With a cold beer in one hand and the television remote in the other, I had just planted my ass on my comfortable sofa after a tiring week that had lasted a day longer than normal. The phone rang before I could turn the TV on. Shit.
The inordinately chipper voice on the other end of the line needed no introduction. “I’ve finally decided to take the plunge,” Kristin said. “Aren’t you excited?”
I took a long swig of beer. “And what plunge would that be? Bungee jumping? Your neckline? Getting rid of your lava lamp?”
“I want to go out with you tonight. Stress on the word out.”
“I’m not going out tonight.” I turned on the TV and took another sip of beer, firm in my resolve to remain a practicing couch potato for the rest of the night barring a nuclear blast, a house fire, or Andrej Pejic showing up at my front door naked with a cat-can’t-scratch-it boner.
“Yes, you are going out tonight.” She exhaled, sounding all forlorn and butt-hurt. “I thought you were my friend?”
“I am your friend,” I said. “Your exhausted, achy, my-ass-is-not-parting-with-my-sofa-tonight friend. We can go out tomorrow, maybe lunch and a matinee.”
Kristin nearly deafened me through the phone. “We can’t do it tomorrow!”
I rolled my eyes. “Do what?”
“I want to go to a gay bar with you. There, I said it.” Kristin exhaled, all shuddery and over-the-top dramatic. “We have to go tonight. I read on the Internet that Sundays at gay clubs are usually Country Line Dance day or Ladies’ Tea Brunch day. I want to see some hot, sweaty, half-naked men writhing against one another under a disco ball. Tonight.”
Cue phonograph-needle-scratching-vinyl-record sound (or for you younger folk, crickets). I’d been trying to get Kristin to go clubbing with me for over a year. A beautiful gal with a bright smile and bubbly personality, Kristin had become a good friend soon after I’d moved into the townhouse next to hers. After her initial attempt at flirting with me, I gently informed her of the score, and she’d seemed almost relieved. I didn’t pry. We became movie- and shopping- and brunch-buddies with an occasional mani-pedi trip, but she wouldn’t budge on the go-to-a-gay-bar-with-me issue. Not because of any sort of prejudice, but because she felt somewhat intimidated and maybe even a little bit scared.
Imagine my surprise when, after a year of attempting to coerce, cajole, and browbeat her into venturing to Baltimore’s gayborhood for a walk on the wild side, she finally came to me and asked to go. Of course, she did so on the one Saturday in four fucking years that I didn’t feel like going out.
I sighed, shook my head, and polished off my beer. “All right, but only because it’s you. Put on something outrageously sexy, and I’ll be over in an hour or so.”
* * * * *
“So, what do you think?” Holding the hem of her skirt by dainty fingers, Kristin twirled to show off her allegedly outrageously sexy ensemble.
No good deed goes unpunished. I wasn’t expecting to have to work. I put my left arm across my chest and started stroking my chin with my right hand, unleashing my inner Tim Gunn on her ass. “I’m dubious. Does this outfit honestly say ‘sexy’ to you?”
“Well,” she said, “I didn’t think I needed to get all dolled up for a bunch of gay men.”
“Sweetie, we’re gay, not blind. You look like my grandmother on podiatrist day. Move aside and let me examine your closet.” I flung open the louvered bi-fold doors. “Yours is bigger than mine. I hate you.”
“I bet you say that to all the boys.” Kristin giggle-snorted.
I shut the closet doors and turned to face her. “Not as often as you tell them, ‘I left my real boobies in my other shirt.'”
I pounced. “No, no, no! When you gasp, you have to press your hand to your breastbone with your fingers widely splayed, as if you’re clutching an imaginary necklace. We call it the ‘Clutching the Pearls Maneuver.’ It’s kind of like a secret handshake.”
Her trap still hanging open like a dead codfish, Kristin said, “Seriously?”
“Hey, if you’re going to embrace the stereotypes, you need to fully commit.” I smiled. “I’m kidding. It’s a well-documented fact that only one out of ten gay men clutches their pearls on a regular basis. Up to three out of ten during Mardi Gras and Pride Week. Now, back to your wardrobe.” I resumed my Official Tim Gunn Posture of Utter Dubiousness. “I’m not kidding. No one except the old queen who drinks cheap gin straight and squints at everybody would hit on me with you standing nearby while wearing that. It’s all about ambience and association, darling. Get with the program.”
“Really?” Kristin stepped out of her hideous floral, ankle-length peasant skirt.
Fuck, I hope those skirts aren’t coming back into style. They’re like a gateway drug for snappy-crotch bodysuits and clogs. Please God, not again!
“I gave you the complete series box set of Queer as Folk for a reason.” I re-opened her closet and started rifling through the rack. “Haven’t you been studying? I warned you there would be a quiz.”
She caught the short, black skirt and matching lacy T-shirt I tossed to her. “Yeah, but some of it seemed awfully unrealistic and sort of overly dramatic.”
“That would be on account of it’s a television show with fictional characters and mediocre writers. You just earned yourself two extra Princess Points with that comment.” I snagged a super-cute pair of black, low-heeled ankle boots from the bottom of her closet, closed the doors then turned around. “Just be yourself and don’t stare.”
Kristin donned the super-cute boots. “Stare at what?”
