1992 – 24 years old
Michael dropped me at the Castro district in front of the café where Monroe and his friends were having brunch. As he lifted his helmet to kiss me goodbye, I heard applause from the restaurant patio, and we shared a giggle before he drove off on his motorcycle into the crisp San Francisco air.
Monroe raised his Bloody Mary waving me over, and I sheepishly began my walk of shame to their table. With disco music blaring from the outdoor speakers, I sauntered from the sidewalk to the patio entrance, through the crowd of shirtless men, dolled-up drag queens and bondage couples dressed in leather chaps and dog collars.
I couldn’t stop beaming. It was my first trip to San Francisco, my first gay pride experience, and for the first time in a long time – maybe ever – I felt completely at home.
Monroe and I had met a year earlier back home in Hawaii. We were both newly hired food servers at a posh members-only sports club on the south end of Waikiki. When we weren’t gossiping about our upper crust clientele, dreaming up elaborate plot lines straight out of Falcon Crest, we spent our shifts quoting lines from our favorite Meryl Streep movie, Postcards from the Edge.
“Sorry dear, but you know how the queens love me,” Monroe whispers, walking past me with a pitcher of iced tea.
“I don’t have…a generation,” I snickered back on my way to drop off a check.
I didn’t love my new part-time gig as a waitress but working with Monroe made it tolerable and fun.
I was nearing my mid-twenties, and having been a stripper since age nineteen, I’d started to freak about being a senior citizen on the pole. At the advice of my new therapist Dr. Gelb, I got myself a real job with a real paycheck – in addition to working the club on the weekends.
Monroe and I were instant friends. He was a gay man in his late twenties from San Francisco who now lived in Hawaii with his partner Gary, a flight attendant who was recently stationed on Oahu. Monroe made no apologies for who he was, and I marveled at his elaborate yet subtle flamboyance. He was the first gay person I didn’t see as a character or cliché.
I grew up with Paul Lynde on Match Game and, later, Boy George from Culture Club, and Monroe wasn’t like either of them. On the heels of the Eighties AIDS epidemic, it wasn’t nearly as socially acceptable to be out of the closet as it is now. I respected my new friend for not only living in his truth but for teaching me that being proud of who we are is beautiful. I was still learning who that person was, but Monroe was all about embracing everything, flaws and all.
It didn’t bother me that in some circles, gay people were considered outcasts and misfits. I had been bullied for over a decade for something I was born with, my skin, so my heart was wrapped around the gay community as an ally in solidarity. Also, gay men were safe to be close with and I trusted them in ways I couldn’t imagine trusting straight guys. The last thing my gay friends wanted was my body; all they cared about were my shoes!
As I sat at brunch with the boys, I quickly ordered a mimosa and joined the fun.
“So, girl, how was your night?” Peter teased, already knowing the answer.
“Oh you guys! We had so much fun!” I was still high on orgasms and lack of sleep. “After we left the club, he took me for a ride on his bike and then we came back to the hotel.”
“Oh, I know, missy,” Monroe interrupted, reminding me that he walked in on us at two in the morning and had to get his own room.
“Shit, that’s right!” The boys and I snickered over egg whites and turkey sausage. “I’m sorry,” I said sincerely and with a smile. Monroe blew me a kiss of forgiveness and we raised our glasses.
“Cheers honey! You got some!” Peter announced.
“Haaaaay!” a faceless comment chimed in from the crowd. “To PRIDE!”
“To PRIDE!” we all cheered.
“So, you gonna see him again?” Monroe asked. “We don’t leave until Tuesday night.”
As a stripper, I was used to picking up one-night stands after work at my usual hangout in Waikiki, but meeting Michael last night was different. I was in an unfamiliar city and he was beyond good looking, almost too hot; he could easily pass for a younger Andy Garcia from Black Rain.
I felt like I won the lottery in taking him home with me, so to roll the dice for a second time left me scared and unsure. But I was floating from the first time and could still taste his patchouli and leather on my lips. The thought of hanging out with him again made me weak in the vagina.
“Oh God, that would be amazing, but how?” I felt like we were in an alternative remake of the movie Grease where I was Sandy the Slut and my boys were The Pink Ladies offering pearls of casual-sex wisdom.
“Girl it’s easy, just do what we do. Call him up, tell him you had a great time last night and you’d like to do it again,” Peter’s boyfriend advised.
“Is it that easy?” I took a sip, looked up at the San Francisco skyline and the warm air kissed my cheeks. The speakers belted out Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, and the world around me was laughing, dancing and letting their freak flag fly.
Monroe knew how my insecurities with my skin held me back and offered reassurance. “Sweetie, he already knows you – how fabulous you are. You are beautiful, now go get you some.”
“OK, I’m gonna do it!” I cheered and walked off to find a pay phone.
Monroe and I slept nearly the entire plane ride home after sharing stories of our last night in the city. My second night with Michael was even better than the first. He picked me up on his bike and we checked out a local poetry reading at a dive bar in Haight Ashbury. We got drunk on cheap wine and shared artistic dreams: His wanting to be a musician and me, a writer.
I’d just finished reading Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors by John Densmore (the drummer for The Doors) and was excited to share my thoughts. I was elaborating on one of the stories from the book and he stopped to kiss me mid-sentence.
“Wow. You really are a writer.” He cupped his hands in my face and I tightened up in my seat. Other than doctors, no one has ever touched my face, and they certainly didn’t do so with affection.
I thought about Monroe and his words: He knows you – how fabulous you are. You are beautiful. I took a breath relaxing in my chair and kissed Michael back. We left for the hotel and enjoyed our last night together.
On the plane, I woke up to the sound of my cassette tape ending. I popped open my Walkman, flipped the tape over, pressed Play and closed my eyes. Not Enough Time by INXS began to play and my heart melted into the melody and lyrics.
“And I was lost for words in your arms…Not enough time for all that I want for you…”
I thought about Michael knowing I’d never see him again, but I couldn’t help but smile. I let someone touch my face and kiss me.
It was fabulous. And I was beautiful.