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On the Rainbow Screen

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NewFest, NYC’s LGBTQ film festival, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week, starting Wednesday and continuing through the following Tuesday (Oct. 24-30).

NewFest first got started in 1988. At the time, like most gay men and women of that era, I led a double life—by day I was a closeted investment banker, by night (and on weekends and holidays), I spent my time reading gay publications (everything from Honcho to Mandate, but also more lifestyle and culture magazines like the Advocate and Christopher Street) and seeking out low-visibility gay hangouts—bars, discos, Fire Island—places where I could comfortably express my queerness.

A scene for the 1986 gay film Parting Glances.

Peacocks – Quarter Stories 9

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1979: The crowds were still in full force around the stage for the Bourbon Street Awards and the only space available was under the balcony where the stage itself blocked the view but gave a bit of space to hang out. Clyde and Al and I watched the very end of the Bourbon Street Awards here under Lafitte’s beefed up balcony- it was closest to the front door where there was at least breathing room. It was just the 3 of us. Huge cheers had gone up for the last of the award and Ed Smith was winding the awards down. I was buzzed and very happy because I was hanging with my two favorite daddies and I know they were as buzzed as I was. I saw Al looking at me and just smiling. He grabbed me with both hands and gave me a big ol kiss on the lips.“I’m so happy to be here with you for your first time,” he said. “And I’m proud of you.” I choked up as this was a pretty huge for him to say. Clyde put his arms around both of us. This was a big moment. We 3 relished it. Then Al turned to me and Al said quietly, “Bobby I’m leaving on the redeye back to San Francisco tonight.”

The Torch – Quarter Stories 14

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The eternal flame in Cafe Lafitte in Exile burning.

1982—Max was at work at the point station, his head down deep into the jockey box scooping up ice in the cups taking orders three and four at a time. We were slammed. I was in my station picking up some of his to keep up. I looked over at him and saw his whole body was shaking, and heard him yell this “oooooooohhhh” sound. The barback and I ran over. He was being electrocuted by the metal jockey box touching an electrical outlet. I got him to drop the soda gun and his body relaxed. He staggered into the barback, who grabbed him under the arms and started to drag him to the back of the bar.

Cajun Sweat (Louis Pt. 2 )- Quarter Stories 13

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Louis had vanished. Iʼd look for him but he kept out of the bars, strange hours, whatever jobs he picked up. Saw Jeff again who came on to me at Jewel’s and weʼd play around some with his big beard and arms and was kinda hot but he was not Louis. I couldnʼt make out with him. Louis was in my way. He knew it, didnʼt offer any information. I worked my shift regular and fucked around now and again, hangin with my bartender friends. Iʼd get off work at 5am, count tips and be home around 7am to pass out and get some sleep. I just worked a Sunday beer bust and was feeling good and frisky. I parked myself on a stool in the back of Lafitte’s by the fireplace, had my stool leaning against the bricks, and kicked back having had a lot of drinks and shots and shooting bull and cruising hard.

Hi!

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Without a doubt, New York City is a veritable cornucopia of hot men. However, sanity and stability are for sure not qualities that the gays possess in their early 20s, regardless of how successful they seem.

Take, for instance, one of my most recent encounters upon moving to NYC in 2010. His name for the purposes of this story is “Mr. Hi.” 

My First Night at the Saint

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The Saint, New York City

I moved to New York City in the fall of 1980 and quickly landed a job at a top corporate design agency, making $15,000 a year. It wasn’t much to live on, but, fortunately, my rent was only $250 a month for an Upper Eastside tenement—a 3-room railroad flat, complete with bathtub in the kitchen.

No Queens

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An iconic NYC Checker cab, long since retired from taxi fleets (probably in the 1970s here)

My first boyfriend, Jim Fragale, was turning 40 and I was 27. It was 1979. He’d moved to NYC from West Virginia in 1963 at 24. When we began dating, I couldn’t believe he’d lived in NYC for such a long time. I remember saying to him “I hope I’m not still here after 16 years (As it turns out, I’ve now been here 41 years, though I had a 2-year break in Tokyo working for a bank).

In Search of (Gay) America

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Sweet and sexy Bo (San Diego marina, 1979)

In 1979 and with no gay life to speak of, I scrimped to save a few thousand dollars, negotiated my departure from my firm, sublet my Manhattan apartment, and took off for California in my little Toyota Celica. In retrospect, I had to leave NYC to “learn to be gay.”

Bourbon Street Exulting – Quarter Stories 8

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1979: A thunderclap woke me up and then loud voices. I hadn’t gotten much sleep but wasn’t hungover. I felt a buzz all around me, I had no idea what time it was but could hear guys laughing in the courtyard and then the door was opened and in came Louie and Clyde. “Get your lazy ass outta that bed boy, we got some people to meet.” It’s Mardi Gras day an nobody sleeps through that! “Downstairs now, get in that shower.” Clyde bellowed. Louie just smiled at me and laughed. “You have a good time last night Curtis?” I smiled. “Get ready and meet us at the gate and I’ll fill you in on anything you don’t remember,” Louie said as he closed the door.

Ghosts and Lovers – Quarter Stories 6

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1979 –  “The rules of this house during Mardi Gras are” as George South proceeded to tell all of us hung-over guys at about 11am on Saturday morning of Mardi Gras weekend in his large double parlor “if you got keys it’s your house—no tricks—but if you fall in love then I’ll be watchin! Everybody’s ass is home for dinner at 7pm every night.” “No excuses, even for bartenders. Now, ya’ll get out on them streets or on the stoops and have some fun!