Hey! It's great to be gay!
There's the contemptuous marauding of principles and rights by the idiot mass (that means you, Prop 8 and Amendment 2), the stereotyping proffered from within and without with regards to social behavior, the sucking and shopping and sucking and shopping. Better still, Orlando's 18-year-old tradition of designating what is now seven full days in early June to the Disney-fication of "Gay Days" purportedly attracts 135,000 celebrants to the area, with an estimated economic impact of $100 million. Yay, gay!
But you don't have to drop your Tinker Bell wad in the dark corners of Cinderella's castle in order to appreciate Orlando's Big Gay Fantastic. No need to press that bottle of water into the back pocket of your white jean shorts for a thumping night of topless men sniffing away their 40s. Orlando is gay all the time.
To prove this thesis — perhaps ill-advisedly — I set aside a full 24 hours to dig deep into the City Beautiful's gay closet, and came away with bits of beauty, vulgarity and a touch of the delerium tremons. Please to enjoy.
Thursday, May 21, Midnight
On a lighter note, I have somewhere to be! Tonight, the Parliament House is reasonably alive with the sound of lip-synced music, as bawdy impresario Gidget Galore hosts her weekly amateur drag competition — a variation on the long-lived Drag Races — in the disco bar. There are folding chairs and card tables outlining the dance floor, about 30 celebrants casually taking it all in and five contestants contorting themselves into positions they'll surely regret in the morning.
I arrive just in time for the end, with somebody rather large calling itself "Madison" belting out "I'm So Excited" by The Pointer Sisters while sporting a body-hugging number that resembles a watermelon in both hue and girth. The sign behind her has been altered to read "Damp Drag," thanks to the weather; the humor, however, remains dry.
"She's just had vaginal rejuvenation!" informs Gidget.
"More like a uterus protraction," somebody nearby chimes in.
The bartender, Loc, offers me a drink, which at this stage seems like a bad idea.
"How about a really weak one?"
Another contestant stumbles and fumbles his way through "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," Gidget Galore offers a prize to "the first person to show me somebody else's penis on their cellphone," and local gadabout, Doug Ba'aser, does a cartwheel revealing a wedgie he'll regret in the morning.
"You better be nice," Gidget sidles up next to me.
"The last time I sat out in front of your house this long, I was fucking an amphibian," my friend Taylor falls out of his truck. Taylor's agreed to tag-along for most of this fantastic voyage, because at this point we both think it's going to be "fun." The amphibian in question is a French person who he fucked in his truck who then in turn fucked him over. He scribbles a picture of a frog on a penis into my notebook. Viva la France!
We're outside Wylde's on South Orange Avenue weathering the weather that's already weathering us. This is going to be a long day. The humble strip mall location (across the street from Wylde's more meager former home) also boasts a fantastic little merchandising anomaly called Century Costumes. The storefront window has some kind of purple Napoleonic garb, your typical taffeta gowns and one particular piece of children's clothing that catches our eyes simultaneously: a blood-splattered yellow dress.
"It's a period dress," I say. "No, I mean it's a period dress."
Inside Wylde's, all of five people are drowning their sorrows in silence as a flat screen TV overhead plays out some close-captioned reality drama called The Cougar. It's about old ladies, see, the ones who sex young guys! Too close to home.
Taylor sticks a dollar into the jukebox and cues up "Time to Pretend" by MGMT, and for a minute everything makes sense. We are pretending to have fun.
We're not alone, though. Over in a side room, there's a computer stand, at which one lonely guy is staring at various acts of anonymous sexual exhibitionism; there are butt holes.
"You can hook up on Craigslist here," Taylor lets me know.
Back in the facility's rear is what I first mistake to be an Eastern European grope room, but am pleasantly surprised to find is nothing but a place for people to come and play baseball on a Nintendo Wii. Fascinating.
"You're a tad late," the virtual referee says. But it's still early!
The one person who is actually sitting at the bar eyes us up and down.
"We're not that drunk," Taylor says for no particular reason.
"Well you need to hurry up, then!"
The bartender buys us a shot, we take a picture of a giant penis on the wall, and leave. We're waiting to pretend.
Just up the road at Pulse, things are far more serious. There are police outside, loads of girls — GIRLS! — inside and everything is decidedly urban. Wednesday nights are "Dorm College Nights," a pervasive theme at gay clubs that basically means Abercrombie, Fitch and Hollister are going to throw down at some point and it isn't going to be pretty. Also, like straight ladies nights, it's a chance to gawk at that which you can't have. There are boys dancing on a bar in a black room, people pressed up against each other uncomfortably in a middle room, and then there is the white room that changes colors. I need a drink.
