Just when we least expect it, something will come along and invite us to step
backwards in time... to take a journey of remembrance that is as unique and
individual as our fingerprints. In my case, the catalyst is usually a song.
I was driving along Esplanade Ave. last week, fumbling for a CD to play.
Keeping one eye on the road and the other on the clutter of discs on the
seat, I finally grabbed one and let it slide into the player. As the first strains
of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme made their way into my ears, I
looked up and was unexpectedly greeted by the old man, himself. . . H. G.
Wells. There he stood at the corner of Burgundy and Esplanade with his
time machine. I saw him beckoning me to climb aboard. Who could resist
that delicious temptation.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair.. I was 21 and eager to know what the
gay social scene was all about. Two friends decided that it was time for me
to enter the smoky world of the gay bar. I was excited, terrified, thrilled,
and nervous beyond my wildest expectations. This was to be my first
journey to Rampart Street and I was ready ... sort of.
First stop on this adventure was The Grog. We walked in the door and
down the long bar to the smoky back room where women were dancing
together. The music came from an old juke box and it had the herculean
task of playing louder than the customers were speaking. Tiny tables lined
the walls. My friends wanted to know what I was drinking. Beer. I only
had $1 0 to spend.
The back room was too intimidating, so I moved to the wall near the
bathrooms. Soon I was approached by a well-dressed
woman. She smiled. I smiled. She asked me what I was doing there. I
answered that I was checking out the scene. She then launched into a 1 5
minute tirade on why The Grog was located at the gates of hell. Oh great,
just what I needed... repentance, and I hadn't even had my first taste of sin
yet! I excused myself and slid onto an empty barstool.
There I met Star. That was her name and she was into softball. She talked
about her team and the coach. She, at least, saw no sin in the bar, only
opportunities to recruit new ball-players. Alas, I was no athlete, so she
quickly lost interest. That left me to drift further up the bar towards the
only video game. . . PONG. PONG was the most boring of games. You
had to hit the ball, or let the ball hit, a small block that could only move
vertically up and down the screen. Pong... a game of chance in a carnival
side-show where I did not know the price of admission or even where to get
Someone suggested we go down the street to Brady's. . . there were pool
tables there. (Big deal, I couldn't play pool either.) So off we went to Alice
Brady's. At the door sat the person for whom the establishment was named.
White t-shirt, tightly pulled over her breasts, cigarette package rolled up in
the sleeve. Black slacks and men's shoes. This was the keeper of the
castle, and one had to pass Alice Brady's inspection before being allowed to
enter her kingdom.
"You new?" she asked me. "Yes, my first time," I replied. She laughed
uproariously as though I had just told the funniest ribald joke. I didn't know
if I should join in her merriment, but before I could decide, she had waved
me in with my friends.
Brady's was dark. There was a long bar and a back room with a pool table
in it. Otherwise there were only a few tables, a juke
box, and the bar stools. The juke box sang "Midnight at the Oasis, send
your camel to bed" while a few women swayed together to the sound. I was
fascinated by the dress of the crowd ... very delineated between butch and
femme. The butches wore duck tails and button down shirts, penny loafers
and men's slacks. The femmes wore dresses, an occasional skirt, some
wore blue jeans and pony tails. Me. . . I was dressed in my Levis and a
flannel shirt. . . the original granola dyke.
Another song began to play. . . this time Barry White. That's when I got
nervous . . . across the floor came a blonde-haired woman who wore
cowboy boots and a big silver buckle. "That's Sonny," my friends
whispered and they hurried off to the pool room. I was too slow. The next
instant she stood before me asking for a dance. I instinctively knew she was
going to lead.
She danced smoothly, holding me close. Her breath smelled of winter
green. "What's your name, little girl," she inquired. "Morgan," I replied
with a bit of a twinge. Morgan was the name I called myself when I was
acting out a fantasy in my imagination. Besides, this was clearly a fantasy.
Barry White knew that, the bartender knew that, Alice Brady knew that.
The song ended and Sonny thanked me for the dance. I smiled and scurried
off to find my friends. I was a stranger in a strange land. . . and I needed
an interpreter. The rest of the evening went by without any more human
contact. Finally, I told my friends I was going home. Rampart Street was
overwhelming to me. I needed more practice. As I walked down the street
back to my car, I passed drag queens and men dressed in leather, other
dykes in butch/femme attire. Where, oh where, did I fit into this world, I
wondered. My love for women was obviously not enough to help me
translate the language of the gay social scene. I would need lessons on
etiquette, on manners, on
customs. I was truly a babe in the woods.
And that was when I got another lesson that I would not forget for a long
time to come. Do not park your car in the bus zone! I had much to learn.
Something jolted me back to the present. Simon and Garfunkel were
finished their Dangling Conversation and I was back on Esplanade Ave.
searching for a parking space when the meter Nazis wouldn't find me. I
was meeting a friend for lunch at Port of Call, and as I entered the door, the
juke box played the Righteous Brothers. . . you've lost that loving feeling,
oh that loving feeling. . . I hummed the rest of the song as I sat on a bar
stool waiting for my lunch date. Then the Three Degrees started singing
When will I see you again. . . and I imagined as I looked into the smoky
mirror behind the bar that I could see Star and Sonny and Alice Brady
leaning against the wall looking back at me.
Dear Mr. Wells, your time machine is both a blessing and a curse.