As it so happened, he texted back to say he was already at one of the bars with a long-term gay couple. Their idea of a night out starts at 3:30 and ends at 5:30. I passed on the suggestion that I stop by as I wasn’t about to cut short my outdoor adventure. Besides, I wasn’t bar-ready: too much daylight, too problematic bike helmet hair, too much unresolved history. (Eighteen years ago when this couple had just begun dating, I kicked them out of a party I was hosting. I’d spent hundreds on booze and food and the pretty young new boyfriend had the gall to ask for milk. If I’d been drinking milk that night, the flare-up that followed would have never been.)
Graham and I agreed to meet later at 9 p.m., still not a club-happening hour but I knew Graham, at 59, wasn’t the sort to hang around ‘til closing time. We met at a bar called Fountainhead. I don’t think it existed at the time I left Vancouver ten years ago. May have. I’d been clubbed to death—read that however you’d like; it fits—long before that.
The place was too crowded, too warm and the music blared. I knew the evening’s conversation would go something like this:
“How are you?”
I used my best charade gestures to suggest we leave. Since when did people starting packing in a gay bar before 10:30? Has Vancouver become too mellow? I’m not being critical. In fact, I find it rather accommodating to my altered pace. I didn’t get a good look at the Fountainhead crowd. Perhaps the bar scene is now ruled by middle-agers.
We walked down Davie Street to a place I’d never been, a bar called Pumpjack. “Be warned,” Graham said. “The place makes me feel pretty.”
As we entered, the place was crowded but there appeared to be enough elbow room so that any bumps and grabs could not be shrugged off as accidental. Awesome. I can’t handle the ambiguity. Graham balked at the $5 cover charge. My party mate is a senior on a fixed budget, after all. “It’s the principle of it,” he said. “This is not a cover charge kind of place.” But there was a special event. Battle of the Bulge. Our lucky night. (The lack of an exclamation mark is intentional.) I covered the cover and in we went.
The trek to bar and then to bar stool was entirely bump/grab/ogle-free. Clearly, the crowd wasn’t liquored up enough yet. Such a relief. I think.
Graham sipped his beer while I tried to extend the life of my bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. (I really wanted a glass of the house white but, dammit, this is not a Chablis sort of establishment.) Within half an hour, the “special event” began. Most of the patrons gathered on the dancefloor for optimal viewing. Graham and I remained on our comfy stools. “If I can’t see it from here, it’s really not much of a battle, is it?” I said. Three men entered the contest, two coaxed from the crowd and a young go-go dancer type they apparently paid to participate. Yes, our covers were going to a good cause.
To be sure, the also-rans never had a chance. A rigged affair. And yet I’m sure they can go to brunch today and regale their friends over their derring-do. “I dropped trou! On stage! You should have heard the cheers!” The highlight of a lifetime or maybe just another Saturday night. We all have our needs.
Graham and I missed the coronation. We were foolish enough to keep our conversation going throughout the special event. Still, the victor savored his victory by spending the next half hour mingling through the crowd in a jock strap and sneakers. It took the spotlight off an old guy in a kilt and chains across his chest. And, really, the spotlight did need to come off him. But perhaps I’m just sounding bitter. Without the buzz of yesteryear. Everyone was looking for his own kind of fun on a Saturday night. If it comes from a jockstrap, a kilt and chains or a Batman costume with a piggy mask—yes, this was another “face” in the crowd—so be it.
I had a nice chat with Graham from the safety of my stool against a wall. As we left, we took a detour through the dancefloor. Yes, it might have been fun to get up and boogie, shake my groove thing, maybe even laugh off some unsolicited twerking. But that’s not what I do with Graham. We sit. We talk. And then we move on.
Back on the streets. 11:30. The end of a night on the town. Research done. The bars aren’t for me. That’s no surprise. How could I grow back into something I’d long ago outgrown?
Regardless, I had a pleasant time. Progress! That’s more than I can say for the past ten years of Saturday nights in Nowhere-land. But if I want to find a man who can invest in at least two dates, I need to explore other options.
And I knew that all along. If only it were easier.