The Motorcycle Jacket
Fiction by Jim Rader
"Bro', shall we partake before we sally forth to The Ninth Circle?" asked Steve.
"Not me, man, but you go right ahead."
The Ninth Circle was a gay bar. I wasn't gay and to my knowledge neither was Steve, but we both dug Lou Reed and David Bowie, who had putatively hung out at the trendy bar.
Steve smoked a thin joint while Bowie's most recent album, Aladdin Sane, played. "Cold fire/ You've got everything but/ Cold fire," sang Bowie, whisps of smoke trailing over three pictures on one wall: a big poster of Bowie wearing a boa and exotic makeup, clutching a boom mic, a cigarette between his fingers; a full-page Village Voice ad for Lou Reed's album Transformer, vampy mascara surrounding his sad eyes; a flyer for an old Yale showing of the Warhol film Trash, a silkscreen headshot of transgender "superstar" Holly Woodlawn in its center.
Steve lived in a tiny studio on Minetta Lane, everything in one room. Loft bed, stove, fridge, bookcase. Small Formica table with two dinette chairs, a small stereo atop the bookcase.
"How 'bout a beer, bro'?"
Steve walked three paces to the half-size fridge. A magazine-size paperback lay on the table, its title Cum, its author, John Giorno, noted for his strident "performance poetry," the book's cover photo two teenage males, one reclining on a mattress with his eyes shut, a softcore "girlie magazine" on his pillow, the second boy straddling him while holding his erect penis.
Steve slammed down a bottle of Rolling Rock before me. "Ha ha ha, pretty campy picture, hey?" He loosened his tie.
"Campy? Strange is more like it. What's that girlie magazine doing there? It would appear these boys are a trifle confused."
"Ha ha ha, aren't we all, bro'."
We'd both been living in New York for about a year. Steve made good money as a CPA, much of his disposable income spent on clothes. Steve's red suede platform shoes had tiny beige cleft triangles on their toes, so I called them "the vagina shoes," as did Steve in turn, loads of laughs though we had yet to see a real vagina. The vagina shoes came from trendy uptown boutique Jumping Jack Flash.
I wasn't too keen on tonight's plan. Last Friday Steve had dragged me to Queens' glitter rock club Coventry to pick up rock chicks, a damp cruel night. "Say bro', how 'bout we tell the chicks we're in a band, that'll get 'em hooked." But no matter what hip outrageous attire Steve wore after work he still came off as a CPA.
When we got off the F train a cold rain greeted us, but we found Coventry fast, the cover charge only three bucks. The club had two levels, a creaky wooden stoop connecting a big barroom to a music pit. We sat at a tiny drinks table in the pit, way in back. Flat watery beer, a haze of bluish cigarette smoke, the pit half-empty. Tonight's bands had unpromising names, Snooper, Zoom, and Luger sorely lacking in mystique or wit. But as my last band was called Snow Dwarf, who was I to be critical.
The pit filled up during middle band Zoom, who got no applause, their original song "Marilyn" about guess who. Three hip rock chicks slithered into a table off the stairs, the most attractive in tight black leather pants. Black hair, red lipstick, cigarette.
"Look bro', the evening's only saving grace just walked in."
"Forget it, man. First, there are three of them and only two of us. Second, if you want a rock chick, you gotta be in a band. You can't fake that, Steve, they'll know."
"Dig it, bro', you've played in bands and still have that vibe. Now go over there and rap with that chick in the leather pants, you know, tell her you're the lead guitarist for Snow Dwarf then ask her to dance."
"Dance? Man, I'm on the verge of nausea."
"C'mon bro', it's now or never," he coaxed.
I wobbled to their table in my light green platform shoes, scaring up a smile for Leather Pants. "Nice pants, wanna dance?"
"Oh wow, man, you're a poet and you don't know it."
"I said that on purpose," I nervously blustered.
"Oh, really," Leather Pants smiled cruelly. "Well, no, I don't wanna dance, so fuck off!"
Shaken but not shocked, I returned to Steve.
"What happened, bro'?"
"Nothing, man, the story of my life. Man, let's split, this scene's a fucking drag."
Still raining, we waited for the F train on the elevated platform, Steve looking whipped.
"What are you so down about?" I asked. "It was me who got shot down."
He sighed deeply, lit a joint, passed it to me. "Yeah, yeah, so you took a bullet for both of us tonight. Do you want a medal or something?"
"Oh Christ, Steve, let's not get into another stupid argument. Say, how much do hookers charge nowadays?"
He didn't answer. The F train showed, screeched to a halt. A filthy gray double door flew open violently. As we got on, he confessed, "I guess I'll always be semi-gay or something."
Steve had explained the pictures on his wall some months ago: "Ha ha ha, don't get me wrong, bro', I like the gay style, all right, but I don't like dicks."
