Parting Glances: Pages from a book, Pt. 10

By |2006-05-18T09:00:00-04:00May 18th, 2006|Opinions|

During Detroit’s glory days a half century ago, Washington Boulevard was the setting for exclusive shops and upscale restaurants, stretching sedately from the popular Statler Hotel at Grand Circus Park to the prestigious Sheraton Cadillac on Michigan Avenue.
Sadly, long vanished.
Both hotel bars catered to a discrete, well-heeled, happy-hour gay clientele. Good manners were expected — no camping it up, no swishy behavior, no untoward touching, no two-shots-and-a-beer buddy-buddying. At the Statler, offenders were handed a succinct note: “Your patronage is not wanted here!”
For those who engaged in the covert pastime of dalliance in the sensual stalls of chance, circumstance, and occasional low-life charity, the nearby Tuller Hotel was notorious, as were the Telenews theater balcony, the Brass Rail Bar (where pop singer Johnny Ray was arrested for soliciting a washroom cop) and Grand Circus Park’s busy underground loo.
As a teenager all of this was terra incognita for me, but I learned the lay of the land from word-of-mouth publicity and from trowelers who had navigated the watering spots first hand. I did however venture on my own near occasions of sin into the Greyhound Bus Depot on Washington Boulevard — to check out noonday comings and goings.
I was cautious. I had been forewarned. “Miss Tillie [vice cops] goes there all the time. Mind your business. If you have to pee, just pee. Don’t look anybody straight in the eye!” Stories of arrests for merely glancing at a vice officer were many. “It’s your word against theirs, Mary. Case closed.”
Just behind the Greyhound Bus Depot was another hangout for gay teenagers called Mama’s, one diner star rating over the Hub Grill’s none. Mama’s was owned by the mother of thirty-something, Butch Jimmy (“BJ”), who had his share of impressionable teenagers, including, in the early stages of my all-too-willing acquiescence to all things macho, yours truly.
Mama — short, stocky, ruddy, roly-poly faced — was of some uneventful ethnic heritage, possibly Hungarian, Latvian, Rumanian. She wore her hair in a tight bun and dressed in basic black (no pearls). She got her sense of humor by osmosis, greeting regulars with a hearty wave of the hand, “Kud-de-vahs! Kud-de-vahs!” [“Whores! Whores!”]
Mama employed Frank, a cadaverous looking cook, who, while abusing hamburgers and squinting menacingly, would tell anyone who’d listen that he had made all of his funeral arrangements and knew exactly where, and in what pastel satin-lined casket, he’d be buried. [R.I.P., Frank. You’ve missed a helluva lot.]
During many visits to Mama’s (closeted by it’s offbeat, side-street location), I became friends with my idol, Rich. Unfortunately I was not his type. A Swedish blond, Rich Suess liked dark-haired, swarthy types. Italians. Spaniards. Mood Indigos. (If I recall correctly — it was so long ago –I was just a tepid Anglo-Saxon, dishwater brunet.)
At the time it was important to pass for straight. I didn’t like hanging around with queens or flamers. I knew that my day-to-day survival in this fairy-hating world depended upon passing, looking like your average Elvis Presley, duck-tailed, occasionally hip-gyrating, fan club groupie. I admired Rich. He looked straight as a 10-inch knitting needle (until years later when he came back from living in New York as a hairdresser — with a “FAB-you-luss!” Brooklyn accent).
Just weeks into our newly formed alliance, Rich suggested hitting Toledo Ohio’s Scenic Bar. “Hey! it’s brand new turf. Fun and games. Drinking age 18. You’ll love it.” And so I did (except for the gawdawful 50-cent Zing! 3.2 beer). It was a gas.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.