so they finally just changed the name to The Bar. As far as I know, it still operates under that name today.

We presented our IDs, paid the cover charge and headed for the huge spiral staircase that lead to the disco. The thump of the base hit your ears long before you heard the music. Large photographs of breasts, legs and other body parts (sans faces) carried the eye upward to the brick archway at the top of the stairs. Through the arch you could see flashing lights, and reflected in the mirror behind the bar, more brick arches and the obvious source of the music. My heart was in my throat.

We walked through the arch past the wall-length, mirror-backed bar and through another brick arch to the dance floor. Everywhere I looked there were guys my age dancing with each other. Not a dirty-old-man in the bunch. There were a couple of drag queens, and some other straight people, but the overwhelming majority were guys around my age and more or less just like me. More than a couple were downright cute! I danced like I had never danced before.

I knew at that moment I was gay. By the weekend I'd fallen in with a group of gay friends that were closer to me than my own family during those first few years. It's a good thing. Lexington was a small town for its size, especially when you have as many aunts, uncles, and cousins in the city as I did at the time. The aunts were talking with Mom about my trips to the gay bar within days.

Telling someone his decision to be gay means he will burn in hell rarely gets the desired result. I figured since I was going to burn anyway, might as well get as much sinning under my belt as I could. I did everything I was big enough to do and then some. At least I'd have fun memories to carry me through eternity. Except I don't remember all that much. The rest of my twenties are a blur. Either way, I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Were We Thinking?

We usually take a trip around August 25th, the birthday of my partner. This year we decided to skip our annual vacation. Money played a role, but the dogs and his return to school were bigger factors. With summer rapidly drawing to a close, rather than going without any vacation we decided to spend a weekend in the mountains. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

We reserved a pet-friendly cabin for this weekend at Unicoi State Park near Helen, Georgia. We thought it would be a nice little getaway and a good test of traveling with two chihuahuas. I imagined us enjoying a spectacular view in comfy chairs on the wrap-around deck of a quaint, secluded A-frame cabin perched on the side of a mountain. No television, no Internet, no noisy neighbors. Nice.

We went to Ontario, California--home of my Aunt Judy--in the Los Angeles area for our first vacation. She spent a week showing us all the sights. She put us up in the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood for a night and took us to a resort hotel in Laguna Beach. It was a fabulous vacation.

The next year Aunt Judy drove up to meet us in San Francisco. After a few days in the city, we drove to Fresno for a quick visit with a high school pal. Then we drove to Monterey/Carmel for a few days at the beach before returning to Aunt Judys' house in the L.A. area. Another incredible vacation.

We've gone to Myrtle Beach the last few years. South Carolina is not California. But it's close--we can be on the beach before noon by car. There's tons of stuff to do, lots of great places to eat, and it's not terribly crowded. Last year we went twice.

Friday afternoon we piled into the car with the dogs and headed for Unicoi. We picked up the keys (after paying $155 per night PLUS a $40 PER DOG pet fee) and went to find our alpine retreat. Smith Creek One turns out to be one of maybe eight dark little shacks piled on top of each other in the middle of the forest. No comfy chairs, no wrap-around deck, no scenic view, no privacy, no television, no Internet. No way.

We attempt to convince each other that we'll have a good time, though neither of us believes it. We unpack, put food and water down for the dogs, and settle in. When we returned from taking the dogs for a short walk, we noticed the food bowl was empty but couldn't recall either of the dogs eating. We put more food out. I got up to take Toodles out around 3 a.m. and noticed that the bowl was almost empty again. The next morning the bowl contained nothing but about a dozen pellets of mouse poop.

I've never been so glad to see a bowl of mouse poop in my life. It was just the excuse we needed to cut and run. We checked out--they even credited $155 back on my credit card. The entire fiasco only cost us $240 for one night in the cabin. Food mishaps added another $100 or so to the cost, but that's another story.

Next year I think we'll go back to Myrtle Beach. Until then, I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who Needs Springer?

For the first ten years The Jerry Springer Show was on, I refused to watch it. I immediately change channels if I stumbled across it. It was entirely too trashy for a refined viewer such as yours truly. Besides, there was too much beeping going on to figure out what all the fighting was about.

Turns out, if you tune in for the start of the show you get the fully story--certainly all you need to know to follow the cussing and fighting that follows. I was hooked. Watching Jerry Springer became my dirty little secret.

