Prologue

Anthony was there. He’d decided to move back to the City so he could be close to the best doctors for his long-term health.The people in the meeting looked expectantly at me. Some, like Anthony and my girlfriend, Trish, were smiling in an encouraging way. I paused and inhaled to calm myself. The point was to tell the truth; it didn’t have to be anything fancy or profound, just honest.

I said, “My name is Max, and I’m an alcoholic and an addict.”

The chorus of “Hello, Max” came back and that itself was reassuring. There was so much that was repetitive about AA, but it was a comfort to me now though it didn’t used to be.

“My sobriety date is August 3, 1984. If you’re new and you don’t hear anything that helps you, keep coming back. If I only say one thing, that helps one person, then I’ve done my service.

“I’m going to follow the format: what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.”

 

 

 

Part I: What It Was Like

 

Chapter One

I looked through the tiny airplane window as we made the approach into San Francisco. The plane swerved so far out over the water, I thought we were going to land on the San Francisco Bay. As we approached, in the blackness, the lights of the suburbs looked like velvet with thousands of jewels scattered over it.

Chris crowded close to peer over my shoulder. He’d generously given me the window seat but now was as excited as I was to arrive at our destination.

“Look at that,” he said and pointed at a freeway. His breath, smelling faintly of the orange juice in the screwdrivers he’d consumed, brushed my ear.

“Yeah, remember we had those back in Ohio?” I was irritable because I was tired and the drinks I’d consumed earlier had worn off and I didn’t want to spend my limited supply of money on more airplane cocktails.

“You know what I mean, silly. We’re here, finally,” he said, in an awed tone.

Chris was my best friend and this trip was his idea. It wasn’t a trip, even; we were moving to San Francisco to be free, to be gay, essentially. It was hard to be gay in Ohio. As undergrads, we were completely in the closet. In grad school, things were a little better but not much. We told select people one a time. We were together so much, a lot of people mistook us for a couple, and it was often safer to let them think so. Chris told me we had to move to San Francisco because we could really be gay there. He’d heard about Harvey Milk—a gay guy who’d actually been elected to city government in 1977. I suspected the bigger reason was Chris was as tired of Cleveland as I was and we were both tired of grad school.

“Because,” Chris said, “it means that there were a lot of homos and they voted for him. I read that. So…what do you think?”

I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t especially happy in Cleveland, so it didn’t seem like a terrible idea.

We made our weary way out to the front of the airport, dragging our huge suitcases. We had find out how to get into downtown San Francisco. It was eleven o’clock at night, but the time difference made it feel like one in the morning to my jet-lagged brain and body.

Chris motioned me to follow him over to the bank of telephone booths near the baggage claim. As I watched, he awkwardly thumbed through the unwieldy phone book. It was enormous and chained to the shelf so that it was hard to open.

“Lee said he stayed at a residence hotel somewhere downtown but he didn’t know where.” Chris found the hotel listings and started reading them as I leaned on the shelf next to him, sagging with exhaustion.

“Just pick one, okay?”

“No, I want to find the one Lee stayed at. He said it was right on Polk Street and it was fun.”

“What about Castro Street?” I asked. We were both vague on the geography of San Francisco.

“We’ll find it tomorrow,” Chris said.

I guessed it was okay to let him plan our actions because he had the original idea. He was usually the one with ideas and I was the one who went along. I was also just so tired I didn’t care where we stayed as long as there was a bed. Chris scrutinized the SF Yellow Pages. Among the many things I admired and hated him for was he always looked perfect no matter what condition he was in. We’d started drinking in the airport and continued through most of the five-hour flight, but while I was bleary eyed and sagging, he seemed perfectly fine, his sandy hair slightly disheveled but in a sexy way.

“Aha,” he said in triumph. “Here it is. Do you have some change?”

I dug out what I had. I half listened to his side of the phone call, just enough to know we had a place to sleep.

“It’s right on Larkin Street, one block off Polk. Let’s go ask how to get there.”

In short order, we were on something called an Airporter and on our way down the freeway we’d flown over. It was lot like a Greyhound bus but nicer.

“Just think, Maxy, we’re in San Francisco. TheSan Francisco!” He grabbed my arm and shook me lightly. That was his move when he was super excited. My own excitement was keeping me awake, at least.

We zoomed past water and freeway exits until we could see the skyscrapers of downtown. They looked like those in any city, but as we got closer, we could see a bridge.

“Is that the Golden Gate Bridge?” I asked Chris, but before he could answer, someone seated in front of me leaned into the aisle and looked at me and said, “Nah, that’s the Bay Bridge.” He didn’t say it too disdainfully.

“Really?” Chris asked, curious and friendly when he realized the speaker was a handsome young man. “You live here?”

The other passenger was a guy with sideburns and a mustache and hazel eyes. My gaydar went off and evidently Chris’s had as well. He had the look he gets when he’s interested in someone; his eyes were wide and innocent and his smile chipper and ingenuous.

“I do. Just coming home from a weekend in New York.”

“Oh cool, we just came from Cleveland. Like in Ohio.”

The guy raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, I know where Cleveland is, after all, I changed planes there.” He drilled a stare at Chris. “So your first time in SF?” he asked.

Then it hit me, he was cruising him. I glanced at Chris. He was smiling slightly as though he was thinking of something amusing.

“Yeah. Do you have any suggestions?” Chris asked, seeming clueless.

“Where are you staying?” the man asked, and I had to mentally roll my eyes.

Whenever I watched this dance, and I’d seen it many times, I always felt both envious and slightly irritated. It was so easy for gay boys. They knew instantaneously what or who they wanted and communicated it with what seemed no effort, almost telepathically. For me, when I tried to attract women, it was more complicated and much more fraught with uncertainty. Chris always said he could tell in the first minute, at the first eye contact if a man was interested.

“Well. That’s just the thing. I got an address for this place on Larkin Street.”

“What’s your name? My name is Daniel,” mustache man asked in friendly way.

“Chris. This is Max.” He nodded at me.

“Chris, nice to meet you.” Daniel didn’t even spare me a glance. He kept right on grinning at Chris like a salesman. I knew what he was selling, and Chris was hooked. I had seen thatbefore as well. I resigned myself to being abandoned in short order.

“I was named for the saint, I’m not one.” I’d heard this before too, but he liked to try it on new people to gauge their reactions.

Daniel lowered his eyelids and paused a moment but only said, “Larkin Street? Larkin and what?”

“I don’t know. The Airporter is dropping us on California Street.”

“Oh great,” Dan said brightly. “That’s my stop. I live off Polk on Bush. I can show you where to go. Say, do you want to go get a drink?”

“Absolutely.” Chris beamed. As tired as I was, that sounded good to me, but I wasn’t sure if I was invited.

Dan said, “Let’s get you checked in. What’s the name of the place?”

“The Lattimer,” Chris read from a scrap of paper.

“The Lattimer?” Daniel frowned, and his tone made it sound like the Lattimer was the pit of hell.

“Yep. What’s wrong?” Why Chris had suddenly decided that this guy was our savior, I had no idea. I knew he loved it when boys wanted him. It happened often enough in Cleveland, but maybe it was different and better because we were in Frisco.

“Oh, honey, that place is crawling with hustlers. It’s pickup central.” Dan paused. “Unless that’s what you want.” His eyes narrowed. Well, that confirmed he was gay, as if we needed any more assurance.

“Um, no, I’m not into paying.” Chris’s flirtatious tone hardened.

“I think, then, you might want to try another place. I know a better one.” Daniel had stopped flirting and he actually seemed kind.

“Maybe you could show us?” I said and he finally focused on me for a second.

“Yep, happy to.”

“We don’t know anything about Frisco,” Chris said.

Dan smiled again, but less kindly. “Don’t call it Frisco.”

Before I could ask why, the bus driver called, “California and Polk.”

The three of us exited and retrieved our luggage. The cold air woke me up. I looked around. Though it was after midnight, the street was busy. Lights winked from various places. I zipped my sweatshirt shut and shivered. This was July in California? Shit.

We faced Daniel like he was a tour guide, which I guess in a way he was.

“We’ll walk a couple blocks to the Bedford Arms. I think you’ll like it better than the Lattimer.”

We set off down the street.

