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

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