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BOSTON BOYS CLUB
By JOHNNY DIAZ
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Johnny Diaz
All right reserved.
Another chilly night falls on Boston and the mercury is down to 30 degrees. Damn the thermometer! It's not too frigid to go to Club Café in the heart of the city's gay ghetto.
When I say ghetto, I mean that only in the most positive sense. The South End neighborhood is full of character and charm. Streets are lined with shoulder-to-shoulder three-story brick row houses, rounded with English-style bow fronts. First-floor windows sit a few feet from street level and the decorative cobblestone boulevards. Rose and orange flowers burst from the windowsills during warmer months. And there are Volkswagen Jettas, Beetles, and Mini Coopers parked on streets that have equally gay-sounding names such as Berkeley, Clarendon, and Upton. It's basically a gay utopia.
As twilight beckons on this city on a hill, I brave the cold in hot pursuit of the man-traffic on Columbus Avenue. Guys sport sleeveless shirts and chest-defining T-shirts underneath American Eagle wool coats and Gap corduroy jean jackets. The top layers come off as soon as they hit the lonely coat check dude and drop a buck or spare change in his tip box. Then they walk around the club showing off smooth, tanned skin as if it's summer, even though it's a bone-chilling November nightoutside.
Not me, the more conservative (and cheap) one. I take off my coat and leave on the Nautica red hoodie I bought on sale at Costco. (What isn't on sale there?) It's not that I'm ashamed of my body. I have it; I just don't necessarily think I need to flaunt it like Lil' Kim.
Thursday night is the busiest gay night here. An armada of men stand around creating a logjam of testosterone, in this bar/lounge that also serves a gay gym downstairs. You come here depending on what kind of workout you are looking for.
It's easy to think that this place has some kind of addictive magic. Each week guys come to drink, mingle, drink, cruise, drink some more, and perhaps, find manpanionship, a queer peer, a date, a potential partner/lover/spouse or whatever boyfriends are called these days, or just a play buddy for the night. No matter how often these guys see each other in the same spot, leaning at the edge of the bar, lingering around the coat check or S&Ming (standing and modeling, folks) under the TV monitors that blare Britney, Madonna, or the Wonder Woman theme song megamix, they never seem to tire of it. They never get sick of seeing the same perfectly shaved faces with mostly blue or green eyes and Salon Selectives hair, sipping their light Sam Adams or Corona beers or nursing glowing green Apple Martinis.
My reason for coming back is simple. After three Thursdays of coming here, chances are everyone will know your name as if you were in Cheers. But call this one Queers, where everyone knows with whom you last slept. So I try not to overdo it, at least the going-out part. Well, I try. Oh, and let's not forget our lady friends. They're here, too, in leather and denim jackets, jeans and winter boots. A small number wears skirts and high heels. But we men outnumber them by at least four to one. To the men, I say, You go girls!
Club Café is a perpetual rerun episode of Same Sex in the City. Each season or college semester brings a crop of new faces. So you never know whom you will meet. That unknown, an optimistic sense of possibility of meeting "someone," is what keeps guys revolving through these doors week after week, winter, spring, summer, fall, rain or snow. But even the ones who do meet that someone still can't seem to pull themselves away from Club Café.
"Howdy, Tommy Boy! What's up with you? I haven't seen you since what, last Thursday," says Rico as he walks in through the front glass, snow-stained doors that face Columbus Avenue. Rico fits the stereotype of the sexy, macho Italian to a well-groomed T. He's got thinning wisps of jet-black hair combed down Caesar cut style and eyes that easily match the green of the Italian flag.
Tommy is my nickname, short for Tomas, as in the Spanish pronunciation. It sounds like the Spanish word toma as in "drink," so I think I was appropriately named. Yeah, I'm the Cuban transplant to Boston from Cuba North, also known as Miami. Although if you think about it, Miami really is a piece of Cuba injected into the United States-but more on that later.
Just as I am proud of my Cuban heritage (my Jeep Wrangler's license plate reads QBAN) so is Rico of his family's lineage. The tattoo on his bulging right shoulder bears the design of a sailing Italian flag. It looks good with his blue T-shirt that reads ITALIAN STALLION. Rico is that kind of patriotic. This is Boston, after all, where everyone's proud of where they came from, especially the native Bostonians. But us newcomers have plenty of pride in our roots, too. Some people hate it, but I like that people here cling to their identities. Like the Puritans who first arrived here centuries ago, Boston today remains a city of immigrants. It's a revolving door of newcomers, including me. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
"Doing really well, Rico. Just hella good," I say as he stands by the coat check, peels off his coat, and unveils his guns-those killer biceps that frame his sleeveless blue T-shirt. Rico's body is hard, sanded, and sculpted like the sand dunes in Provincetown. The great body is the result of his boxing hobby, which he says is stress-release from his accounting job in the financial district. Boxing is great for cardio, he always says, but I'll have to take his word for it. I'm a writer, not a fighter. Picture a more rugged and built Freddie Prinze Jr. before he went crazy-blond for the two Scooby Doo movies and that's Rico.
