I’m just tired of “the gay thing,” I blurted bluntly to Daryl on the drive home from Philadelphia’s Gay Pride Event earlier in June… “I just want to hang out with regular people for awhile… straight people. I just wanna watch a Phillies game, Wheel of Fortune, and The Bachelorette. I just want a Miller-Lite in a bottle. I’m worn out with Dykes on Bikes, drag queens, twinks, and tattoos. I feel like Rainbow Brite shit all over the city. I’m too old for this stuff.” He looked at me like one of those Sarah Mclachlan dogs on the commercial and whined, “but I’ve never been to New York City’s Pride Parade and I’d really enjoy going.” I’d seen the parade myself several years ago, and must admit it truly IS quite the event.
Daryl and I grew up in a time and environment where it just wasn’t cool to be gay. We weren’t bullied per say, but sometimes joked about, made fun of, or full out ostracized it certain social situations when we were younger, we could have never imagined a world, or at least a major city, that shuts down as thousands upon thousands of people from all age groups, walks of life, and ethnicities come together to celebrate personal Pride. Being PROUD of who, what, and where we are in life and seeing as how Daryl and I had come out much later in our own lives, we DID have a little catching up and celebrating to do.
NYC or bust. (Does anyone even say “or bust” anymore?)
I had booked a small Hilton Garden Inn on the border of SoHo and Tribeca just below Canal Street in Manhattan for a couple of nights so we could make a city-style romantic weekend getaway in addition to getting Daryl his gay Pride fix. I love hanging out in the city, any city, always have… there are energies that exist like no other. The vast diversity of the people, the visual, aural, and emotional “turmoil” is a huge turn on for me.
I am Julie, your cruise director.
I’m not exactly sure how I got the job, but I tend to do the planning for (some call it over planning) vacations, weekend getaways, day trips, and evening local jaunts. Maybe it’s because it’s instinctive to me, or perhaps I have this need to… what’s it called… control things. I honestly don’t know where this accusation originated, but apparently I make lists, research hotels, neighborhoods, diners, restaurants, entertainment venues, what will be worn when, and clean bathroom facilities whenever we decide to go somewhere. Go figure.
I HAVE mellowed with age, although I still insist that we arrive ANYwhere six to seven hours in advance. Airports scare me. I’m continuously afraid I’ll be late so I arrive for my flight the day before. Job interviews? Hours ahead of time. I end up drinking extra cups of coffee then have to pee so bad during the interview, that I blow it. The only reason Daryl and I even got together over nine years ago was because I was a half a day early for our first date and we had more time to see if we clicked.
Anyway, we arrived in New York way before our room was ready (you can tell when the desk check and the baggage handler roll their eyes at each other when they THINK you’re not looking) and decided to venture into the Tribeca neighborhood on a gloriously sunny New York day.
It didn’t take long.
It was still before noon. We were hungry. We skipped any sort of breakfast (woofing a large banana down on the New Jersey Turnpike does not qualify. Oh… you thought I meant the fruit?) because I couldn’t wait to get on the road (or as I spin it, “We have to avoid traffic.”) I thought for sure we could locate some cute little bistro with red and white checked tablecloths overlooking one of the rivers. You know… one of those places you see in the movies. I researched it earlier via Yelp. Maybe a place to grab an organic salad, soup, some warm pita bread, and a sparking mimosa would be perfect. We rounded the corner of Warren street off of West Broadway and heard “Get Up (I feel like a sex machine)” by James Brown pulsing out of an open door under a large weather worn sign with neon-formed letters that read “Raccoon Lodge.” We looked at each other and immediately knew we wanted a piece of this place. I poked my head inside to see a petite young lady in a tight ponytail cleaning up the bar while bobbing her head. “Are you open?” I inquired, to which she immediately welcomed us in.
