Gather round. I’m gonna tell you little 'uns how I met Paw-Paw Bryce.
I remember that charming smile. Forty years ago this Sunday, Bryce was smiling and standing with our friend Dustin near the stairwell at the Eagle. That was a leather bar in New York City before it was burned to the ground in the Queer Riots of 2023.
Back then I rarely went out on Sunday nights, but the promise of an entire Monday settled at home in celebration of our deceased Commander in Chiefs waylayed my typical draconian resolve versus getting shit-faced at the weekend’s end. Also February 2005's Grandpop Neil was a swaggering flirt fresh off a freshman season of gay rugby with a beefy body and a lusty libido to match. And my buddy Lee, an incorrigible boozehound, convinced me to go. Can’t thank him enough.
So there your Paw-Paw was, this smiling lumberjack. He looked like a Viking, but a soft and cuddly Viking. He wore a neatly trimmed beard and had a twinkle in his blue eyes. Even against the seedy red light of the Eagle those eyes stood out, and again, that darling smile.
And next to him was Dustin. Damn it! At the time I was passively avoiding Dustin. Here’s a little context. As I mentioned winter of 2005 found Gayest Neil in a particularly confident and lusty frame of mind.
And three weeks prior to this fateful President's Day Weekend I had made out with a friend Bryan from Seattle (and I think Dustin was there among the bar crowd? I’m not sure.) and the weekend prior to this I had drunkenly... uhmmm… how do I put this delicately… sort of tickled Dustin and his then boyfriend J while we all stumbled around the East Village to the Phoenix (also burned to the ground during the Riots of 2023).
And now (forty years ago) here was Dustin, and most of those boys who’d been out with us that night a week ago! And Dustin was with a beautiful man who I'd never seen out and who I was again lusting after!
My shameful pinky twittered nonetheless in anticipation. Bad pinky! There’d be no jubilant pokey. I was embarrassed of my manual misdeeds. You see, absent from the Eagle was none other than Dustin’s suddenly ex-boyfriend of last week. I had found out from Lee that Dustin and his boyfriend broke up the very night of my infamous fiddling fiasco.
And because my ego knows no bound, I was certain the entire break-up was my fault! Therefore I had to avoid Dustin (and the sexy stranger) at all costs. Dustin’s a wiry polecat. Probably fast and likely fights dirty! But oooooh, he’s with such a handsome guy with a charming smile. Are they dating?
I berated myself, “Neil, you can’t break up this guy’s date again!”
I hadn’t known Dustin for more than two weeks. Interfering with his love life again would be so very impolite. My only recourse would be a night of aggressive avoidance and longing stares at the back of Bryce’s dirty blond head while I pocketed my dirty brown finger in shame, shame, shame.
And as we pounded pints of watery, stale beer, I opened up my secrets to Lee. The story of the tipsy ticklin’ and the rueful regret upon hearing Dustin’s break-up. I also had to scoot Lee and I away as I spied Dustin and the mystery-macho-Viking-sexy-cub -boy heading our way, yet again!
I will admit. My nerves did fall to my confidence at one point. Faced with Dustin and Bryce coming my way I did stammer a meek hello in their direction. Unfortunately they, to my drunken interpretation, laughed off my attempt at social interaction and brutally ignored me. Later I’d find out they’d simply did not see me. Also, Bryce and Dustin are always laughing, as I’ve come to happily discover. Unfortunately, this miscommunication only served to push me further into the shadows of an already shadowy establishment in retreat of last week’s misbehavior. I felt as though everyone knew.
Now I was the one being fingered!
So here they were on their way again! This was nearly the sixth such time I’d made Lee vamoose from a prime cruising spot and he was none too pleased. Also, I’d run out of floors to flee to. We were on the third level, to descend would lead me back to the land of lesser displays of Levis and leather. And the roof was closed!
Lee was fed up. He stood his ground and offered a friendly hello to Dustin and then forcibly introduced Bryce to me and me to Bryce. We shook hands. I shivered and swooned. Then I found out Dustin and Bryce were simply friends and not on a date to the Eagle. I also found out my pornographic presdigitation was not the cause of Dustin and J's break up! Happiness! I wasted no time.
I kissed him. We made out the rest of the night. At some point I remember coming up for air as my rugby friend Crazy Jeff said howdy. He had met Bryce prior. I thought he was moving in on my catch (Jeff had a history of rooster-blocking) and I quickly dispatched him with a terse “Go away.” I need to stop doing that to my friends…
And Bryce and I continued to kiss and smooch and canoodle. It was wonderful. We stumbled out of the bar and pretty much started dating right there in the taxi. I think we may have bought some personal itens in the little store at the Eagle too. Pretty romantic stuff, eh?