Tag Archives: dance

Making Tracks–for a walk on the wild side

ziegfelds secretsI grew up in a small town (Do I hear a song?) farm community during another era. We had, I believe, 62 students in my graduating class, all straight and Christian. Ostensibly. At least, no one I knew of admitted to being gay or to not being Christian. Well, except Erica. Erica was our Jewish student. We were very progressive for the 60s. We even had a black student. For a week. I have no idea what happened there.

I managed to go through college and the Army being aware of only one person who was openly gay. When I tried man-handing him (I hear it.) out of the third floor window, it was for entirely unrelated reasons. (He was playing “Incense and Peppermints” over and over when I decided to help him explore the possibilities of leaving via the window. Justifiable? I think so. No serving member of the United States Army should be dreaming of a production number to that tune at 4 a.m.) I was unaware of his orientation until he was dishonorably discharged.

I mention all of this to say that I have no gaydar whatsoever and, as a baby boomer, I had very little–virtually no–experience with people who openly identified as gay. And that might go some way toward explaining my reaction when….
Well, let me tell you:

I was thirty-years old and teaching English within the boundaries of the original District of Columbia in Northern Virginia. While serving in the military I had traveled through several foreign countries; later I had lived in New York City and in England; my horizons had expanded once I started wearing shoes. One weekend, a colleague suggested that we go into DC for a bit of bar-hopping.

We were passing a bar on the corner of 9th and H, NW. As I recall, the blacked out windows featured silhouettes of what appeared to be bare-naked ladies (not a band) and advertised dancing girls. My friend looked at me and asked whether I wanted to in.

Not my thing, but I shrugged and said okay.

There was a small–foyer is so much more elegant than it deserves–let’s just say that a guy sat on a stool inside the door, collecting $5 a head. My friend, Let’s call him Buddy, said that he’d get the cover charge and preceded me into the establishment, vibrating with disco music. (It has been some time since I was 30. I still miss Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer, and my heart still pounds at the beat of “Knock on Wood.”) As I cleared the entrance alcove, I saw scantily-clad young men–they looked like teenagers, but had to have been in their 20s, at least according to their IDs– dancing. On the bar.

I noticed that they all wore white socks.

I noticed that they wore only white socks.

That is to say, I noticed that they wore nothing but white socks as they gyrated and bounced to the tunes.

I thought of AC/DC. I understood the song.

Ever the model of discretion and decorum, I fell back against the wall, grabbed my chest and shouted, “Oh, my God!” not an exclamation I often use, but it seemed much better than “I’m coming, Elizabeth!” à la Redd Foxx.

Buddy roared.

He knew.

Not only did he know, but he also knew I don’t know. He was openly amused by my naivete in some areas, this numbering high among them.

I was thirty years and did not know about–had never heard about–gay bars. Well, maybe I had heard about them but vaguely thought they were urban legends. I had never heard of bars in which young men danced naked.

We pushed through the throng of men crushing (probably more than one meaning here) around the bar. It was a long, narrow room with a single row of cocktail (Again, you hear it under certain conditions) on a raised platform facing the bar.

We ordered beers from a handsome and charming young man and sat talking as there were not more than participles dangling before us.

Buddy said that he liked to come here…it was called the Chesapeake House (I’ll tell you why the name is important anon.)… because drinks are much less expensive than most straight bars. I later learned that that was not the only reason, but for now we maintained the illusion.

I expressed my concern that I wouldn’t know how to react when guys started hitting on me. Buddy told me not to worry about it. It took me much too long to realize that he was not flattering me.

No one so much as glanced in my direction as I scanned the room for someone who might recognize me and rush out to tell the world that I had been in a gay bar. Among the lessons I learned that night were two huge ones: I am not honey to gay bees and the world does not revolve around what I do or who I am. It was more deflating than it was a relief.

Besides, Buddy pointed out, how would anyone who was patronizing the establishment explain his presence therein?

