In spite of my nostalgia-infused memories of West Hollywood as a paradise, it had some big problems. For one thing, it was completely segregated. Only 3% of its residents were black, 5% Asian, and 10% Hispanic (compared to Los Angeles in general, 10%, 11%, and 47%).
You rarely saw anyone black on the streets, and when you did, he was with a white guy, and being charged a hefty cover to get into the bar, or waiting extra-long for the server to notice him in the restaurant.
But this isn't a story about institutional racism and microaggressions. It's about a guy named Mario.
Nearly every day, I stopped into the Different Light Bookstore on Larrabee. I joked that I was moving the entire stock into my room.
And one day I saw Mario browsing in the theater section.
He was rather feminine, thin and willowy, wearing gold rings, bracelets, and necklaces -- an immediate turnoff. But he was shorter than me, dark skinned, with glasses that gave him a studious look. So when he approached, started a conversation about gay literature, and invited me to dinner at the Greenery, I agreed.
Wait -- he meant right now. In West Hollywood, you always set up dates for the future. Was this one of those dreaded tricks, a pickup, sex for its own sake?
Tricking was frowned upon -- if this was a trick, I could never tell my friends about it.
While I ate a hamburger and Mario picked at a salad, we exchanged coming-out stories. He grew up in Richmond, Virginia and fled to West Hollywood seven years ago. He had a job as a secretary, but only until he got his big break as an actor. He hadn't had much luck, but he did land a date with celebrity Rob Lowe.
I countered by telling him about my Celebrity Boyfriend.
"My boss wants me -- I can tell," Mario continued. "But I saw him in the rest room -- a footlong, honey! No way, nuh-huh, I can't handle that."
Ok, feminine and into anal. Date or trick, this wasn't going to work. I put $5 on the table to pay for my dinner, and politely excused myself.
"Come on, honey, don't leave me hanging!" Mario exclaimed. "After I put myself out to cruise you! I don't meet many nice guys, who are willing to take things slow and get to know you. Everybody wants to just jump into bed right away."
This was awkward! "Well...um...I don't think we're compatible."
"Is it because I'm black? You're afraid what your friends will say?"
"What? No!" My face burned. That was the farthest thing from my mind, But now we were definitely going through with the date, or trick.
So we walked down the street to Mickey's, the twink hangout, and danced and flirted and groped and fondled.
No kissing! Was he shy or what?
But, date or trick, I was ready to go home with him.
Mario lived in a very nice apartment building, white with pink trim, on Romaine Street just off Fairfax. He made me take off my shoes and socks to avoid tracking lint on the carpet.
"Do you want to take your shower first?" he asked. "There are fresh towels in the bathroom, and a douche under the sink."
Douche? Was he an anal top?
All of the towels in the bathroom were white, like at the gym.
I showered and came out to find Mario in the kitchen. "Now put your clothes in the washer, and I'll do a load tomorrow morning before you go home. Don't worry, no one will touch your stuff."
"You can't get dressed into dirty clothes, can you?"
I did as he asked. Mario went to take his shower. I wandered around the apartment -- only a few books, all on acting -- and found the bedroom.
It was completely white: rug, curtain, dresser, nightstand, lamp, bedspread, everything. It made my eyes hurt.
I stood there, afraid to touch anything. A song by Cream ran through my head: "In a white room with black curtains...wait in the place where shadows run from themselves..."
Soon Mario appeared, wearing only a white towel.
"Oh, don't worry -- the sheets and bedspread are clean. I change them every day."
"Every...day? I have like three sets of sheets, tops. Don't you run out?"
"Oh, honey, I wouldn't run out for a month. I buy sheets the way other guys buy shoes. But I do the laundry every day anyway. Who wants dirty clothes in the hamper for a week?" He groped me. "Now give me that towel. I'll hang it up so it won't get mildewed."
He took off his towel, too -- Kielbasa, beautifully shaped. I sat on the bed, naked, until he returned.
I moved in for a kiss. "Sorry, I'm not into that," he said, turning his face away.
We lay on the bed, not kissing. Mario's body was cool to the touch. He didn't turn the light off -- the bright lights against the white background were dazzling.
He turned over on his stomach. No dice.
He tried to sit on me.
"I'm really not into that," I said.
"No problem, honey. I know lots of ways to please my man."
Mario moved down below the belt.
The weirdness, the whiteness, the femininity, the lack of kissing -- nothing was happening.
A unpardonable sin, for either a date or a trick.
After awhile, he gave up and said "Well, I love cuddling with my man, too."
Wait -- didn't I get a chance at his Kielbasa?
He didn't turn off the light! I was stuck spending the night with him -- it would have been gauche to leave -- in a room as glaringly white as a hospital bed.
After a few hours, I got up, gauche or no gauche, retrieved my clothes from the washer, and woke Mario with some excuse about why I had to leave.
"Sorry, honey," he murmured. "I guess you're just not into black guys."
No, I was definitely into black guys, just not glaring white rooms.
I ran into Mario occasionally after that, at the Different Light, the gay Safeway, or on the street, and he always smiled sadly, as if to say "I know your secret shame."
That wasn't fair. No one can be expected to perform in a white room, with someone who won't kiss and calls him "honey."
See also: Mario's Date or Trick with Rob Lowe and The Truth about the Black Penis