Benny and I were great friends, maybe even best friends, during the five years I called Los Angeles home. We became roommates, commuter mates, tennis partners and AIDS Project Los Angeles volunteers. But before all that, we were bar mates.
We met under false pretenses at Studio One, a large West Hollywood dance club. I stood alone, drink in hand, trying to look like I was having a good time. This was 1990, before we had hand-held devices to make being alone in public seem desirable. I had the choice of staring at the overly generous supply of ice cubes in what was ostensibly a rum and Coke or ogling the thong-clad go-go boys standing on block platforms. I chose ice. Benny fed me a lame line about being from out of town. As the eternally polite Canadian, I began to orientate him to the WeHo environs. Give me a safe topic and I can become chatty instead a shy, mumbling geek. It only took a few minutes before we realized he had just graduated from the university where I was attending law school. The truth came out. Benny was no stranger to West Hollywood.
What may have been a pickup line evolved into something far better. Right away, friendship seemed like the more obvious path. Instead of a one-night stand, we have a relationship that has lasted almost twenty-five years.
I laugh robustly whenever Benny and I get together. The frivolity is refreshing. But there is depth to the friendship as well. We shared crushes, anguished over breakups and grieved over Buddies who died from AIDS. We went through the Rodney King riots and the Northridge earthquake together. (At the time of the quake, my recent ex and Benny’s boyfriend both lived near the epicenter. We couldn’t reach them. In a panic, we rounded up groceries and drove to their houses, dropping off supplies.)
Despite all we’ve gone through, Benny still sees me as some sort of WeHo party boy. While living in L.A., our weekends began Thursday night and stretched through Sunday afternoon beer busts. For a while, all roads led to Rage. Or Micky’s. Or Revolver. Or Motherlode. Or Arena.
Or all of them.
Yes, it was fun. We’d dance and do laps at one establishment and then move on to the next. We’d talk in code about hot men we’d never dare approach. (It’s always nice to have a bar companion with completely different tastes in men. We never competed over hypothetical hookups.) There was a fair share of drinking, but I think Benny has a distorted recollection of that part. I slowly nursed a couple of drinks, primarily sucking on ice cubes. I knew when to stop. I never wanted to lose control. My hearty laughter, however, gave a different impression. People often thought I was plastered. I’ll have what he’s having. I just enjoyed celebrating a reprieve from law studies. And as our social group built over the course of the night, I was always the first to leave. I’d had my fun—the good, clean kind—but I knew I’d get depressed if I stuck around too long and let it sink in that I permeated a sexual invisibility. With drinks and dreamy men, I knew my limits.
I’ve seen Benny—and his husband—twice now on this summer stay in L.A. The agenda is what it always was: pre-drinks at a quiet bar followed by more drinks at the gay bars. The only thing that’s changed is someone at the first bar always offers us complimentary shots. Still the polite Canadian, I drink the whiskey and the vodka, knowing that my drive home has just been delayed.
Benny’s husband seems particularly amused by my shyness and my extreme pickiness in men. He sees how my laughter only goes so far. It becomes his mission to crack my uptight core. And how better to do that than by handing me dollar bills and imploring me to stuff them in a go-go boy’s Speedo, right?
Wrong. I am quick to fold my arms or shove my hands in my pockets. There is no way that’s going to happen.
“Why not?” he asks. I just shake my head and stare at my shoes. It would be positively Victorian of me to speak my mind: “It’s impure.” That’s the short answer. It’s prudish even in word choice. The longer essay involves my extreme dislike for go-go boys dating back to that perennial long-weekend era. All eyes on the gyrating thongs. How was I supposed to compete? Besides, I like something left to the imagination. I don’t wish to engage in the post-dollar drop-off interview: Did you see it? Feel it? Was it all him or stuffing? I’ve just started seeing a great guy. I don’t need this kind of play.
Benny’s husband persists. He doesn’t know twenty-five-year-old me. While others fantasized over sex with the go-gos, I imagined grabbing Tanya Harding’s crowbar and knocking them all off their freakin’ pedestals. Go on, git. I came to this bar looking for love.
I suppose I’ve always been screwed up.
He brings a go-go boy to me. The go-go boy pouts. Surely he’s not used to working this hard for a measly buck. It is Benny or Benny’s husband or one of their newer friends who must feed the briefs. Probably what they wanted all along.
I spend another hour and a half nursing a bottle of water. I block out thoughts about how environmentally wasteful it is to drink from plastic. For the moment, Mothers Against Drunk Driving provides the louder message. The whiskey must go. As must the next go-go that is ushered my way. Sometimes it sucks to be that eternally polite Canadian.