Buddy explained that the Chesapeake House was (a massive office building now stands on the site) what might be called a “chicken” bar because it catered to very young men, “chickens” in the parlance of gay culture. I don’t know whether it is still used, but he told me that there were many specialty bars in DC, including a leather bar,( which would be torn down to make way for the old Convention Center) transvestite bars such as the one with regular drag shows across the street from FBI headquarters, (I wish it had been called Hoover’s, but it was called, I think Louie’s) and others.

At the same time, we had a chain of all-you-can eat seafood restaurants called the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House, very popular with our family, especially the teenagers and their friends and teammates.

One morning shortly after my first foray into gay DC, I was having coffee in the English office when a colleague said, “You go to the Chesapeake House, don’t you?”

She seemed surprised that I just stared at her without speaking, my cup halfway to my mouth. People always seem surprised when I am not speaking.

I made a half-nod, a quarter twist of the head and a dem-shrug trying for as non-committal a commitment as I could muster.

“Do they have chicken?” she asked.

“Well, yes. Yes, they have chicken,” I said, not sure whether tears would help or hurt. I hoped that the lip-quivering would be as far as I went.

My colleague looked steadily at me as she said slowly, “I think I’m going to take [her daughter] there. She likes seafood, but I’d rather have chicken.”

And the light broke through and understanding descended.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I think you’ll like it; My family loves the Seafood House.”

My borderline manic response did not go far toward breaking her steady gaze as she gathered her books to go to class.

I buried my head in my arms when she left. Walking on the wild-side, no matter how tamely, takes a lot out of a guy.

It was not the last time I went to a gay bar. The next time it was my step-son who took me. Well, he wasn’t technically my step-son and he didn’t actually take me. His mother took me.

“Clare,” and I were together for many years. We were “without benefit of clergy,” but I routinely referred to her as “my wife” and to Chad (You know it’s not his real name, but he has made clear that he does not especially like my writing about him.) as my son. In all fairness, I had asked her to marry me and she explained that while I was good enough to live with, she was not interested in marriage. But she was more diplomatic. Nonetheless, I loved them both as much as if we were legal and legitimate, and I was heartbroken but not stunned when she left me to marry someone more “exciting.”

I think I lost the thread.

Oh, I remember! Two weekends in a row, Chad, then 17, came in very late, as in the wee hours. When I asked where he had been so late, he named a club called “Tracks” in the District.

I had heard students talking about Tracks. I said, “Isn’t that a gay bar?”

He said “No” as if I had asked whether he still wore lace panties.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah! I think I’d notice that.

When I asked how he could even get in at his age, he showed me a large black X in indelible ink on the back of his hand. “This means I can’t have alcohol.”

He looked at me.  There are many ways people look at each other. We can look at each other with our eyes filled with love or hate or understanding. Chad looked into my eyes and his steady gaze said: “Now, what you got to say about that?”

“Then, why do you go there?”

Now his look was a mixture of contempt and condescension: “To meet girls.”

Okay, that was his answer to every question, whether or not it was verbalized, and, if we are being honest, even that answer was only partial, because for Chad, meeting a girl was only a rest stop on the road to releasing his excessive hormones. (Yeah, I’m not sure that that makes sense either, but I’ll bet you catch my drift.)

“And we play volleyball. There’s a volleyball court in back and that’s where we usually hang.”

I looked at his mother and said, “As responsible parents, we should go and check it out.”

She agreed and there began our gay adventuring.

In those days, there were two semi-official gay zones in Washington: on and around Dupont Circle and the industrial section of Southeast where Nationals Stadium now stands. Other gay clubs were scattered throughout the city, but these were concentrated areas.

Southeast Washington also was (is?) the violence-saturated drug-dealing center of activity in DC. With the arrogance of the ignorant (and the ignorance of the arrogant) we slapped down the top of my convertible to better showcase our white honky selves while riding through an area into which Wonder Breads do not often wander.

I got lost.

