I hurry down the stairs hoping that there are still some customers left in the bar for me to wait on. I have spent way too much time with Bobby and I’m not making any money to pay my bills. The party in the bathroom has broken up and the door has been left wide open.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
The cats are very interested in the sink filling with soap and water. I’m sure that some of them have never seen this before, so I understand the fascination factor. Picking up whatever resembles a dish, I drop it either into the sink or into the bag that’s headed for the garbage.“Um… When was the last time you ate?” “What are you writing, a book?” he screams at me. “Someday, I hope to,” I yell back at him, “but right now I’m just trying to solve a crime scene.” He cackles, followed by coughing up something and spitting it out. Thank God I’m not looking at him right now. “I get such a kick out of you,” he says. I imagine him wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
Walking into his room, I come around where he can see me. “I am going to buy you groceries and deliver them tomorrow before I come to work.” For just a moment I see a crack in his façade, but it only lasts a split second and then he is back again. “Are you after my goddamned money?” he screams. “Are you after my goddamned money?” He repeats this over and over. I wait for the tide to settle. “Yeah, I can see that you are living in the lap of luxury,” I say, my face barely moving. His hand shoots out and he reaches for his cigarettes. “Everyone is stealing from me,” he says, a tear forming in his eye. I do my best to ignore this behavior because I am not sure how to process it yet. I grab the lighter off the table and light his cigarette. It shakes between his trembling fingers.
I walk back into the kitchen and look for a pad of paper to write down what he would like me to pick up for him. ”Do you have a pad of paper lying around that I can use?” I don’t get an answer from the other room. “Hello?” I say again; still no answer. Walking back into the room, I find that he has fallen asleep, the cigarette burning in his hand.
I gently take it out of his hand and grind it in the ashtray. I see this as my getaway, and walking gently across the floor, I open the door and step out into the hallway.
His grip tightens on my wrist and I relax. Looking deep into his eyes I can see fear. It’s the type of fear that comes from slowly becoming helpless year after year. “What do you need me to do?” I ask. His eyes look around the room. “They are trying to kill me,” he says whispering. “Who’s trying to kill you?” I ask, reaching up to cover my nose with my free hand. His stench is overpowering.
“They are, the ones downstairs,” he yells, spraying spittle into the air. I lean back to avoid getting hit by the spray, but he has me in a death grip. “Oh, okay,” I say, not really sure if they are or he has lost his mind. Right now I’m thinking that it could be a little of both. “It will be okay,” I say. Reaching out with my free hand, I try to pry his fingers open, but he holds on. “They sell drugs down there,” he says whispering again. “Do you think?” I ask sarcastically. “Goddamned right they do,” he screams, throwing his head back and letting loose with a cackle. “I have an idea,” I say, slowly wrapping my hand around his hand, trying to pry up his fingers. “What do you say if you let me go, I walk out of here and never tell anyone what I saw?” “You ain’t going nowhere,” he screams shaking his head back and forth.
“I have another idea,” I say slowly. “What if I take that pillow out from behind your back, put it over your face and kill you?” With this said he cackles like a lunatic. “You got spunk!” he says, releasing my hand and laughing uncontrollably. “You don’t need help,” I say stepping back. “I do,” he screams facing me. “The only thing you need is a bath.” With this said I step back and walk into the kitchen. “That, and some Windex,” I add. “I can’t get off this bed,” he screams. I can hear him trying to flip over and face the kitchen.
I am standing in front of the sink looking for a sponge. Maybe I will help him out. What’s it like to be so helpless? I see a bottle of dish detergent that looks like it hasn’t been touched in a while and I grab it. Moving all the crap out of the way, I turn on the faucet and squeeze the soap into the sink. While it starts to fill up I walk back into the bedroom and open a window. “They sell drugs,” he says, craning his face toward me. “No foolin’?” I respond, struggling to pull back the drapes. “You think I’m old and crazy, you think I’m an idiot,” he says, following me with his eyes. “Right on both counts,” I say, picking up several overflowing ashtrays in the room and carrying them back into the kitchen. I can’t locate a garbage can so I make do with a bag half-filled with newspapers on the counter and empty the mound of butts into it.”
“They lie to me,” he says, the panic rising in his voice. “What do they tell you?” I ask. “They tell me I’m crazy.” I silently mouth the words “you are” to no one in particular. “Listen, I’m going to help you out a little at a time,” I say. “I am going to clean a little something every time I come up here.”
“No one visits me,” he quickly adds. Popping my head back into his room I ask, “Would you like me to visit you?” He nods his head and looks at me with sad eyes. “Ok, I will come and visit you whenever I get a chance, does that work?” He looks like he’s about to cry and nods his head up and down. “Good. It’s official,” I say and turn back into the kitchen.
