1982—Max was at work at the point station, his head down deep into the jockey box scooping up ice in the cups taking orders three and four at a time. We were slammed. I was in my station picking up some of his to keep up. I looked over at him and saw his whole body was shaking, and heard him yell this “oooooooohhhh” sound. The barback and I ran over. He was being electrocuted by the metal jockey box touching an electrical outlet. I got him to drop the soda gun and his body relaxed. He staggered into the barback, who grabbed him under the arms and started to drag him to the back of the bar.
Louis had vanished. Iʼd look for him but he kept out of the bars, strange hours, whatever jobs he picked up. Saw Jeff again who came on to me at Jewel’s and weʼd play around some with his big beard and arms and was kinda hot but he was not Louis. I couldnʼt make out with him. Louis was in my way. He knew it, didnʼt offer any information. I worked my shift regular and fucked around now and again, hangin with my bartender friends. Iʼd get off work at 5am, count tips and be home around 7am to pass out and get some sleep. I just worked a Sunday beer bust and was feeling good and frisky. I parked myself on a stool in the back of Lafitte’s by the fireplace, had my stool leaning against the bricks, and kicked back having had a lot of drinks and shots and shooting bull and cruising hard.
Without a doubt, New York City is a veritable cornucopia of hot men. However, sanity and stability are for sure not qualities that the gays possess in their early 20s, regardless of how successful they seem.
Take, for instance, one of my most recent encounters upon moving to NYC in 2010. His name for the purposes of this story is “Mr. Hi.”
I moved to New York City in the fall of 1980 and quickly landed a job at a top corporate design agency, making $15,000 a year. It wasn’t much to live on, but, fortunately, my rent was only $250 a month for an Upper Eastside tenement—a 3-room railroad flat, complete with bathtub in the kitchen.
My first boyfriend, Jim Fragale, was turning 40 and I was 27. It was 1979. He’d moved to NYC from West Virginia in 1963 at 24. When we began dating, I couldn’t believe he’d lived in NYC for such a long time. I remember saying to him “I hope I’m not still here after 16 years (As it turns out, I’ve now been here 41 years, though I had a 2-year break in Tokyo working for a bank).
In 1979 and with no gay life to speak of, I scrimped to save a few thousand dollars, negotiated my departure from my firm, sublet my Manhattan apartment, and took off for California in my little Toyota Celica. In retrospect, I had to leave NYC to “learn to be gay.”
1979: A thunderclap woke me up and then loud voices. I hadn’t gotten much sleep but wasn’t hungover. I felt a buzz all around me, I had no idea what time it was but could hear guys laughing in the courtyard and then the door was opened and in came Louie and Clyde. “Get your lazy ass outta that bed boy, we got some people to meet.” It’s Mardi Gras day an nobody sleeps through that! “Downstairs now, get in that shower.” Clyde bellowed. Louie just smiled at me and laughed. “You have a good time last night Curtis?” I smiled. “Get ready and meet us at the gate and I’ll fill you in on anything you don’t remember,” Louie said as he closed the door.
1979 – “The rules of this house during Mardi Gras are” as George South proceeded to tell all of us hung-over guys at about 11am on Saturday morning of Mardi Gras weekend in his large double parlor “if you got keys it’s your house—no tricks—but if you fall in love then I’ll be watchin! Everybody’s ass is home for dinner at 7pm every night.” “No excuses, even for bartenders. Now, ya’ll get out on them streets or on the stoops and have some fun!
1979: Getting to work at Café Lafitte on the second night of Mari Gras was tough, even though 1132 Bourbon Street was only a couple of blocks away. The crowds of Mardi Gras revelers started at St. Philip, just a block from the house and it was body-to-body up Bourbon Street all the way to Lafitte’s. Then, it was in the front door and just push and shove my way through the bar, past the fireplace, and into the alleyway to get to the backroom. The jukebox was blaring “Mardi Gras Mambo.” No one had a shirt on anywhere and I was lucky to get to the back with my shirt on too. The backroom was also packed, but with bartenders and barbacks. I only knew a couple of the guys– Jason, who’d be working with me upstairs, and another guy Craig. Steve, who everyone called “the Ayatollah,” acted just like the despot he was named after. He was a good-looking, blond-haired, blue-eyed man who was very self-assured, strong and in supreme command. He began barking out orders to us like we were his guards. I stood there taking my orders.
Mardi Gras, 1979: Clyde, Al and I began walking up to Lafitte’s. Clyde started talking about Louie Hartfield and his lover Steve, “Now Louie will be staying at the house with us cause he’s been having some trouble with Steve. Steve now manages Lafitte’s, both the Café downstairs bar, and the Corral upstairs bar. The Corral had always been Louie’s bar, but then Louie suddenly departed for another venue.”