There are those who have suggested that those words should be inscribed on my tombstone. (Surprise! It will have to be written on the side of the little butcher-paper-wrapped ash-filled box.) Night was falling and drug dealers were openly plying their trade on street corners.

And they were looking at us…hard. Chad’s mother, ever the shrinking violet, grabbed me by the shirt front and shouted, “You’re going to get us killed.”

I’m sure that made us less conspicuous.

But we were well and truly lost, driving among what appeared to be vacant factories, when Clare said that her nose urgently needed powdering.

Right.

We heard loud music coming from what appeared to be a warehouse. We followed the music to the entrance (Picture Pepé Le Pew following his nez.) and were dismayed to see a line of–mostly women–lined up to pay a cover charge. Annoying, but at least we knew that a powder room was near.

As we waited, I thought to myself that these women were unusually tall. Looking down, I quietly said to Clare, “These women have big feet. What are the chances that so many women would have big feet?”

She gave me that look and that screamed “idiot.”

I was not unaccustomed to it.

When we entered I thought that the dance floor looked like a skating rink, with a circular path around it to the bar, toward which we bee-lined. (I could have stooped for pee-line, but I have so much class and dignity that it never occurred to me.)

Ever the gentleman, I asked the barmaid to direct me to the women’s room. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder toward an unmarked open door. I walked Clare to the door and took up sentry duty, but she was back in seconds.

“There are urinals in there,” she said.

I returned to the barmaid. “Sorry,” quoth I, “that seems to be the men’s room. We need the ladies’.”

Her gaze was steady. “Well, we’re pretty unisex here,” she said. “The the one women use is behind the ‘men’s’ room.”

The quotation marks were unspoken but understood.

We investigated again, but found only the one door. Back to the bar. Clare was dancing an awkward little jig with her knees together.

“Do you have to go through the men’s room to get to the women’s?”

She nodded.

“Or you can go around.” She gestured toward the other side of the bar. We decided to take the more modest route and go around.

As we walked into the back room, I noticed that the young man who was dancing on the miniature stage was scantily clad, indeed. The hushed crowd seemed mesmerized. Even Clare slowed her pace, yet we soldiered on.

She ducked into the ladies’ while I guarded the doorless door. When she emerged she grabbed my arm, trying to drag me into the woman’s room.

“Did you see the feet in that stall?” she demanded.  “There was someone peeing,” she said, managing to sound scandalized that people with feet engaged in such behavior in a room designated for the purpose.

Humoring her seemed my wisest course. “Well, people…”

“They were huge!”

“Well….” I was so lost. “Some people have large feet; some people have…”

“And they were facing the porcelain!”

I was silent.

We began to retrace our route through the back room, called “Secrets,” as it turns out. I began to suspect what some of those secrets might be, because the young man on the tiny stage was now wearing only a bikini bottom and his socks as he gyrated to the musical stylings of Madonna.

“Hold on,” Clare said, catching my sleeve. “Let’s wait till he finishes.”

So we sat across from each other at a table with a direct line of sight to the stage.

The Speedo briefs went away and the dancer stepped down to the floor and began to shimmy from table to table.

Unaccustomed as I was to having naked young men gyrating around the tables, I felt myself stiffen. That is to say, I tensed. I felt my face flush and I didn’t know where to look. Clare looked more than a little amused…when she wasn’t looking at him.

When the young dancer was close to her, she said, “My friend is feeling a little tense. Any ideas about what might relax him?”

“Oh, yes I do, honey,” he said. “By day I am a massage therapist.” Whereupon he gyrated around the table behind me and began to massage my neck and shoulders.

Gay, straight, bi, or alternating among the various choices, I do not understand how anyone who is feeling tense about a naked person dancing around him would relax if said person begins massaging him.

He moved closer until I could feel his squishies pressing against my back.

Mixed feelings here. At least they were still squishies…and then, “Wait, What?” Nothing? Am I nothing more than a piece of meat?”

