A Gay Old Time: Out and About in Chelsea
Every now and then I like to drop into a gay bar to have a drink or two and see if I get any kind of a response from the patrons. It's a good way to stay in touch with the scene, such as it is. It ain't what it used to be, that's for sure.
I stopped into a fairly popular joint called Rawhide recently. This place is hot with the Chelsea Boy s&m set, and it's pretty sad: bad lighting, bad paint job, the cliched Tom of Finland posters on the walls, and a bunch of insecure queens sitting around getting loaded and fidgeting. The place lacks imagination. I got a couple of come-ons, which usually serve to assure me that I have not become completely decrepit, except that in this case the guys coming on to me were so damned weird and decrepit themselves that it only unsettled me. One round was enough, and I split and moved on to a choicer venue.
My last affair with a guy started more than 20 years ago, in the summer of 1979. I was totally broke, babysitting a tiny hole-in-the-wall apartment down at 7th & B for a lesbian buddy of mine and selling hotdogs from a vending cart to survive. I was still seriously infected with the acting bug, so I was getting up at dawn every morning to hustle off to cattle calls and finish in time to wheel my cart out to the street for the lunch crowd. I was also deeply involved with the Aleister Crowley bunch and adhering to a rigid schedule of daily ritual practice.
One of my Ordo Templi Orientis buddies introduced me to an art historian, this guy I'll call Pat, who was working with Crowley's former secretary, Israel Regardie. They were putting together some Golden Dawn product and Pat had some kind of little Golden Dawn group going down in suburban Maryland, where he lived. Pat also had an appetite for hustlers. He invited me down to his home in Maryland for a weekend. His wife was away, he explained, and we could have some sport in the air-conditioning and I could meet his group at a dinner party he had planned.
Naturally, I accepted. The dinner was a lot more impressive than the company. At that time there was a pretty clear distinction between the OTO crowd and the Golden Dawn bunch: the former being drug-crazed libertines indulging in all forms of depravity and debauchery, and the latter being your basic sexually repressed white-light blissninnies. After dinner we had drinks, and the conversation turned to reincarnation. The guests began speculating as to who they might have been in previous lives. Naturally, everyone was somebody of note, Napoleon or some shit, so when it came to me, I said that I had been Hugo Stinnes.
Only one person at the party knew who Hugo Stinnes was: I'll call him Nick, a Mafia tax attorney from DC. He cornered me and asked how I knew about Stinnes. I explained that I had a lot of arcane interests outside the occult, we got to talking in depth, and within a week we were, as the saying goes, an item. Nick was a pretty funny guy. He had a naive interest in all things mystical, often displaying surprising gullibility for a guy who moved like a shark in the world of finance. He liked pot, but didn't have a clue how or where to acquire it. He came off completely straight, and was so thoroughly closeted that he put me on the payroll of some scam securities outfit he was running with a couple of ex-CIA guys down around Wall Street. He bought me a couple of decent suits and insisted that I wear them. He revered his elderly father and the memory of his long-departed mother. Watching him with his father was very touching, the way he cared for this ancient Italian immigrant who still made his own wine and still wept at the loss of his dear wife.
We ran together all that summer and on into fall and winter. He took me up to Ogonquit, ME, in the summer and we spent the fall jumping back and forth among San Francisco, New York and DC. He envied my wildness and my ability to survive on nearly nothing, and I envied his wealth and strong family ties. When Kenneth Anger came to New York for the release of his Magick Lantern Cycle on video from Mystic Fire, Nick rented a huge suite at the Plaza and had a screening of the work there, with an open bar, catering, the whole nine yards.
His father died that day, from a fall in the bathroom. He got the call as the event was peaking. We sat on the edge of the bed together, away from the crowd, and he cried on my shoulder and told me how his father had always said to him, "Nick, on the day I die, you gonna have a big party," and how he'd always be outraged by that suggestion and snap back, "Dad, I love you, I would never do that," and his father would just laugh. He regained his composure with the help of a little blow I shared with him and returned to the party out of a sense of obligation to his guests, betraying nothing of his loss.
He and I finally broke up in L.A., not long after. Nick was trying to bust into the film business, so he had some deals going, and we arranged to meet Israel Regardie and his lover Alice Montserrat at their home and go out for dinner. It was quite a night, and we all did a fair amount of drinking. Dr. Regardie was suffering from emphysema by then, the result of an abortive attempt to turn lead into gold. Nick and I went back to the hotel and huffed up some of my blow and drank some more. We had a room on the 19th floor of the Century Plaza. The John Birch Society was having a convention in the building.
The next morning he was up at the crack of dawn, nudging me awake with his elbow and saying, "Let's fuck." I was having none of that. "A couple more hours of sleep, Nick," I muttered. He was persistent. It's an Italian thing. He simply wouldn't take no for an answer. After about 15 minutes of this nonsense, I leaped out of bed and grabbed a great big silver tray full of empty beer bottles and hurled it off the patio. It sailed the full 19 stories to the parking lot below, where an early-rising contingent of John Birchers was loading up to leave.
"Maybe I oughtta just ship you back to New York," he growled sullenly.
"Yeah," I replied, "maybe you should."
And that was that. He made a few oblique threats and I vanished upstate into New Paltz and the magic mushroom trade, which was how I met my now ex-wife.
I tried to get in touch with Nick a few years ago, to see how he was doing, but his phone in DC was disconnected a long time ago and there's no sign of him anywhere. I imagine he's dead, like so many others from that part of my life. I'll never know how I avoided AIDS; it makes no sense. I was a real slut until I got married.
After I split Rawhide I headed down 8th Ave. until I passed a nice-looking little joint called Cuba Libre. This place is beautiful: open at the front, big ferns around, beautiful colors and a classy crowd. It's a splendid tribute to Cuban culture. I ducked in, sat at the bar and ordered a Corona. A young gay dude of the Latino persuasion, very elegantly dressed, was holding court with a few of his friends at a table near the front. All around, the crowd was very attractive, not ostentatious or loud but well-attired and vibrant, exciting in a low-key sort of way. The decor is a stylish rendering of pre-Castro Havana, which was a pretty stylish place and time.
I was halfway through my second round when a striking young fellow moved closer to me at the bar and struck up a conversation. He introduced himself as Tomas, and explained that he was up here from Miami. I introduced myself, and he asked me if I was Cuban. "No," I explained, "my adoptive father is, and we used to go there every year until the U.S. cut diplomatic ties." We got to talking and Tomas spoke of his yearning to someday see Cuba. I told him that I suspect things will be opening up pretty soon, one way or another.
He asked for my number, which I found quite flattering. I gave him a cell number that I made up. I wasn't being mean, I just don't really get into guys anymore, as much as I might like getting cruised from time to time. Guys aren't mysterious enough. Age has given me a new respect for mystery.
Cuba Libre is a lovely place, reminiscent of the old, dear departed Elephant Walk in San Francisco's Castro district in its quiet ambience and cool tropical flavor. They serve food, and while I wasn't particularly hungry, Tomas and a few other patrons I asked remarked that it is perfectly rendered Cuban cuisine. The prices are very reasonable, in keeping with the casual, unaffected elegance of the place. It's open seven days a week, serving lunch from 12 to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 11 Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Tapas are available at the bar every day from 3 on. It's the kind of place Nick would have liked. He was a classy guy, and I miss him.
Cuba Libre, 200 8th Ave. (betw. 20th & 21st Sts.), 206-0038.
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Summer in the City