"Good to see you, dude," Rico says, handing his coat to the coat check dude and then giving me one of his rib-choking bear hugs that literally lift me off my feet.
"Want a drink, dudette? Let me guess, the usual, right?" Rico offers.
Vodka with Diet Coke, aka Skinny Black Bitch, is my tonic. I didn't name it; that's what the bartenders here tell me it's called. A black bitch is vodka with regular Coke and the former is all I order. Blame my predictability on my mild OCD-the one in the medical books. I always order the same thing at restaurants and bars and I get stuck in ruts like coming to Club Café on Thursdays after 10 P.M. (Just don't call me on Friday nights when Dateline and 20/20 are on the tube.) But some say I have another kind of OCD: Obsessive Cuban Disorder, since I manage to lace my everyday conversations with Cuban references or inject them into my feature stories. Plus, I love our Miami hometown girl Gloria Estefan.
But Beantown keeps growing on me. Although there aren't many Cuban-Americans here, I always wanted to experience the seasons besides summer, write for The Boston Daily, and get in touch with my inner New Englander. I traded sopa de pollo (chicken soup) for clam chowdah. And all the buildings here have stories to tell. Being in Boston is like living in an urban museum. With a walk or a jog, you pass buildings from different centuries, each with a unique history and sometimes connected to a famous or infamous figure. Miami, my hot endless summer for twenty-nine years, looks like it was just unpacked out of a box on CBS's CSI: Miami.
Rico and I are about the same height, five-feet-ten, and I have to say that the physical similarities end about there. I've got the tumble of dark brown curls and thick black eyebrows like two sculpted awnings that umbrella my Cuban coffee-bean eyes. People say I look a lot like a skinnier Ethan, the guy on Survivor who won the $1 million a few years ago and who plays soccer. I can see why people have told me that. Hey, I'm just glad that people don't get me confused with the other Survivor winner, you know, the fat gay naked guy who has been fighting the IRS for not paying taxes on his winnings.
"Any cute guys tonight?" Rico asks as I recover from his bear hug with a d-e-e-p breath.
We make our way deeper into Club Café, also fondly known as Café SoGay, which is a restaurant in the front, with a lounge and bar in back. We pass a row of guys, spectators in a parade, as they stand along the walls of each room.
Another crush of younger guys, sporting American Eagle T-shirts, Old Navy hoods, blue jeans, and baseball caps tilted to the side, plop themselves in the middle of the room, like an island of youth. Like piranhas, the older guys-awkward in youthful garb that doesn't quite disguise the fact that the salt in their hair pours out more than the pepper-circle around and watch their potential gay prey. Destiny's Child pops up on the monitor and Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle's voices ricochet off the mirrored walls behind each bartender's station.
"Can you keep up baby boy? Make me lose my breath ..." the trio harmonizes.
"Yeah, there are some Twinks here and some new faces. Like Mary J. Blige says, let's go percolate around the club," I tell Rico. (For the uninitiated, Twinks are late-teen or early-twentysomething gay guys who are uniformly thin, wear tight A&F shirts, and who are new to the whole gay bar scene. They look like any one of the boyish, teenage hunks you'd find on The CW network, formerly The WB and UPN.)
Rico flashes his smile as he passes each guy, almost like a Miss Little Italy would when greeting her public. His smile can be compared to a gamma ray. When he smiles, which he does often, you need sunglasses to protect your eyes. It's that bright. He knows his smile is his trademark and he flashes it often, almost like a reflex, in a Tom Cruise sort of way. It's how he meets guys. He smiles and they come, in more ways than one. Problem is you never know what Rico's thinking when he smiles. Whether he thinks you're an asshole, hates what you're wearing, or doesn't exactly get what you're trying to say, the smile appears. It's mischievous like a Cheshire cat. Even at funerals, the smile makes a cameo appearance. And he gets away with it.
When Rico doesn't smile, he has mournful eyes that seem to harbor something deep and dark. His smile seems to mask some sort of pain, some longing. I can only guess because he'd never talk to me about such things. He can be inaccessible emotionally. We basically talk about guys and how to cut corners financially. Whatever he hides, he keeps it close to his vest as he does his boxing gloves. He's never told me and I suspect that lots of spontaneous sex is his panacea.
As Destiny's Child winds down from their booty-shaking video, Laura Branigan suddenly appears on the monitor, belting her 1982 hit "Gloria."
"Gloria ... I think they've got your number ... GLORIA."
The music mixes with and seems to add new life to the chatter from the scores of simultaneous conversations in the jumping Club Café. By the entrance near the lonely $1.50-service-charge ATM, a couple of guys seem to be whispering to one another as they look up.
It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's The Kyle, whose arrival is marked with his usual flair for dramatic entrances. By this, I mean he stands under one of the brighter lights in the bar and starts waving to people across the room like he is a victim drowning in a Baywatch rerun, just so people will know he's in the house.