Clare was clearly enjoying my discomfort, and she had the presence of mind to tip him.  I was far more confused and flustered than a grown man should be.

Again.

But Clare never massaged my shoulders. Maybe we were onto something here.

After one or two more dancers, Clare decided that we should make Tracks…or at least try to.

But just at that time, apparently at some signal I missed, all the big women in our room decided to rush back to the main room. Of course, Clare snagged my arm and dragged me along with the crowd.

Her doing so seemed the more appropriate when we saw that our lady-friends had been rushing back for the drag show that was underway in the main room.

If I had been confused before (There really is no “if.” I had bewildered from the moment we got there.) now I was in serious trouble.  The fact is that many of these women were beautiful–perfect.

Now, I had seen La Cage Aux Folles more than once and so I knew that men could be beautiful women. I did have fun “guessing [their] gender.” As I looked at these ladies, some were grotesquely obvious cross-dressers, but I found myself intently checking bulge locations of the others who were just stunning.

Then the music changed and the crowd took to the dance floor. Clare saw her chance, but my head was spinning and she stopped hitting me when I promised that we would go dancing the next week. When my head had cleared.

As we were leaving, a man approached and asked “how far on the wild side” we wanted to walk.

Of course, my immediate response was to flush crimson and choke on a response (as if I had one). Clare just shook her head, laughing, and pulled me away by the arm.

On the way home, we had fun guessing what he meant, but we never did make Tracks. We planned to try again the next week, and I was grateful that one of us was a man of the world.

Next time: What happened at Tracks (and didn’t stay there).

On the Right Tracks at Last: No More Dancing Chickens

gay clubOur first attempt to find the dance club our son was enjoying was a washout. We didn’t find the club, but we did see my first drag show, experienced our first time with bisexual (pansexual? ambisexual?) non-specific sex bathrooms, and enjoyed a stressful massage.

Two observations about language here: (Uh-oh, a tangent!)

There were no baths or even showers in the “bathrooms.” They were what our British cousins bluntly and accurately call “toilets.” And urinals. But toilets will suffice.

Second, “Gender” has always troubled me when it refers to sex. We are so afraid of calling a spade a pointed shovel that we can’t even use the word “sex” when referring to whether one is male or female (Yet our president-elect can say by what he can grab women with immunity.) I’d prefer womb-challenged or testicle bereft, but with so many surgeries available for so many reasons, I am surprised we can still say female, which comes with a “male” in it. (I’ll wait while you make your filthy remarks. How many levels can you attain?)

All ready? Maybe we should use ‘hes” and “shes;” we gave up elegance when we decided that mankind was a sexist (genderist?) term. (Remember the “personholes” in the streets of Rhode Island?)

Never mind, I just realized that “she” has a “he” in it.

Agan, my train of thought has been derailed.

Wait! Train…derailed…Tracks! We were looking for Tracks. (And may I ADD that I think Moosetracks ice cream is amazing?)

So, to recap: when we learned that one of our underaged teenagers was hanging at a DC club on Friday nights through the wee hours of Saturday, his mum and I decided that responsible parents would check out what kind of a place it is, so we went to a transvestite bar because A) I am perpetually lost (direction, not soul) and B) because his mum had to…um …powder her nose….like a racehorse. So we had a few drinks, hit a unisex loo or two, watched some skinny guys dance naked (well, they did have their socks on) and enjoyed a neck/shoulder massage from a lovely young man…who was also naked….except for his socks. All for the sake of being responsible parents.

Let’s just take a moment to digest that.

Deep breath…and….

We got better directions and decided to try again. Now, this was the early 90s and we were not in the habit of getting directions via GPS or even Mapquest. These were primitive days when maps were paper, folded in exactly the perfect pattern to make grown men weep in trying to reproduce it. Now the AAA had Triptiks, amazing little flip books with turn-by-turn directions, but, after all, our son was routinely going to the place on Friday nights, so this should not require a pith helmet and safari guide. The place was 6-7 miles from our house. What idiot could not find it?

