The first gay bay I ever went to was the Odyssey in Asbury Park. There was a sort of gay beach in Belmar where I lived with my parents, or, rather, my mother, summers. And being a bicurious fourteen year old who had already had some, mostly unwanted experience, I would let myself stroll to the north end of town where that beach was, close to the bridge to Avon-By-The-Sea. While I was strolling the length of Belmar, by the water, as I did pretty much daily, I lingered a little longer at the so-called gay beach and sat on the “cliff” that was made by the recent high tide.
It didn’t take long for someone to swoop down on this fourteen-year-old in the form of someone called Simon who was, yes you guessed it, a seminary student. He was eighteen or nineteen so of drinking age in New Jersey at the time. He invited me back to his “blanket”. I went, we chatted. Two other guys, Todd and Sean, joined us. I was so young that eighteen year olds looked like grown men to me.
Simon’s parents (and he), it turned out, lived two blocks from me. I have spoken before about the fact that my father was pretty much absent in summer, staying in our house up north in Wyckoff. My mother was a Pisces so she had no clue what I was up to; and besides, she drank and watched a lot of tv, eating pretzels or Snickers bars or Breyers vanilla ice cream, while stroking her twenty-five pound cat, Kerry, who, apparently, was also Irish.
Simon took me to play racketball once. I think it was an attempt at some semblance of heteronormative male frienship. Then he took me to a gay bar, The Odyssey, which was not just any kind of gay bar I realize now in retrospect. I would go the the Odyssey again and again, mostly ironically, with my fellow new-wavey straight and probably not so straight friends for years after. But at this time, in the late seventies, the new wave hadn’t quite hit. It was deep disco still and this place freaked me out. I remember seeing men kiss for the first time ever when I was at the Odyssey. I was suffused with excitement and revulsion. Howard, the famous eighteen year old bartender wore tons of turquoise. He looked like he should be on Eight is Enough. He wore v-neck three tone cotton short sleeve shirts with big collars. Just like Grant Goodeve and Willy Ames.
Todd and Sean showed up that first night. Nothing untoward happened. I was very clear that I liked girls (too?) and I approached being there, a place that came to be something of a home, as an anthropological study. But the truth was I was intrigued and I belonged there as much as anybody. As much as the seriously butch men (and women) dressed in leather playing pool in the part of the club when you first walked in. As much as any man occupying a stool and drinking their Cape Codders or Budweisers or Seabreezes making a ritual experience out of drinking and hopefully hooking up. As much as the drag queens—the best I ever saw was called Michael and she set up an entire dressing room table and did a Dreamgirls lipsynch to And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going that still gives me chills to think about—she would swipe all her paraphenalia off the fake dressing room vanity. As much as much as much.