It wasn’t possible in those days to
be young and gay in NYC and not go to bars. One night I ended up at a
place in Harlem called The Territorial. It greeted customers in the
manner of prohibition speakeasies, with eyes peering through a window
in a wooden door.
I was with Suzy, my first girlfriend
and, by that time, my ex. Her lover Kenny was there too, a tough as
nails old school butch who’d been Suzy’s original connection to
the gay world. Kenny had given me a very hard time when I was still
in high school because she wanted Suzy. Harvey, also white, was our
escort, a nice gayboy who was known, with his slight, funny,
darker-skinned boyfriend, at The Territorial.
When I think back to the 19 year old me
boldly clubbing on 125th Street with this crew, Kenny and Harvey only
slightly older than Suzy and me, it’s no wonder the night ended the
way it did. Suzy and Kenny were high school dropouts who both had a
long way to go before they got where they needed to be. Harvey didn’t
live with his boyfriend, but with his mother in a small apartment in
This was a “bottle bar,” like The
Stonewall Inn. You paid a cover and bought a setup, overpriced
mixers, ice, glasses, to go with your own bottle. I used to cash
$2.00 checks at a grocery store to get me through a week at college,
so if I managed to bring ten dollars with me, I probably spent it on
dinner and the subway. Someone, probably Kenny, paid my cover and
bought the vodka.
At the time, I knew no other gay
people. I had a sort of girlfriend at college, but she knew no one
either and was probably out with her boyfriend that night. What can I
say; it was the sixties and everyone was experimenting. Except me. I
only wanted to be queer, be with queers, in queer places.
My problem was, as isolated as I was at
school, I didn’t belong with Harvey and Kenny at all. Suzy moved
into their orbit after I left for school. I had a foot in both
worlds, but there was no solid ground under me.
I’ve written about The Territorial
before. It was a huge high-ceilinged space, probably a former
warehouse, possibly owned by organized crime. The management kept the
lights low and what light there was spiked the dark like flame.
People sat on a balcony above us and across from us. It was typical
of the hellish pits allotted to gays.
In those days, I experienced
depressions so bad I could barely move. Light disappeared from my
vision. I don’t know how I kept from killing myself. I’d been
prescribed tranquilizers called Milltowns so I had the means and I
frequently mixed them with alcohol. By this, my sophomore year, I’d
added marijuana and hash and speed to the mix. I like to believe some
kind of higher power kept me alive so I could perform good works for
my people, for gay people, so I could put our world on paper with
That night it was vodka and
Meprobamate. It was also fear -- what was I doing so far uptown and
with my nemesis, Kenny, and two strange men? I’d lost my ability to
connect with Suzy, or perhaps Kenny intimidated her enough that she
had to shut me out. I was lost, so lost, and no one was looking for
me, no one even knew I was gone.
I drank the vodka straight, tipping it
up and pouring it down my throat. I got blackout drunk. I tried to
quench my fear and confusion, tried to douse the conflagration of my
unmoored blazing soul with this flammable liquid. Suzy had invited me
and I’d gotten out of control. Kenny told Suzy to let me, if I
needed to, when I took another and another draught straight from the
bottle. I’d hated the times my father came home drunk and my mother
raged at him, but like him, I knew of no other solution. I didn’t
even know what I was trying to solve.
Gay people are kind. In the end, we
take care of one another the best we can. That night it was Kenny who
nursed me when I was sick in the wreck of a bathroom. That night, it
was Harvey who skipped whatever romantic plans he had with his
boyfriend to, somehow, take me home, to get me past his mother, to
give me a bed where I could sleep it off.
Goodness knows what would have happened
if they’d let me loose in the post-midnight city, sent me off to
Grand Central to catch a train back to school.
Goodness was what it took for them to
keep me safe from a world that might not be kind to one more nearly
wasted gay kid.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 13 books. Her latest, An
American Queer, is available for pre-order.
You can reach Lynch at LeeLynch@ontopmag.com]
Copyright 2014 Lee Lynch.