The buzzer started to sound with alarming frequency. I was afraid there was a fire in his apartment and he needed help. Everyone at the bar was staring at the buzzer and when I glanced at Don he was shaking his head from side to side. Skip, who was bartending the other end of the bar, pointed at me, and then pointed towards the ceiling. His message was clear, and I was on my way.
Don immediately set up the tray with water, cigarettes, and empty Mason jars. My dinner of one lone banana lurched in my stomach. “Dead Man Walking,” I yelled out, crossing the floor with the tray. I got to the door, looked at Don, and was buzzed into the stairwell. Climbing the stairs, I passed an old man humping Stinky in the corner. Stinky looked at me, nodded, then glanced at his watch. It was clear that he charged by the hour.
Arriving at the second floor, there was the usual cocaine-fueled party happening in the bathroom. I could tell that it was packed to capacity and could hear a choir of voices all trying to hush each other. It’s hard to keep about ten men quiet while they are crammed in a tiny bathroom, putting blow up their noses.
Walking up the stairs tonight seemed like the longest passage of time to me. Allegedly, the man upstairs pressing the button, living in his own filth, was the owner of the bar. I never saw him outside of his room, but legend had it that he used to sit with Janis Joplin when she hung out at the bar back in the 1960s. I was told that he turned a blind eye to everything that went on downstairs as long as he got paid and was taken care of.
I didn’t want to go into his apartment tonight; that was clear to me and my brain. I didn’t want to have to feed him, or worse yet, clean up after him. Just the thought of it made me grab the banister and hold on for dear life. I let out a chuckle, because at this moment I was reminded of the movie The Sentinel, where Chris Sarandon is stroking the cat while Christina Raines gets let in on the plot line that she lives at the Gates of Hell and the demons are busting to be a part of the world. Every night, the owner trapped in his room is the guardian of the Gates of Hell; of that much I am convinced.
Arriving at his “Go Away” sign firmly attached to the door lets me know that I’m here. Well that, the smell of rotting human flesh, and the sounds of the cats. Grasping the knob and turning it in my hand, I use my hip to push open the door. The stench rolls over me in waves. It seems to have increased since my last visit.
Looking around at the sea of cats swarming me, I can see an unusually large number of Mason jars filled with yellow liquid. The sight and sound of the room makes my head swell. Quickly putting down the tray, I run to the sink and cough up my previously-digested banana.
I hear him in the other room. “Who’s here?” he yells and then begins screaming it over and over again. Wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, I call out, “It’s Geoff.” Without missing a beat he screams back, “What the fuck took you so long? I was ringing that bell for hours!!!” Popping my head into the bedroom, I see him lying on his side, facing away from me. He looks so fragile, like a baby bird. An old dirty piss, soiled, shit-stained-smoky baby bird, with a million cats, and questionable personal hygiene.
“Did you just barf in my sink?” he yells, while trying to roll over. “If you fucking messed up my house I will throw you out the window!” I figure that it would take a helluva lot of work to mess up this house, but the thought of cleaning the house with gasoline and a pack of matches needs to get pushed out of my mind.
He immediately starts with his list of demands. “Feed the cats, bring me my cigarettes, and hold that jar while I piss.” When he says this, he breaks into hysterical laughter; something seems to have tickled his fancy. Spittle flies everywhere.
Suddenly he stops laughing and tries to roll over onto his back to look at me. Once he has achieved that, he resumes screaming orders. “Don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open catching flies,” he yells. “Feed the goddamned cats!”
I walk back into the kitchen. Cats come running from everywhere to get fed. “Food is in the fucking cabinet,” he snarls. I reach towards the cabinet door. I pause and swallow hard. The handle has years of filth clinging to it. I grab and yank it open. Half of the contents avalanche onto the counter. “Don’t mess up my fucking house,” he screams. “Sorry, I’m just redecorating,” I say. This strikes him funny, and he cackles away. “You’re a goddamned comedian, a goddamned comedian,” he says.
I empty the contents of several cat food cans onto slightly used paper plates and put them wherever I see a cat. Then I grab one of the Mason jars, go to the fridge, and throw some ice into it. Walking back into the bedroom, I put it down next to him. “Tell Jerry I want to see the fucking receipts,” he says, trying to lean up on his elbows. I reach around him, grab the pillows, and help him sit up. “Are you trying to break my ribs?” he screams, inches from my face. “That’s it,” I yell. “I’m out of here!" “I can’t do this anymore, I’m done!” I start to stand, but quicker than a flash of light, his hand reaches out and grabs my wrist. His eyes lock onto mine.