“Why not call it Frisco?” Chris asked. Daniel was leading the way and looked back over his shoulder.

“Only tourists call it Frisco. We call it SF or the City.”

“We’re kind of tourists. But we’re moving here,” Chris said, and Daniel perked up even more.

“Excellent. Well, you’re starting in the right place, Polk Gulch. It’s one of the gay neighborhoods, the real one as far as I’m concerned.”

“I thought that was Castro Street?” I found his statement confusing.

“Oh yeah—they like to think so, but it all really started here.”

Chris and I glanced at one another, confused. Who did he mean, “they”? I thought we were “we.”

Daniel led us to the entrance of a brick building that might have been elegant at one time but now seemed a little seedy.

“Here we are.”

As Daniel waited in the lobby, seated on the tattered leather couch smoking a cigarette, we checked into a room that turned out be basically okay—nothing special. Two single beds and a bathroom.

When we came down in the elevator, his face clouded a bit. I don’t think he was expecting Chris to have me in tow. Well, I’d go along for a drink, but then I would leave them to their own devices. I knew what the score was, so to speak. I was too tired to go looking for company of my own. The thought crossed my mind but from my brief view of the pedestrians on the street, I didn’t think I’d find any.

We headed up the street, and Daniel and Chris walked ahead, their heads together, chattering. I lagged behind to give them space. Two really young guys flew past us, shrieking. Yeah, I guess this was a gay neighborhood, since there were actual screaming queens. That made me smile. I’d have to tell Chris later to make him laugh.

“Here we are,” he said, and we stood in front of a bar named Suzy Q, but something told me it wasn’t a dyke bar. My search for those places would have to come later. Daniel and Chris hadn’t stopped talking since we’d left the hotel. At this point what I wanted was a drink. The walk in the cold night air had rendered me fully awake.

We slid onto barstools. It was Sunday night and the place was sort of full—all men, of course. I sighed.

“Whaddya have?” Daniel asked. He’d apparently decided I was okay, if mostly irrelevant.

“She likes brandy or beer.” Chris answered for me, but he knew, so I didn’t care. Daniel looked from Chris to me.

“Right, you’re going to have to give me a little background here.” He thought we were together—nothing unusual. “So? Which is it, both or which one?”

“Brandy,” I said, hoping I could get a buzz faster.

We carried our drinks to a table. The place was a little drab looking, but that didn’t concern me. Wow, my first San Francisco gay bar. I guess this was somewhat momentous. I didn’t mind, I’d hung out in gay bars in Cleveland that were mostly men but somewhat mixed. We only had one dyke bar and it was a drag, not the fun kind. I mostly spent time in discos where the clientele was mixed, men and women. I was hoping and expecting San Francisco would have more lesbian bars, but I would have to find them. I’d need a female version of Daniel.

“So, tell me about you two.” Daniel aimed this question at Chris, who glanced at me fondly. Even when he was about to embark on seduction, he still cared.

“We went to college together. Max is my best friend.”

I took a sip of brandy and gave Daniel a little smirk. “And vice versa.”

“Ah, yeah. I thought you were a couple.” He seemed relieved. Yeah, Danny boy, you’ll get into Chris’s jeans, no problemo.

“We get that a lot,” Chris said nonchalantly. He’d ordered a rum and Coke, his favorite. He always claimed the caffeine in the Coke helped him stay awake.

“What’s Max short for?”

“Maxine.”

“Oh honey. That’s gotta be a dyke name.”

“Um, yeah. So?” I said. That was obvious.

He put his hands up in a defensive way. “Whoa. Nothing to me. I’m just trying to keep things straight, so to speak.”

He thought he was witty. I didn’t like his attitude with me, but it was familiar. Gay guys could be dicks. Not Chris, but he was an exception.

Daniel turned his focus back to Chris and beamed, his teeth all bared. If he had fangs, he would have made a great vampire. He was ready to suck something, that’s for sure. Chris was sitting back, his eyes a little droopy, but that wasn’t because he was sleepy. I decided then and there to finish my drink and split.

I listened as the two boys bantered and flirted. I was okay with it, I just sat, smoked, and sipped my drink and soaked in the gay bar gestalt. I didn’t much mind that there were no women, I was safe at least. I was in San Francisco, at last. The women were around somewhere and I’d find them.

“Hey, I’m going back to the Bedford,” I said, interrupting their flow.

“You okay?” Chris asked as Daniel just stared.

“Oh, sure, I’m fine. I’ll see you later.” I patted his shoulder and said, “Thanks for the drink,” to Daniel. He acknowledged me with the briefest possible nod, then turned back to Chris.

I was more alert after the drink, but when it wore off I would be sleepy. I spotted a marquee on the corner about two blocks from the hotel. It said Sukkers Liquors. It was amazing that something other than bars was open. I went inside.

A dark-haired, sallow-skinned man stood behind a counter, and he nodded at me indifferently, but I was struck by the fact that behind him were rows of shelves filled with nothing but booze, many in small bottles.

I stood in front of him as I scanned the alcohol display. What did you know, you didn’t have to go to a state store to buy liquor. What a concept.

I spotted a pint bottle of brandy. That might come in handy. I giggled and the counterman squinted at me.

“I’ll take the Christian Brothers pint,” I said.

He rang it up and put it in a paper bag. I thanked him and took my little treasure back to the Bedford.

Inside the room, I took off my shoes and flopped on the bed, which proved to be somewhat hard. I considered having another drink but dismissed it. I really wanted to go to sleep and Chris wouldn’t be back for a while, if he came back at all.

I undressed and thought about brushing my teeth but didn’t feel like it and just got in bed and turned out the light that was on the table between the beds.

And I was wide awake. I suppose it was the excitement of finally arriving, and I thought about the events leading up to us making the decision to finally do it.

Both Chris and I had reasons to leave Cleveland. He claimed there were no more interesting men left for him to sleep with. I thought that was an exaggeration but not by much. He was a slut, that was for sure. I had my own reasons for wanting to leave Cleveland, not having to do with having no one left to sleep with. It was more like my reputation was so bad, no one would sleep withme.That was one of the many differences between dykes and faggots when it came to sex. You could do whatever and with whoever you wanted and wanted you and it was fine if you were gay, but not if you were a lesbian. Cleveland’s dyke community was tiny, incestuous, and terminally gossipy and censorious. I was sick of it, really. They could go jump in Lake Erie as far as I was concerned. The kicker was everyone claimed to be feminists, that they were liberated, but it wasn’t true. They all just wanted to get married or get married at least until someone better appeared. I always said, “Women are like buses, another one will be along in a minute.” San Francisco offered a host of new possibilities, and I fell asleep thinking of them.

 

v

 

I woke up as the door opened and Chris stumbled into the room. He barked his shin on my bed frame and muttered, “Shit.” I went back to sleep, though. I didn’t feel like talking.

A few hours later, I woke up and knew it was for real. I was still on East Coast time. It was too early to disturb him—he was likely drunk when he returned last night and wouldn’t appreciate it. He was usually good-natured, but not always.

I pulled on my clothes from the day before and went downstairs. They had a coffeepot in the lobby and I grabbed a cup and put one of those little creamers in it. It still tasted awful. No matter, when Chris was awake, we could go out to breakfast.

I looked out the front door and it looked like it was going to rain, cloudy and gray. This pissed me off because I didn’t want to be a tourist in the rain. I sat down at a scarred wooden table. Since it was only eight thirty, no one was around. No matter how late I went to sleep or how much I drank, I alwayswoke up early. It was my curse.

There were pieces of a newspaper scattered on the table and I picked up one with a big ad on it. Macy’s, it said, but to the left was a little vertical swatch of writing. At the top it said “Herb Caen.” Over his name was a little picture of what I thought might be the San Francisco skyline, but it looked weird. I scanned down the print. It was short phrases separated by three dots. It was all gibberish to me but seemed to be about people and places in SF. I suppose I would someday understand the references. The other section was the sports news, and I had no interest in that.

I looked around and could find nothing else to read. I ought to have brought my book downstairs. I didn’t want to leave without Chris. It wasn’t that I was scared of being by myself; he would be mad if I left him behind. All of San Francisco was waiting out there for us, and I was ready to see it.