The show relies on a steady stream of low-income, high school drop-outs with poor decision-making skills and a dirty little secret. They're boinking somebody other than the Nominal Significant Other, and/or were born a different gender than the NSO had been lead to believe. One of them has recently done time, with the philandering often taking place during the unfortunate incarceration.

The secret is revealed, the mob taunts, cussing and fighting ensue, the boinkee comes onstage for still more fighting, and then the mob gets to take shots at them. All the while girls are flashing their boobs for beads and demonstrating stripper pole moves while a legless dude runs around the stage on his hands and a clown on stilts juggles bowling pins.

What's not to like?

As a middle-aged, middle-class, professional living in the burbs of a college town, my exposure to the kinds of people you tend to see on Springer is limited. If they are around me (and they have to be--it IS Georgia), the context keeps them from revealing the dirty secret they might love to reveal on Springer. Thank God for boundaries. I hope it stays that way.

Watching Springer is a way to see how the other half lives. Crazy priorities. Good sex trumps everything else. Pimping, prostituting, and stripping are the primary occupations. No matter how many times he's cheated on her, she always takes him back. Whoever hits the hardest, wins.

I no longer have to watch Jerry Springer to get my fill of crazy thinking and ignorant, ill-informed mobs. I can turn on Fox News Channel any time to see that. Or go to a town hall meeting...

The big difference is that instead of pimps, ho's and strippers it's old, racist white men who fear death panels, socialism, anything-that-isn't-Christian, and gun control. Just a bunch of crotchety old white men. It's enough to make me want to change my name...

The Crotchety Old Gay Man

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summers Impossible Now

Summer was always my favorite time of year growing up. I left the house by 9 most mornings and would return around 5, usually just in time for supper. I'd snag lunch at the home of one of the many kids in the neighborhood my age, give or take a year or two. Then we'd be back to our adventure-of-the-day.

The street was new. There was always at least one house under construction--a child's delight at at every stage. We had a blast climbing up and sliding back down huge mounds of dirt from newly excavated basements. We swung from bare rafters, jumped through window frames, and climbed on the brick layers' scaffolding. After the dry wall went up we played hide and seek. Staying ever vigilant for parents, construction workers, and prospective buyers just made it that much more exciting.

I distinctly recall six different tree houses, each more impressive than the last, assembled from pilfered construction materials in huge trees on land we didn't own. There were also several caves--big holes covered with a piece of plywood in various locations in a big pasture at the end of our street. After they sold the farm, we took over a one-room shack left behind by a road crew. It was so far out that you could see anyone coming long before they would arrive.

The tree houses, caves and the construction shack were places to hang out. At least for me--I suspect some of the older kids had other uses for them. The fun part was identifying the need for a new place to hang out, scoping out possible locations, designing an appropriate space, pilfering the necessary tools and materials to build it and then working together to achieve the vision. The completed project never quite measured up to the vision--especially the unventilated caves and the windowless shack.

If it wasn't a school night, we'd rush through a silent supper (Dad always read the afternoon paper at the dinner table and conversation was forbidden) to rejoin our friends outside. Initially we had to come home when the street lights came on. When we got a little older, my parents turned the porch light on when it was time to come in.

We'd play in an empty house, hang out at or work on our newest digs, and otherwise occupy our time waiting for the sun to go down. Then we'd gather under the street light in the cul de sac at the end of the street to play kick the can. We'd designate an "it" who stacked the cans (we liked four with a coffee can base and a tomato paste can on top) then counted to 100 while we hid in the backyard of one of the seven houses on the cul de sac.

Being "it" was awful. With seven yards to hide in, you had to go behind houses to find people, leaving the cans vulnerable. You could catch a dozen or more people but someone almost always kicked the cans, setting everyone free. We played until eleven of twelve almost every night.

The childhood I had is just not an option for most kids today. We did things...lots of things on our own with no supervision from any parent or other adult. Can you imagine that happening today? Hardly. Makes me sad.

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting There is Half the Battle

I have absolutely no sense of direction. None. When there is a fork in the road, I'll make the wrong choice every time. I don't get lost so much as end up someplace I never intended to go. I do it all the time. You could say that's the story of my life.

When I worked in Kentucky (before the Internet, Mapquest or GPS), someone at the other end mailed or faxed me directions. These directions always got me where I needed to be. Well, almost always...there was that one time I couldn't even find the town, much less the building. But that's another story.

Enter Mapquest, Google maps and their competitors. I prefer Mapquest. I'm not saying it's better. I've just used it a lot more so I'm familiar with its peculiarities. In some ways these automated electronic directions are better than those I once received via fax and snail mail. But I've lost count of the number of times the directions fell short at getting me where I needed to be.

