I am not a misogynist! This piece is set in a particular period in the late 80s/early 90s when anti-discrimination laws were being set in place that brought about irreconcilable changes to the gay scene as we knew it! The attitude to women invading what had – to then – been male spaces was real, angry and palpable. I hope my female readers don’t take it to heart.
It was always dim in The O – as The Oxford was affectionately known – irrespective of the time of day, though at times like this, it could be an advantage. The twilight lighting helped to cover up dark bags under the eyes, and always made people look a little bit younger than they actually were. The DJ was in cocktail-hour-mode, and James looked up to see who was playing as he passed the DJ box. Patti Labelle’s ‘Oh People’ was playing, and James winced slightly. This track always reminded him of funerals these days. He moved to a table near the Oxford Street window, where Stewart was already ensconced.
‘God, I still feel like shit!’ Stewart muttered as he got up and headed to the bar. James smiled at his mate as the schooners were placed down,
“Cheers!” Said James, and they clinked glasses, then taking a sip of the beer..
Stewart looked like shit, though he got away with it by being casually dressed in a pair of jeans and a white tee shirt. He had made an attempt to tidy his hair, but it really wasn’t working. A cow-lick stuck up at the back. He looked harried, and had that puffy look you tended to get after a night of drinking.
James, was still fuming from his mornings episode with his ex-partner-now-flatmate Tommy, and quietly hoped that Tommy’s body puffed up twice as much as everyone else. It would serve him bloody right! Did he think fucking money grew on trees!Stewart straddled a bar stool, and settled himself in by stacking his cigarettes and lighter in a pile next to the ashtray. Looking off into space, he waved his burning cigarette over the table, missed the ashtray, and blew the ash that had landed on the table into James lap.
James scowled, threw Stewart “a look” and lit his own cigarette. ‘Well, to be quite honest, you look like fuckin’ shit. I hope you at least managed to get yourself a fuck. Would be the only appeasement for all the suffering you seem to be going through this morning…again,” James smirked. He would have loved a dollar for overtime this happened!
‘Well, lets just say I wasn’t alone this morning when you rang.’ Stewart turned his eyes upward andrepositioned himself on the stool, turning to gaze towards the bar a couple of feet away from him. ‘If we had sex, I certainly can’t remember it. I don’t even remember taking him home! Wouldn’t have a clue what his name was. I just called him Darl all morning. I don’t think he remembered mine either. He called me mate, if he had to talk to me at all, and there wasn’t too much yak going on, I can tell you. Thankfully, I didn’t have to chew my arm off this morning to get away from him.’ A smile took the puffiness out of his face for an instant. ‘I’m going to be conceited enough to assume that I was great sex. I still show a bit of fuckin’ taste, even when I’m pissed.’ Stewart looked pleased with himself, and James smiled at him across the tiny metal disc that supposedly passed for a table in the bar.
‘Seeing him again, are we?’ James quizzed.
‘Shit no, Jimmy. No serious relationships for this girl. I mean, I’ve got you as an example of how to make all the bad mistakes with men, don’t I?’
‘Thanks for reminding me of that. Want a drink, or is that a stupid question?’
James smiled again, loving the way Stewart squirmed when he had to try to recollect nights out – any nights out – when he had lost the plot somewhere in the interim.
“Yeah, I’ll have a hair of the dog that bit me. Get me a Gordon’s and tonic, will you mate.’
‘Is that mate as in friend, or mate as in ex-fuck,’ James couldn’t help himself.
‘You should be so lucky,’ Stewart retorted, poking out his tongue at his friend. James pushed himself off the stool and wandered over to the bar, blowing out a plume of smoke as he went.
‘G’day Jerry, give me two Gordon’s and tonics will you. Bit sad in here at the moment, isn’t it?’ he said to the barman, who was topping up the glasses from the post mix. Jerry had been the bar manager here for a couple of years now, and had helped get James his job here as a DJ.
‘It’s a bit sad in here at the best of times!’ Jerry sniped back, then let out one of the donkey brays he called a laugh. ‘That’ll be $4.50. I won’t charge you for the lack of atmosphere”.