“Please don’t leave me,” he begs.
Slowly, and still in disbelief, I walk up to the table. “Errrr….” I stammer, “can I get you two ladies anything to drink?” I look right at Scott and say, “What are drinking tonight, Mrs. Braun?” Scott shoots me a “fuck you” look. “Two sloe gin fizzes for us ladies,” he orders, swirling his hair with one finger while motioning his head towards Dennis, “and he’ll have a vodka and tonic.” I put my hand out to the drag queen in the veil. “Hi, I’m Geoff.” This drag queen reaches up and pulls her veil to the side, revealing a giant handlebar mustache. “I’m Tony,” she says. Taken slightly aback, I think it’s uncanny how much Tony looks like Freddie Mercury. “Coming right up,” I chirp, pretending that this not out of the ordinary, and I turn on my heel.
Walking back to the bar, I can see that everyone is craning their neck to keep an eye on the strange threesome. “Oh boy,” Don says when I give him the order, “how did they make it here without getting killed?” “Do we have a policy about wearing a swastika arm band in here?” I ask. Don just laughs. “
Walking back to the bar, I can see that everyone is craning their neck to keep an eye on the strange threesome. “Oh boy,” Don says when I give him the order, “how did they make it here without getting killed?” “Do we have a policy about wearing a swastika arm band in here?” I ask. Don just laughs. “Oh, do me a favor,” he says, pointing to a table while making the drinks, “get that homeless bum out of here.” Following where he is pointing I see that a slightly skinny blond-headed kid has sat down at one of the tables. He is slowly dozing off while holding a cigarette. “He’s homeless?” I ask. Don nods his head.
I walk over to Scott’s table and start to set down the drinks. Scott looks up at me and bats his eyes, I burst into hysterical laughter. Scott gives me the “fuck you” eyes again. “Don’t you think I look good?” he asks. Now I can’t stop laughing. It comes rolling out of me like a wave. It is very clear that Scott is insulted, but I can’
I walk over to Scott’s table and start to set down the drinks. Scott looks up at me and bats his eyes, I burst into hysterical laughter. Scott gives me the “fuck you” eyes again. “Don’t you think I look good?” he asks. Now I can’t stop laughing. It comes rolling out of me like a wave. It is very clear that Scott is insulted, but I can’t stop. “I’ll be right back,” I try to say, but the laughter makes it hard to understand what I am saying. “Stop laughing!” Scott yells, his eyes turning to slits. This only makes me laugh harder.
I walk away and approach the homeless kid who is dozing off. “Hi, can I get you a drink?” He pauses in space. His head stops inches from bumping onto the table in front of him. His eyes pop open and he looks at me. “No, no thanks, I am waiting on a friend.” I look at the bar and see Don watching me and motioning with his thumb for me to give the kid the heave-ho. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to order something if you want to sit here.” With that he stands up. “Are you going to be okay?” I ask, reaching out to steady him. He nods and takes one step forward. Thinking my job is finished, I head back to the bar. “
I walk away and approach the homeless kid who is dozing off. “Hi, can I get you a drink?” He pauses in space. His head stops inches from bumping onto the table in front of him. His eyes pop open and he looks at me. “No, no thanks, I am waiting on a friend.” I look at the bar and see Don watching me and motioning with his thumb for me to give the kid the heave-ho. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to order something if you want to sit here.” With that he stands up. “Are you going to be okay?” I ask, reaching out to steady him. He nods and takes one step forward. Thinking my job is finished, I head back to the bar. “All done,” I say to Don. “Oh really,” he responds, looking back at the table. I look back and see that the guy has only taken the one step before dozing off again.
That’s when the buzzer goes off, signaling me that I am needed upstairs.
I’m running. I wake up late and realize I only have a half hour before I am supposed to be at The Ninth Circle. Somehow, I slept through the alarm; it had been going off for over an hour before it woke me. Flying out of bed, I almost bang my head on the ceiling of the loft. On my way to the bathroom I slip and almost fall in another puddle of cat urine. If this is the way the night is going to go, I might as well just turn around and climb back into bed. This poor Siamese cat that my “out of town roommate” has left me is inches away from meeting its maker. Seriously, not that I would really take it to its maker, but it’s about 100 years old in cat life. I haven’t really been home long enough to know if it’s suffering though. I am aware that it can’t seem to make it to the litter box in time and has been peeing and pooping everywhere. It does howl constantly but then, on the other hand, it’s a Siamese cat. Apparently, that’s their thing. I will continue to monitor how it’s doing and will do what needs to be done when the time comes. So now, after cleaning up the cat urine, cleaning up the cat with paper towels, and jumping into the shower, I have twenty minutes to get to work. I snatch a banana off the top of the fridge, head out the door, grab acab, and we zip across town in an effort to get me there on time.