We had given ourselves a week to be just tourists before we’d have to find jobs and a place to live, in that order. One of Chris’s Cleveland flings had been a guy from Berkeley visiting his folks in Cleveland and had given Chris the name of the biotech company he worked for in San Francisco and encouraged him to come out west and apply. That was Chris’s place to start, and he promised if he was hired, he’d try to get me a job. Until then it was playtime, and I wanted to get started.

Chris and I never argued about much of anything. In the small college we attended, we were the only two gay people we knew, so we stuck together. We met our freshman year when I started seeing his roommate. I was in my straight phase. Chris had a couple girlfriends, but he was just going through the motions, like me. He decided he was Chris instead of Christopher and took a couple of theater courses where he met his first boyfriend, if you could call him that. Their relationship consisted of furtive sexual encounters behind the softball field—a real hassle when the weather turned wintry, and they soon broke up. Chris was terrified of being found out anyhow. I was the only one as far as I could see who knew about him. On the other hand, my gayness was largely theoretical in college.

While we were in grad school, we were roommates in Cleveland. There was where we both found out for real about being homo. He was the one person I could depend on, and he never let me down. We never let any of our lovers come between us either. We both knew when the lovers eventually left, we would still be there.

I went out the front door and looked up and down the street. It was Monday morning and there were a few folks about. I scrutinized them and some looked gay, some did not. The street didn’t seem that different from any commercial district unless you took a good look at the passersby. I decided to scout out a breakfast place. I found a few—helpfully, there were menus in the windows.

I managed to kill an hour and decided to go back to our room and see if he was up. The shower was running when I walked in, a good sign.

As I waited, I picked up the book, one I had in fact borrowed from Chris, Dancer from the Dance.It was currently his bible. He wanted to find a Malone. If he could have convinced me, we would have gone to New York, but New York seemed daunting. We figured SF was just as good as far as being gay went but with better weather, or so we heard, but I hadn’t yet seen evidence of it.

I’d read about being gay in New York, and Andrew Holleran made it sound pretty great if you were a guy. Why was it so much easier and more fun for them? I hoped San Francisco’s dykes were a little looser than Cleveland’s. Well, maybe I hoped they were a lot looser.

Chris walked out of the bathroom in a towel, drying his hair.

“You better have left me a dry towel, man,” I said.

He looked at the towel in his hands.

“Oh,” he said sheepishly. “I forgot. Here, use this one.” And he handed it to me. It was only a little damp. I put it over a windowsill, hoping the chilly breeze would dry it some.

“How was Daniel?”

Chris sat on the bed and lit a cigarette. I did too. We usually took time to talk over the night before as soon as we could the next day.

“Well, the sex was great and we went at it for a while, but then he kicked me out and said he had to get up early in the morning. He works downtown.”

I was confused. “Aren’t we in downtown?”

Chris took a drag off his cigarette and said, “Nope, he said he works in the Financial District, that’s over there.” He gestured vaguely out the window.

“So he kicked you out, that’s cold,” I said, secretly happy he was with me. “Did he give you his phone number?”

“Yeah, so what? And no. ‘Just once’ is his philosophy.”

“Huh, no big loss.” I wasn’t a fan of Daniel anyhow. I thought he was a jerk. I hoped he wasn’t a typical of San Francisco fags.

“Nope, there’s a whole city full of men out there.”

 

v

 

After we found a better map in a bookstore cleverly called Books, Ink, we went to breakfast and plotted our strategy.

“First we need to go to Castro Street,” Chris said with his usual finality.

When it came to logistics, I let him make the decisions. It was just easier that way and he was a great planner anyhow. He knew how to go to the Cleveland library and find out stuff about San Francisco. He’d also talked to Cleveland gay guys who had visited and then came back and reported, their eyes shining about how wonderful it was. Just because Milk got shot, one of them said, that didn’t really make a difference. Gays were free and left alone to do what they wanted, openly and without hassle. To me, politics was boring anyhow whether the politician was gay or not.

We walked down Polk Street past a giant marquee sign that read “Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre Girls Live.” Even in the so-called gay district, there was a huge straight porn place. Oh well, it was just San Francisco, I guess. We passed by a huge domed building that must have been some government thing and made it to Market Street. We turned the map around to get our directions.

“That way.” I pointed and Chris frowned at me. He had a lousy sense of direction and didn’t trust mine.

“See?” I put my finger on the map on Market Street and slid it up to Castro Street and then I pointed to the open area called Twin Peaks.

“It’s right there,” I said.

“Oh.”

We found the subway stop, and in a short time we surfaced at the corner of Market and Castro Streets. I was beyond excited. We were in the Emerald City, just like Dorothy. We stood on the corner and looked down Castro Street. Then we hugged and Chris whispered, “We’re here, at last.” And as we stood there rubbernecking just like typical tourists, the sun came out and lit up our new city and made it glow.

 

Chapter Two

“Tell me again why we’re doing this?” I asked Chris.

I was grouchy because we were climbing an enormous hill and jet lag was pummeling me along with what had started as a mild hangover but was morphing into something worse because of the time change. The breakfast that had been tasty hours before was now a heavy rock in my stomach.

“We’re going up here to Noe Valley because Daniel told me about it and said we should see it.”

“Why?” We could have taken a bus on Castro Street but there wasn’t one coming and Chris could be impatient, hence we hiked up the mountain. I wondered if either of us had really understood just how hilly San Francisco was. Also, my smoky lungs were not used to this. That added to my misery along with my mild hangover and jet lag. Chris was unconcerned and unaffected, which galled me.

We made it to the summit at last, and Castro Street took a precipitous dip. All I could see were more hills. I hoped this was as far as we were going because I needed a nap before we went out that night.

The street signs advised us we were at Twenty-Fourth and Castro.

“So why did Daniel think we should come up here?” I hated it when Chris ignored me the first time and made me repeat myself.

“Max, my dear.” He took my shoulders and turned me around to face him. “Have a little patience.”

“Yeah,” I said, grumpily. He should talk. I looked around and thought it was after all a pretty neighborhood, lots of nice little stores. Then I started looking at the passersby as we continued to walk.

There were couples: some men and some women. You’d never see this in Cleveland. You could just tellthey were couples. They weren’t making out, but they put their heads close together as they looked into store windows as they strolled down the street. We’d passed gay men holding hands on Castro Street, but this was different. I’d never seen anything like this. I had only experienced gay people being obvious in bars or discos or maybe some party. I was blown away. This was an entire city that homos felt at home in. I told Chris, and he laughed at my little quip.

“Yeah. That’s one of the things Daniel told me last night. He said it wasn’t just Castro or Polk Street. The way he put it was we’re citizens like anyone else. Harvey Milk made that obvious. He wasn’t just the gay supervisor, he supported unions, and his most famous law was the pooper scooper law. It’s illegal for people to not pick up dog poop. Imagine that.”

“I’m starting to understand better,” I said. “Hey, can we go back to Castro Street?”

“Yep, I want a drink.” Me too.

We walked back to Twenty-Fourth and Castro, and thank goodness we caught a bus over the hill. It was as though we were on a roller coaster. The bus crested the submit then plunged down abruptly. Since I was seated, I was in the proper frame of mind to appreciate the scene.

We arrived at the corner of Eighteenth Street in front of a bank called Hibernia. The bank was set back from the street and had a wall beside it along a concrete planter where a bunch of guys sat just hanging out. As we got off the bus, I noticed many of them gave Chris the once-over as we left the bus and walked past them. I started to laugh and tugged his arm to pull him across the street as he gazed over his shoulder at the boys cruising him.

“Come on, stud. Let’s go get a drink.” The place I wanted to go was right at the corner and had huge picture windows. It was called the Elephant Walk.

We sat at the bar and ordered drinks, a wine cooler for him and a beer for me.

The bartender brought our drinks over, and since it was not too crowded though busier than I thought it would be, he stopped to talk.

“So, where you from?”

“How do you know we’re not from here?” Chris asked, archly. He just fell right into flirt mode, and if the last twelve hours was any indication, he might have to keep his switch permanently on. There were simply gay men everywhere, most of them young and good looking. I was happy for him, but I really needed to know where the girls were.

The bartender gave us a knowing look as he polished a glass.

