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.”
1978: Safely landed at New Orleans Airport, Al and I jumped into an airport van and headed straight to the French Quarter. As the van door closed, Al started laughing. A friend of his from San Francisco was also in the van in full drag and sporting a bright red beard. Next to him sat a tall slender 40ish drag queen with a red bouffant. “Pleased, darlin, the name’s Ada, Ada Hearts here!” he said to me. I laughed and said “pleased to meet you ma’am.” Al said they both worked together at The Badlands on 18th Street in San Francisco.
1978: The stewardess gently told us to fasten our seatbelts, we were now descending into New Orleans. I thought it was part of a dream. I looked out the window and it was all green and water, swamps as far as the eye could see. It was just becoming morning. I was glad the flight had been a red eye from LA, I had a margarita aftertaste from the night before. I remember no one sitting next to me so I was able to lay out over the seats. Al Vorse had his own row too. Al was my good buddy from San Francisco who’d gotten me a job for Mardi Gras. Descending into New Orleans. That was a good way of putting my life at this point.
(Late 1970s-1980s): In New Orleans, Bourbon Street runs for thirteen narrow blocks, roughly north to south, a straight line, ignoring the bend of the huge Mississippi. This can be deceptive because Uptown looks like its north and yet its west, and if you look to the left towards the River you can see the barges and the ships floating a couple of stories higher than you. Your bearings have already been taken over by the city.
MYKONOS, 1985 – In early September 1985, I spent a week on vacation in Mykonos. Early in the week, I spied a handsome, muscular, blond young man on clothing-optional Super Paradise Beach and started chatting with him. His name was Gary Matthews and he was a Welsh hair stylist visiting from London. Fortunately, the attraction was mutual and, within a brief time, we were enclosed in each other’s arms on my beach towel. By the late afternoon, we were on the ferry back to Mykonos town together. And, at dusk, we were making love on my patio overlooking the Aegean, as the sun slowly sank over the horizon.
JUNE 1978 – The cracks in my closet appeared slowly. By 1978, I was out with my family and my college fraternity brothers, but I had no local gay friends. I was intimidated by NYC’s gay scene, ensconced in an intense training program at a conservative bank, and madly infatuated with my best friend and colleague there, a straight, former Princeton football captain and tight end.
I’m thinking about seasons of our lives this morning, as I lie in bed with my husband, Chuck, in our home in Chandler, Arizona. I’ve just looked at Mike Balaban’s instagram page, and seeing all those old photos made me think about the life or lives I could have lived, had I made different choices.