D. Travers Scott
"This the sleaziest gay bar in Portland, you think?"
"What about that place we only went to once -- the one that closed right after we first moved here?"
"Oh yeah. JJ's? JR's?"
"JR's, yeah! The way it was all hidden in the basement of that Chinese restaurant, with only a side alley entrance and no sign, and painted all black inside?"
"Black with sparkles. And the jock-gone-to-seed bartender, with all his gold body glitter?"
"The DJ announcing strippers like Wolfman Jack?"
"Mmmm. But the strippers weren't naked like here."
A heavy-set Native American in front of Steve hoisted her sparkly Dukes of Hazzard shirt, pointing to a bite-mark near her navel. Her companion, a skinny guy with a blond crew cut, nodded in admiration.
"I guess this place wins, then. Congratulations."
Steve raised his beer in a toast to all at Three Sisters. When Steve and John had lived together in Portland, Three Sisters had been a Latino gay bar. They'd heard that previously it had gone through biker and Mafia incarnations. Now three Sisters was a multi-racial gay strip club. Now Steve and John, after nine years, were no longer a couple. Steve had stayed in Seattle. John had moved back to Portland.
Steve raised his beer in a toast to all at Three Sisters. His schooner lingered midair as he noticed that the bartender was the still the same mustached guy from years ago.
"I tried to hit on him," Steve told his ex, nodding at the bartender. "I came in here one night when you were on the road."
"Ah, yes," John said knowingly.
"And there was a movie crew setting up outside the old Weinhard brewery. So I came in here, sat at the bar and, like, to make conversation, said, 'Hey, I saw that movie crew across the street.' I was all like, 'What are they filming?' I thought it was a smooth opener."
"Anyway he shrugged and said, 'Something called Assassins.' And I got all excited, and started babbling on all like, 'I had no idea they were making a movie of that! That's so cool, considering it's like Sondheim's most controversial musical!' "
John rolled his eyes. "We were together nine years, and I still am amazed you ever get laid."
"Yeah. The bartender just stared at me and went, 'I think it's some Sylvester Stallone movie.' He shook his head all sad, but he gave me a free consolation beer."
Now, years later, the mustached man was still at the bar, and his mother still held her customary place by the door. Steve watched her graciously lift a sheet of black canvas away from the doorway for two scruffy skater boys, who made a beeline for an ATM.
"That's new," Steve said.
"Yeah but it's practical," John said. "You need quick cash for the strippers."
"Didn't you play with that guy?" John pointed to a square-jawed, swarthy man on the other side of the bar, very handsome, alone.
"Oh yeah! God."
"Wasn't he the guy from the Princeton?"
"Damn, you've got a good memory."
"I always had to point out your tricks to you. How do you survive in Seattle without me?"
Steve sipped his thin, pale beer. Three Sisters was also notable as one of the few bars in Portland that refused to offer a single microbrew.
"Yeah, it was at the Princeton," Steve said. "We started jerking off across from each other in the showers."
"We went into a stall together. He sat on the john, and I stood up on the seat, bracing myself against the walls while he sucked me off. At one point I pulled out 'cause I had to pee -- drinking all that water in the sauna -- and he was all like, 'No, go ahead in my mouth.' I did, and I'd never done that with anyone before --"
"That was the first time?"
"And, ah, it made me come. Only I couldn't tell when the peeing ended and the coming began. It felt like the same time, but that can't be right, 'cause you know how hard it is for me to pee after I come. But he swallowed it all."
John smiled brightly. "Now he's the kept boy of this guy up in Seattle," he said. "Some rich guy that owns a tapas restaurant on Capitol Hill -- Sangre Verde, have you heard of it?"
Steve furrowed his brow. "Oh yeah. It's where the Apple porno theater used to be."
"The Apple's gone?"
Steve nodded. John made a petulant face, sticking out his lower lip. "Damn! Well, the guy that owns that restaurant that replaced the Apple, he comes down here a lot, and they met when the guy you played with was dancing at Silverado. Now he doesn't dance."
"But he still goes out?"