“Your jeans,” he said, causing us both to involuntarily look down, then at one another.

“What about our jeans?” Chris asked, his tone somewhere between plaintive and challenging.

“They look to me like Wranglers. No one here wears anything but Levi’s. Local brand. Also you, just look like tourists—like a heterosexual couple, a mismatched one.”

“We’re not a couple.” This time, I wasn’t amused. We couldn’t be mistaken for a couple in a gay area.

“No, I just said you lookedlike one. I know you’re not.”

“He’s gay and so am I.”

“Righto. I’m hip.”

“So, our jeans aren’t right. What else do we need to know?”

“The list is far too long. What kind of bars do you like?” He addressed this question to Chris. “Twinks? Clones? Drag? Leather? Latin? Hustlers? Black dudes? Country western?”

“Um, just good-looking guys.”

I asked, “What are clones?”

The bartender snorted and said, “They’re everywhere, haven’t you noticed? And clones are Castro clones. Clean cut, well built, neat hair, macho. No queens.”

“Oh, I see,” Chris said, and he sounded a bit intimidated. He was always self-confident when we were out in Cleveland, but Cleveland was clearly different from San Francisco. Which we knew already, but it seemed much more complicated.

“What about women?” I asked the bartender, and he actually smiled at me in a genuine fashion.

“Maud’s, Peg’s, Amelia’s, Scott’s.”

That list left me a little breathless, but I recovered enough to ask, “Where?”

“Not sure. I think Amelia’s is in the Mission, Maud’s is in the Haight. I don’t know the addresses, sorry. Check at the Women’s Building if you want to know more.”

“Where’s that?” A whole building? Full of women? What?

“A few blocks away down Eighteenth Street.”

I wanted to go there right away, but that clashed with my idea of taking a disco nap before we went out that night.

“I want a regular gay bar. Like this one,” Chris said, turning the bartender’s focus back to him.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place.”

I wanted to say, “What about me?” but I kept silent. I’d go out with Chris first, then figure out the dyke bar scene.

“When’s the best time to come?”

“On a weeknight—in about three hours. We catch the commuter crowd on the way home. Happy hour.”

Oh yeah, weekday. I patted Chris’s arm and said, “Let’s go.”

“Hey, thanks for the info,” Chris said to the bartender, leaving him a tip. The bartender raised his drink in a salute as we walked out the door.

“Can we head back to the room for a little bit?”

“You go ahead, I’ll be back later.”

I started to say something but thought better of it. We hugged by the stairs down to the subway, or Muni Metro, as it was apparently called, according to the sign.

I struggled not to feel abandoned and reminded myself that we weren’t attached at the hip and Chris was just excited to be in San Francisco, as was I. I’d feel better when I had taken a nap.

 

v

 

I stopped in the hotel lobby at the pay phone and clumsily looked up addresses for the names of bars I could remember—Peg’s and Maud’s—and scribbled them down on scratch paper. I needed a little notebook or something so I wouldn’t forget things. After looking up the streets on our map, I was reasonably certain I could find them. It helped that the map also showed bus lines.

I fell asleep and woke up to Chris shaking me and saying excitedly, “Get up, Max, we have to get ready to go out. I know where we’re going.”

I rubbed my eyes and asked, “Where?” Probably not to Maud’s or Peg’s.

He was pacing around the room smoking a cigarette, and he seemed oddly on edge.

“I-Beam. Andy told me it was the best dancing in the City every night of the week, the Stud was better on weekends. Oh, and it’s mixed, so you won’t be uncomfortable, andthe dyke bar is just around the corner.”

“Which one? And who’s Andy?”

“I think he said Maud’s, and Andy’s just someone I met. He’s much nicer than Daniel. We’re going to meet at the I-Beam. He gave me some coke.”

“Did you have sex with him?”

Chris stood in the bathroom fussing with his hair. “Yes, not that it’s any of your business. Fabulous sex, to be precise. I need a haircut and I need to grow a mustache and we both need to go jeans shopping.”

“Why do you need to grow a mustache?”

“All the hottest guys wear ’staches, and you remember what the bartender told us about our jeans. We need Levi’s, Andy told me we can buy them anywhere. They’re made here in San Francisco.”

“Yeah, I was there when the bartender told us that, remember? Let me get ready.”

“Right, sure.” He lit another cigarette and paced some more while he waited for me.

We were back down on Market Street in short order, walking this time to the corner of Haight Street to catch a bus. It was around eight p.m. and Andy had helpfully told Chris that was a good time to show up at the I-Beam on weeknights. Work the next day and all. I wondered how in the hell people could work after drinking and dancing. I knew I couldn’t. What was the secret?

We found a little sandwich shop on Cole Street so we could eat something and were soon in front of the black-fronted corner door of the I-Beam. A guy came strolling over to us, and he and Chris exchanged a hug and a kiss so long I thought they might run out of air, after which we made introductions. In San Francisco, it was apparently a piece of cake to meet people. Whenever and wherever, at least for Chris.

We went inside and were nearly knocked over by a wall of sound. A bouncer at the door collected a cover charge. I thought briefly of money but figured what the hell since this was part of touring SF. Oddly, there were framed pictures of galaxies and planets right inside the entrance.

The main room had a stage at one end and the highest ceilings I’d ever seen in any disco, and it was as dark as a dungeon except for the disco balls. This place made the discos we used to frequent in Cleveland look a little like someone’s overdecorated living room. It was also terrifically crowded for just a Monday night. I wandered if anyonein San Francisco worked or what the story was. It seemed like the party was permanently on. Like being able to buy booze at a corner store nearly any hour of the day or day of the week, you could go dancing on a Monday night. There were gay people everywhere in the City. I felt like I had come home.

Without a word, Chris and Andy hit the dance floor. Chris was a reasonably good dancer, but Andy was exceptional—fluid and inventive. No one could dance like gay men, I’d learned that a long time ago. It was something that went right along with their gayness, I suppose. The place was an oven, and I took off my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist and looked around. The dancers were mixed, and there were even heteros—I hadn’t expected that—but there was only a scattering of female couples. I positioned myself where I could be seen and waited. I mostly liked to be asked even though I was butch. I’d gotten teased a lot about that in Cleveland, but I didn’t care. I just hated rejection.

A couple of tunes later, Andy and Chris found me and said, “You wanna drink?” Boy, did I ever. I was hoping Chris would buy one for me.

“You get one free drink with your cover,” Andy yelled into my ear.

“Oh boy.” Well, that was good news anyhow.

I took the opportunity to go back to my wall-propping as I sipped my drink. Then, what do you know, a girl in leather pants walked over to me, slowly, smiling.

I’m not conceited about my looks but at the same time I didn’t think I was a dog or anything. My best feature was my hair, thick and dark brown and wavy. I wore it just over my ears in kind of free-waving cloud, not long but not short. Also, I thought I had good legs even if they were currently encased in the incorrect and probably ill-fitting jeans.

“Hey,” she said, “you like to dance?” Interesting way of putting it. I supposed the right answer was yes. I nodded and followed her out to the dance floor. She was taller than me by at least five inches, which I liked, and slender, which was fine, but at this point I was merely pleased have a woman spot me and ask me to dance. The current tune was Blondie’s “Rapture.”

She was good, loose and relaxed but not overtly sexual. I had to have a few more drinks in me to want to go forward with seduction.

“I’ve never seen you here before.” She leaned close to my ear.

“I just got here. To San Francisco, I mean. I’m Max.”

“Hi, Max, I’m Lily.”

“Hi, Lily.” That was a nice name. I’d gladly spend some time with Lily.

“So, you’re new?” I’d just said that, but it was hard to make conversation amidst all the noise, so I didn’t mind.

“Yep.” The song flowed into a new tune, but I wanted to talk to Lily rather than dance. I motioned with my head and walked off the dance floor toward the room in front where the pool tables and pinball machines were. To my pleasure, she followed me.

“Sorry,” I said, “I was hoping to have a little conversation, and it was impossible.”

Lily leaned against a wall languidly and tilted her head. “Talking’s fine. So where you from, Max?”

“Cleveland. Ohio.”

“Oh, the Midwest.” She made it sound like Siberia.

“Uh-huh. We just got here yesterday.”