This six-foot-three, lean, dirty-blond curly-haired former model from the Midwest walks into the place like a movie star of Brad Pitt caliber, waving to people and nodding his chin up to greet folks he doesn't necessarily recognize but who definitely recognize him. He stops to sign a few autographs. Really.
He's no movie star although he is a dapper dresser with khaki pants and long-sleeved Polo shirts. He's a reality show has-been whose once shining star has begun to fade and fall. Kyle still acts like a coterie of cameras shadow his every move, record his every word, and capture his every drama-dripping moment.
Kyle was the gay dude on the reality show The Real Life, which chronicles seven twentysomethings as they live together under one roof in Somewhere USA to see what happens when you put seven unstable opposites together with cameras all around them.
Kyle was on the Boston season, which airs in rerun hell on the weekends. Modeling scouts discovered him on the show, and he graced runways in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, as well as Milan and Paris. But as soon as the show wrapped up its fresh crop of new episodes two years ago, Kyle found himself without a televised runway to showcase himself.
Editorial modeling jobs and runway work dwindled, and his fizzling star dimmed and now barely flickers. His latest venture is to try to enlist in the Battle of the Genders challenge, which pits former Real Life contestants against one another in extreme sporting competitions. That season airs now and sometimes you can see it on the monitors here at Club Café. Kyle firmly believes the show will resurrect his career, whatever that may be.
Kyle (we call him KY for a sloppy KY Jelly incident inside a hot tub during a threesome on one of the most-talked-about Real Life episodes of all time) soaks up every stare and bit of attention he attracts wherever he goes. Tonight included.
Rico and I see him coming our way near the bar. Mr. KY spots us right away. Like a head-on collision, it's too late to avoid him. Kyle has always seemed like a good guy but his constant need for attention has made me wonder: What wouldn't he do to get it and what happens when no one cares anymore to ask him about the show? So I chitchat with him now and then to be socially diplomatic but I keep it simple and brief.
Rico, who doesn't care for Kyle and even rudely ignores him sometimes, manages to turn around. He focuses on flagging down the bartender and scans the rows of beer and liquor bottles that bedeck the wall mirror and shelves at the bartender's station.
I'm on my own here with The Kyle and there's nowhere for me to run.
"Tommy, heeeeeeeeeeeey, what have you been up to?" His words ooze out in a feminine lisp as he lords over me like a giraffe, looking around the room to make sure guys are looking at him. "When are you going to write an article about me in the Daily? I've got some upcoming projects in the works. You could put me on the front page or in the Features section. You write about everyone in this city but moi!"
I crane my head up to speak to this giant queen of a man and I "uh-huh" my way throughout the one-sided conversation. It's hard to get a simple word in when Kyle talks; he's a conversation hijacker. Finally, he takes a breath and lets me speak. "Yeah, keep me posted, Kyle. I'm really tied up with some other assignments but let me know if you get a big part in a movie or something," I say, noticing that Rico's V-shaped back is turned to us, intentionally oblivious to what is going on. "I can't guarantee a story. But I will let you know either way. Cool?"
Kyle, who is ever preening, can easily pass as a male version of supermodel Rebecca Romijn, you know, Mystique from the X-Men movies but without all that blue body makeup and morphing capabilities. He leans in for a double air kiss before he heads off to feed his ego answering all the inquiries and stares from The Real Life show's fans that are here tonight. "Great, Tommy. I'll have my agent send you an updated bio and press sheet. You're a doll!" he says, strutting off like Tyra Banks or a contender on America's Next Top Model, his favorite show.
I turn around and catch up with Rico at the bar as he waits among a throng of guys for the ponytailed bartender in the wife-beater shirt to come our way. "Hey, look at that guy, with the orange hoodie. He looks like your type. Pretty, skinny boy," Rico says. As I scan the rainbow of hoods and baseball caps, Rico smiles at the bartender, who doesn't even need to ask what he wants. "Sam Adams light, right?" Rico goes for the low-carb stuff. He nods back, smiling of course, as he fumbles for five dollars from his Urban Outfitters leather wallet and grabs his cool elixir for the night.
The guy Rico is talking about, the one I'm now scrutinizing like a Monet painting, resembles Ethan Hawke. He looks extremely boyish, sandy brown straight hair that really brings out his blue eyes, which sparkle like two small swimming pools. I watch him across the room bantering with his friends and taking a swig of Corona, and he laughs back. He's having a good time; he seems like a happy good spirit. His orange hoodie has a simple 10 on it. It agrees with him. I'm definitely interested. He looks my way, our eyes lock for one ... two ... three ... seconds and we look away. As Rico turns around to talk to me again, I leer out of the corner of my eye and notice No. 10 looking back at me. We look away again. Reality bites in a good way.
Excerpted from BOSTON BOYS CLUB by JOHNNY DIAZ Copyright © 2007 by Johnny Diaz. Excerpted by permission.
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