Entering The Ninth Circle, I see Brian at the top of the stairs. “Hey, asshole,” he yells out when he sees me. “You thought you were pretty funny pulling that stunt the other night.” I walk by him as if I don’t hear a thing he is saying. “Good luck trying it again tonight,” he says grabbing my arm. “I will definitely get you,” he adds leaning in close, inches from my face. I pretend that I don’t hear him and head to the back of the bar.
Don is sitting there waiting to take over. I thank God that Don is working and Jerry is leaving early. Jerry is extra twitchy and wound up. I watch him and notice that he can’t stop moving. “You,” Jerry says and points to me, then motions his finger to tell me to “run”. I walk over. “If that buzzer rings tonight,” Jerry says, spraying spittle into the air, “You go upstairs immediately and take care of him.” His eyes glance at the ceiling. I know he means the guy upstairs but secretly, I was hoping that the guy upstairs died before I arrived at work, but apparently, no such luck.
I’m also hoping that Bob will stop in. An hour later the bar is in full swing and I am running my butt off. Looking at the bar, I realize that there’s the usual cast of characters, all sitting where I left them the last time I worked. I am beginning to believe that they are at the bar every night. The only ones I haven’t seen yet are Dennis and Scott.
Two hours into the shift John walks in. He scans the room, sees me and waves. I return his wave and push my way through the crowd to get to him. When I’m a foot away, I can see that he has been crying again. “Are you okay?” I ask. He sniffles and wipes his nose on the back of his hand. “I am here because someone told me that my boyfriend is dating someone here as well.” “Jesus, that sucks for you,” I tell him. “I couldn’t imagine having my boyfriend running around town. I’m so sorry.” I take his elbow and walk him through the bar. A seat opens in front of Don and I push John onto the stool. “Don, buy John a drink on me,” I say. Don sees John’s bloodshot eyes, looks at me, and rolls his eyes into the back of his head.
A commotion starts at the front of the bar. I stand up on the bar rail to look over the crowd. All I can see is someone dressed in a Nazi uniform, next to a six-foot-tall drag queen wearing a veil.
I cannot get out of there fast enough the minute my shift is done. Bob is waiting outside for me with a flower in his hand. We walk around the Village and he takes me to an all night diner. I am enwrapped by all of Bob’s stories. He drops me off at the door of my apartment building at 6:00 a.m. After finding my identification, I am allowed access. When I turn back around, Bob is looking at me through the window. Our eyes meet and he waves goodbye.When I arrive at the audition, I find the monitor and check in. I am dressed in a black t-shirt, blue jeans, and black motorcycle boots. My hair is sticking up in all directions and held in place with Dippity-do. Looking around the room, I realize that I’m in a room filled with male models. In my mind, I’m the only one that looks like a real person. Everyone else looks like they have just stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine.
I am called into the room with about twenty other guys. We’re lined up, and the casting director asks for our portfolios. I hand over my picture and resume. One of the guys next to me snickers. Then we’re asked a little bit about ourselves and handed a script. Not only are they doing a photo spread, they’re looking to hire for a commercial training video. They go down the line, asking us to read aloud, one at a time. I am terrified to open my mouth in this group. When it’s my turn to read the guy next to me snickers again. After I’m done I shoot him a look. We’re thanked by the casting director and released for the day. I have to work at The Ninth Circle tonight, so I hurry to catch a nap.
A couple of hours later the phone rings and it’s my agent again. Turns out that the Japanese company is working against a time crunch and they have to cast their project immediately. They tell my agent that they love me and that I have a voice that is perfect for their advertisement and commercial. “Very exotic,” they tell him.
I am so excited and exhausted all at the same time. I look at the clock. I have a couple of hours before work, so I roll over and fall back asleep.
Two hours before closing time, Mitch passes by me, announcing Bob’s arrival in a loud whisper, “He’s here.” Trying not to look desperate or eager I say, “Thanks,” and continue leaning on the side bar. From my position I can look into the mirrors and see the people in the bar without having to look directly at them.
I return to Uncle Charlie’s in the afternoon to work the Happy Hour shift. It is one of the best happy hours in New York City. Everyone is aware that the bartenders tend to have a heavy hand when it comes to making drinks; that and the fact that the bartenders love to overpour. Imagine this deal at two for the price of one. I arrive and the place is quiet. It is two hours before Happy Hour officially begins. Of course, the bar has its regulars who arrive the minute the place opens, tend not to move from their spots, and get asked to leave when we close. As I breeze by them, they yell out various greetings.
