You can never go back, but you can certainly die trying. To that end – and from this one – I’ve pressed the magic button on Cher’s turning-back-of-time wayback machine and landed my callused posterior somewhere in the early ’90s. But somehow in the process I’ve forgotten to chisel away the scales of learned cynicism that can make any time a bad one and forgotten to wear plastic pants, makeup and a coke ring on my nose. So here I am, drunk in Tallahassee, wrapping my fingers around the strip-mall handle of the dark glass door that leads to my big gay bar hope chest, Brother’s.
My chest hurts.
“That’ll be $5,” a Marilyn Manson derivative of the redheaded female variety winces, barely drawing her eyes from her inaugural reading of Fight Club.
“Aren’t you pleasant!” I consider lecturing. “You know, I used to freakin’ own this place. I opened this little gay bar that pays for your Manic Panic, missy, so you can take your Ayn Rand defeatism and crawl back into your worthless generation!”
Except I don’t. I hand her $5 and wince back.
Brother’s isn’t exactly the kind of place that one should have to pay to enter, and probably never was. The walls are black with soot or paint; framed posters of the early 1989 gay bedroom variety still hang shirtlessly and peripherally; an unused pool table stretches in the far corner for no apparent reason. It’s less an inviting pit of social sexuality than a dungeon of doubt and insecurity, and for that reason alone it may well be where I belong. Or at least I used to. I’m so fucking excited.
“So, what do you think?” I Barbie Dream-House my foyer arm in the direction of my new gay friend, Rob. “These, dear, are my roots!”
Rob and I have gathered some similarly political gays to make this muted pilgrimage to Tallahassee’s only gay bar in honor of honoring my honor or something; however, pending the arrival of said gays Rob is left to deal with the imminent explosion of my florid memories. He may see dank, musty corners in an Accused gang-rape narrative, but I see the garden of fucking Eden.
Over there is where I used to snort coke off the flap of skin connecting my thumb to my forefinger, and over here is where I spent a good part of 1992 lusting after bartender Andy Park, a seeming throwback to Fire Island by way of Stonewall who would reminisce about apparent gay vigilantism under the banner of ACT UP. Out of pity, he used to take me back to his apartment and suggestively wrestle me to the floor until he passed out. I loved him so very much.
“What can I get for you?” a bartendress named Devin who looks slightly like a man tries to recreate the magic.
“Well, do you have Andy Park?” I gaze over at a curio of 10 bottles of mid-shelf liquor and precisely one of Hpnotiq. The past is sobering.
“I’ve heard about him,” she ages me. “I’ve only been here four years.”
“Oh, um, I opened this place,” I ramble on, only this time out loud. “And this one time …”
Just in two-time our gay gaggle shows up, including more people too young to remember just what it meant for gay to be difficult. Mallory, the main girl gay, lays into me about my “opened this place” bit with some discussion of 1994 – “Oh my god, we were only in third grade!” -– that eventually morphs all the way back to 1972, the year of my actual placenta near-drowning. Meanwhile, Anthony and Joe – the cute boy gays – barnacle around me like I’m a historical dock, trading disingenuities like “you still got it” and play-fighting over my beta-male vulnerability while secretly wanting to gang-rape each other. This place brings out the best in everyone!
“I’M STILL PRETTY!” I scream like a bloodied prom queen for no real reason. “I OWN THIS PLACE!”
But really I can’t be bothered. Across the bar, a wilting tranny mess with flybacks in a too-tight T-shirt that reads “Stop Following Me” is dancing with itself in what appears to be a tight-jawed Ecstasy blow-up. I’m having one of those “that used to be me” soft focus moments in which a lone tear burdens the corner of one of my three eyes, and I even entertain the idea of approaching s/him and letting s/him know that I can’t be following s/him, because I used to be s/him, which technically means that s/he should stop following me.
Instead, I make Mallory and Rob run outside and re-enter to pull an obvious “Oh my God! It’s Billy Manes!” in a vain attempt at tragedy turf war. He doesn’t even bat a rolling eye, naturally, and I’m resigned to lockstepping my way through another gay night, only this time doing it where they used to seem so much bigger. It’s like running back for some rent-controlled leisure in the ovaries only to realize that they’re too small, covered in egg follicles and populated by lesbians with paint-on beards. This night is not working out for me.
Gay Anthony – who has mysteriously disappeared on numerous occasions to a DJ chamber that might or might not have a powdered couch – reappears on the makeshift dance floor with what he thinks is good news.
“The next song is for you!” he musters some questionable enthusiasm from his rehearsed hubris. “Hope you like it.”
And that hope takes its fat-girl sonic pride of place in the form of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” that Cyndi Lauper compromise assigned to 1983.
Do they? Well, I guess they used to.
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