I grinned. “You’ll know when you start staring.”
* * * * *
Deciding to ease Kristin into the gay wilds, I chose the somewhat sedater and superficially classier “entertainment complex” called Grand Central, which we old-timers refused to quit calling Central Station. The self-described “cornerstone of trendy, upscale nightlife” in Baltimore was indeed situated on a corner, so I really couldn’t fault the pretentious advertising. In all fairness, the joint was quite nice, although a tad lower-paced than I preferred. Regardless, Central Station presented the perfect place to initiate a gay-bar virgin.
I pulled Kristin’s car into the parking lot across the street from Central Station and paid the attendant out of my window. Kristin hadn’t budged. I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned sideways to face her. “Relax. Be your awesome self. I love you, and so will everyone else.”
She shrugged. “I’m nervous. What if I say something wrong?”
“Well,” I said, chuckling, “you’ll know if you say something wrong a lot sooner here than you would most places. And if you wait until around 11:30 to talk, odds are no one will be able to hear you anyway.” I put an arm around her shoulders. “RE. LAX. You’re gorgeous, you’re warm, you’re open, you’re funny, they’ll love you, so don’t worry so much.”
She remained unconvinced. Women. Men are so much easier to talk into shit. She sighed heavily and said, “Easy for you to say!”
Oh, for the baby Christ’s sake. I fought the urge to clutch my pearls and instead grabbed her by the nearest arm and started dragging her across the parking lot. “Not easy,” I said. “Took me nearly as long as you are fucking old to finally stand up and scream, “I’M GAY!” I paused outside the double doors and faced her, glaring with pursed lips and a furrowed brow. “In for penny, in for a pound. Commit or quit.”
She shrugged and followed me into the bar.
* * * * *
Three hours, six games of billiards, four Long Island Iced Teas, and two trips to the potty later . . .
“So, this is it?” Kristin looked bored. “This is your spectacularly exciting gay-bar scene?”
I gave a half-hearted shrug. “Well, not mine personally, but for this particular gay bar, yeah.”
“No wonder you are so bonded with your cable TV remote.” Kristin knocked back a shot of tequila. “I’m sort of not having very much fun.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “I can fix this.”
* * * * *
I jockeyed her cute little butt not only across the street to the Hippo but to the best vantage point in the building, under the seasoned, attentive eye of the Very Best Bartender in the Entire History of EVER.
Freddie*—(*Louie’s name changed to protect the . . . oh hell, do I really have to make a disclaimer at this point?)—the bartender smiled and eyed Kristin’s package. “I can hide your purse behind the bar if you wish. You might have more fun that way and look a little less desperate.”
I nodded approval, and Kristin slid her purse across the bar. Lou-, I mean Freddie, grabbed her handbag and stowed it under the bar, then returned to his primary responsibility of concocting alcoholic beverages for the purpose of making everyone look better.
So,” I said, turning around to lean my back against the bar in a purposefully casual I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-you-and-yes-I-know-I’m-hot manner with my front exposed to the action, which wasn’t so exciting yet (meaning the action, not my front). “Is this more your style?”
Just shy of midnight, the place was packed and the music blared at ridiculous decibels. A rainbow of lights flashed on the huge, sunken dance floor. Fog swirled around the dancers from floor to knees, and at least half the men dancing were shirtless. Maybe three-quarters. My math skills tended to degrade in direct proportion to the quantity of booze consumed.
“Yeah.” Kristin smiled, sighing. “This is much more like the Queer as Folk tutorial.”
I laughed and toasted her with my diet Apple-tini. “Here’s to stereotypes, sweetie.”
And now, Jaye’s Top Ten List of How to Not Stick Out Like a Sore Thumb at a Gay Bar:
10. Don’t stare. Not even at that drag queen that looks like your 80-year-old Aunt Gertrude with a five o’clock shadow.
9. Pointing is rude unless accompanied by “Love your shoes!”
9. Tip your bartender and tip him/her well. You’ll get stronger drinks in return and maybe a place to stow your purse so you don’t look like you’re ready to bolt at any moment.
8. Be prepared to encounter men better dressed than you when you visit the lavatory and for feet to be pointing in the wrong direction in the stall next to yours.
7. In the same vein, don’t be shocked if someone introduces herself with a name like “Visa DeKlined.”
6. Don’t quote any witty lines from Queer as Folk or Will & Grace. Trust me, we’ve already heard them. Even the Anastasia Beaverhausen one.
5. Dance, even if you think you’re not any good at it. Your dancing will magically improve after midnight. Trust me on this one.
4. Don’t become a drunken hot mess. Since they probably don’t want to sleep with you, gay men in general don’t have a high tolerance for that sort of obnoxious shenanigans.
3. Don’t use epithets (queer, fag, dyke, homo, fairy, etc.) around people you don’t know well. Not everyone has the same acceptance of or tolerance level for those sorts of words.
2. Ladies, don’t be shocked if a girl asks you to dance. Either graciously accept or politely decline, but always be gracious and polite. Unless she is a drunken hot mess, of course, in which case feel free to tell her to fuck off as you would any drunken hot mess.
1. If you go to a gay club/bar accompanied only by your gay bestie, it might be wise for you to have a Plan B for getting back home. Just sayin’.
Have a great weekend, everyone!