It all started with a tiny prick, so small you couldn't even see it, much less sit on it. Then by some combustible happenstance, there was an explosion within a vacuum and everywhere everything was shooting out red vinyl pants, gratuitous eyeliner, powder, poppers and pleasantries; there were bright sparkling lights and Stephen Sprouse day-glo atomic backdrops with little vignettes of mischief scurrying all around them. Images were altered into Altered Images, and "I Could Be Happy" shot out of the interstellar jukebox. It was amazing. But when was that?
"Was it 1989?" Tony scrunches his nose in my passenger seat. "That's sort of a weird year, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it was kind of that post-Rock Hudson, tight leggings aspirational gay era," I socially anthropologize. "You know, before the cocktail and the bareback parties and the cynicism and the fitting in and the Will and the Grace."
What we're speaking of is the Big Bang — or more specifically the former bar called Big Bang — which is presently slurring its way through the nostalgic echo chamber of its 20th anniversary party at the Independent Bar downtown. It's an odd bit of nostalgia, because although we are both old bitter record collections, gathering dust in our synth-laden grooves, it is not our nostalgia. In 1989, we were both still popping pimples in the woods with bottles of Boone's Farm, weighing our collegiate options and probably shoplifting. We were, at 17, more Janis Ian awkward than Michael Alig cool. Still, it's retro, it's gay(ish) and it's something to do on a Monday night.
"These are my kicking boots!" Sam Singhaus (as a man!) leg-up greets us as we time-travel through the front door. "I use them to kick!"
Sam opened the bar — which actually was across Washington Street in what is now the boarded-up remains of Cameron Kuhn's bloated portfolio — way back on July 20, 1989, and for four years, to hear the bleached barnacles tell it, Big Bang was the place to be.
"It wasn't like it is today," hot-dog lady and lesbian folk singer Rebecca Tex excavates some sociology from the giant chunks of historical mascara. In fact, she says, the very space that we're sitting in right now used to be a big secret glory hole of gay escapades, as far back as 1986, when it hosted a night called the Orange Quarter. I had orange Sun-In hair in 1986! The coincidences are shocking. Anyway, it was all wink-wink and nudge-nudge back then, and "you just knew" where the homo party was. Tonight, apparently, it is here.
"This is about the time it used to get going at Big Bang," eyeliner'd longtimer Bill Haire scoots by. "And I left!"
It's a strange bit of foreshadowing — and eye-shadowing — that will momentarily alter the tone of my nightly alcoholic descent from sardonic to tragic, as there on the dance floor, propped up against the video wall, is a giant shag rug portrait of Haire in his glory days as a drag queen called Lola. Why is it sad? Well, that rug was mutually stained by the glory-day nicotine puffs of myself and my lost friend and former roommate Skotty; Lola lorded over our despicable domain of snorts and cocks for about four years on Hibiscus Court, and when Skotty died I had no idea where she went.
One of his girlfriends, Chris, informs me that it was put on the curb as trash when Skotty's boyfriend passed soon after him by the boyfriend's redneck parents. There's an arc in there that I probably shouldn't be hanging my heart around — here, in a bar — but Skotty's face pops up on a TV on the wall, and just before I can start to cry, I see Sam Singhaus rescue the shag portrait from some idiot on the dance floor who decided it would be a good idea to wave it in the air. I am sad and happy at the same time.
Meanwhile, Tony is a whore.
"Bluurger, bluurger, bluurger," one of said cocks (sans snorts) enters the fray, incoherently. "Tell him bluurger, bluurger."
"He has a really big cock!" I scream in Tony's ear. "Don't ask me how I know!"
"He's the Big Bang!"
Tony's hand is already inspecting the evidence, but the verbal back-without-a-forth gropey pantomime will lead nowhere. Eventually, Tony will just end up making out with Doug Ba'aser again, because that's like it is today.
Other things happen — most notably the red-banged riposte in casual conversation with my friend Matt's ex-girlfriend, "See, I'm proof positive that he's not gay" — but for the most part it's just the old happy-sad of 20 years gone by and the clumsy dancing to "Groove Is in the Heart" that goes along with it. Deee-pressing, but in a good way.
"I think the age in here just tripled," Tony holds his wet finger up in the air.
"Oh my god!" I come to a much-needed realization, four drinks in. "We're totally too young for this!"
To wash off our temporary youth, we pop into the age-correcting Bar-BQ-Bar and stand out of context with the shaggy miscreants of Generation Y. Why? Because we hate ourselves.
"I wonder what these kids will be doing in 20 years," Tony stands still as the room spins around him. "Is this their Big Bang?"
I suggest that a barbecue implies more of a nuclear apocalypse than the bright new fluorescent beginnings of our almost-youths. We are the lucky ones. And we should be happy.
Back at my house, Tony picks up the Magic 8-Ball and gives it a shake. "I asked it if you will ever be happy," he stares my frown down.
And there it is, in the gelatinous goo that holds all the answers to our unlikely existence: "Doubtful."firstname.lastname@example.org