Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I had a dream last weekend that it was 70 degrees outside. After a week of temperatures in the 50s, I started to think that winter was in its last throes. New grass was growing in the backyard and there were green buds on the trees. The wishful thinking side of my brain was in full gear, gazing hopefully at an imaginary thermometer. Today, winter returned in full force, perhaps one last offensive before a final surrender. Who can say? It was a delicate powdered sugar dream at my house as I walked down the hill to the train station today, but in Manhattan, it was an ugly mix of snow and wind-swept rain covering the sidewalks in a brown sugar slush. Yes, it is definitely still winter.

Today is my roommate Mike’s birthday. The number is unimportant when compared to the timing: two days before Valentine’s Day. In retrospect, I guess I am fortunate that my birthday is three days before Halloween. As much eye-rolling as my mother’s insistence that if I had been born seventy-two hours later, she would have named me Jack O’Lantern Hartley has caused (“I would have just said your middle initial was O. No one would have known!”), it still beats a birth near Valentine’s Day or Christmas. My mother’s birthday always falls near the floating weekend of Mother’s Day, which meant no matter what happened, we never had a good reason to miss either one.

Of course we went to a bar tonight to celebrate. It was somewhat impromptu. Mike hates going out and being social, and at a certain point in a gay man’s life, a birthday stops being something worth celebrating. But I just couldn’t bear us not doing SOMETHING, given what couch potatoes we already are. And snowy winter days only brings out your worse hermit instincts. I haven’t been blogging recently about my bar adventures, but not because I haven’t been having them. Friday night at Vlada was a drunken brouhaha for example, but by the time I had time to actually blog about it, it was days later and the spirit of the spirits was gone. I try to be as timely as possible, and lately I just haven’t been able to get to Blogger fast enough to commit my boozy adventures to memory. In a way, they are like dreams. So vivid in the moment, but they dissipate just as rapidly as they come upon you.

Lately I have been spending more free time with the original Jonathan (and hottie Zach for that matter). After years of having no regular circle of friends to hang out with, I have suddenly started to develop it with those two. It is probably because they are both recent transplants to the city. They don’t have set routines yet, so it is much easier to fall into one with them. My friends who have lived here for the better part of a decade I see less often than my family on the west coast. Manhattan is a town of regiment and routine. It is so complex, it has to run with the efficiency of an assembly line, right down to the friends you hang out with. Add a step to the process, like a new friend, and it throws the whole machine out of alignment. It is better most times to stick with things just as they are.

Jonathan joined in tonight, but Zach bowed out of the last minute journey to Therapy. Mike’s regular friends were there: George, Duke, JP, and the other Mike. That is the core. I got so used to seeing them every Friday night in our apartment for Sci Fi Fridays that when it moved to Sundays and we moved out of town, it was like the end of an era. Now when I see them it almost feels like a college reunion. The drinks flowed aplenty but when they announced the stage show was about to begin, we bolted from Therapy like it was on fire. Moments later, most of us were stationed against the icy bar at Vlada, sucking down the infused vodka cocktails that had been our downfall last Friday. In an email today on his way to Los Angeles, Ben Harvey swore them off forever after they caused a forty-eight hour hangover on Friday that no VH-1 marathon could assuage. Knowing that I would have to drive Mike home later, I just stuck with a series of cokes, which only made me long for a nice spicy bloody mary all the more.

The crowd at both bars was the same as always. It is amazing to me how alike the gays are, falling so neatly into archetypes. I caught hell on the air for comparing homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome, but I am sorry, there are just too many similarities. Besides, you can’t argue for a genetic cause for your gayness and then complain when it is compared favorably to another genetic issue. When Sean and I went to Zurich in 2003, we went to his first gay bar. “How does this compare to gay bars in America?” he asked.

Paraphrasing Tolstoy badly I deadpanned that “every gay bar is unhappy in the same way.” The bar in Zurich was indistinguishable from any old bar in America. There was the one guy dancing alone on the dance floor, too drunk or high too early. There was a knot of twinks in the corner, giggling and cruising, although with a drinking age of sixteen, the twinks were even more twinky than usual. The regulars sat around the bar nursing their drinks and personal insecurities while the older patrons lingered in the darker fringes of the room. Aside from my difficulty in ordering a Malibu and pineapple with my rusty high school German, it was as perfect a copy as any country in Epcot’s world pavilion.

Back at Vlada surrounded by the smell of vodka, my thoughts turned to Ninotchka, which I had watched earlier in the day on the train to work, while Jonathan cruised a Brokeback Mountaineer in a plaid shirt. The country boy was clearly on a date, but Jonathan was still intrigued. He was cute, but also standard issue clean cut Midwestern gay straight out of central casting. Meanwhile, a crazy drunk guy was running around taking digital photos of guys he thought were hot, I suppose so he could masturbate to their visage later. That was a bit of a twist on the usual, I thought, but not enough to make the night really noteworthy.

I was reluctant to leave the vodka bar and head out into the wintery night. It was like the worst stories of Siberia out there, but then again, inside wasn’t actually springtime in Paris, Comrade! I wish all the time that life could be as simple as an old movie, and I guess in some ways it really is. When you spend an evening in a gay bar, it is just as formulaic as any studio era classic. Well, certainly less polished than a grand MGM flick, more knockdown like a Warner Brothers film really. But the story always feels the same. It is as predictable as the weather, which I suppose is the silver lining in all of this. True, it may be winter now, but soon enough it will be spring. The bar tonight didn’t hold any promise for you, but that doesn’t mean promise isn’t right around the corner. And one day, seventy degree weather won’t be wishful thinking in a dream; it will be a pleasant reality worth celebrating with a little orchestral fanfare as the words THE END flash onto the screen. It, like everything, just takes a little time.


CW said...

Did you run into Erik Rhodes at GAYVN? Please try to help him out. You seem to have a very mature and well-adjusted attitude about life.

Sean said...

I've yet to experience a version of "YMCA" quite as gay as that in the Zurich gay bar.

Anonymous said...

Hi I hope you enjoyed yourself on Monday!