When I was living in San Francisco, my friend David and I walked down Castro Street every day on the way to and from work, even though it was strictly not necessary, to immerse ourselves in the heart of the heart of the gay world.
The Castro Theater -- Orphan Andy's -- Almost Home -- All American Boy -- Twin Peaks -- even the Walgreen's on the corner of 18th and Castro were icons of home.
I liked the morning best, when the street was quiet and calm, empty except for an occasional gym hunk on the way to his workout.
And the barfly.
Every morning, we passed a little bar -- now it's the QBar -- with big French doors open to the street, and in the darkness inside, a single guy, alone on a barstool, gazing out into the world.
He was older, white haired, rather well dressed for the denim-and-leather crowd, wearing a white shirt and a tie. I couldn't tell what he was drinking, but it wasn't beer.
"Drunks," David said with a disapproving scowl. A former Baptist minister, he was vehemently opposed to alcohol. "Has to get his fix."
Every morning, day after day, the barfly sat at the bar, looking out at the world. Sometimes he nodded or waved at us as we passed.
I got so used to seeing him that when he wasn't there, I waited for a few minutes to see if he'd show up.
In the evening, when we passed again after work, the bar was usually packed with the Happy Hour crowd, but the barfly was still there.
In the same spot, as if he hadn't moved.
Who would stay all day and all night in a bar? Didn't he have other things to do?
Gay people are very territorial. They've been battered around the straight world so much that when they find a home, they stay. Maybe this guy couldn't bear to leave the heart of the heart of the gay world, that one block of Castro Street between 17th and 18th.
But no one could spend their life on that block. There were restaurants, bars, clothing stores, a drug store, a theater, and a hair stylist, but no gyms, bookstores, post offices, grocery stores, or banks. Or jobs.
For weeks David and I passed, morning and evening, and the barfly was there.
One evening, without warning, I headed into the bar.
David grabbed my arm. "Wait -- don't tell me you're hot for that barfly? He's cute and all, but he's a drunk!"
"He knows how to use the phone book!"
"Hey, I went with you to cruise in the men's room at Macy's. The least you can do is help me cruise the old guy."
Grumbling, David followed me into the bar. We sat on barstools on either side of the barfly and ordered cokes.
The barfly turned to David, grinning. "What took you so long?"
He held out his hand. "I'm Karol. Not a drag name -- it's Polish for 'Charles.'"
"David...and this is Boomer."
"Hiya," he said over his shoulder. "I've been coming to this bar morning and night for weeks, . I was about ready to give up."
"So...you don't spend all day here?" I asked.
Karol laughed. "I don't think my clients would like that!"
"I should have chased after you, but I didn't want to be that Creepy Old Guy, you know."
"Come on, you're not that much older than us," I said.
"I'm over 40, by a few years. I remember Poland before the War -- World War II, not Vietnam. And I remember the Summer of Love -- I bet you were still in diapers."
"So you don't drink?" David asked.
"A Bloody Mary now and then, and maybe a vodka and tonic. But I don't drink a lot, no."
Then Karol turned to me, his back to David -- the guy he had a crush on. What was his game?
He told me about growing up during the War, coming to America to find work as an artist, marrying, having kids, and then coming out and finding his way to San Francisco.
"I was here before AIDS, before Gay Liberation, back when Jose Serria was doing drag shows at the Black Cat Cafe."
Suddenly I glanced down -- while he was talking, Karol had been groping David, unzipping his pants, and now he had pulled it out!
You heard me.
Right out in the open.
Later that night, David called me.
"So, how was the date with your secret admirer?"
"Well, that's just it. You know how, when you finally get a guy you've been fantasizing about for a long time, the reality is always disappointing? Plus when you get older, things get more difficult. And Karol had been drinking...."
"His mission was a failure, huh?"
"And that embarrassed me so much that my mission was a failure, too. Big bust all around. So...you want to go to the Bear Party?"
The next morning Karol was not on his usual bar stool on Castro Street.
See also: A Hookup in the Restroom at Macy's and Waking Up to a Straight Boy in My Bed.