‘What do you mean I can’t buy a rat if I have to feed it to a snake?” I ask the girl behind the counter at Petland. “Those are the rules and besides, this is a fancy rat,” she says to me, not missing a beat. “A fancy rat?” I repeat, slightly puzzled. “Yes,” she sighs, as if she is pointing out the obvious. “What’s the difference?” I ask. She sighs even louder and rolls her eyes to the heavens. “A fancy rat has long fur and is raised as a pet.” With this said, she tries to walk away from me. “Okay, okay,” I put up my hand to stop her. “What if I don’t have a snake and I just want to buy a rat?” “Oh, that would be a completely different story,” she replies and positions herself in front of the register. “Okay,” I say, “I need to buy a rat.” “What kind of rat do you need?” she asks. “Oh, anything you have lying around,” I respond, holding my breath. “I have a fancy rat,” she says, motioning to the drawers behind her. There are about thirty rats climbing all over each other. Now, I have always been a member of the ASPCA and PETA and this is the downside of owning a snake, but unless the snake is going to eat my cooking, this is what I have to do. “Sold!” I sing out. “You’re not feeding this rat to a snake, are you?” the girl asks narrowing her eyes. Not believing that this is really happening, I cross my fingers in my pocket. “No, no, not at all,” I say, placing my other hand up in the air like a good boy scout. With this she reaches into a drawer, lifts up a big black and white rat by the tail, and drops him into a box, then pushes out the air holes. I hand her money and she drops the box into a plastic Petland bag.
Thanking her, I walk back onto the street and head over to St. Mark’s Place to wander through Trash and Vaudeville. I roam through the racks; the rat is starting to become very active in the box. I am not really seeing anything that I like, and walk into the shoe department. I am delaying my return to the apartment because my friend Missy has moved from Boston to NYC. After a couple of conversations, Susan thinks it’s a great idea to have Missy take over her bedroom and let me keep the loft. Before this time Susan’s bedroom door had been kept locked, so she could travel from coast to coast and have a place to stay. Missy has moved to New York to study at NYU and could actually save a couple bucks living with me. I have no problem with this at all. I would like to give her some space, because today she is studying with some friends. Missy has told me how hard it is to make friends here in the city and I can’t be her only one.
My friend Regina will also be staying in the apartment for the next couple weeks, as she is in between theatre jobs. Susan thinks this is a great idea and pockets the extra income. After a couple of months, Regina and I will end up moving in together at The Imperial Courts Hotel on 79th Street. That is, after we meet Susan’s mother during an unexpected visit and realize that it’s going to become a regular thing.
I have some extra time to kill; I called my agent earlier. My audition for the Japanese company will take place later in the week. I would like to wander some more but the rat is really active. I walk back to Astor Place and show my ID. It’s the same doorman I saw as I was leaving. “What do you have in the bag?” the doorman asks. The bag is out of control, and I have to keep giving it a little shake because the rat is trying to save itself by eating through the box. I shrug my shoulders and ignore the doorman.
Alone in the elevator, I can see the doorman leaning over his post to watch the doors close on me. The ride up is quick. I get to the apartment and unlock the door. Regina is on the phone in the open kitchen. The cord is stretched within an inch of its life. Missy is sitting in the living room, holding court with two other students. “Geoff, I want you to meet two of my friends from NYU,” she yells to me. I wave and let them get back to studying. Regina waves from the stool she is perched on.
I walk over to Jasmine’s cage and release the clamps that hold the lid in place. Jasmine is wide awake and knows what’s about to happen. She begins to climb to the top of the tank. The rat is now out of the box and spinning in the bag.
To feed a captive boa constrictor, you need to stun its food or it will attack the snake, sometimes hurting or killing it. I swing the bag, hoping to make the rat dizzy and stunned, but swinging it causes the bag to break and the rat flies into the air. Missy’s friends just sit there, looking stunned by all of this. I run after the rat, who hits the floor and runs into the living room. Grabbing the box, I chase the rat into the corner of the room and trap it underneath. Regina is sitting on a stool, still on the phone. She has witnessed the feeding of Jasmine on several occasions and this doesn’t faze her in the least. She has however, put one finger in her ear so she can hear her conversation.
I dump the contents of the box into another bag, swing it and bring hard down on the counter. Missy’s friends jump up, grabbing their things, and almost fall over each other trying to get out. I swing the bag again and bring it down even harder. Missy has followed her friends to the door; they are horrified by what I am doing and suddenly have a million reasons why they have to leave. “Hand me the hammer,” I scream, as the rat is fighting for its life. Without missing a beat or getting off her stool, Regina reaches down into one of the drawers and hands me the hammer. This is so not the way I want this to go and it is one of the reasons I will find Jasmine a new home. I don’t have the stomach for this.
