This is more a memory than a story. It is 100% true. It happened way, way back. About 1979 or 1980. It was a different world then; fortunately some things have changed. However, I feel that on this particular night I learned some valuable life lessons. Once I wrote this I was wondering what to call it. An old Prince song immediately came to mind. So there you have it. One other point, while the story is true, I have changed two names to protect people’s privacy. I’ve attached a picture below of where I was living when this took place. I’m the one in the fancy striped socks.
Little Red Corvette
When I was a kid, my best friend was Will. Our dads had been best friends growing up, and since we lived about 200 yards apart it was logical we would be thrown together. I was a year older and we were quite different, but it somehow worked and we were very close throughout our childhood and adolescence. Will dated Tina during most of high school. She dumped him when he was sixteen. I then broke the Number One Bro Rule. I dated her – twice. It was wrong but she was kinda hot and I was kinda 17. If it’s any consolation, she ditched me on our second date and went home with another guy.
Will and I eventually worked around it and stayed friends. After high school he met a nice girl and they got engaged. Early in the engagement she was killed in a car accident. Will was particularly wrecked because his sister had died in an auto accident when we were young. By this time I was off at college. I found out later he had moved in with a woman in a nearby town. I was just hoping he would find himself, or at least a little happiness after all the crap life had handed him.
He apparently found himself. On his 21st birthday he came to visit me in the small city not far away where I had settled. He said his birthday present to himself was to come out of the closet. Then he said, “I’m gay.” I just looked at him as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. My expression probably said, “And…?” This wasn’t exactly a newsflash. I knew he had broken off with his live-in lady friend and he had spoken a number of times about going to ‘the club’ in my city. ‘The club’ was a gay bar. I guess what he was getting at was that although he was living as if he was not in the closet, he was now announcing it to the world. It apparently didn’t go over well. You have to remember this was about 1980.
When I didn’t say anything right away he sarcastically said, “So, aren’t you going to turn against me like everyone else has?”
I wasn’t surprised by the response he was getting. We grew up, and he still lived, in a very rural, very conservative, very Baptist, very southern community. They are kind of like, hate the sin, crucify the sinner types. I had long ago shed many of the bigoted views I was brought up with. I told him, “Will, you’re my friend. I love you. Nothing would make me turn against you. You’re still you.” He looked like he needed it so I hugged him. I detected a couple of sniffles. He said, “It’s a sucky way to find out who your real friends are.”
But Will was one for living out loud, so he proudly carried on in his community, visiting the club in the city on a regular basis. He sometimes stopped by to see me on the way in or out of town.
One particular Saturday afternoon about a year later he showed up at my door and said, “Come to the club with me.” My immediate response was, “Not gonna happen.”
“It’ll be fine. I want you to see this part of my life. I won’t let anybody touch you.”
“Really not gonna happen.”
We went around for awhile until he said, “For years I went with you to straight bars. You can do this for me.” I prepared to argue that this was different, but somehow…it wasn’t.
I grudgingly agreed to go.
He said, “I’ll be with you. Nobody’s going to rape you.”
“Really not helping.”
Why was I so unwilling to go? Maybe somewhere down in our lizard brainstem is a primeval fear of ‘other’? At this point in my life I knew a few gay people. I guess I was hypocritically okay they were gay as long as I didn’t have to see it or think about it. Not so much removed from the redneck bigot I was raised to be.
So I put on my big boy pants and went. We arrived about 10:30 and it was just starting to fill. As we walked past some tables a nice-looking gentleman said, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” He was dressed in a blazer and button-down shirt. A bit old, 35-40, which was ancient to me at 22. I politely declined and quickly caught up with Will.
“You should have accepted the drink,” he said.
“Hell no,” I responded. “He would have thought I was available for negotiations.”
“It’s just a drink.”
“No way. I’m not selling what he’s looking for.”
“You’re such a prude,” Will laughed.
