Rediscovering New York (1979)

October 1979—Shortly after I returned to Manhattan from my cross-country road trip spent trying to find my “gay self.”, Bo, the guy I had been seeing in San Diego, and three of his friends (two of whom I’d also slept with) came to NYC for the Mr. Blueboy Contest (Blueboy was a Playgirl-like magazine with stories and male nudity that was popular then.). One of the San Diego crew was representing that city in the nationwide contest and was put up in a nice hotel in midtown Manhattan. The others stayed with me.

Almost every gay male tourist who visited Manhattan in 1979 wanted to do two things: get in to Studio 54 for an evening and visit the infamous Mineshaft, the anything-goes NYC gay male sex club. My guests were no different.

Feeling up the Underflair Man, NYC

I was a frequent visitor to Studio 54, so I had no problem getting my guests in to that legendary club. And, we had a great time dancing there. In spite of the hassle of getting through the club’s vaunted “velvet rope” selection process, once we were inside, the atmosphere was almost democratic and everyone was in a convivial mood.

The Mineshaft was a different story. I was too conservative, inhibited, and uptight to have ever visited it. But, my best friend, Chris Smith, was a Mineshaft habitué and offered to take us there. We went on two successive evenings. On the first, despite the comfort of traveling in a group and having taken an inhibition-lowering substance (­­­organic mescaline, I think), I stayed close to the group in the front bar area, never exploring the downstairs, its dark recesses, and the steamy activities taking place there. Very early the next morning, when we compared notes over coffee at a small diner in the West Village called the Pink Teacup Cafe, I realized how much I had missed.

So, on our second visit, emboldened by more drugs in my system, I descended into the darkness downstairs. My first encounter was with a guy lying in a bathtub in the middle of the room. He wanted men to urinate on him. I’m an obliging guy, so, needing to take a piss, I complied.

I then wandered into a totally dark room, where the rustling of clothing, grunts and moans of sexual pleasure, and smell of sweat and poppers filled the air. I wouldn’t have been able to face that scene in a normal state, but, high as a kite, I felt like I was in a different person’s body and hardly knew what was happening to me. Someone pulled down my pants and pulled me against him from behind , while someone else backed into me from the front. After some time, I made my way back upstairs and joined my friends. Unfortunately, when leaving the club, I noticed my wallet was missing, a consequence of having had my pants down around my ankles and being quite distracted.

As for the Mr. Blueboy contest, I remember little about it.  Our friend, Chris, the San Diego entrant, didn’t win or even finish in the top three.   The only memorable aspect of the occasion was that Studio 54 had agreed to host the contest, so we got to visit that famous venue twice that week, once as part of its customary glitzy, mixed crowd and once with an audience of horny gay men

Gay Pride March, Washington D.C., 1979

After the Mr. Blueboy Contest was over, we traveled together to Washington, DC, for the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 14, 1979, attended by about 100,000 LGBT community members and allies.  Much like my first political demonstration against the Vietnam War in D.C. in 1971, it was an emotional and empowering experience.

While celebrating afterwards at “beer blast” in the Lost & Found Disco, I noticed soreness in my posterior.  I was freaked out by that.  When I returned to NYC, I quickly found a gay doctor, Dr. Dan William, a medical luminary, who became my general practitioner.  He diagnosed me with gonorrhea , almost certainly from my evening at the Mineshaft. An injection of penicillin and a regimen of antibiotics for the next couple of weeks treated the symptoms. But, the experience rattled me and left me feeling unclean and guilty for having indulged in anonymous hedonism. Otherwise, I was as good as new in no time.

However, because of the combination of having my wallet stolen and having contracted a sexually transmitted disease, I was not interested in frequenting establishments like the Mineshaft again in the future.—Mike Balaban

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