Marrs Attacks: Baptized by the Saint
A red Mazda Miata pulls neatly into the parking lot and comes to a rest. Two men of average size and athletic build step out. In their late thirties or early forties, they both wear ball caps—fashion, not sports—and clean white t-shirts tucked into tight jeans. Their faces are manicured and blank. Tonight is just routine. They are walking into the Saint.
By almost four months, I am twenty years old. The club is having a nineteen-and-over night. I am home in Ft. Lauderdale for Christmas break. Only months ago did I conclude that I was gay, did I “come out to myself,” as they say. I am still in the closet to my family and most of my friends, but not to Dana and Tiffany, who of course didn’t bat an eye at my news and decided it was high time I got some queer exposure. They don’t know I’ve been cutting myself in the bathroom the past few days (not so much because I want to but because I understand that’s what depressed people do), but they can tell my home life is more stressful than usual, and they’ve been to the Saint before. Tonight is on them.
The man at the door is a thick Italian American beefcake, the kind that covers South Florida like so much arm hair. His muscles get larger and tanner the closer we get in line. “You’re good,” he says, checking my I.D., his voice straight out of Welcome Back, Cotter. I can’t believe he’s gay. I am new to this, so I assume anyone working at, hanging in, or talking about a gay club must be gay, the only exception being my own companions. While the world sees Dana and Tiffany as Baroness and Madame Von Dyke-Dyke, it will be years before they admit it to me, despite my own revelation.
Inside we come to an unassuming front bar away from the dance floor. Here sit the bar flys and men too pudgy to shake their groove thangs. Some talk freely with their friends, others, like the one staring intensely at me as I order, are clearly looking for something. I’m still innocent and not sure what that something is, but this creep is making my spider sense tingle something fierce. Though I haven’t kissed a boy yet, I know the first one I do won’t be twenty years my senior with a wardrobe JC Penny would eschew and a figure that says, “I tried Jenny Craig—she was delicious.”
Requisite Diet Cokes in hand, my gal-pals and I head for the discothèque. It is 1998, and the Pet Shop Boys’ “New York City Boy” plays in never-ending rotation with another song that promises me “music sounds better with you.” I’d rather these people see me drawn and quartered than dancing, so I stick to the perimeter and try to stay oriented amid all the hot man-flesh. “Taking off your shirt at a bar is the same as saying, ‘I’m easy—come get me,’” explains Dana, making me feel better about staying clothed.
“He’s going down on that guy!” gasps Tiffany, but by the time I look, the site is G-rated and the go-go boy is back to his strange, isolated shimmy. I remind Dana that it is Tiffany, not the dancer, with the penchant for blowing things out of proportion. “That’s a federal offense,” Tiff says of the men going into the ladies’ room, proving my point.
Our trio finally takes a seat at the outdoor bar in the back. Graphic dude-on-dude porn is playing on the TVs. “That is pretty much the grossest thing I’ve ever seen,” confesses Dana. Porn is also new to me, but my sober mind jumps first to the legality of public viewing before getting at all aroused. (This kind of thinking explains why I’ve yet to kiss a guy.) “How do you get away with playing porn?” I ask the bartender.
“Your what hurts?” he replies, smiling.
“How do you get away with playing porn?”
“What porn?” he says and helps someone else. I feel strangely rejected, but now the videos are starting to work on me. “Homer, get a psychic reading,” Tiff suggests. I figure I’ve already gone against the Church enough by being here, so one more new sacrilege can’t hurt. Besides, I hear God cuts slack for sins committed in a place with a holy name.
“I see you having children,” foretells Esmerelda. I want to ask her if she knows where she is (as in, Thursdays: roller rink, Fridays: book store, Saturdays: GAY BAR), but instead I give her money. I guess that’s how it goes.
After that, my girlfriends tell me they’re hurting my chances. I let them go dance, though I won’t be taking any chances tonight. Instead I find a place to sit, some place where I don’t look weird, where my cigarette makes me more handsome in my own mind, and a funny feeling overcomes me. Looking at the men, their mingling, the subtle difference in their body language here, in this new place, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I must be smiling now, because the bouncer, with no sarcasm whatsoever, approaches me and asks, “What are you so happy about?”
“Just happy,” I reply, and for the first time in a long time, it’s true.
This article reprinted with permission of Envy Man magazine.