I bring the hammer down hard and the rat stops moving. Grabbing the end of the bag, I drop the rat into Jasmine’s tank. Jasmine wastes no time grabbing the rat, and wraps it up with her body. Missy is now an inch from my face. “Fuck you Geoff, you ruin everything!” she screams and walks into her bedroom, slamming the door. The pictures on the wall jump.
Regina and I just look at each other.
The taxi races through several red lights on its way across town. Holding tightly, my hand is wrapped to a strap attached to the top of the door and I become slightly airborne when the driver takes the corners. I’m not sure he knows that I was not in danger when I yelled at him to drive.
I can’t believe that Bob is concerned about me. I just met him, I know nothing about him, and suddenly here he is, standing right in front of me and telling me that he is concerned about me. The bar is in complete chaos and punches are being thrown. Chrissie Hynde’s “Message of Love” is playing on the jukebox.
Over the roar of the crowd I tell Bob to go to the other end of the bar near the exit and I will meet him there. A wooden chair gets launched out of the crowd and hits the floor about a foot away from me. “Having fun yet?” Don yells at me while scooping up patrons’ drinks in the hopes that they don’t become additional weapons. “I love it,” I respond as I run behind the bar. I reach the end, use the sink as leverage, and hop onto the bar. Sitting on my butt I swing my legs over and land on the floor. Then I follow Bob out the front door.
Bob stops on the sidewalk right in front of the stairs. “Exciting night, huh?” Bobs says. Somewhere inside the bar a chair smashes to the floor. His eyes twinkle while he talks. “I’ll never forget it,” I say. Bob chuckles. “Neither will I,” he says putting his hand out, reaching for mine. I grab his hand and stare into those eyes. “So blue,” I think to myself. “Are you working tomorrow?” Bob asks. His eyes glance at the building and at the Ninth Circle sign. In the distance I can still hear the fight going on. People are running out of the building as if it’s on fire. “Not here,” I say hoping that he can’t hear the sadness in my voice. “However, I will be at Uncle Charlie’s.” Bob smiles and says, “Good, I will see you there.” Bob takes a slow step back, releases my hand, turns and heads up the block. He turns around twice to make sure that I am still watching. I am.
I turn back to the bar and take a step up the stairs when Brian appears, dragging someone down the stairs. He hoists the guy up in the air, and throws him into the middle of the street. Then as if he is in a movie, he brushes his hands against each other. Brian then turns around and points his finger directly at me. “You ever pull the plug on my game again and I will kill you.” “Got it,” I say out loud, secure in the knowledge that I will probably have to do it again sometime.
I walk back up the stairs and into the bar. The scene is grim. The bar looks exactly like a place where a huge fight just happened. People are sitting around nursing wounds and nursing drinks. The party is pretty much breaking up, and the people who didn’t run out during the fight are now starting to leave. Scott walks out of the bar with Dennis. In between them, and being supported by them, is an old man who can barely walk. “He’s loaded,” Scott says as he walks past me making the “he’s got money” sign by rubbing his fingers together. The old man’s feet barely touch the floor, and are being dragged behind him. As I watch this old drunk deer being led to the slaughter, I stand in silence. “Good night boys,” is the best that I can muster up.
I re-join Don behind the bar and help clean up. It has been quite a night and I am wiped and ecstatic all at the same time. I begin to pile chairs on the bar and Brian slithers up behind me. “What are you doing later?” Brian asks. “Going home,” I respond. “My home or your home?” Brian says with a slimy grin on his face. I can feel a look of disgust cross my face and I do nothing to hide it.
For the next twenty minutes Brian follows me around the bar asking this question a million different ways and gets the same answer every time. I bid good night to Don and head out to the sidewalk. Brian runs out after me and grabs my arm; we walk together to the corner. Once there I put my hand in the air and a cab screeches to a stop. Brian motions for me to get in, and being the gentleman he is, opens the door for me. I climb in, grab the handle, slam the door in Brian’s face and quickly push down the lock. “Drive!” I scream to the Cabbie. The driver does not have to be told twice and hits the gas. As we peel out, I look out the back window and see a new look cross Brian’s face. The new look is called shock.
Don goes through the various gins he has behind the bar. I resist the urge to order a glass of warm piss to dump on this patron’s head. The bar is packed to overflowing, naked stripper boys are dancing on the bar, the basement door has a steady stream of people heading in and out of it and the women’s room has a line waiting to get into it. In my experience the women’s room in gay bars is usually the place where people go to do their drugs without fear of a female actually needing to use it.
