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A Typical Manhattan Evening

STORY: 1981—After my intense three-month affair with Bill Masi, a successful male model, had run its course in early 1981, we became “friends with benefits” and then morphed into just being friends. During that middle phase, he also became friends with a guy from New Jersey, a teacher also named Bill, who was married to a woman and had a teenage daughter.

Bill Masi (right) and Bill #2 chatting at a corner on the Upper West Side sometime in 1981.

Bill #2’s wife knew about his attraction to men and gave him ample room to maneuver. And, maneuver he did. He kept a rooftop apartment for himself in Manhattan, on Columbus Avenue at 71st Street, from which he conducted his gay life. That neighborhood, the Upper West Side, was in the process of being gentrified and was becoming a highly desirable place to live, with large old brownstones that were reasonably priced by New York City standards. We may still have had to step over a bum passed out on the sidewalk and choose carefully which streets to walk down, for fear of being mugged, but, at least we now had dozens of gourmet restaurants, bars, and boutiques to frequent on the way to Bill #2’s place.

The three of us, along with another friend, regularly played bridge at Bill #2’s rooftop domicile. Our card games would have seemed like a normal evening to the casual observer, except for one thing–in addition to teaching, Bill #2 had a second livelihood, running a male escort service from his pied-a-terre.

Our bridge play was regularly interrupted by phone calls from customers seeking short-term “companionship” and hustlers stopping by to drop off their payments. In between our bids and counter-bids, Bill busily arranged appointments, including frequent unusual requests from horny customers. The rest of us took these interruptions in stride and didn’t bat an eyelash, as we eavesdropped on his conversations and gazed at the hot young men who showed up at his door to drop off their payments to Bill.

The one time I actually was nonplussed was when one of his escorts who stopped in turned out to be a friend of mine. I was stunned to find out that this successful literary agent was moonlighting on the side. Needless to say, it was embarrassing for both of us. He must have been doing it for ego gratification, because, from what I knew of his day job, he certainly didn’t need the money.

As quirky as this scenario might sound, to us gay Manhattanites, in the 1980s, it didn’t seem all that unusual, and, in fact, for some, it was just business as usual.

—Mike Balaban


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