James smiled and turned to cruise the bar perimeter. Picking up the drinks he turned back to the table. It was always a bit sad in here early in the afternoon. Either people with hangovers from the night before, people coming down off their drugs, or desperados who never got a pick-up last night, and thought the hangover brigade may be easy pickings. God, queens were so desperate sometimes! It was situations like this that made James glad he had a couple of fuck buddies he could rely on if things got really desperate. He took a stiff drag on his smoke, coughed, and decided to ignore the disparaging ‘Fuckin’ smokers’ comment from the elderly guy standing next to him. Fucking old bores. Should be locked away in nursing homes. The thought of them chasing each other around nursing home gardens, trying desperately to pick each other up even though they couldn’t remember their own names, let alone get a hard-on, made him smile.
He looked back over his shoulder at Stella.
There was a time when Stewart almost ended up amongst the fuck buddy-brigade. The day he met Tommy was the day he thought he had finally lined Stewart up for a fuck. He had spent all afternoon working on him. Had him primed on alcohol and all! Jesus, how could he have swapped Stewart for fucking Tommy? Talk about making stupid mistakes. Stewart had been, and still was, quite a looker – well, at least he usually was if he wasn’t recovering from a night on the tiles – and he had this chatty way about him that James found appealing. A combination of brains, beauty and humour! That could do it for James every time. Well, whatever the attraction for Stewart had been, it had certainly been working that night, even if the lustre had worn off pretty quickly. Anyway, he and Stewart had ended up the best of mates, so something good had come out of what potentially had not been so great – meeting Tommy! James couldn’t count the number of times he had taken guys home, given them a good fucking, then been ignored by them in the bar the next day, like he didn’t even exist. Shallow pricks! Tommy had spoken to him the next day, which almost made him husband material, for starters
He finally picked up the drinks, and moved back to the table at the window nearest the main street. He and Stella (Stewart was called Stella more often than by his real name) would often sit here for hours. They just gossiped away, and watched the passing parade, laughing at the dero’s passing by and trying to get money off people, the really badly dressed queens who thought they were so cool, and the hunky guys running around the street in singlet and shorts, the bulges of their cocks making an obvious show to all and sundry. It was a good way to pass an easy afternoon, no hassles, and a lot of laughs.
‘Well, what are you going to do about friggin’ Tommy? This is becoming a bit of a fucking habit with him, isn’t it?’ Stewart said, taking a sip out of his drink, clicking his teeth against the rim of the glass in an annoying way. ‘It’s not as if he could still be lovesick for you or anything. God, Who would get lovesick over you! You know what I reckon? I think he just likes to give you the shits. He knows he can get a rise out of you, so he does these fucked up things and doesn’t count the bloody cost.’ There was a brief pause for another sip. ‘Does he still reckon he’s in love with Mark? I got so sick of hearing him go on about it, I just avoid him when I see him now.’ Stella stared at James, as if to make sure he was still listening. James tended to tune out when Tommy’s name came up in conversation. ‘If Trevor ever gets wind of it, there will be hell to pay. I don’t think they’re fucking, though Tommy likes to make out they are – but I don’t think Mark is stupid enough to fuck up his relationship. Shit, he and Trevor have been together for years! Almost enough to make a girl jealous! But only almost! I reckon Tommy just has a very fertile imagination, which is going to get him into big fucking trouble if he’s not careful.’ Stella picked up his drink again, and started to slowly spin the glass between his fingers, swirling the ice, which clinked as it churned around.
‘Yeah, exactly my thoughts Stella. I’m sure Trevor must have heard all the gossip by now. Shit, it’s all Tommy talks about when he’s sober. I don’t know what to fucking do about him. He’s not even a good flatmate! He never does any cooking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lift a duster. He reckons he doesn’t want to break any of my stuff! So what’s he bloody do instead? He has a night on the bloody piss and does a rampage right through the apartment. All my Ching dynasty china is gone now, after last nights little episode. He’s too fucking expensive to keep, and too fucking expensive to get rid of, if you know what I mean! I guess in some ways, he’s almost too perfect. He pays his rent and bills on time, so he’s good like that. I don’t know! I guess the question is, can I be bothered with all the hassle involved in getting someone reliable to replace him, if I tell him to piss off.’ James stared back out the window, noticing the streaks that the window washer had left when cleaning them. Because of the dark, tinted glass they stuck out like a dog’s balls.