“We?”

“Me and my friend Chris. He’s dancing.”

She had a puzzled expression.

“He’s gay. We’re not together.” It seemed like I was going to have to have this talk over and over. And over, with everyone we met.

Lily looked at me for a moment. “Sounds good. Say, you wanna get out of here?” What? Was she coming on to me already? San Francisco might be even better than I thought, but most of me went into a nervous frenzy. I wasn’t ready. I’d only really been outout for about a year and a half. I’d had my flings in Cleveland, but honestly, as much as I wanted to be here, San Francisco and what I assumed were its ultrasophisticated lesbians intimidated me. I wanted to meet people, but I also wanted to control the speed and direction of every encounter. I wanted to get laid, but I also wanted it to happen on my terms. Lily seemed nice, but who knew?

“And go where?” I asked in what I hoped was a blasé tone.

“Over to Maud’s. It’s just a few blocks away.”

Aha, now we were talking.

“Sure. Let me just tell my friend.”

I found Chris and told him what I was doing.

“See you later,” he said to me, his eyes focused on Andy, who watched us talk with disinterest.

It was nice to get out of the nearly pitch-black, noisy, overheated I-Beam and into the windswept street. Lily had retrieved a nylon jacket from somewhere and we set off up Cole Street. I matched my stride to hers and she half turned and grinned at me.

“I’m sure glad I ran into you, Max from Cleveland. Not that many gals on Monday nights.”

“I noticed. I went to the I-Beam because Chris wanted to go.”

“He’s your friend?”

“Yup, he’s my best friend.”

“I see. Well, that’s nice.” Her tone was neutral, but I got the sense she thought it was odd that my best friend was a guy.

“Are the bars in this town always open?” I asked to change the subject.

“Almost always. They have to close between two and six—city law, they can’t sell liquor.”

“But other than that?”

“Open.” This was another bit of fascinating news. Bars were open nearly twenty-four hours a day. That was really something, although I didn’t see myself needing an open bar at six in the morning.

In a few minutes, we arrived at a windowless wooden-fronted business. The sign was a sixties-esque graphic reading “Maud’s” in red so it stood out. In front, there were a couple of motorcycles parked.

“Good thing, no cover on Monday night,” Lily said cheerfully. I tingled all over and my mouth went dry. I was about to visit my first San Francisco lesbian bar.

Inside, there was a lovely old-fashioned Formica-topped mahogany bar. Neon beer signs ringed the wall—nothing too different from most bars. There was a jukebox and a pool table. I’m not sure what I expected, but this was a pleasant, standard-issue sort of place. There was a lot of wood paneling, which made it a tad more aesthetically attractive to my eye. But I wasn’t here to ogle oak paneling, I wanted to meet women. Lily sat down at the bar and I followed suit. The bartender was a tall, nice-looking brunette.

“Hey, Susan. This is Max, she’s new in town. Can we have a couple of Michs?”

“Hi, Lil, hi, Max, nice to meet you.” Susan served up the beers quickly and efficiently. The cold, crisp taste of beer was actually good after the cloying mixed drink I’d had at the I-Beam. I was never a big fan of cocktails anyhow, and if Lily was buying, beer was just fine.

“Tell us about yourself, Max. Are you visiting? Where you from?”

“I’m moving here, from Cleveland.” On a slow night, you got more attention from the bartender, which in this case, I didn’t mind at all. I was grateful for Lily’s friendliness, but I didn’t get any kind of sex hit from her. Susan the bartender, on the other hand, grinned at me knowingly. Of course, it could just be professional. Bartenders are huge flirts, they have to be, the better to sell drinks and get tips.

The jukebox was thankfully turned down enough so we could easily talk without having to yell. I told Lily and Susan about grad school and Cleveland’s dyke community.

“We’ve got cliques here too,” Lily said. “I guess that always happens. You’ll find your group. That is, if you stick around. This isn’t the only bar in town.”

“Oh, yeah. I heard there were a couple more. Peg’s?”

“Them.” Lily tossed her head and rolled her eyes. “They’re annoying. Tight asses. Now for dancing, we go to Amelia’s down on Valencia.” She looked meaningfully at Susan, who grinned.

“Maud’s and Amelia’s are both owned by the same woman. Rikki Streicher.”

“Holy shit. A woman owns two bars.” This was huge news to me. I’d never heard of that.

“Yeah,” Susan said. “They’re the two best dyke bars in SF.”

“Right on,” Lily said, and they high-fived across the bar as I looked on laughing.

Over to my right came the sound of a gravelly voice.

“Yeah, they’re okay if you like pretty girls sipping on umbrella drinks. If you want to really drink with some real dykes, you gotta go to Scott’s.”

“Okay, Spike, that’s your opinion,” Susan said with an undercurrent of amusement in her voice like she’d heard this before, probably many times.

“Hi, my name is Max.” I stuck out my hand. The Monday night lights in Maud’s weren’t turned way down, so I could get a good look at Spike. She was the shape of a fireplug—it went with her hoarse voice. I’d guess she was in her forties. She was a classic bar dyke, probably an alcoholic.

“Yeah, I heard.” She sounded like she was from the Bronx and not the West Coast. “So you need somebody to show you around? Someone who knows her what she’s doing?”

“Um, no, I don’t think so.”

Spike had delivered this offer with a salacious wink. It was all I could do not to visibly shudder. She wasn’t my type. I’m a sort of soft butch, boyish and clean cut, clearly not her type but what did I know? Maybe she didn’t have a type beyond whoever was willing to go with her.

I turned back to Susan and Lily, who were animatedly discussing softball. Well, that was a relief. I guess dykes everywhere were the same—softball players. I’d go to see games but I wouldn’t play. I didn’t like to do anything I wasn’t good at, and I was lousy at softball.

I passed a pleasant hour with the two along with scattershot interruptions from Spike, then said goodbye after asking for directions back downtown. The jet lag was dragging on me again. I thought about going back to the I-Beam to find Chris, but I had a feeling he had other plans for the night. I would have hung around Maud’s to see if I could scare up a little action for the night, but I was too tired.

I shivered on a street corner for a while before finally getting a Haight Street bus down to Market Street, then I walked the rest of the way up Polk Street. My God, summer in San Francisco was fucking cold. The wind blowing down Market practically knocked me over. At least it sobered me up and made me keep moving.

 

v

 

The bed next to mine was empty the next morning. I asked at the desk and found I had a message. Chris had called, at least, and told me to meet him at Castro and Market at elevenish.

When I found him, we took ourselves to brunch at the Norse Cove and got caught up on our adventures.

Chris looked remarkably well for likely having been up most of the night screwing or whatever he did with Andy. Chris and I were up front with each other about everything, including sex, and I knew he was a top and he wouldn’t bottom. So it was real surprise once we’d been served coffee and put our orders in that he emitted a big satisfied sigh and showed me a loopy grin and said, “Well, Maxy, I did it, and it was divine.”

“You did? Why all of a sudden?” I knew he meant anal because we’d talked about it. It sounded painful to me.

He sighed and looked at the ceiling. “I don’t know, being in San Fran, I thought maybe they know what they’re doing. I’ve been thinking about it and I really liked Andy, so I thought what the hell.” It blew me away that Chris had turned into a totally different person in San Francisco.

“And?”

“Oh my God, he was fantastic, he had some kind of super lube and he was very gentle and tender with me. I loved it, loved, loved, loved it.”

“Nice.” I drank my coffee and again was envious of how easy it was for Chris to have sex with somebody. I needed to find the female version of Andy. Someone friendly and cute and willing.

“Are you seeing him again?” I asked, mostly to be polite.

“Yeah, probably. He has to work today. He’s a waiter.”

I took out our map and we planned our tourist stops.

“But first,” Chris said, “we have to go shopping.”

We went to All American Boy, an extremely gay clothing store down the block, and bought new blue jeans. They were 501s with buttons instead of zippers.

I said to Chris, “Must take a little manual dexterity to get these off your trick.”

He was admiring himself in the mirror and without looking at me said, “Just need to get most of the buttons undone.”

“What about your underwear?”

“Oh, I won’t wear any. Andy didn’t have any briefs on. He asked me why I thought they were necessary.”