(Hellooo.)

It took some doing, but after getting directions from our other teenager (I began to suspect that Chad’s directions might have been intentionally off the mark) we made our way there. As a guide and fun-loving addition, we invited a friend—a military mortician–to come along to spice up the evening.

Well, guess who turned out to have a little problem with homosexuality? Clare and I had not given any thought to the issue; as aging hippies, like Marines, once in never out. Semper high!

Where was I? (Maybe the short-term memory thing is making more sense?)

Yup, Don was a little homophobic. (Which is like saying a corpse is not the life of the party.) So, why would a homophobic military mortician opt to join us in our quest for the bay we believed to be gay-oriented and our son declared straight as a bee-line?

He likes beer.

Bars have beer.

QED

We found Tracks–another warehouse a short distance–maybe within sight of–Ziegfeld’s. We entered, showed ID, and paid the cover charge. The house was hopping. (Another beer allusion, perhaps? I would have gone with the “joint was jumping,” but I already made one marijuana allusion and who knows whether I will need to update my security clearance?)

When we entered, I could feel Don’s relief at the banner that congratulated the newlyweds. He would be able to swill brew without worrying about keeping his masculine virtue intact.

(When you’re talking ‘rhoids instead of hymen, it kicks the stakes up a notch. Feel the burn, baby.)

We ordered drinks and were debating whether to dance when we noticed a preponderance of men on the dance floor, (Okay, most of them looked and dressed like Freddie Mercury) and they appeared to be having a great time.

No big deal; no proof of anything. Men outnumber women in any number of straight bars. Dancing together is less common, particularly in some of the more rustic bars out west Virginia way, (unless there is banjo music) but, anyway….

The loudspeaker interrupted the music to direct our attention to the doors opening across the dance floor, and it invited us to welcome the happy couple: Darlene and Helen.

I could sense Don’s ‘rhoids clenching. He was as still and erect…that is standing at attention….in a military way. (This is hard. See? Once you start down this path….)

He was tense.

When the applause died down Don got a couple more beers. He wasn’t sharing. Clare took my hand and pulled me onto the dance floor like a cartoon character: now you’re standing here; now you’re somewhere else and there’s nothing left but a feet disappearing off the edge of the frame, with a few lines indicating a rapid exit.

When I caught a look at Don, he was still standing at attention but his eyes had turned into white stationary radar dishes. The only thing moving was his arm, as it mechanically raised to pour beer down his throat.

After a couple of dances, Clare asked Don if he’d like to cut a rug with her. He shook his head rapidly enough that I wasn’t sure whether it was two or three times. It was like a dog shaking off water. In the cartoons it would have made a wacky rattling noise.

But the shaking didn’t last long. Don and I sipped our beers and talked…well, I did most of the talking. Except for the regular motion of his arm as he moved his beer from his side to his mouth, Don was as close to catatonic as I have seen in a club…or museum..or doctor’s office or home for the terminally bewildered. Let us say that he adopted behaviors traditionally modeled by his clients.

Well, I never have seen anyone as motionless as he, even as a young man pressed into him from behind in an effort to squeeze past him. Mirabili dictu, the man levitated! Nothing else moved. He simply seemed to rise into the air, straight up and straight down, arms at his side. Now only his eyes moved, and those bad boys were pinging as if they were in a pinball machine. I might have laughed if I were not so enthralled with the bizarre manifestation of the only case of true homophobia I have seen. Don did not so much manifest animosity toward gays, as fear…terror might be closer to it. And apparently that was limited to the terror that they might engage him.

Even Clare, who rarely allowed my quirks to pass without comment only stared, snarky comments tugging at the corners of her slightly smirking lips.

When he regained some color, Don leaned slightly toward me: “Come to the men’s room with me.”

“What?”

“Come with me to the men’s room.”

“You must be the easiest convert ever!”

“What? Don’t be stupid. I’ve gotta take a leak and I want you to watch my back.” (I think he meant it literally.)