We found a bar with some stools available. I had only sat for a minute when a lumberjack came up beside me. I call him a lumberjack because he looked like the guy on Brawny paper towels, decked out in tight jeans and a flannel shirt. He was nice looking and all muscle, with that little mustache that all gay men back in the 80s seemed to have. He leaned on the bar and smiled at me. I looked to Will in a panic.
“Just ignore him. He’s harmless.” At 6 foot plus and 200 pounds of muscle he decidedly didn’t look harmless. He decidedly looked like a predator and I decidedly was feeling like prey. He gave me a leer that said I had passed muster and was now on the menu. I studiously refused to make eye contact until he drifted away in search of greener pastures.
“Giiirll, you have been cruised,” Will laughed. Is that what it was?
“Yeah? And I thought you were going to protect me from all this. All you’re doing is enjoying the show. And don’t call me girl.” I was a bit annoyed.
“Hey, you’re doing fine. Can I help it if the guys think you’re hot? Would you rather they think you’re ugly?”
“Yes, I mean no, I mean… I don’t know.” I hate hard questions like that. No one wants to be considered ugly, but I did not come here to find me a man.
And then I made a connection. Is that the way women feel at bars when we leer at them? We don’t call it leering, just ‘checking them out’, but it’s basically the same thing. I felt so violated while it was happening. Is that what women experience? I whispered a quiet apology to women everywhere.
I had decided I definitely did not want to go the bathroom while at the bar. I would just feel too vulnerable and exposed. What did I expect, an orgy? But a couple of beers settled that. I had to go, no question. So I told Will I’d be right back, and to come rescue me if I wasn’t. I pressed through the crowd toward the men’s room on the other side of the bar. The crowd was fairly thick but there was no excuse for the number of hands I felt on my butt as I made my way through. When did men get so free with their hands? There was also a ladies’ room that did not seem to be used. I hadn’t seen any women. Lesbians are gay. Don’t they go to gay bars, or does it have to be a dyke bar? I just don’t know any of the politics of being gay.
I steeled myself and went in expecting the worst. What, I don’t know. It was just a fairly ordinary bathroom like in any restaurant or bar. A difference was there were no urinals, only stalls. And no doors on the stalls. I decided not to overthink the thought process behind this. I waited in a short line. Most of the patrons seemed to know each other. There was a group of very young guys clustered around the mirror fixing their hair and makeup and being bitchy. If you’ve ever seen a teen movie with the mean girls in the school bathroom, this was it. I took care of my business and quickly exited. I endured another grope session making my way back to where I started. No stool and no Will. Oh, crap.
Almost immediately a very nice-looking young man sidled up to me.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.” Was that his best line? I looked over at him. He was dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt, black leather jacket and had his hair combed back like Fonzie in the old Happy Days tv show.
“That’s because I’ve never been here before,” I answered.
“Oh, just come out of the closet?”
What?! I assume the dim light covered the bright red of my face at this point. Without sputtering too much I explained I was NOT gay and was here with a friend. Even as I said it I realized how lame it sounded. The guy accepted it, but instead of walking away, he stayed and we talked. We were far enough from the dance floor to talk without shouting. His name was John and he was a waiter at a local fancy restaurant. He was excited that he had also just picked up a job as a bartender here at the club. He hoped to make enough money for his own place. He was living with an elderly aunt and it was really cramping his social life. I talked some about my work with handicapped kids and got the usual “you must be so special.” Kinda tired of that.
After a while he moved on in search of prey. I mean, 99.9% of the men were here for one thing only. Then I ashamedly admitted to myself that when I went out to bars, I was one of that 99.9%. (Just looking for a different landscape.) I had actually enjoyed talking to John. I like meeting people and this is what I enjoy about social situations. Just talking and getting to know people. It was nice. He was nice.
Will came hustling up.
“I can’t believe you were talking to John! He’s like the hottest guy here! Everybody wants to be with him!” he gushed. Did I mention he could sometimes be a drama queen? “By the way, all my friends think you’re cute.”
