"You are my friend
I never knew it 'til then
I feel your love,
When you're not near
It helps me make it knowing you care
The thought of you helps me carry on
When I feel all hope is gone
I see the world with brand new eyes
Your love has made me realize
My future looks bright to me,
Oh because you are my friend
I've been looking around and you were here all the time"
The "Sweet Gumhead" Lounge on Cheshire Bridge Road in Atlanta Georgia on January 14, 1978. The stage was full of drag queens carrying a birthday cake:singing happy birthday to the "token." The token blonde-haired-blue-eyed-voluptuary-straight-girl-next-door:.me. Charlie Brown, a six foot two burgundy-auburn haired "dragin-miss-thang" had pulled me onstage to celebrate my 18th birthday. The song that would become a generation's anthem to love and deep "pain-paid-for-in-full" friendship, "You Are My Friend" sung by Miss Patti LaBelle loudly playing. This was my family "of choice" in 1978. My belief then and now is I am "straight not narrow" thereby giving me a safe haven of love and acceptance and proving "you do not have to be gay to feel different."
I never fit in. I could "play" Chameleon. I could look and sound like anyone.
But "me" was a mystery:until I found "the boys." In 1976 I worked at the "National Shirt Shoppe". A New York based polyester-peddling men's clothing store. Every geeky guy at my high school got his first suit at the National Shirt Shoppe. Along with tight polyester pants, loud graphic designed disco shirts, and pointy synthetic dress shoes. There is no hope for polyester clothing. No hope and no excuse. Just be glad we are done with that phase of our development!
The National Shirt Shoppe had mostly gay male employees. I was the "token" straight girl. I had a bumpy start in my first retail job but the boys were patient and extremely kind. On my first Saturday night the boys invited me to the stock room to smoke some hash. My experience with "smoke-ables" was limited. I was a little skiddish but they assured me they would take care of me:and so they did. The used a short Ball jar, a cork and a needle. The needle pierced the cork and the hash was formed into a small gooey ball and placed on the needles tip and lit with a match. The Ball jar was placed over the cork-needle-hash structure.
G.was a sweet guy and showed me how to lean toward the base of the jar and tilt it so the smoke could be released in a small amount. He showed me how to place my head close and inhale two or three times. He taught me to be cautious and careful. G. would become one of my best friends for the next three years. A tall, lanky, stunningly gorgeous Italian-American who would end up hiding his sexuality from his parents until he became ill in 1984. This unfortunate pattern was more the rule than the exception. These are the "thousand shocks that flesh is heir to."
The Magic Garden was our favorite club. G., P., and I would go almost every night to dance. P. was a lesbian and G's best friend from Shamrock High School. They "adopted" me and we were fast friends. We fell in love with ballroom disco. G.and I started competing on the weekends. The Magic Garden was a place where a boy could meet a boy, buy him a drink, find poppers and/or pot and probably get lucky:and never leave the building.
The dance floor was Olympic sized and all parquet wood. There was a "Show Room" where drag queens like, Charlie Brown, Tina DeVour and China Black ruled the stage. On the other side just off the Ballroom was a lounge with low red lights and strong drinks. In fact most gay bars were known for "strong drink." We tipped well and the bartenders poured heavy. I think I witnessed something that time may never repeat. The boys were free and happy, there was no AIDS, and they were truly gay.
Later in the '80s a distant relative of mine made a movie about Harvey Milk. I remember crying for days after the film. By then I had lost many friends:too many. The ache of that time and the loss I feel when I remember that time is deeper than any sorrow I have ever felt. It was the best of times and the worst of times.
We lived the high life. I danced in heals until my toes were blue. I wore skirts that twirled. Oh how I loved to twirl. To have a dance partner kneel below my skirt and tap the rim of my skirt up as I spun and spun and spun. I felt like Ginger Rodgers and the boys held that fantasy and made it real. I was their "girl"-friend when they needed to "bring a girl home." I was a lunch buddy and cocktail-ala-Sex-in-the-City-drinking "girlina." The boys dressed me and groomed me like a prize-winning show-pony. The boys taught me about fine dining and fine living. Baccarat and Limoges, yes:Corelle, no. Track lighting, glass top tables:oh my yes! The better to see last night's smeared Vaseline and poppers with "dah-ling!"
I saw things:I mean THINGS. Yeah know:like:one parishioner from our church who was the father of a friend and the husband of my Mom's friend. He freaked out when he saw me at the club. Enough so that he offered to pay for my college if I would keep his little secret: "Daddy was on the down low." I never talked about it to anyone and I never took favor from him :other than the occasional drink and once a slow dance where he proceeded to cry on my shoulder about living a "little double life":. to which I responded:"who am I to judge?"
How did I know that at 18?
But like thin thighs, perfectly wrinkle free skin, and seventy-cent-a-gallon gas:all good things must come to an end. I moved back to California and then to England and then got married. My daily cocktail dates with the boys ended. A few friends have stayed with me through thick and thin:through pregnant, drunk, fat, crazy and broke.
It is really amazing how bonds are created. Usually through pain and loss. It is funny how loss binds us. Joy may bring humans together but loss binds us. I have managed not to mangle all my relationships during my drunken haze and what I have found is the relationships that have stayed strong, have had there moments of strength and weakness. I think my relationships with gay men have stayed so strong because we have an innate willingness to forgive anything. We don't hold grudges. We forgive and forget and move on. Life is way too short and don't we know it. Too many friends died in the '80s and '90s. And from this horrible loss we have gained an ability to bless and release:it ain't cancer:so don't sweat the small stuff. (Did I make enough cute quotes in that statement?) But it is so true. We learn to love and lose and live long enough to live and love another day: and be grateful we get to stay in the game. I miss old friends who have gone on to the other side. It is the New Year and I am reminded of what is important, what is worth fighting for, and what is not worth fighting about. Dropping the rock is the best medicine.
My resolutions for 2010... Be of service, do good works, sleep, drink water, give of what you have: and every once in awhile go dancing with your favorite boys! Take your wild thing and a boy-friend or gal pal or a group to the Wildcat and get your groove on!
As the song goes...
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet, For auld lang syne. ~~Robert Burns
***The words 'Auld Lang Syne' literally translates from old Scottish dialect meaning 'Old Long Ago' and is about love and friendship in times past. The lyrics in the song Auld Lang Syne referring to 'We'll take a Cup of Kindness yet' relate to a drink shared by men and women to symbolize friendship. Happy New Year!!!