The place was dark. It took a minute or two for my eyes to adjust, but the dank, stale beer smell indicated to me that we had stumbled onto a local watering hole that I’m sure had been stumbled OUT of on many occasions. “Hey guys! I’m Cindi with an ‘i,’ what can I get you?” Daryl and I grabbed a pair of metal-based torn-plastic-seated bar stools and dragged them across the hardwood floor echoing the emptiness of the place. We awkwardly swiveled into position to a well worn bar that hadn’t seen a lick of paint or varnish in decades. The out-of-place digital jukebox machine continuing on with a song by Kansas, Daryl and I ordered a pair of Heinekens. Cindi with an I plopped the sweating bottles in front of us with one hand, while slicing limes with the other. She was young and perky… sort of. Of course EVERYone is young and perky to me now. I usually gauge my age using police officers. I remember when I was younger they were figures of authority. I mean, they still are, but they’re so young now. They all look like they’re twelve and wouldn’t be able to save my life unless they checked with their Mom first.
I digress, again.
As Cindi with an i continued slicing citrus for future cocktails, I gulped some iced cold beer and surveyed the interior of the Raccoon Lodge (not a raccoon in sight.). Memorabilia everywhere, with photos, banners, NYFD and NYPD patches haphazardly taped, stabbed, and stapled into the wall behind the bar. Not a blank space to be found as I studied photos of smiling men, arms around each other, cigars in mouths, cars and boats and frosty mugs of beer as backgrounds. There was an unusually large Moose Head hanging on a wall toward the restrooms in the back directly over an old elevator door that had long been painted over and was obviously no longer in service. A lonely pool table sat in the middle of the hall with cues resting atop it’s well-worn fading green felt, cigarette burns dotting it’s side from a time when cigarette smoke was a decadent part of the tavern culture. As a Christopher Cross song snuck its place into the jukebox lineup I asked Cindi if she chose the music herself. She shrugged while hand drying glasses and stated that it was a satellite station that is chosen at random. “I don’t really hear it!” she yelled from other side of the bar.
As soon as she worked her way closer to us I asked her about the memory-made conglomeration on the wall. “It’s many of the locals. We’re a few blocks from Ground Zero. This bar was one of the first in the area that remained open after that day in September. The responders and construction workers always came here after working at the site. Some would bring photos of friends lost, we’d put them up, and then they’d drink shots to those in remembrance.” I studied the faces in the photos a little more intently as Cindi asked if we needed another beer.
I could tell Daryl was enjoying the music as he continued to suck on his cold brew, and I asked him if he was getting hungry. I nodded to the perky ponytailed blond with tattoos and piercings everywhere to bring us a couple more beers and asked her if she had any suggestions for lunch. She pulled out her iPhone and suggested a pizza joint a few blocks away. “I’m from Brooklyn, so I don’t really know what is good around here,” she giggled as if making fun of us while we pretended not to look like the gay tourists we were. “Are you guys a couple?” she inquired. Daryl rolled his eyes as I blurted, “Yeah, a couple of nuts… or actually four nuts if you’re counting.” Cindi politely grinned while most likely just hoping that we’d tip well. I asked her if she was part of a couple. She replied with attitude that she was on again off again on again now off again.
Cinnamon for breakfast.
I asked Daryl once more if he was ready to go explore the area and find a place to eat as I noticed him eyeing a dusty Ms. Pacman machine in a forgotten corner of the Lodge. “Lets do a shot!,” as his eyes lit up, “Fireballs please!” he motioned to our bartender. We asked Cindi if she wanted to be a part of this self-inspired brunch of shots before noon, but she gracefully declined stating that she has spent too many late nights sleeping on a worn couch in the grungy basement of the Lodge because she liked to have too much fun. Daryl and I toasted Cindi with an i, New York City, Gay Pride, Marriage, 9/11, the jukebox, and each other as we swallowed what I consider cinnamon breath freshener.
We slammed our shot glasses down on the bar a little too hard, apologizing for slamming them as we left, tipping well, and singing along with a Cher song from the juke as we burst out onto Warren Street hearing our own laughter being swallowed up in the noise, the confusion and the amazing sunshine of New York City.
We headed toward Ground Zero…