I came out of the closet ten years ago and honestly have never felt even the slightest sense of homophobia directed toward me, individually. I chalk that up to my willingness (and better-than-average ability) to sit down with anyone at all and have a candid, respectful discussion about our differences and fears. Alcohol usually helps.
My philosophy was put to the test this evening. Eric and I only go to Tom Bergin's on Mondays and Tuesdays, the nights Michael works. Michael, well into his seventies and one of the last true barmen in LA, is indeed quick with a joke or to light up your smoke but is also good for a few measures of Cole Porter and, on rare occasions, will demonstrate the underrated dancing prowess of Jackie Gleason. Guys like Michael make bars feel healthy.
The TVs at Bergin's are hung amongst a quilt of faded cardboard shamrocks, each adorned with the name of a foregone regular, including Eric. He and I don't pay much attention to the TVs on Mondays or Tuesdays, but as it turns out, the Olympic Men's Individual Figure Skating (long program), when muted and set to the Bergin's jukebox, is highly entertaining.
I ask Michael if he gives a shit about the Winter Olympics. He takes a pen from his ear and flips a coaster. "Let me make a list of things I give a shit about, Brian." After a few seconds he smiles. "Sadly, I don't think the Winter Olympics is going to make list."
An Italian figure skater has just glided onto the ice in a tasseled Paul Bunyon costume. One of the overall's shoulder straps is dangling, intentionally, off to the side and a red plaid patch has been sewed onto the ass. It is decidedly the gayest men's figure skating outfit in the history of the world. (A redundant statement, I recognize.)
Just then, a swollen, drunk man seated next to us begins interrogating the television set. "This is homo shit!" he declares. "Why the fuck are we watching men's figure skating?" Eric and I share an awkward, confused nod. (I mean, really, why are we watching men's figure skating?) Michael responds matter-of-factly, with the enthusiasm of a 76-year-old Irish bartender who has just been asked to defend a televised ice-dancing ritual. "It's the Olympics, kid. So we watch it."
NBC should trademark that line.
The Swollen Man, however, swells on. "No, Michael, no..." raising a hairy paw for emphasis, "I mean who are the fucking homos in this bar who are actually watching men's figure skating!?"
Now, there are plenty of sentences I've never said: (E.g., "Madame, it seems we are out of hay." "Bro's before ho's," "Will you take one more photo of me with my shirt off," etc.) I am certain, however, that tonight is the first time I've uttered the words, "I am the homosexual who is watching men's figure skating, dude."
The Swollen Man splurts. "Uh... Well, it's not my fault you're a homo, and it's not my fault your gay ass is sore from watching men's figure skating." I'm torn. I really feel the need to clarify that I am not a bottom. I also feel the need to throw the very first punch of my life. Instead, I take more of a kindergarten approach.
"Look," I say, "you have really, deeply offended me and my friend by what you just said. I didn't like that." The Swollen Man is not quite sure how to respond and his logic struggles. "Well... I am deeply offended that... you would be offended by what I said and I don't like it that you didn't like it, [undecipherable]..."
Tensions are high. And confusing.
Michael, as straight as they make 'em, turns to the Swollen Man and says, calmly, "Y'know, Dave, I've sucked more dick than anyone in this bar, so if you got a problem with Brian, you've got a problem with me." There's a bit of silence as Michael returns to drying a wine glass and expertly segment-pouring a draft of Guinness.
Dave drools and stares at me, defeated. "Look, man. I have three kids at home and I'm always telling them to respect everyone they meet. And I haven't done that tonight. I apologize for insulting you." I immediately accept.
More skewed logic from Dave: "...I mean, this isn't the south! This is Cali-fucking-fornia, goddamn it, this isn't how we treat gay people in California, we don't do... [unintelligible sputtering drool.]
"Well, Dave," I respond, lips pursed, "It sorta is the way California treats gay people, what with it being illegal for us to get married and all..." Dave can't believe this is a sticking point for me. "Do you realize that I pay an extra five thousand dollars a year in taxes because I'm married? You are lucky you can't get married, Brian. You are saving a fortune, dude!"
Realizing that this debate must mercifully end soon, I offer up one more point. "Yes, I'm sure the tax breaks are really swell, and I plan on looking into those tax breaks - but Dave, have you ever visited your wife in the emergency room?" Yes, he has. "And that little trip cost me fifty bucks," he says confidently. Once again I am humbled by the sanctity of marriage.
I shake Dave's hand and tell him we should be going, but he won't have any of it. "No way. Least I can do is buy you a drink. What are you having?" All eyes are on my half-full glass of wine. "I accept, Dave," I smile. "I would love another glass of a really gay cabernet sauvignon."
Dave ends up paying for our entire dinner. When, in his estimation, that isn't enough, he informs us that he owns the number one (tier-2) high-speed internet company in the state and tomorrow morning he will hook us up "with some lightening fast shit, man. The real deal. 62 Gigahertz route-pop...vector...[unintelligible]..." Eric and I thank Dave and say something like, "Oh, yeah, we definitely understand what you just said." He gives me a sweaty bear hug and lets out a tiny nervous-fart (audible.) I like to think the Arab-Israeli Camp David Accords ended in a similar fashion.
As we leave, a collective "Whoa!" fills the room. Paul Bunyon just missed a triple lutz and landed flat on his face. I look over at Dave, who is once again screaming at the television - this time, with slightly more encouragement. "Get up, buddy! You can do it, Buynon! Finish the routine! That-a-boy..."
Michael throws me a wink and says, "Seeya next Monday, kid."