‘Ummm! A bit of a problem, isn’t it.’ Stella said, also looking out the window. ‘If John wasn’t still staying with me, you could tell Tommy to take over the apartment, and move in with me. We could do the sisters-together thing! We’ve always got along okay, and I already know you’re a fuckin’ pain in the arse, so I know what to bloody well expect.’
‘Thanks, I think! But I guess I’ll try to work things through with Tommy before I jump into the fire. He really needs to see a very patient counsellor, but I can’t bleeding well force him to do that.’ James lit another cigarette, and there was a few minutes silence while they both puffed away. James rhythmically kicked the table support with his foot, causing the table to vibrate slowly. ‘I mean, this whole thing with Mark is just psychotic! Tommy follows the poor prick everywhere. He waits until he hears or sees him leaving the building, then he’s out the front door like a fucking shot. Then he just has to come home and give me endless tirades about where Mark has been, who he’s been talking too, every single bloody word of conversation that goes on between the two of them. As if I fucking care!’ Another plume of smoke drifted out of his mouth. ‘Shit, I have enough hassles keeping my own life together, let alone worrying about anyone else.’
They both picked up their drinks and coasters as a bar useful wiped down the table and emptied the ashtray. They both cruised the shirtless, young hunk leaning over their table. They both checked out his tight arse as he moved to the next table. Stewart looked up and James felt him staring. He looked up quickly, in time to catch Stewart’s intense stare.
‘You’re looking really stressed, girlfriend. Is everything okay at work? You mentioned something last week about getting the shits with it.’ Stewart looked genuinely concerned.
James nodded his head. He managed a store on the strip, and DJ,d in his spare time. ‘The job’s really starting to shit me now. You know that fucking shop is my pride and joy.’ A look of exasperation crossed his face. ‘I’ve worked so bloody hard to get it where it is, and what happens? They send in new guys. That new area manager is a real cunt. We hated each other from first sight, and it’s just gotten worse from that point.’ James said, gazing out the window to the passing parade
James and the area manager had clashed from day one. James was used to really good rapport with his superiors, and the last area manager had been well aware that a store in Darlinghurst benefitted from having a gay manager, and had always been very supportive. But this new guy…big-time trouble! He didn’t like queens, and had made that really obvious. When he found out that James was a HIV+ boy, he really turned the heat up. Even took James aside for a ‘quiet coffee’ and told him that perhaps he should consider leaving the job – only for the sake of his health, of course! Prick! He had been on James’ back ever since, picking on every little thing, and generally making life as difficult, and as uncomfortable, as possible. James was fucking over it!
‘I’ll see how it goes. I might quit if things don’t improve, which doesn’t seem likely at this time. I wish I had a bloody witness for some of the things the pious prick has said to me. I’d sue the fucking bastards for every cent I could get.’ James drummed his fingers on the table top, then loudly slapped his palm down, causing Stewart to jump. ‘You want to know what really worries me, girlfriend? All the stress! It’s starting to knock my health around. Anyway, thanks for the thought, but that’s enough about my problems. How’s the bar job at Barracks going?’
‘Pretty bloody good, actually. I think they’re about to give me a few more shifts. Hell, the fucking extra money certainly wouldn’t go astray.’ Stella rubbed his hands together. ‘By the way, before I forget to tell you – as if I’d dare – it’s John’s birthday next weekend. I’m throwing a bit of a shindig for him at home. I have a little surprise lined up, so don’t make any plans. Get there late afternoonish, if you can. I could do with an extra set of hands.’ Stella pouted his lips and threw James a kiss across the table, ‘You know what my parties are like. It will probably still be going on Sunday night.’
Stella had a reputation for really over-the-top parties, and relished the reputation. ‘I’m setting up the porn room again. It worked really well at the last party, as I’m sure you’d remember. Slut! Never know, you might meet the next great love of your life – again!’ He threw James another smirk.
James didn’t take the bait. ‘Right! I’m sure my mother would love to meet a boyfriend I met in a porn room at a party. I can just see me trying to explain that situation to her. Shit! She’s a fucking romantic. She’d never understand this.’ A young twink wandered past the window. Obviously on his way home from the gym, he stopping to admire himself in the glass, little knowing that he was being observed from the other side of the glass. He distracted James for a second. ‘She has enough problems with the gay thing as it is. I think she actually gets off on the breast-beating and guilt trip. You know, mea culpa, mea culpa!’ James struck his chest three times. ‘Sometimes I wish my curiosity, to know what happened to her after she pissed off and left my brother and myself with my old man, had just stayed as curiosity.’ James looked serious for a moment, then turned back to the window. The twink had gone.
