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Parting Glances: Young hearts (and Mary): Pt. 1

By |2005-06-09T09:00:00-04:00June 9th, 2005|Opinions|

Years ago bars were the only places gays could socialize in. There were no community centers, no organizations, no newspapers. Gay life was by word of mouth (and often hand to mouth).
The ideal bar was on a side street, had a back entrance, and paid “protection”. If you were a regular, the straight owners — known homosexuals couldn’t be licensed — would discretely warn you if an undercover cop was seated nearby and occasionally put up bail if you got pinched (and arrested).
In my 20s I spent Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays relaxing among friends in these clubs . On weekends a sport coat and tie were worn. No holding hands. No kissing. No dancing. Ten plays for a dollar on the juke box. Beer, 75 cents.
Among my acquaintances was Tom Ingersoll, the son of a precinct police captain. (This proved embarrassing when Tom was picked up with 50 others in an after hours raid on a gay house party. Undercover officers drifted in, mingled, offered to chip in for drinks, and, once the money changed hands, arrested everybody. Tom was fingerprinted, fined $100, and put on probation.)
Tom had a touch of deviltry. He liked nothing better than to step behind the guy you were cruising and make funny faces. He would also send anonymous drinks to a stranger. He’d keep this up all night (tipping the waitress generously for her compliance). He never sent beer, Martinis, or Manhattans, only Vernor’s Ginger Ale — which added a bizarre touch to the whole charade.
Once we were all gathered around the bar’s baby grand piano. The pianist was a guy named Arnie Rose: mid-50s, limited repertoire of Broadway show tunes — sincerely sung, unevenly recalled — and the owner of a glorious, off-key toupee.
Tom decided that he had had enough of Arnie’s crooning and cooing like Liberace, circled behind him, and flicked his topper on to the piano keys. Arnie, still singing mid-lyric, deftly picked up the toup’ with two fingers, plopped it back on his head, and zipped the keys with his thumb. (We applauded.)
One night it came to the bored attention of our circle of youthful jerks that a certain shy guy was standing alone by the juke box with nobody paying the least bit of attention to him. He was there the week before and the week before that. He was pleasant looking in a toes-together sort of way — hopefully waiting for Mr. TLC.
Tom announced archly that his next project would be turning this wallflower into a hot bedroom commodity. “All it takes is the right word, said with proper awe and intonation,” added Tom mysteriously. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll buy a round. If it does, you guys buy my drinks.”
Having said so, Tom spent the evening table hopping, busy-bodying about, and at some point cleverly getting TLCs to look in the direction of the soon-to-be irresistible house boy beautiful. As promised, Tom whispered the magic eight-letter word (winking conspiratorially in our direction): “E-nor-mous!”
Later that summer it dawned on Tom that Silvester Shyloney had become Stanley Touchme, and was seen — not once but on several occasions — to leave with with a number of willing suitors. “What did I tell you?” said Tom, reminding us it was pay up drink time.
“Here’s to you,” I toasted, when my turn came to pop, handing him a Vernor’s. “It’s not enormous, by any means, Tom. Just adequately magnificent.”

About the Author:

Charles Alexander