And so it was that I found myself in the men’s room at a gay club protecting a military mortician from sneak attack by sex-starved gay men. It was not my place to mention that he was about a (generously) three in a club full of 8-10s and no one had seemed to so much as glance in his (or my) direction.

But, one thing remained clear: This was not a straight group, and although there was in fact a volleyball court, other questions remained.

We needed to talk with Chad.

The next morning, we were having coffee when Chad joined us, so it must have been closer to noon. We bantered for a while and when he sat next to me, I mentioned that his mother and I had been to Tracks the previous night. I was feeling confused because I knew that his every waking moment seemed to be concentrated on finding girls who find him attractive, which wasn’t hard because in addition to being unusually handsome and charming (Okay, I am a little prejudiced but still….) he is extraordinarily persuasive.

I remember a rare disagreement his mother and I had when she wanted me to buy condoms for him. I was not happy. I was jealous of how easy it was for him to find willing partners….No, that’s not what I meant to say: Not only was I opposed on religious and moral grounds (and maybe a little jealous) but also, I said, buying him condoms was a not-very-subtle message that we condoned–encouraged even–his sexual activity.

But this was the early 90s and AIDS loomed large and scary, His mother asked whether I would rather see him dead or dying.

I went to the drug store.

Chad was baffled at my sudden encouragement of activity of which he knew I disapproved, with that distant of someone denied the same. And that was when I was worried about girls, never mind Haitians. (You have to be a certain age.) But he didn’t hesitate to to take the condoms, with a snarky query about whether I would get him for more the next day.

But now we sat around the table and told him that we had been to Tracks and has no doubt that it was a gay crowd. If nothing else, they were having too much fun to be straight.

He stared at me. Apparently mum was off the hook on this one. His eyes did that thing where they go back and forth from one eye to the other, searching for which showed stupidity and which showed madness.

Never one to heed a warning… or take a hint, I plodded on. “I am comfortable that you know your mother and I love you no matter what,” His face gave away nothing; although he managed to look at me as if I were completely out of my mind, “and if there is anything you want to talk about, we are here and always ready to listen.”

“You’re nuts,” he said. “You’re crazy!”  In case we missed his drift the first time. As he rose from the tale he continued” “Tracks isn’t a gay bar and I am not gay.” (Tacitly understood; Not that there’s anything wrong with that…except that it was an era when that seemed to be a death sentence.)

“Well, if you go there again, just notice who else is there and think about it.”

“And so what if it is…and it isn’t. I’m not gay so it doesn’t matter about the others.”

He left the table shaking his head, looking back once or twice just to have a couple more opportunities to give me “the look” teenagers are so good at giving their parents.

The next week, we repeated the pattern. Chad went to Tracks Friday night, and we returned Saturday night to verify our initial findings (minus Don, who remained traumatized at the thought of the men drooling over him…although they had successfully managed to feign indifference to him all evening.)

Chad reported that he and his pals had met quite a few girls the previous night; we found that that was not a likely scenario when we were there.

Clare didn’t seem to care as much about who was around us as that we were going dancing, which was not high on my list of things to do.

So, after another uncomfortable Sunday morning discussion that left Chad annoyed with us (especially me), while our older boy seemed to find the situation tremendously amusing, I decided to take it to the people.

I had one senior class with quite a few of Chad’s pals in it, so at the beginning of class the next day, I asked whether anyone knew of a club called Tracks.

Peas and carrots, lots of nods.

What kind of place is it?

“It’s a lot of fun,” volunteered his handsome and popular friend from South America. “Some nights it’s gay, Thursdays and Saturdays, I think. The other nights it’s straight…and there’s a volleyball court…it’s a great place to meet girls.”

Smirk.

And so it was that we learned that everything is not always what it seems to be. Chad manifested his continuing contempt with the odd haughty glance from time to time.

And Clare pouted because I wouldn’t be taking her dancing any more.