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BARchive :: Excerpts From the New Memoir 'Sex, Drugs & Disco'

by Mark Abramson

Mark Abramson (center) with friends at a back yard gathering in the Castro, his 28th birthday garden party in 1980.
Mark Abramson (center) with friends at a back yard gathering in the Castro, his 28th birthday garden party in 1980.  

Wednesday, September 3, 1975

I'm at the Laundromat at Fillmore and Bush Streets. Last night I looked for a new bar I'd heard about called the City/Cabaret on Montgomery and Broadway. There's a dance floor on the top and a showroom below. It wasn't open yet, so I walked down Broadway past the strip-joint barkers yelling, "We've got tassels on the tits, folks! Step inside, sonny!"

I walked through the Broadway tunnel with cars roaring past, starting and fading to a bass-beat throb, but high-pitched when they got close by, like racers in a speedway. I emerged onto Polk Street, and walked uphill toward the 'N-Touch and Buzzby's. An older man from Minnesota named Jack told me he has lived here since 1950 and works as a chauffeur for the San Francisco Symphony. He invited me home, but I said no. I only wanted to talk. He was interesting.

I saw a man with a beard and dark wavy hair, deep, clear eyes, and teeth so perfect that they reminded me of footlights when he smiled. Our eyes met as I lifted my beer to my lips. We held each other's stare, and then he laughed and looked away. He saw me staring at him later and we both smiled again, more friendly this time. He left with a group of friends wearing backpacks, arm-in-arm like tourists at a parade. This bar was only one stop on their tour, maybe his first visit to the gay Mecca.

Monday, October 6, 1975

It is a cold and rainy day. They tell me it's drizzly this time of year. The rain doesn't pound down in sheets, cleansing things. You can't escape under an umbrella. It spins and swirls from every direction, more penetrating and quiet than real rain. I don't mind, but I miss the crashes of thunder in a downpour. I have been inviting people to a Halloween party here on the 18th. John Preston said he'll come for sure, and warned me that he's planning to do something shocking!

We went to a bar called the Rendezvous the other night. It's up a long flight of stairs, and has a bar in the front and a dance floor in back. They told me until recently a law was on the books against touching when you dance. When the cops showed up to raid the place, the doorman would flip a switch to turn off the mirrored disco ball and turn the lights up bright. John told me the switch is still there. We were stoned on Columbian pot, and I had a great time.

Sunday, October 26, 1975

Friday night I went to the newly reopened City/Cabaret on Montgomery and Broadway near the straight strip joints. The top floor is the disco called The City and the bottom is the showroom. It used to be the famous Cabaret/After Dark, but they went bankrupt. There were long lines to get in. The City is a big barn with a disc jockey high above the dance floor in a booth that looks like a Wurlitzer jukebox, the kind with a rounded top and columns of multicolored lights. Other than the size and the great lighting, it was pretty much like any other gay bar, but with lots more women. Most of the gay bars here have no women at all. Maybe gay women have their own bars, but I think these women were straight.

At two in the morning, I had no way home, so I staggered down Broadway to Dave's Baths. It was one of the few bathhouses left on my list. I figured by that hour no one would be there except hardcore desperadoes roaming the hallways. Then I realized that I was a hardcore desperado, so I roamed the hallways, had sex I barely remember, slept for a while, and had more sex with some guy who had poppers. We talked. He seemed nice. I showered and headed home before noon.

Sunday, March 11, 1979

Mia is coming to visit tomorrow from Minneapolis. Tonight, I'm going dancing with Emilio and Toshi at the I Beam. Derald is going to Sylvester's concert at the Opera House. He's sitting in a box with Herb Caen and Governor Jerry Brown and his date, Linda Ronstadt, and someone else I forgot. Derald's friend is Sylvester's manager or something. He and I had a great day in Marin County today, but I'm too stoned now. The full moon rose late this afternoon as we drove back across the Golden Gate Bridge. Derald has two fishing poles, and he said he knows some lakes on the other side of Mt. Tamalpais where we can go fishing one of these days. Tomorrow I start modeling for Wayne Quinn.

Sunday, April 29, 1979

It's finally a real San Francisco weekend. The air is warm, and my health has returned. On Friday, I went to the Ambush and the Arena, where Emilio and I ran into his old friend Gene. He must be at least fifty. He's very sweet and funny, but also very nelly. He told us about his recent train trip to L.A. They had an unexpected stop in Bakersfield, so Gene went to a coffee shop for a bite. When the waitress brought his check, she wrote, "Thank you, Fairy" on the back. Gene was so angry he was shaking. He said, "This would never happen in San Francisco!"

When he got back to the train, he found out they'd be stuck in Bakersfield another hour, so he decided to go back and give that waitress a piece of his mind. It was busier by then, but the hostess recognized him and asked if he'd forgotten something. He pointed out the waitress and said he'd like a word with her, so the hostess yelled, "Fairy! Could you come over here? This gentleman forgot something."

Fairy came running across the room and Gene realized that all his righteous indignation was for nothing. All he could say was, "I just had to come back to tell you that was the most marvelous hamburger I ever tasted and your service was excellent! I don't think I tipped you enough. Here's another dollar."