“Hmm.” I didn’t care for the idea of no underwear, but I wasn’t a guy.

“You look great,” I told him. It was true, he wasn’t overly muscled but he was well built and trim, and he put on a tank top with his new jeans and the All American Boy clerk whistled at him. Chris flicked his eyelashes.

“Let’s go to the Laundromat and wash these so they don’t look so new,” Chris said.

“You’ll want to put them in a dryer on high so they shrink to the right fit,” the clerk added helpfully. I went along, but I sighed because laundry wasn’t what I’d had in mind for my afternoon.

While we waited, we sat in the hard plastic chairs. Even as we talked, I was slightly irked that Chris’s eyes kept darting all over the place. There was apparently no place on Castro Street where men didn’t cruise each other. He would focus on me intermittently when I asked him questions, such as when he was going to apply for a job at California Genetics. I planned to get some shit job temporarily and then hoped he could get me an interview there, at least.

Chris leaned back and drank his soda, his eyes closed.

“I have to get a haircut and I have to grow a mustache. Andy said I ought to go to the gym too. It’s the thing to do.”

“What for?” I had never heard of that. I vaguely knew about Nautilus machines. There were some in the gym at our university. I had heard of bodybuilding because of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“You’re more attractive,” he said, as though that was too obvious to have to be stated.

“Muscles and mustaches. Got it.”

“Don’t forget tight Levi’s.” Chris grinned. “Which we will have soon. What time are these done?” He craned his head around to look at the dryer we were using.

“Soon. Do you think someone might be interested in your personality or your brains?” I asked.

Chris laughed. “Maybe. But first things first. Does he have a big dick? Does he think mine’s good enough?”

Back in Cleveland, Chris’s boyfriends were a lot like him—pleasant and at least had jobs or went to school. They might not have lasted a long time, but they were relationships. Here, the idea of a relationship seemed like a complete afterthought, coming far behind the possibility of sex, whenever or wherever or whoever. I didn’t care that much, I just wanted him to have fun and be happy. That’s all I wanted too. It looked like it might take a little longer for me.

The dryer buzzed at last and we were able to be on our way.

The rest of the week we wore our new jeans everywhere and did our sightseeing. Our newly washed Levi’s were so tight, we struggled to put them on at first, but as the store clerk predicted, they stretched. By the end of the week, I felt like my jeans and me were one. I bought myself a new T-shirt from another Castro store called the Gilded Age. It read, “San Francisco, my favorite city, where the women are strong and the men are pretty.”

The City wasmagical. Everywhere was another hill, another view of the ocean, always something we’d never seen before. I especially loved the MuséeMécanique underneath the Cliff House. It was like a Victorian funhouse. I couldn’t decide if the central occupant, Laffing Sal, scared me or thrilled me. We rode the cable cars up and down the hill to Chinatown and North Beach. I vastly preferred that to walking.

Finally, it was Friday night and time to go out. This time, on Lily’s invitation, I would meet her at Amelia’s.

 

Chapter Three

“Time to go out!” Chris said.

“Time to go out!” I replied.

When it’s Friday or Saturday night, we have a ritual we follow to prepare. We agreed Monday’s visit to the I-Beam and Maud’s was just a rehearsal. It was Friday and time for the big show.

I took a swig out of my bottle of Christian Brothers and handed it to him. He only took a small sip.

“Echh. How can you drink this?” He made a face.

“I like it. That’s how.” It was more fun to drink from a nice brandy snifter, but I didn’t have one handy.

Chris stood in front of the mirror and played with his hair. He’d gotten it cut two days before. Our hotel room had thoughtfully placed the sink and the mirror outside the bathroom so our preparations were more efficient. “Does this look okay or does it look like I just got my ears lowered?”

“It looks fine.” It did, actually. Having the shagginess and the split ends chopped off was a good idea and it also made him look more clean cut, like a college student. The mustache would take some work.

Chris examined his face minutely. He smoothed his nascent mustache. “Uh-oh.” He leaned toward the mirror, pulling his skin tight. “Shit. Fuck. I’m getting a pimple.”

I stood beside him. “Where?”

“Here.”

I could only see a little redness. “You can’t see it. In the darkness, no one will ever know.”

“Yeah, but what about the next day? In the morning?” Chris was paranoid about zits. He wasn’t generally concerned about his looks—at least he hadn’t been until we got to San Francisco. The Elephant Walk bartender’s crack about our jeans really set him off. He’d also gone back the day before to get some different underwear. Something other than generic white briefs. Then the haircut.

I tried to tease him out of this onslaught of worry about his appearance.

“You know you’re handsome. Don’t worry. All the boys will love you.” That was true in Cleveland. Here in SF, though, Chris clearly thought he had to compete at a higher level.

He put on his new jeans and laboriously buttoned them. They were so tight I worried about his circulation. Thanks to his new underwear, his penis was prominently displayed, as was his butt.

“You’ve got the goods,” I told him.

“I do?” Chris turned around to look at his butt in the mirror. “I’m not that well built.”

“Will you stop worrying? Did Andy or Daniel complain?”

“Nope. They didn’t. I wonder how long it will take for my mustache to grow in?”

“Hey, man, what about me?” I wasn’t as worried as Chris, but I was still concerned. After all, this was San Francisco. I was worried about competing too. Maud’s crowd wasn’t too scary or unlike the dykes I hung out with in Cleveland. I didn’t know what to expect at Amelia’s.

“Stand up,” he told me. “Turn around.” I complied. “You have a good ass too.”

My jeans were snug but not skintight. I wouldn’t be able to stand that. I’d elected to wear my new T-shirt since I didn’t like any of the other shirts I’d brought with me. I thought they weren’t fashionable enough, though I had no idea what would count as fashionable for SF lesbians.

Chris added, “I’m not a dyke, but I think we can say you have good breasts.” That I agreed with. I’d gotten compliments. I was happy with them. They were just a tad too big to go braless, but they were nicely shaped. My breasts and my hair were my two best features, I figured.

“Lesbians aren’t as shallow as gay guys,” I said to Chris. “We do want to know someone’s personality.”

“Oh right, like that counts when you’ve picked someone up at the dance club and you’re both a little drunk. Or a lot drunk.” His tone was scornful.

“No, but later on when you get to know someone.”

“Ha, I know you, Max, you don’t stick around long enough to find out if you like someone’s personality. You’re always coming up with a reason why you’re not going to see some girl again.”

“Not always.”

“Yes, always. Every time.”

I was unwilling to concede he was right. Chris knew the customs of lesbian relationships well enough and he surely knew me. I’d complained to him about various women who, when I tried to get rid of them diplomatically, became whiny and bitchy. At least I didn’t do that instant U-Haul thing we all joked about. I didn’t date because it seemed like a waste of time. I don’t know why, but women I found irresistible and exciting when I took them home invariably were much less so in daylight. That was the reason why I needed a new pool of talent. I was done with Cleveland lesbians. They were done with me too. Burned bridges and all.

“I just know it will be different here,” I said.

Chris was back to fussing with his hair and answered me while looking in the mirror. “Yeah, I think we already know it’s different.”

“I’m ready to go. Are you done primping yet?”

He took one last look and said, “Don’t be such a nag. Yeah, I’m ready.” We were meeting Andy on Castro Street or, as he told Chris, “in the Castro” for a drink, and they would go to the Stud and Andy would tell me how to get to Amelia’s. All I knew was it was on Valencia Street and I was meeting Lily there.

This time we went to the Midnight Sun. This was as dark as the I-Beam, but at least they had films projected on the wall.

Andy said, “I call this place the Midnight Scum because of, you know, the clientele.” He smirked. I looked around but they seemed fine to me. In fact, everyone looked alike except for natural variation in body types and hair color. Tall or short, thin or chunky but not too many of the latter. Blond, brunette, redhead. Tank tops, tight Levi’s, and facial hair.

I told Andy my observation.

“Oh, you are talking about the Castro clone.” He said it dismissively, yet that was how he looked too. He had medium brown hair, brown eyes, and a well-trimmed mustache.

“That’s what I want,” Chris said, “I want to be a Castro clone.”

“You’re well on your way, handsome.” Andy kissed him again. I was aware that Chris wasn’t expecting he would go home with Andy necessarily that night.

