Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Thug from Catch One

Los Angels, February 1986

I had been in West Hollywood for about six months, and I was starting to notice that it wasn't all heaven.
Con artists, hustlers, pickpockets.
Poverty, homelessness.
And racism.

You rarely encountered Men of Color in West Hollywood; it was Anglo-white in all directions, as far as the eye could see.

And when you did see someone black or Hispanic, the clerk in the story was eyeing him suspiciously. Or the bar was charging him a cover charge of $10 ($1 for white guys).  Or you overheard casual comments like "What's he doing here?"

Even my ex-boyfriend Alan, the Pentecostal Porn Star, chimed in: "I'm not racist, but I wouldn't date a black guy.  I like to be the dominant partner."

 So bedroom positions are based on race?  Really?

I decided to educate Alan by dragging him along as I cruised for African-American men.

He agreed, but only if we went to Mugi to cruise for Asian men afterwards.

He told me that there were three "black gay bars." in Los Angeles.  White guys went to the Study or the Zone, and Jewel's Catch One was black only.

So naturally, I wanted to go to Catch One.

But white guys couldn't get in, Alan protested.  Or they were forced to pay an outrageous cover charge.  And if you made it inside, you got such severe Attitude that you ran away sobbing.

Besides, it was in a "bad neighborhood," near the corner of Pico (bad) and Crenshaw (worse).

That settled it -- we were going to catch one at Catch One!

The evening started out fine: We weren't turned away at the door, and there was no enormous cover charge.  There was no more Attitude than you would get at the Rage or the Gold Coast.

We walked through a lounge area and two beautifully decorated bars, one with a dance floor.  The music was all R&B, all female black vocalists: Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Dione Warwick, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle.

We got our Cokes from a very cute bartender and found a place to prop up the wall.  

After awhile, I said "Well, time to work the room!", yelling to make myself heard.  When you cruised with a friend, you always split up to "work the room," or people would think you were a couple and refuse to make eye contact.

"No way!" Alan yelled into my ear.  "You're not leaving me! We're the only white guys here!"

That came out startlingly loud. Everyone standing nearby overheard.  One guy turned to stare at us: very tall, very muscular, shirtless, glowing with sweat from dancing.  There were gold chains dangling around his neck.

He approached, and faced Alan, glaring. "Does yo' mind if I ax yo' boyfriend to dance?" he asked, in a stereotypical black accent.  I saw that he had a tattoo on his chest, a rarity in 1986.

Alan paled.  "Boomer's not...he's not my boyfriend."

He turned to me.  "Does yo' wanna get down, white boy?  The name's T, as in Thug."

I gave him my best cruising grin.  "Sure, T!"

He stared in surprise.  Obviously he had been expecting a rejection.  "Um...ok,  Let's go."

We danced to "Rhythm of the Night" and "That's What Friends Are For," and then moved into the lounge for drinks and kissing.

"Sorry about the 'white boy' stuff," T said, dropping the accent. "I figured you were out looking for thugs, and I'd give you what you came for.  T is actually short for Thomas."

"I kind of realized that you were putting us on."

He grinned.  "So, how about dinner Thursday night?  You and Alan can come down to my house, if you're not scared of South Central."

Alan didn't want to go.  South Central was notorious for its gangs, drugs, and drive by shootings!  We'd never make it out alive!

So  I drove down by myself.   8 miles to USC, and then 8 miles south on the 110, an hour's drive in rush -hour traffic, to  Manchester Avenue, a neighborhood of small houses with square fenced-in yards.  Other than the bars on all the windows, you'd never know you were in a high-crime area.

T lived with his mother, who introduced herself and then retreated to her room as he cooked and served chicken gumbo, a green salad, and a perfectly horrible bread pudding.

Then we sat on his couch, watching The Cosby Show, Cheers, and Night Court, and talking about his job -- I forget what it was now -- and my graduate school coursework, and his childhood in South Central and mine in Rock Island.  Eventually we made it into the bedroom.

T was very nice, and extremely hot, but we didn't really have a lot in common, at least not enough to entice me into another hour-long drive in rush hour traffic.  So we didn't see each other again. But we stayed in contact.  He's now married to an Asian guy.

By the way, in case you're wondering: Mortadella+.

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