James and his mother had a very tenuous relationship. She had walked out on his old man when James was 11, and Kevin, his brother, was 6. They had got home from school one day, and she just wasn’t there. There had been no explanation forthcoming from their father, though he did issue an edict that, as far as everyone was concerned, she was dead. Fucking families, James thought. She had remarried in the early 70’s, and James had a half sister from that marriage. He tended not to have much to do with his step-family. Ray, his step-father, was a homophobe, and with an eighteen-year gap between him and his half-sister, they didn’t really share anything in common, other than the same mother. She had never been able to handle him being gay. And thought it was all her fault that James was “that way”, that if she hadn’t left home, it may have been different. He let her live with this delusion. James had never been game to tell her he was HIV+. She carried enough guilt already. He didn’t want to be responsible for adding to it. So he kept it a quiet lie. Fortunately, his mother lived with such a huge amount of denial that there was little chance that she would ever talk about HIV anyway.
‘I’ll be at the party with bells on.’ James replied. ‘Want me to bring Tommy, ha! ha! He can fill everyone in on the saga with Mark. I’m sure everyone’s hanging out for the next installment.’
‘You bring him, and I’ll castrate you, boyo, sister or not! Want another drink?’ Stewart got up from the stool, then leaned down on the table, putting his head in his hands. ‘Might take a couple of hairs to get back to normal, I reckon. Back in a sec.’ He headed toward the bar. James, unconsciously, noticed that he still had a great butt. He shook his head, and looked back out the window. A druggie girl with a baby in her arms was attempting to elicit money off a passer-by, all to no affect. The baby wasn’t pulling its weight today! James briefly wondered what sort of life the baby would have. Her boyfriend – who looked like he needed a good feed, and sported a stained singlet, rat’s tail, and cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth – stood nearby with a battered stroller. James could hear a muffled string of abuse from the girlfriend as those passing by picked up speed and ignored both her and baby. She thrust the baby into the boyfriends arms. James noted that she was probably about 25, but looked 70. She stormed off down the street still hurling abuse. The boyfriend hurriedly stuffed the baby into the stroller and headed off after her. James shook his head. Stewart returned, plonking the drink onto the coaster in front of him
‘Thanks for the gin, Stella.’ He peered intently over Stewart’s shoulder. ‘That’s a bit of a cutie sitting over there. I might come back later tonight and see if he’s still around.’ James flicked his thumb toward a young guy sitting near the front doors of the bar, looking somewhat furtively around the bar. Too cute to be a desperado. Wonder what his story is? James mulled to himself.
‘Fuck me! You got a fuck from Paul (a fuck buddy) last night, and already you’re chasing the next bit of arse. What if Paul turns up tonight, eh? I’ll betcha I know what’d happen, and the cutie would be on the fucking losing end of the deal, wouldn’t he, sweetheart!’
‘Nah, Paul won’t be out tonight. He’s throwing a dinner party with that girl he flats with – Vicki, or Nicki or something. He has very unhealthy relationships with the female sex, have you noticed! He’s got more female friends than he has male!’Something strange about that!’ James screwed up his face as he looked at Stewart. ‘That’s another reason why I have had second thought about actually getting seriously involved with him. I don’t know that I want my social life dominated by women. They’re okay in small doses, but that’s as much as I can handle.’ The screwed up face took on a more sinister aspect. ‘Look at how they have managed to fuck up all the local nightclubs. They bring in their straight wanker boyfriends, and the next thing you know, it’s straight city!! Those fucking young queens who spend half their lives dragging fag-hags around are going to have a lot to answer for, one of these days.’ James was spitting venom by this stage. ‘They’re fucking it up for everyone. Why can’t us guys have spaces for ourselves? The bloody lezzo’s are allowed to have them. Those new bleeding anti-discrimination laws are fucked,’ James snarled.
