We sit patiently in the car. Our nervous travel on Laurel Canyon to Ventura Boulevard to Van Nuys brings us to The Office. The only underage bar in 1972.
“Come on Paul. We’ll be able to dance. There will be other gay people.”
“We’re only twenty. What if there is a raid?” Paul cries.
“We’ve come all the way over the hill to get here.”
We tiptoe out of the car. As we open the door the first thing Paul says is, “Oh God the smoke.” I drag him along with me. It’s barely eight o’clock and only a handful of guys are dancing.
The room is small but mirrored walls give it depth. We hear Maybe this Time by Liza Minelli. A few guys are slow dancing with their arms around each other’s necks. I love the song. Then the intro to Back Stabbers by the O’Jays blasts through the speakers.
“Oh God Paul. Let’s dance to this.”
Shy Paul transforms himself into a dance master. What happened to my timid best friend? Uninhibited to the max. He abandons himself as he spins and claps. I enlist and adhere to his energy. The sweat seeps through our underarms. The flashing strobe lights take us out of the planet. I can’t comprehend the rapture. This bliss is virgin territory. The bellbottoms scrape against the wooden floor.
“Can you believe this Paul? We’ve never seen this many gay men before? And they are happy too. Not like in The Boys in the Band. Like we were asleep and woke up to a fantasy.”
The decibels build as the evening sweeps by. Each time we think we’ve exhausted our bodies another track tempts us back. Stevie Wonder’s reimagined We Can Work It Out makes us scream.
“Come dance” I can hardly hear Paul. The ringing in my ears hurts.
He summons me to the floor. I collapse to the beat then throw my arms to the ceiling, waving side by side.
I see a boy talking to a man working the record player. I whisper to Paul, “I’m going to ask them to play You Keep Me Hang’ On?” The DJ acknowledges Yes.
Ms. Ross is spreading her tentacles and we are prancing.
This night must not end.
“Oh God it’s almost midnight. My mom will wonder where I am. Let’s go.” Paul tells me.
As we exit The Office the warm valley air mingles with our perspiration. Our joy begins to secrete as we return to reality.
“There must be a place in unincorporated West Hollywood like this.” Paul asks.
“If we had fake I.D.’s. But how are we going to arrange that?”
When we hit twenty-one, we’ll be showered with Studio One, After Dark, Circus, Oil Can Harry’s and The Odyssey. The troop called “The Campers” will be our introduction to drag turned on its ears. No mere dressing up to look like women. They used balloons for breasts and proudly kept their beards. Hairy arms and legs weren’t covered. Harmless and inoffensive humor grossness. Our favorite was Everything’s Coming Up Roses. As each lyric was lip-synched, an object came out of a magic box. “Now’s your inning stands the world on its ear.” An oversized plastic ear gets slapped against an earth globe. “Set it spinning, that will just the beginning” The globe started twirling. “You can do it; all you need is a hand”. A large plastic handshake at us. We chuckle hoot.
We didn’t know we were in an innocent bubble. A mere speck before the anxiety we suffered from Grade School through High School came roaring back in a new form. Our dating and social skills had been stunted as teenagers because of our femininity. In our twenties we had to educate ourselves as to what life as a social gay man would be. We had to face the prejudice against our sissyhood.