Bartender Juan, who hates me but is very gracious nonetheless, serves up a shot, we look around the crowded room full of the way we used to be, and then leave.
Only funny moment? Outside while waiting for the valet to bring my car, Taylor asks anyone listening, "What's that smell?"
"It's the blacks," a girl smoking a Djarum Black cancer stick puffs and rolls her eyes. Really?
OK, so I am falling apart and this is only the second hour. Taylor and I head to Revolution on Bumby Avenue in search of something that doesn't come in a powder to make it all better. That, of course, would be another drink, in this case a raspberry lemon drop offered by manager Cindy Barbalock, and some background music from Donna Summer. "This Time I Know It's For Real," specifically, and I guess this time I do. It is for real that I am going to die at some time during this social experiment.
Taylor comes back from the bathroom with a four-inch scrap of paper reading "Room for Rent … Must Like Dogs." A room would be nice right now.
Off in the corner, apropos of nothing, a group of girls is doing the electric slide. I know their pain.
Everything legal and gay is closed right now — except a certain bathhouse to which I refuse to go -- so we head back to the epicenter of dramatic fashion changes and overwrought tantrums: my house. I'm supposed to meet up with a friend of mine at 5 a.m. to workout at Metro Muscle — very gay! — and we need something to kill time. Oh, I know, let's search the Internet for boys.
"Looking for an orally active bottom," check.
In the background, a Duran Duran concert plays on VH1 Classic; "Save a Prayer" is on, and I could use one.
"Young stud looking for other young stud. Preferred: Caucasian, Latin, Italian, Greek, Cuban." Oooh, a buffet! "Man seeking Trannie: Please be passable, but I'm ready for the right lady on top," eww.
"I don't want to know you. I don't want you to stick around. I want you to disappear into the night, leaving me with a nice ‘dream.'" Creampie!
Anyway, by 4:17 a.m., Talk Talk's "It's My Life" is on. Don't you forget.
"Hey, David? I'm sorry but I think I'm too fucked up to meet you at the gym," my voice grates. "Besides, I don't think your straight friends would want me looking up their shorts. Not when I'm drunk anyway."
For our penance, Taylor and I do exactly one push-up and decide that, hey, guess what, gay people pass out sometimes. And so we do.
That sleep thing? It never happened! Never! We head over to White Wolf Café to get our blood moving again. Taylor orders something on a muffin with that kind of cheese that could stretch from the floor to the ceiling given the right amount of pull, I go for one pancake of which I take one bite. Also, cocktails are in order, and so they are on order.
Something has given in both of us, as you would expect it to, and we're literally speaking in text abbreviations about nothing. To be fair, White Wolf isn't specifically gay — in fact, it's not gay at all — but it is in the antique district and it does serve alcohol at a very early hour. Enough alcohol to bring death into the equation.
"If you outlive me," Taylor slurs, "I'll fuckin' kill myself."
Not possible! Taylor doesn't believe me, and starts consulting the Magic 8-Ball he picked up from my coffee table.
"If you liked it then you should have put a finger in it," he pouts.
On The View, Larry King is talking about his penis.
"My get up and go got up and went," he says. Mine, too.
For shits and giggles, we walk across the street and wake up last night's Doug Ba'aser and his wedgie. He is not happy.
One of the goals of this excursion was to visit some of the non-primary colors that make up Orlando's diverse gay quilt. A few weeks ago, I drove by what seemed to be a bastion of gay product placement called Orlando Leather Company. With this tough economy, lube boutiques like Rainbow City have been forced to close their doors, but this one — with its rainbow flag sporting a paw — seemed unstoppable at its location just around the corner from the Parliament House on West Colonial. Harnesses! I mean, come on!
We arrive only to find it too has met its fate. Behind the strip mall, an ugly man spits into a dumpster before totally trying to get with me. Cruel, cruel fate.
Because it's nearby, and because we're running out of energy, we pop in to the pool bar over at the Parliament House. Open at 10:30 a.m. daily, the pool bar is an essential destination for pensioners and pooped-out pop tarts alike, largely because there's a view of shirtless men right out the window, but also because of the eternal presence of a certain bartendress named Vicky. She's been holding her throne of gossip and compassion for 29 years, meaning she knows everything about everybody. Vicky, sensing our anguish, suggests a shot, because that will fix everything.
It's important to point out here that this new sweet-tea vodka craze is killing everybody, myself included.
Outside, owner Susan Unger is going crazy with giant clippers on some shrubbery.