Stewart sat quietly, lost in a world of his own. James, feeling pleasantly calmed by his little outburst plus a couple of gins, started some serious cruising with the guy he had noticed earlier. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but there was a something about him that drew James attention. Maybe it was his eyes, or the non-gay way he was dressed. Almost as if he didn’t realise he was in a gay bar. James shivered! Déjà vu, he thought to himself. This was the sort of naïve thing Tommy did when he wanted to attract attention, and which he had used to hook James on the night they met. That was exactly the sort of look that had sucked him in that night, and James certainly didn’t want that episode repeated. Yet, despite the similarity in appeal, this guy looked more together than Tommy had.
‘How’s Don going?’ Stella broke into James reverie. ‘Is he out of hospital yet?’
‘Yeah, he got out two days ago. He’s not telling the whole story, you know! He’s fucking sicker than he lets on. I’m not silly. I know when someone’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes.’ James looked at Stella across the table, a concerned frown on his face.
‘Mmm. I thought he’d tell you what the problem is. You two have been mates for yonks.’ Stella tapped his fingers on the table, then stuck a finger in his mouth and started to chew on a fingernail. ‘He’s lost so much weight, and he’s takin’ a lot of time off work. Do you think he’s got the dreaded lergy?’ Stella asked, a slight grimace crossing his face.
‘Well, that’s what I originally thought, but I can’t work out why he’d be quiet about it. It’s not as if it’s such a rare thing these days, and he knows so many others with this fucking virus,’ James said, chewing on a piece of ice that had not melted in the glass. ‘I don’t think he’d keep it to himself if he had it.’ He appeared to think about it for a few seconds. ‘Naw! It’s something else. He’ll tell me in his own good time,’ James replied, unable to hide his concern. He was really worried about his mate, but didn’t want others to know how serious he thought Don’s illness was.
‘Well, I hope he fuckin’ does. There’s enough guys dropping off the perch as it is!’ Stella threw his own concerned look across the table.
Another couple of minutes passed in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. James looked back across the bar, and caught the cutie looking across at him, then quickly looking away.
‘Catch as catch can,’ James smiled at Stella across the table, pointing his chin in the general direction that he was looking in. Stella turned his head and looked back over his shoulder.
‘Umm! Lining things up for tonight already, are we?’ Stewart exclaimed as he thumped his glass down on the table. ‘I can see where your priorities lie at the moment, trash bag!’
‘Yeah. That guy is acting a bit like how Tommy was acting on the night we met. A bit spooky, actually.’
‘Fuck, don’t want a repeat of that, do we? We never did get to fuck. That night screwed that up, didn’t it?’ James threw a quizzical look across the table. ‘Don’t look at me like that! I knew you were trying to get me into the sack that night.’ Stella returned his look. ‘I shouldn’t tell you this, but I would have been in it, if Tommy hadn’t fuckin’ well shown up!’ Stella had one of those looks on his face that made it possible to believe that he wasn’t being serious, but then again he might be! James hated those looks! You never knew where you fucking well stood. ‘Well, look on the bright side of it – I would probably never have respected you again – as if I ever did – so it’s probably just as well it never happened. I think you make a better fucking sister.’
‘You’ve known that for four bloody years, and never said a word to me! How fucking rude are you! Sisters are never supposed to know that you wanted to lay them. Some things are supposed to be sacred, you know!’
‘Oh, I guess I’m only slightly miffed about that situation. You’ve been one of the best friends I’ve ever had in this city. Look at how I trash myself, and slut around, and you never ever criticise me for it, though I sometimes wish you fucking would! Might pull me into line a bit,’ Stella laughed.
‘Wouldn’t do me much damn good anyway. You’re just a lost cause. Anyway, I don’t know if I’d like you to be pulled into line. I love you the way you are.’
James blew him a kiss across the table. ‘Take the good with the bad, I reckon. Finish your bloody drink and your fag so I can go home for some dinner. With any luck, Tommy will still be in bed. I’ll meet you here about ten o’clock.’ James stood up to go, rocking the table as he learnt on it.
‘Okay gorgeous. Hold your horses for a sec.’ Stella drained the remains of the gin in one gulp. ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit chancy leaving me with the potential trade?’
‘That’s exactly why I don’t intend to leave until you do. AND I’ll ring you when I get home, just to make sure you haven’t snuck back.’ They both headed towards the door. Stella put his hand on James shoulder, and pushed him out the door.
‘That’s the problem with sisters. They know you too fucking well!’ he quipped, planting a kiss on James’s cheek before heading up the street.