“Yay, crown me Miss America,” I said sourly. Then, “Thanks for showing me around. It was nice. But it’s time I headed home.” He didn’t object. I think he was ready to go on the prowl also. So I left.
It turned out I lived only a few blocks from the club so it was a short drive home. At the time I was living in an old Victorian monstrosity that had been subdivided into apartments. I had the five rooms on the first floor, left side. My neighbor Ken had the five rooms on the right. There were another two apartments on the second floor laid out the same. Another apartment was in the attic and two in the basement with a rear entrance. It had a double-story front porch where we loved to sit and drink beer on a Friday afternoon and people watch. Our front walk was three steps up from the sidewalk, about a ten-foot stone walkway and then a grand entrance stairway onto the lower porch. Inside the front door you turned left to my apartment, right to Ken’s or up the stairs. And although a block from the main street, it was heavily wooded and had an “old residential” feel.
A couple blocks from my turn, as I was stopped at a red light, a bright red Corvette oozed up to a stop beside me on the right. It was long, low, sleek and oh so sexy. And did I mention it was red? The windows were tinted so I couldn’t see the driver. When the light turned green he jackrabbited away. Hey, if my car could do that I probably would, too. I just signaled and moved my brown Omni into the right lane to make my turn at the next block. As I made my turn I was peripherally aware of the Corvette making a quick right turn a block down the street. My house was the next to last on the block on the right. I blessed my luck that I found curb parking just a few feet from the walkway.
As I was walking toward the steps that led up from the sidewalk, I saw a red Corvette slowly nose up to the next intersection coming from the left. Since I’m the next to last house on the block it was pretty close. How many red Corvettes are running around my neighborhood at nearly 1 am? It had to be the same one. Why had it followed me? My mind raced through about a dozen scenarios, none ending well. There was about a 1% chance it was a gorgeous blonde girl who wanted my body. About a 39% chance it was a perverted serial murderer who also wanted my body, for entirely different reasons. And a 60% chance it was a couple of redneck college students out to roll a queer. Yeah, my money was on that explanation. Had they followed me from the club? I hadn’t noticed if anyone had been behind me. It’s not something I generally worry about.
My blood ran cold and I felt panic coming on. I pretended not to see the Corvette and hustled up the walkway and into the house. I quickly got in my apartment, locked the door and leaned against it trying to regulate my breathing. I usually turn on the lights first thing, but a thought stabbed me, ‘Then he’ll know where I live’. So I stood there in the dark, heart racing, hyperventilating and sweating bullets. After a few moments I was able to move so I sidled up to the window and peeped out. Holy Mother of God! The Corvette was sitting directly in front of the house, idling. I’m sure the occupant(s?) was watching the house. To see which lights came on? I was frozen in terror.
After a small eternity, the car moved on. I sank down on the couch and waited for my breathing and heart beat to slow down. What was happening here? I didn’t turn on the lights in case he circled the block and came back around. I just waited until I was in my bedroom with the door closed before turning on any lights. Yeah, I was really spooked.
I slept little that night and was edgy for several days. Had I dodged a bullet that night or was it something totally innocuous? I’ll probably never know. I still think Corvettes are sexy, but whenever I see a red one I still feel a small frisson of terror run down my spine.
And I think I learned two pretty valuable lessons that night. I felt totally violated by the man who checked me out at the bar. I felt like a piece of meat being evaluated. Never mind that I apparently passed inspection, no one should be made to feel that way. I’m sure I’ve put any number of women in that position in my time and am resolved to do better. Second, I think I may have experienced in a small way the fear all gay people live with. That any moment violence may overwhelm you for no reason. That society has determined that it is open season on you, go out at your own risk. That is no way for people to have to live. I need to be better there, also. I guess I learned a third lesson, too. All good boys should be home by eleven on Saturday night.