“How’s the freak show downstairs?” asks Don with a smile. “Better looking than up here,” I say. “I love my job,” Don says with a laugh, throwing a bottle in the garbage. “Oh hey, take this to the table against the wall,” he says, handing me the now-familiar Sidecar. I place it on my tray and head into the crowd. I get felt up crossing the crowded bar and I can’t tell who has grabbed what at this point. I put the drink down in front of an old man and notice that a young kid of about fifteen is sitting at a table in the back in the dark. He has curly black hair, a muscular build, gray muscle shirt, and shorts. At first I don’t see him as much as I smell him. This is my first meeting with a male prostitute who has been given the nickname “Stinky” by the bar staff. Stinky has one arm around this old man’s shoulders and the other on his lap. “Hey, you’re kinda cute,” says the old man through squinted eyes. “How much for a dance?” he asks, lurching forward, almost falling. “Really,” I think to myself. “What does he think, this is 1930s Berlin?” I am suddenly reminded of a Donna Summer song and want to tell him it’s ten cents a dance, but I let it pass. Stinky waves his hand at me and tells me to “move on.” “Aren’t you fancy,” I mumble under my breath to Stinky. Stinky shoots me daggers with his eyes.
I move back into the crowd and someone grabs my arm. “I want a beer,” the man says to me. “Okay,” I say squinting at the bar and hoping to read the bar taps. “What kinds of beer do you have?” he asks, looking right into my eyes. “I’m not really sure,” I respond. “I’m new here”. “Well, can you go find out?” he says, sounding slightly irritated and raising his voice. “Of course,” I say, using my best Snow White voice, and head to the bar. In time I find out that this man is a regular at the bar and years later will be nominated for a Tony Award, but tonight he is on his best behavior and his anger medication seems to be working.
I head over to the bar, and Don can see which table I just came from. “Watch out for that one.” he says, swirling one finger counter clockwise around his ear. “He wants to know what kind of beer we have,” I say. “That one? He’s here nightly. He knows what we have.” I look back at the table; the guy is staring at the ceiling. “Oh, okay,” I say. “Would you like me to tell him that?” I say, my voice dripping in sarcasm. Don rolls his eyes and starts naming all the beers and I begin writing. “Got it,” I yell, and head back to the table. On my way there, Scott pops up in front of me.
“I have something to tell you,” Scott says, and I lean in. He proceeds to grab the back of my head and kiss me right on the mouth. I try to pull back from him. This is a little strange and I am completely uncomfortable, but flattered. I quickly imagine what kind of life we will have on the run. Scott pulls back, looks into my eyes, and tells me that I belong to him. With that, he turns on his heel and saunters away. I feel branded and a little tarnished. I walk back to the table feeling a little dazed as well.
“What took you so long?” the Tony nominee-to-be asks. Jesus, so many people to answer to. I am completely exhausted. “Long beer list,” I say, not missing a beat. “Well good, because I now want something with gin instead.” “What kinds of gin do you have?” he says, narrowing his eyes at me. Resisting the urge to slap him across the head, I just wander away from the table and head back to the bar.
“I want to tell you one of my favorite stories,” Scott says, turning my face to his, “now that we’re new friends.” “Hello, Miss Thing,” Dennis yells, moving in right behind me. I mentally check to see where my wallet is.Scott and Dennis are no longer looking at me and have moved on to greener pastures. Scott is pressed up to the guy from the front and Dennis has his hand on the guys back pocket, encasing his wallet.
I jump off the stool and head back to the stairs by way of Bob. He hasn’t taken his eyes off me and has a smile on his face. He is softly laughing and shaking his head side to side. I point to the stairs and tell him to “Come up and see me sometime.”
Slowly climbing the stairs, I become overwhelmed. I am suddenly aware that I am in a den of prostitutes, thieves, cut throats, drunks, drug addicts, and probably killers. But I have to tell you, I am having the time of my life. Oh sure, I am fresh off the turnip truck from Upstate New York, but I’m not that naïve, or at least I don’t think I am.
I walk back into the bar and Don immediately spots me. I push through the crowd. The jukebox is playing Joan Jett for the fiftieth time that night. Funnily enough, it’s “I Don’t Give a Damn About My Bad Reputation.” Somehow, that seems very fitting at this moment.
“Frightening,” says Don as I walk back around the side of the bar. “You don’t know the half of it,” I say, lifting up the side entrance. “Trust me, I do,” responds Don, handing me a shot. “I’ve had to go up there myself on occasion.”
I don’t even ask what I am about to drink, I just throw it back. The dancer is now sitting down on the bar completely naked and smoking a cigarette. “I’m on break,” he says to me with a wink. There is a really old man leaning on his leg and looking into his eyes. “Isn’t a naked dancer illegal?” I whisper to Don. “Lots of stuff here is illegal,” Don whispers back.