“Why should I?” he’d asked me rhetorically, “When the possibilities are virtually endless.” I couldn’t argue with that.

Andy gave me directions to Amelia’s, and I went to the bus stop at the corner to wait for the 33 Stanyan bus to take me down Eighteenth Street from the Castro to the Mission. The bar, Andy said, was between Nineteenth and Twentieth Streets. It seemed simple. I looked at my watch. It was about nine thirty, just the right time to go to Amelia’s. I didn’t mind being a little early when I went out. It gave me time to have a couple of drinks and loosen up and sort of just check out the scene and watch everyone arrive.

Ah, the possibilities that came with every time I went out to a disco. It was the delicious unknown. The prospect of love—at least of the temporary variety. The tantalizing question of who it would be. The darkness punctuated by the colored lights, the heartbeat of disco music. What would the night bring? Who would materialize out of the darkness as though she was created by it? I wanted to find out.

I saw the place from the intersection where the bus let me off. This, I had also found, was the same intersection as the Women’s Building. I had visited once. There were a plethora of offerings via posters and notes for groups, for events, for classes. What struck me was the bulletin board where I could look for housing. We were going to have to get going with that search soon. We couldn’t stay at the Bedford Arms forever. It was by the week and was fairly cheap, but still…

But I wasn’t thinking of an apartment at that moment. It was Friday night and I was going out dancing.

There was the usual row of motorcycles parked out front, and in the lights over the door, I could see the women standing around. My heart started to pound and my pulse throbbed. Finally, I arrived. And the women by the door slid discreet looks at me as I went through.

Inside was smaller than I expected and already crowded. The bar was on the right side of the room, the dance floor on the left.

I was waiting for a bartender when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I knew without looking it was Lily.

“Hey, you found it.” She hugged me.

“Oh yeah, Andy, Chris’s friend told me about the bus and all.”

“Well, are you ready to party?” Her grin was lascivious.

“Way past ready. Should we get a drink?”

“Absolutely.” Lily leaned over the bar and yelled, “Margie, over here.” She looked cute with her butt stuck out, but not sleeping-with-cute.

“What do you want?” she asked me.

“Shot of brandy,” I said automatically. “Christian Brothers with water back.”

“Ooh,” Lily murmured. “The girl’s serious.”

We leaned back against the bar with our drinks. I sternly counseled myself to sip slowly. I didn’t want to get too drunk too quickly, and money was never far from my mind. The sweet burn in my throat and the quick rush to my head calmed my nerves. I had to get in the proper frame of mind to be sociable. One more gulp and I was there. Lily looked around the bar, presumably for women she knew. I just looked. The San Francisco lesbians seemed similar to Cleveland dykes, maybe just a bit better looking, or maybe I imagined that. They all had an air of self-confidence, or so it seemed.

I was startled by Lily hugging someone right next to me.

“Annie, this is Max. She just moved here from Cleveland.”

I stuck my hand out and Annie shook it firmly.

“Hiya.”

“What’s going on?” Lily asked Annie.

“Oh, not much. I had a shitty week and I need some amusement.”

“Female variety?”

“What do you think?” Annie was blond and well built. A California girl, I concluded. Hmm. I told myself to be patient. She wasn’t in any case paying any attention to me, which irked me.

“Hey, who are those pictures?” I asked. I was curious but I mostly wanted to make conversation, try to connect.

They both looked around to where I pointed. On the dance floor were giant blown-up black-and-white photos of women I didn’t recognize.

“That one’s Marlene Dietrich, I’m pretty sure,” Annie said.

“Isn’t that one Amelia Earhart?” Lily pointed at the picture of a cute short-haired woman in flying gear standing by an airplane.

“Oh yeah. Right.” Annie laughed as though that was obvious.

Lily said, “I don’t know about the other two.”

I barely even knew about Amelia Earhart and I guessed the other one was probably a movie star, but I didn’t know.

We all fell silent. The music was turned up past where you could talk anyhow. The song playing, Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,”reminded me of last summer and Trina. I think it was playing when we started to dance, and she went home with me that night.

Lily said in my ear, “You want to get high?”

“Yep.” I followed them out to the alley next to the front door. We passed around a joint and finally, Annie turned her attention to me.

“So how do you like San Fran so far?”

“Okay. It’s fucking cold, though.”

They laughed. “Everyone says that. It’s foggy in the summer.”

“No shit. But I have to say it’s okay that it’s not hot. It’s about ninety degrees in Cleveland right now.” I shivered in my T-shirt and wished I’d remembered to bring my sweatshirt out instead of checking it.

“Just drink more,” Lily said, taking a big toke and talking as she tried to exhale slowly.

“Or find a nice warm woman,” Annie said.

“That sounds like a great idea,” I said, grinning, and then gazed around at the other denizens in the alley mainly doing the same thing we were. Some things don’t change no matter what city you’re in.

I went in and got another brandy and lit a cigarette as I continued to watch the dancers. Lily and Annie went off to dance, so I was on my own. I didn’t mind—less chance of anyone thinking I was with either of them. I wanted to appear maximally available.

“Do you want to dance?” a homely short dyke asked me.

What the hell, why not? It’s better to be doing something than just standing there. I remembered that Chris had passed on another piece of advice from Andy. This one concerned cruising. Never say yes to the first guy who comes up to talk to you, only the second or the third.

“Sure.” I swallowed the rest of my drink, stubbed out my cigarette in the ashtray on the shelf that ran the length of the wall, and followed her to the floor. What the hell. She wasn’t one of the chicks I’d been eying, but she’d do for the moment. It was just a dance.

I ditched her with a regretful smile the moment the song ended. I walked over to Lily and Annie, who had been joined by a leather-jacketed, tough-looking dyke. Probably never took that jacket off. Leather wasn’t a big thing in Cleveland. They introduced me to her. Sheila was her name.

My quick size-up said she was okay looking. So far, Annie was the one who struck me. Something about blondes…but it was early yet.

Amelia’s was getting rowdy. I was actually impressed at how crowded it was. Short, ugly girl asked me to dance again but I said no. It was tough when the wrong people asked me. I tried to talk to Sheila but she basically ignored me. Fuck her then. I spotted a couple of other likely prospects. Once I got someone to ask me to dance, I could often take it to the next level. I might not have been the best-looking girl in the club, but I did okay.

I got another drink. I had no idea where Annie and Lily had disappeared to, but I didn’t care. It was nice to make acquaintances, but this was about getting laid. There was someone there and I just had to be patient. I could sense the short girl still looking at me. No way. I should have never danced with her. I had an accommodating side that surfaced at inopportune times, but I still had my standards.

I spotted a handsome semi-butch type in a tank top across the dance floor. She was alone and smoking. Just my type, I thought sardonically. She was actually well put together; I could see muscles. I liked that, though I had none myself. I went over and stood next to her and pretended to watch the dance floor. I caught her eye and said, “Hi.” She looked at me for a couple of seconds too long, then said, “Hey.”

Not very friendly, but I wasn’t deterred.

“This is my first time here. I just moved from Cleveland.” There, I gave you a big opening, what are you going to do with it?

“Oh yeah?” A little bit of interest. I could use this new-girl-in-town thing to my advantage, I hoped.

“Yep.” And I flashed my best “I’m harmless” grin and took a drag from my smoke.

She pulled out a cigarette herself and I lit it for her.

She leaned in and spoke into my ear. “You want to go outside for a few?” I nodded and we threaded our way out the door.

In the lights of the alley, I was able to get a better look at her. She was on the heavier side but not overly so. I liked her features, like I thought, surfer girl—maybe dissipated surfer girl.

“How do you like the City so far?”

“Oh, it’s great. Pretty and all.” Pretty if you didn’t look too close. It was also filthy. When I thought it was going to rain, it was only clouds in the morning. Outside our hotel, the street was covered in greasy drippings, litter and things I couldn’t identify and would rather not know. Then there was the Golden Gate Bridge. The City was a study in contrasts.

“Yeah, it’s a terrific place.” She was as tongue tied as I was, sheesh.

“So where do you live and what do you do?” I asked and added, “Not that I really know the city yet.”

“Oh, I’m an auto parts store manager and I live not far from here.”