"Susan's hacking away at her bush!" we all laugh, and laugh and laugh.
It isn't really that funny.
OK, now for the tricky part. You know that big gay stereotype that we're all heathens and sodomites out to eat your babies and rule the world? Well, there are vestiges of that still alive and well here in the City Beautiful. In fairness, for some amount of time in American history, the closet was allowed to fester with the sort of mischief mold that nobody is too proud of today, but some can't seem to shake.
"You guys should see the ‘Yum-Yum Tree,'" a cute bartender winks as he hands us our beers at Hank's out on Edgewater.
Neither of us know exactly what he's on about, but we do have a clue. So we head out to the backyard — anthropologically speaking, typically the nasty place of gay acting out — and we see rather unpleasant things. Use your imagination here.
Across from our vantage point, a senior citizen regales us with his woes.
"I recently switched from a top to a bottom," he says, "because my medication keeps me from getting it up."
To sprint to the opposite end of the spectrum, and perhaps cure myself of what I've just seen, I make a solo journey to The Center on Mills Avenue. The Center basically provides support for whatever ails those in what can be a treacherous community: Alcoholics Anonymous, bereavement Support, "TransCentral Station" for transsexuals, and Narcotics Anonymous. All of which I could probably use right now.
"I've been up all night," I tell the lady behind the front desk for no apparent reason. "But I'm OK!"
"We offer one-on-one counseling, too," she says. I'll keep that in mind.
Nothing particularly gay about the gay Publix on Shine Avenue today. I look at a few cucumbers and leave.
I'm out of gas, literally, so a trip to the gay Chevron on Ferncreek Avenue is in order. Unfortunately, the gay rainbow flag doesn't appear to be flying anymore. Also, the giant phallic hot dog stand has strangely disappeared. Oh well, at least I'm not running on fumes, anymore. Oh wait, I am.
I hook back up with Taylor at Paradise on Mills Avenue, an adorable local watering hall that has just recently turned its exterior a minty green. As far as drinking goes, I can't anymore. My liver is now repelling liquor like Turtle Wax on a new car, and I've still got six hours to survive. I sit out back with a gaggle of friends, including a new unibrow Lebanese date for Taylor, and let everybody else do the talking. My brain is numb and I can't feel my legs.
"You off to dinner with Daisy?" somebody says as I excuse myself, presumably meaning Orlando commissioner Lynum. No, I am not
Meanwhile, back at the Parliament House, another themed shindig is going on, this one again hosted by Gidget Galore. "The Big Gay Game Show" is basically a trivia contest that also incorporates physical competition. At one point, two men are forced to push balls down the hallway with what are effectively giant fly swatters. Again, I have no more words for what Gidget does.
"I've got my Halloween costume, Billy," she says from the stage, probably attempting to startle me awake. "It's my Kristen Wiig, Lawrence Welk skit dress, except it's too tight around the wrists to fit the baby hands."
"And with my by myself," I mutter.
Another game show, another queer locale. At Hamburger Mary's on Church Street, Thursday nights mean "Name That Gay Tune." It's usually hosted by local blond ball of fabulosity, babyBlue, but due to the Fringe Festival rigors, tonight's game is led by bear DJ Kirk Hartlage.
It's all good fun, but I can't really see straight, much less hear. By the end, Taylor and I are challengers on the stage, smacking at an "easy" button and moaning obscenities into the microphone. I win, naturally, but there are no victories anymore. "It's Raining Men!" I scream after just three notes, "by the Weather Girls!"I have nothing left.
New gay liquor haunt, Sip, is fairly dead tonight, with no theme to speak of other than couches and pop cultural complacency. Overhead on the TV, West Side Story is doing its best to drown out the bursts of gay commentary about Natalie Wood and that boat incident that caused her death. "She was pushed!" Charming.
So close. So fucking close. Savoy is pretty packed, but the sight of boys dancing on boxes in their underwear doesn't even phase me anymore. I want to be lying in bed in my underwear, or pushed from a boat.
Victory! Taylor, myself and his Lebanese boyfriend all pile our way back into Revolution to ring in the midnight (which, coincidentally will be my fucking birthday, because this is the best birthday gift ever). The Lebanese boyfriend, Anthony, totally tries to hit on me (later he'll tell Taylor, "You're just not smart enough," even though Anthony's soooo not cute enough) and we all run to the dance floor and jump up and down in unison.
I'm amazed I even have the energy to lift myself off the ground, but I do. That's the thing about gay people. They can always amaze themselves. Goodnight.firstname.lastname@example.org