I wrote to Steven Rydberg to confirm that I will be in Minneapolis for the revival of Sitwells at Sea, but they need to find a soprano saxophone for me. I look forward to performing again and having sunny days at the gay beach on Lake Calhoun, bicycling around Lake of the Isles and cruising the Mississippi River flats south of the Franklin Avenue Bridge. I'll be twenty-seven in a couple of months, and I'll be in Minnesota for my birthday.

I'm nostalgic for San Francisco already. Jackie Star, who used to work at Star Pharmacy for as long as I can remember, was working at Alfie's tonight, collecting the door charge in her platinum wig and Ultra-nails. Rusty Dragon was there, too. I remembered the first time I met him at the baths. I loved watching him dance with his gang of friends, all of them bare-chested in tight jeans and scuffed boots, passing the bottle of poppers around, slapping each other's asses, all of them so sexy and high.

Guys were on the dance floor tonight that I've seen around since my first days in San Francisco when Alfie's was the Mind Shaft. A column of smoke swirled in the middle where the gazebo used to be. A shirtless man in a cowboy hat appeared in the middle of the smoke amid the confetti and balloons. He waved a huge silver fan above his head and made the fog move as it caught the colored lights. The sweat flew off his body as he danced. The fog, the colored lights, the glistening fan and the spinning mirrored ball reminded me of everything I will miss about San Francisco.

Monday, May 14, 1979

I worked a cocktail party today in the Spear Street Tower for fifty guests. It was only two hours long and an easy clean-up. The host handed me two twenties as an extra tip, and thanked me privately. I'll also get paid by Armando for my hourly rate and travel time. Three weeks from tonight, I'll arrive in Minneapolis. Armando offered to pay my airfare.

I went to the I Beam yesterday to meet Ron from All American Boy. We came back to Shotwell Street to watch a new TV movie with Bette Davis and Gena Rowlands.

It's unlike me to be so turned on by a blond. They're a dime a dozen in Minnesota, and the fact that he works at All American Boy brings out all my leftist leanings. I want to argue against making money off fags whose insecurities drive them to emulate some impossible image. He hates my cigarette smoke, so we laugh at how unlikely we are together. I'm leaving town in three weeks anyway, so we might as well burn this relationship out.

I sense that a part of me is in Minnesota already. I close my eyes on the dance floor, blocking out the lights and any familiar faces. I feel my body move and I could be in any city dancing to the same songs: "Y.M.C.A.," "Ring My Bell," "Le Freak," "Funkytown," "Don't Rock the Boat" by the Hues Corporation and anything by Sylvester. I'll be two thousand miles away and surrounded by different faces and different friends, but I'll still be dancing in this body, and the disco music will all be the same.

Sunday, August 5, 1979

Friday night at Alfie's, three men asked me to dance, one right after another. I didn't want to sleep with any of them, but the third one turned me on because we danced so well together. We must have stayed on the dance floor for an hour without a break. His name was Jason, and he was good in bed, too. In the morning, I drove him home.

He invited me in, so I stayed for breakfast with his roommates. Then more of their friends dropped by. It was only noon on Saturday, but no one had anything to talk about but what drugs they were planning to take that night, where to get them, and what time to take them to best effect. They exchanged a few words on the subtopic of what to wear to which club and in what order, but most of the conversation was about drugs. Jason was still affectionate and sexy, but the rest of them made me want to scream and run out of there, get back in my car and drive up north, raise horses and chickens and plant a vegetable garden in the countryside.

Toshi had us over last night to show off his new Southern boyfriend, Frank. We actually met on Friday at Alfie's. I thought the guy was pretty square, but he loosened up over dinner. Toshi made potato soup, scallops in cream sauce, and boneless chicken breasts stuffed with mushrooms. He flambáed Crepes Suzette for dessert.

After dinner, I went to the Ambush by myself. I ran into Scott, whom I met at the Fair Oaks baths about a year ago. He lit my cigarette and said hello, but it was too crowded to talk.

Monday, August 27, 1979

All American Boy threw a party at Alfie's last night. They had an open bar from four to nine with a continuous slide show of the Castro Fair and the gay parade this year. They served a free barbecue on the patio, and Sylvester took the stage for a few songs as well as a duo called White & White and some other disco stars. I don't remember their names but I had danced to some of their songs stoned a hundred times.

Jackie Star was the official greeter in a floor-length white evening gown, and it was a sensational party. Armando was there without Art, but I was occupied with a guy named Duke. We spent the night at his place on 16th and Castro, and we're getting together for dinner tomorrow. We might go to a new movie everyone's talking about called "La Caj Awful" or something like that. I don't know if I want to sit through a French movie with subtitles, but it's supposed to be very funny and gay.


Mark Abramson reads from his book at You're Going to Die, with Ed Wolf, John Ward, Linda Poelzl and Seth Eisen, June 18, 8pm at Viracocha, 998 Valencia St. $10. www.viracochasf.com.

Abramson reads at Magnet's book club June 30, 8pm; 4122 18th St. www.magnetsf.org

Abramson reads at Books Inc, July 9, 7pm; 2275 Market St. www.booksinc.net

Visit Mark's website, www.beachreading.net

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