My ears pricked up at that. Good, if we were going home, it wouldn’t be a hassle.

“I’m downtown off Polk Street in a residence hotel.”

She blew out a cloud of smoke and looked at me speculatively. “Huh. How’s that?”

“Oh, it’s fine. I’ll look for a place to live soon.” I didn’t want to get into the whole Chris thing while I was trying to get laid.

I took a chance. “You want to dance?”

She grinned then, and it changed her whole face. I liked her more and more.

We threw out our butts and went to find a spot on the packed dance floor. She put her hands on my hips to keep us in time. Here we go.

She actually twirled me and pulled me into her. The touch of her warm, well-padded body jolted me. I began to tingle all over. I liked that she was assertive, even a little rough. All good signs. We went and got more drinks and went back to dancing.

We were glued together, gyrating, and I whispered in her ear, “Want to get out of here?”

“Sure, where to?” she asked and nuzzled my ear a little. I brushed my lips over her jaw.

“How about your place?”

“Eh. Can’t. I’ve got a roommate.”

I was momentarily flummoxed. How we were going to consummate this little flirtation? I liked going to my pickup’s place so I could make a quick getaway in the morning, Avoid too much conversation. I thought fast. Chris would likely be gone all night, so it was probably okay.

“We can go over to my place.”

“Terrific. Let’s go.”

“How about one more drink?” I asked. I was fairly buzzed but I needed just a bit more to be ready for this.

“Okay.” We sipped our drinks and made eyes at one another without trying to talk over the noise of the bar.

The night air was certainly sobering as we navigated the bus, then the Muni Metro and the walk up Polk Street from Market. I guessed it was after twelve, and there were vaguely menacing figures around but my new friend projected a suitably tough air, and I imitated her. We heard one shouted “Hey, dyke” from somewhere and we just walked faster.

Once in the room, I was barely even drunk anymore and nervous plus excited. It was getting to the point of no return, and I was psyched and scared in that gratifying way that anticipation of sex called up in me.

I invited her to sit on the bed.

She looked around suspiciously. “Who else is here?”

“My friend Chris, but he’s not coming back tonight. He’s gay.” As if that explained everything. Maybe it did. I hoped it would soothe whatever doubts she was feeling.

“Have a drink.” I had broken out my brandy bottle and took a good healthy swig.

“No thanks.” She sat next to me playing with my hair and stroking my shoulders as I drank. It felt good. I shivered from arousal and nerves.

I set the pint back on the end table and turned toward her. Her mouth crashed into mine. My lips were already wet from the brandy and hers were just damp. We grappled and slid on the bed. She was a greedy kisser but I didn’t mind, it made me think she’d be equally voracious in other ways. I could only hope she’d let me dominate. Sometimes the greedy types wouldn’t.

We lost our clothes and I was virtually smothered in hot willing female flesh. She suddenly seemed a lot bigger than me. We groped and stroked and grabbed and panted. I finally got her on her back and her legs spread and I dove in. That’s my thing—oral, the fastest way to nirvana. In the dark, submerged in a pussy, that’s where I want to be. I reveled in her scent, pungent and strong. Her strong thighs squeezed my ears but I didn’t care, I was in control and I was going to give this chick the orgasm of her life. She was easy, it turned out, and they weren’t always. It didn’t take hours of licking and sucking to make it happen. She came in a crash and I thought my head would implode.

“Christ,” my partner in crime exclaimed. “Shit. That was something.” She lay on her back panting, and in the light from the street, I saw the wetness on her thighs.

“Amen,” I said, satisfied as I watched her recovery.

“You’re next.” She growled and pushed my shoulder to make me lie down. I giggled to cover up my nerves. This was always the moment of truth for me. My deep dark secret was I couldn’t come with my lovers. I could only reach orgasm by my own hand. It could cause awkward moments, unless the girl of the evening was too drunk to notice. My new friend didn’t seem to be more than pleasantly tipsy.

She was aggressive, though. Faster than I thought possible she was devouring me. I made the right moves and the right noises, but it was no good. I let her go on for a few minutes, then tapped her head.

She looked up. “Are you okay? I don’t think it’s happened yet.”

“I’m good,” I said gently, “Come up here.” She crawled up to the pillow and settled heavily beside me. We fell asleep in a sweaty tangle.

 

v

 

It was the door opening and a muttered curse that woke me up.

It was Chris. “Oops, crap.”

He stumbled around the bed. I opened one eye. I was aware there was someone crammed into my single bed with me. Oh yeah, last night. I was also aware my head hurt and my mouth was dry.

“Sorry,” Chris whispered.

“It’s okay,” I croaked, and my bed partner stirred.

I slid out from under the covers and looked at him in the gray light from the window. “Why are you here?”

“Because, I, um, live here?” His tone was unfriendly.

The body in my bed groaned. I spared her a glance. Oh boy. Time for sleeping beauty to wake up and split. In spite of my fogginess, I had an inspiration: Chris would be my excuse.

“I know that, I just didn’t think you’d be back till later.”

“Obviously.”

“It’s fine but what time is it?”

“It’s six.” What’s-her-name turned over and the bed shook. What washer name? I’d forgotten, not the first time that had happened to me.

“Six? Why are you back so early?”

He sighed, kicked off his sneakers, and leaned back on his pillow.

“Andy’s lover came home unexpectedly, and he was not pleased to see me.” This was a sort of mini chain reaction. It was even sort of funny.

“His lover?” This was news.

“So, I got booted and here I am. Who’s this? Are you going to introduce me?”

I mouthed, “I don’t know.” And Chris snickered.

I shook my head to shush him.

“Hey you.” I shook the woman’s shoulder. “Hey, sorry to wake you up, but my roommate’s here. Sorry, you have to go.”

“What?” She didn’t sound too happy. I guess I could understand.

She opened her eyes looked at me and frowned. It didn’t improve her looks.

Chris smoked and regarded the two of us nonchalantly, then he wrinkled his nose. The smell of pussy, I imagined. Not his favorite scent.

“I apologize for the early hour. But Chris came back early.”

She hiked herself up on her elbows, carefully keeping the messed-up covers over her tits. She needn’t have bothered.

“I need to find my clothes,” she said. “And, you know, put them on.”

Chris popped off the bed, slipped on his shoes, and said, “Hey, no rush. I’ll go get us some coffees and I’ll take my time.”

As he closed the door gently, he winked at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I wasn’t expecting he’d come back so early and…”

“Right, right,” she said. I was going to have to come up with something to make this seem less of a really abrupt kiss-off.

“I’m Max, by the way. We somehow forgot to introduce ourselves last night.” I put on an apologetic winning smile. “What’s your name?”

“Tammy,” she said. “Nice to meet you.” She yawned as she slowly put her clothes on.

“Yeah, nice to meet you. Hey, last night was great.” I raised my eyebrows.

She didn’t smile. “Really?”

“Really,” I assured her, with all my teeth showing.

“Well. Good then.” She didn’t look convinced.

While she was in the bathroom, I put my own clothes on and Chris returned juggling three cups of the hotel’s coffee, which was on twenty-four hours a day and tasted like it.

“You’re staying up? Not going back to sleep?” I asked him.

“Yeah, may as well. What about your paramour?” That was Chris’s term for my various sex partners.

“She’s on her way home.”

“What, no breakfast? You’re such a bitch.”

“No. I’m not.”

Tammy emerged from the bathroom looking not too disheveled. I handed her a coffee. She took a sip and wrinkled her nose.

“Bad.”

“Yeah. Sorry.” There was a moment of silence. I introduced the two.

“So, I’ve sort of got to get ready to go out in bit.”

She glanced at Chris, who had a Marlboro in one hand and coffee in the other and a blank expression.

“Yeah, I kind of guessed that. No problem.” Her voice was resigned. “Here’s my phone number. In case.” She knew I wouldn’t call.

She left without another word besides “Bye.”

When the door shut, Chris waited for a moment, then said, “You dog.”

I flopped on my bed and drank my awful coffee. “Guess so, but that one wasn’t going to last.”

“They never do, do they? Funny how good someone can look in a bar and somehow not so much the next day?” He grinned at me and I knew he was yanking my chain, but I didn’t care.

“Yup. It’s sure an odd thing.”