Now I use a navigation service through my cell phone. I really like it, and have used it more than I thought I would. It has some of the same limitations as Mapquest, and then some. The big advantage is you can change your plans. The navigation system will react and guide you to your destination. If it wants to be helpful.

Yesterday, Statesboro--some 170 miles southeast of Athens--was my destination. Rather than going east to Augusta then South to Statesboro as suggested by Mapquest and my phone, I wanted a more scenic option along a more southeasterly course. There may be a way to communicate this wish to my cell phone. It does a lot of things that I guess I'll find out about when I get stronger reading glasses.

I decided to take one of the many southeasterly routes available to me and trust that my navigation system would read my mind. Recalculating route. A minute or two later: please make a u-turn. Each time I ignore the request: Recalculating route. Is it my imagination or does she really sound more aggravated this time? I tell myself she does. My GPS is getting mad at me.

When frantic requests to make a U-turn and to otherwise double-back are continuously ignored, she finally shuts up. I swap my sunglasses for my reading glasses first chance I get and see a written message asking me if she should give up or recalculate. I figured that meant I won. Recalculate route, baby.

As I merged on to I-20 toward Augusta nearly an hour later, it was painfully obvious that I had been bested by my GPS after all. Accepting that any resistance was futile, I gave up and followed along. An hour later, she dumped me in a pasture just outside of Statesboro several miles from any possible destination.

Fortunately, folks down around Statesboro are friendly. I had no problem getting directions from the locals--all four times I stopped to ask. In the end the problem was a lack of signage on the desired road. Shoot, everybody knows that's Langston Chapel Road...don't need no sign.

Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Brush with Celebrity

The first time I saw Bradley, he was dressed up as Frank-N-Furter. It was the premier of Rocky Horror Picture Show back in September of 1975. Every detail was perfect. I worked at the movie theater at the time and must confess that all I could do was stare. Keep in mind, this was long before the movie became a cult classic and everyone dressed up. I was a senior at the time in a largely white suburban school, which means Bradley was just a junior in high school. Talk about balls. Walking around Lexington in the daylight in 1975 in spike heels, fishnets, and full make-up was just asking for trouble. It certainly made an impression on me.

I saw Bradley again several years later. Bradley was a cocktail waitress at the local gay bar, with a strong preference for plain white, long-sleeved blouses, tight black and/or metallic skirts, nylon hose (with the line up the back) and various and sundry spiked pumps. It wasn't drag so much as stuff he found attractive or just liked to wear. He had a definite style sense of his own. He's the first aggressively androgynous person I ever encountered.

One night Bradley attended an after-hours party hosted by one of my best friends. We heard a very loud crash coming from behind the bathroom door. Cries of "help" followed, so we flung open the door. The bathroom sink was in the floor. Bradley (in his customary short skirt, hose and heels) was on his knees using his thumbs in a desperate attempt to keep water from spraying from the now broken lines coming out of the wall. He looked up and with mascara running down his face said, "Who the f*** lives here?" Apparently, he perched on the edge of the sink for some reason, pulling it from the wall. I still get tickled when I think about it.

Wasn't long before Bradley was fronting a punk rock band. I'm not sure I ever watched a performance. At the time disco was king and I was the proverbial dancing queen. The punkers were definitely cut from a different cloth.

Soon Bradley opened his own club in Lexington. I have no idea where he got the money. It was called Club Au Go-Go, and the crowd was definitely mixed. The club featured drag shows, punk concerts, and everything in between. We went a time or two, but it really catered to an edgier crowd. Even so, it was pretty clear that Bradley was going places.

A few weeks ago one of my classmates posted pictures from the glory days of Club Au Go-Go on Facebook. He played in a band that played there often with several classmates, including a few that are still in bands today. The club closed in the early 80s. I used to think about it whenever I drove by the intersection where it was. But I hadn't thought about Bradley for a very long time.

So I googled him. His full name came up on the list of suggestions almost immediately. Turns out, he's now party planner to the stars. He's planned several big Hollywood bashes, birthday parties for Elton John, and other fabulous parties. In the pic above, he's with alleged best friend Chi Chi LaRue who made her fortune producing high-quality gay porn. Or so I've heard. I wouldn't really know about the high-quality part.

Bradley always had a knack for making an impression. Looks like he found a way to make a living at it. Just another brush with celebrity for...

The Crotchety Old Man
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