Before heading out to The Ninth Circle he changed into dungarees, a black T-shirt, and a shiny new motorcycle jacket. Zippered pockets, studded epaulets. Back then motorcycle jackets were worn by some gay men or bikers. He spread his arms out, turning his palms up. "Well, whaddya think?"
"I think maybe we should go to a movie instead."
"Oh c'mon, bro', where's your spirit of adventure?"
"Well, where's your spirit of reality? That jacket is gay stuff. You look like rough trade. Suppose somebody hits on you, then what?"
"Then I'll just tell him I'm with you."
We drank more beers, a T. Rex record playing. Then off to The Ninth Circle, the most publicized gay bar of the era: TV news spots, the Voice, slick gay magazine After Dark, outed celebs. The bar was on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street.
By The Ninth Circle's door a short mustached guy in a motorcycle jacket waited for someone. He said hi to our new faces, Steve returning his greeting then swaggering into The Ninth Circle as if he owned it.
The Ninth Circle also had two levels, a small sedate bar upstairs and a downstairs dance space yet to open, the wall clock creeping up on nine. Four customers at the bar, three empty stools before a window. "Let's sit by the window, bro', and dig the streets," Steve said breezily, his hands shaking. "Go get us some brewskis, bro'."
At the bar I asked the smiling bartender, "Do you have Rolling Rock beer?"
I returned with the beers, still fearing someone might hit on Steve. It wasn't just the motorcycle jacket-Steve worked out, had more of a build than me. I gave him his Rolling Rock and quietly pleaded, "Just one beer then we split, okay?"
"Ha ha ha, okay bro'."
The bartender turned up the sound system, Bowie again: "The Jean Genie lives on his back."
Outdoors a thin kid with shiny black Beatle hair, his back to us, talked with the mustached guy.
When this thin kid turned to profile, it was none other than Klaus, formerly of Bridgeport, CT. I'd met Klaus four years ago through mutual friend Joe, shortly after the two graduated from an all-boys Catholic school. More recently, the three of us and Klaus's lover, Donald, had attended Lou Reed's comeback concert at Alice Tully Hall, a real cool time.
"Steve, you see that kid with the black hair? Well, that's Klaus, who I told you about. If he comes in and starts asking questions, let me handle it."
Klaus came in, walked right by us without seeing me, something on his mind. He wore a quiet leather jacket and a white T-shirt. Klaus knew the bartender, and they talked in low businesslike tones. Something settled, the bartender made him a martini. Klaus sipped the martini through a dinky plastic straw, suavely swerving around on his stool. "Jim!" he said then came over.
"Hi Klaus. Joe wrote me last month that you'd moved to East 3rd Street. Where exactly are you? I'm on East 4th off Second Avenue, you know, the block with the Truck and Warehouse Theater." Klaus sat down next to me, putting me between him and Steve.
"I'm on the other side of Second." Klaus leaned forward, eyeing Steve.
"Hey, Klaus," grinned Steve. "What's happening, bro'?"
"Oh Klaus, this is my friend Steve. We did a poetry reading together at St. Mark's last spring."
"Cool," he said icily. "Don't you guys know this is a gay bar?"
"Yeah, we know," I said.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Drinking." I shrugged.
Klaus tacitly accepted this but now focused on Steve. "And what about you, Steve? What are you doing here?"
"Well, heh heh, if you have the right look, you can-well, you know."
"I don't follow."
"Excuse me, I'm off to the men's room," I said. I really did have to piss, but the timing couldn't have been better. I pissed in a stall after locking it. I stayed in there for a bit, reading the graffiti: "Isn't life a drag," "Give me Librium or give me meth."
I went back in. More customers, Klaus still on the same stool, two glitter queens on the other stools, Steve gone.
"Klaus, what happened to Steve? You didn't hit on him, did you?"
"No, not at all. Honest. I just asked what he was into besides poetry, then his face turned white as a sheet and he ran out."
"Huh. Well, I guess he had it coming to him. This was his bright idea, you know, to come here."
"Say, you wouldn't have Steve's number, would you?"
"What? Steve's number? I don't get your drift, Klaus."
"My drift? I just think he's an interesting person, that's all. I want us to be friends."
"Hmm. Well, I'll tell you what, gimme your number, and I'll give it to Steve. If he's cool with being friends, I guess he'll call you."
Klaus wrote his number on a napkin. "Can you do me a favor, Jim? Please assure Steve I'm not after his body. I'm not like that. I'm more into head trips."
"Yeah, that's what they all say," I said. One of the glitter queens giggled.
"No, Jim, really, it's cool. And you should drop by my place soon. I'm up for a good designing job and will be moving up to Yorkville soon."
"No kidding. Steve will be moving there in January."
"You don't say. Small world, isn't it?"
I visited Klaus just before he moved uptown. He showed me a few of his designs for men's clothing, sharp stuff. Klaus was really going places.
Steve never called Klaus, nor did the two ever run into each other in Yorkville. I knew this because Steve always told me everything.
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