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This column appeared in March, 1988, in The Washington Blade.|
By Lawrence Biemiller
If anyone had told me the four of us were going to Rage before dinner, I wouldn't have worn a starched shirt and a tie. Rage is a popular bar in Los Angeles -- not the kind of place where you need a tie on Sunday evening. "It's got great looky-loo!" the librarian said to me in the car, patting my knee. In the dialect that he and the man with the meticulous haircut and my friend Don use among themselves, "looky-loo" means "a handsome young man -- or several or many handsome young men -- at whom to stare."
There were indeed many handsome young men at Rage. Some were milling around the bar; others were dancing beneath strobe lights and flashing neon in the adjoining room, where "I Get So Emotional, Baby" pounded out of the speakers. Most were wearing T-shirts or tank tops, but one I particularly remember wasn't wearing a shirt at all, just overalls and a straw hat.
"Oh, farmboy!" sighed the librarian, fanning himself with one hand as the young man walked by. "What a studlet!"
The librarian and the man with the meticulous haircut had been verbally undressing everyone who passed in front of us, and had been doing so loudly enough that I was getting embarrassed. I was trying to tell Don about a quiet young man from the Midwest who had surprised me at a conference the Friday before by asking me out to lunch, but the noise and the distractions made conversation difficult. We were all but shouting to make ourselves heard.
"I didn't even realize he was Gay," said Don, who knew the young man slightly. "Are you going out with him again?"
"Yeah," I said, as loudly as possible. "But I'm not sure I should." I paused to draw a breath. "I mean, I live three time zones away."
"So?" said Don.
"So that's not a responsible basis for a relationship." Pause. "He's young, Don. He needs good role models, not a one-week fling with someone who lives on the opposite coast."
"Oh," Don said. Then he looked at me and added: "How do you know?" What I like about Don is not only his willingness to put me up in his guest bedroom, but also the fact that he and I think along parallel lines. He understands my compulsions and my doubts perfectly.
Later, back in the car, Don and the librarian and the man with the meticulous haircut debated the merits of various restaurants. "You know," the librarian said, "we should take Lawrence to The Numbers."
Don, who was driving, looked at me in the rear-view mirror. "It's a hustler restaurant," he said. "The only one outside of New York. Just like a hustler bar, only they serve food."
I protested, but to no avail. We drove to The Numbers, and the maitre d' seated us at a table that had just been vacated by a fat man of about 60 and a boy who looked about 15. "Michael will be with you in a minute," the maitre d' said.
Let me tell you, Michael was a beauty, and a talented beauty at that. One smile from him -- so sincere, so sweet -- was enough to convince me that he loved me. No matter that I knew it was all an act. No matter that he was almost certainly for rent. No matter that he smiled the same smile for the man with the meticulous haircut, who was patting him playfully on the behind. While Michael was taking our drink order, I stared at the hair on his tanned arms and decided that I had condemned the concept of a hustler restaurant too quickly.
When Michael went off to get our drinks, I had a chance to look around. There were mirrors on the wall behind us and the ceiling above us and the wall opposite. The room was crowded with men. I couldn't tell who was there on business and who was there for pleasure, but then I am notoriously naive.
"Oh God," the librarian said, "there's that boy who's in the Navy. See him? Over there, by the bar. I had him a couple of months ago. Fabulous body. He'd go home with us -- I know he would." I realized that the librarian was serious about this, and also that by "home" he actually meant Don's house. The librarian and the man with the meticulous haircut both live with their respective parents, and neither seemed likely to take a hustler to meet Mother.
In the end, however, the four of us drove home unaccompanied. (I left Michael a handsome tip.) The next night I recounted the adventure to my friend the psychology major.
"I guess I'm glad we went there," I told him. "My friends are all guppies and activists. I tend to forget that not all homosexuals have the same values I have. Not everyone's completely out of the closet, and not everyone thinks the whole point of living is to find the man of your dreams and settle down. I go to a place like that, and I catch myself making all kinds of moralistic judgments about the way other people behave -- the same way straight people must make judgments about me.
"Ever since Friday," I continued, "when that young man asked me to lunch, I've been doing my gay-role-model act. You know, contributing member of society and all. I was thinking about that while the librarian was getting phone numbers from the hustlers and the man with the meticulous haircut was taking liberties with the waiter's behind. How do you explain that restaurant to someone from the Midwest? What do you say?"
"Aren't you being a little patronizing?" asked the psychology major, who is almost always level-headed. "Just say that gay people don't behave any better, or any worse, than the rest of the population. He'll understand that."
He did, in fact, and I ended my trip wondering which of us was actually the role model. The last night I was there, the young man from the Midwest walked me out to my car. "You know," he said softly, "I've never gone out with anyone taller than me."
"Does it scare you?" I asked. By then I knew I was the first man he'd dated.
"No," he said.
"I don't believe you. Look me in the eye and say that."
He stared into my eyes. "I'm not scared," he said, and then he put his arms around me and hugged me.
"This is a public parking lot," I whispered into his ear. "It's not the place to do this. You'll get a reputation."
"I don't care," he whispered back, holding me tightly.
Copyright © 1988 by Lawrence Biemiller. Published March, 1988, in The Washington Blade.