“Okay, so what’s in the wooden boxes I serve with the boilermakers and who’s the old man upstairs?” I ask, looking at Don. Don puts one finger up to his lips. The phone rings and Don grabs it. He looks at me and points to the basement door. “Tree wants you downstairs.”
I walk out from behind the bar. “Be careful,” Don says with a laugh, “there are more monsters in the basement than there are upstairs.” I flash him a “you’re real funny” smirk and cautiously approach the basement door. It can’t get any worse, I think, can it? I grab the handle and yank it open.
The noise level is louder in the basement and the lights are much brighter than in the upstairs bar. The staircase is actually pounding and vibrating in time to the music. I slowly walk down the stairs, waiting to see what this next adventure will bring. The place is jumping. It is fully packed with lots of old men and very young guys. I see that Scott and Dennis have cozied up to an old man at the bar. Scott, ever on the prowl, sees me and raises his drink in my direction.
Tree is behind the bar holding court; he waves me over. “Geoff,’ I want you to meet some friends,” he says, a big smile crossing his face. “Geoff, this Carl,”Tree says, putting his hands on the shoulders of one of his bar patrons. I put out my hand to Carl and he shakes it. Tree moves further down the bar to the next patron. “Geoff, meet Neil.” “Nice to meet you, Neil,” I say, extending my hand.
“And Geoff, this is Bob,” Tree says with a smile. I turn and find myself eye to eye with a blond tussled muscular surfer with killer blue eyes. Words fail me. “Hi, I…, I…,” I mumble. “I am Geoff,” Bob says, finishing my sentence and grabbing my hand in his. I can’t look away from his eyes, and then a perfect smile appears on his face. His teeth are straight, white, and he has a twinkle in his eye.
I stand there not moving for a good three minutes. “Let go of his hand,” says Tree out of the side of his mouth, causing Bob to laugh. You know that part in the movie when the wave crashes on the beach and the music begins to swell? Well, this was that moment for me.
“I hear this is your first night. Are you having a good time?” Bob asks. “Uh huh,” I respond. In my mind we are slow dancing. Everyone around Bob begins to laugh. “Wow, you cast quite a spell,” says Tree to Bob. Bob doesn’t move, he just stares deep into my eyes and keeps the smile on his face. “I…, I…, I am very pleased to meet you,” I say, still looking into his eyes. Bob keeps holding my hand and I feel the warmth of his hand in mine.
Slowly, I pull my hand out of Bob’s, realizing that I am making a fool of myself. “What…, what…, what do you do for a living?” I stammer, still looking at Bob. “Bob’s a lawyer,” Tree says quickly, “corporate law,” adding a wink at Bob. The wink escapes me as I continue to stare at Bob.
“Oh Geoff, wait. Robin!” Tree yells, waving across the bar. “Robin, Robin!” he yells louder and waves his arms like he’s landing a plane. I really don’t need to meet anyone else. But Robin Byrd looks over at Tree, acknowledges him, and begins to walk in our direction. She is wearing her trademark look, a string bikini and cowboy hat. I notice that the bikini is not really holding that much in. She saunters up to the bar and flashes a smile.
“Robin, I want you to meet Geoff, he’s new here,” Tree says, reaching across the bar and pushing me forward. Robin looks at me and I notice she has an eye that sort of just wanders off. She puts her hand and out and says, “Nice to meet you.” “Nice to meet you,” I quickly say. “If you need anything Robin, just ask Geoff,” Tree adds. Then he quickly blurts out, “He’s not from New York City.” Robin smiles and I take a step back. It’s then that I realize I am pushed up against Bob, I can feel him behind me. “Nice,” whispers Bob and puts a hand on my hip. I almost faint.
“Hey, new kid,” someone screams across the room, breaking my moment. I realize its Scott. He motions me over with his ever-present riding crop. “Excuse me,” I say to Robin and Bob. Bob flashes another smile at me and I take a few steps backwards. Quickly I turn and walk right into one of the patrons. “Hello cutie,” the patron slurs. I can smell the booze emanating from him as he is teetering and trying to put his arms around me. I suddenly hear the crack of the riding crop as Scott brings it across the old man’s head. “Move along grossy-grosserson,” says Scott, hitting him with the riding crop again and again. The old man lunges and staggers away from us. Scott grabs my arm, pulling me to the side of the bar, and yanks out a stool. “Have a seat,” Scott says, dusting it off with his riding crop.
I steal a look back in the direction of Bob. He is staring at me with a big smile on his face. “Oh, you like ‘em big and cute?” says Scott, placing the riding crop under my chin.
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