"This is the first time I've seen him alone since he stopped dancing. I hear it's one of those relationships where they both fool around, and they both know it, but they pretend not to." John nodded, eyes not blinking, smile not faltering.
Steve chewed his thumbnail. "Fun," he murmured. He sat up, straightening his back, and sat tall on the edge of his chair. He squinted at a guy wandering about the bar in a Harvard Crew sweatshirt, smiling and nodding, working the crowd.
"There's that other stripper from Silverado -- the one who used to flip ash trays with his crotch." Steve had never seen him in street clothes before. John looked.
"He dance here now?" Steve asked.
John shook his head. "Nah -- now he's just a customer."
"Ah. A mortal." Steve cocked his head, studying the former performer.
John eyed Steve, trying to see him objectively. He tried to see Steve not as his ex-lover-of-nine-years but as just-a-guy. Like a potential trick. He was cute with all the tattoos. Much as John would never admit it to him, Steve's new bleached hair was kind of hot in a skanky way. John had never before thought of Steve as skanky, despite everything they'd done together. John considered himself the skanky one.
John remembered Steve's previous visit, four months after their breakup. John had just moved back to Portland. He remembered fucking Steve violently without a condom, shouting out abuse. They'd hardly ever done that in their nine years together. Breakup sex. He'd heard about it. They'd been really drunk, though. He definitely wasn't that drunk tonight. He didn't want them to have sex again. He did.
Ex-boyfriend. Just a guy. Steve. Guy. John mentally switched back and forth, like looking at Steve with one eye closed, then the other.
John stood. "I gotta take a leak." He directed Steve's attention to an old guy shuffling around in an overcoat, dirty baseball cap scrunched down over gray shag. "Keep an eye on that guy," he said with an air of jovial mystery.
Steve raised an eyebrow. John smiled.
John stood at the urinal, staring at the thick, pepper-red paint on the bathroom walls. They reminded him of the secret room in The Amityville Horror. He looked at the feet beside him in the stall: sneakers. John finished pissing and remained at the urinal, stroking his dick. He looked at the feet.
Steve's waiting, he thought. That doesn't matter -- we broke up. That doesn't matter -- we did this when we were together. Yeah, we did.
Steve watched the man in the raincoat wander around the bar, accosting several patrons. A gaggle of fashionable Latino guys giggled. A butch Filipino guy in frat drag ignored everyone. A glam tranny, seven feet in heels and hair, dismissed him with a flourish of her sculpted nails.
John rejoined his ex.
"I'm not, ah, cramping your style tonight, am I?" Steve asked.
"Oh, please. You're in town for a visit; I can stand to go one night without trolling. I just wanted you to see what this place is like now. But don't let me stop you. If you want to. You're the out-of-town meat here."
Steve shook his head. "That's OK. It feels kind of weird, though."
"I don't know -- the two of us being out at a bar together and not cruising."
John laughed. "I know -- and now we're not even a couple. Now's when we should be cruising."
Steve smiled. "I've been getting everything ass-backwards. Jay's been giving me grief about how I lived in the gay ghetto when I was in a couple, but now that I'm single, I move out to the 'burbs."
"You're still going out, though?"
"Sure. Yeah, not a lot but -- sure, yeah."
Steve tried to remember if he'd ever hooked up with anyone at Three Sisters. He never had with John. They'd done that plenty of times one block up Stark Street at Silverado, and upstairs from there in the Club Portland bath house.
He remembered huddling with John across the street in the snowy doorway of Great Northwest Books, watching drag queens and hustlers loiter on the sidewalk outside Three Sisters after closing. He and John had been waiting for the doorman from Silverado to get off so they could get him off. A blushing, Midwestern whiteboy, he'd taken Steve and John to his place in some new low-income apartments a few blocks down on Broadway. His bathroom-sized room had held a dresser, a mini-fridge, a hot plate, and a twin bed into which they all three had crowded.
Once Steve had waited for a different doorman from Silverado -- a Latino guy straight out of the Army. Alone, Steve had nursed coffee next door at The Roxy diner, waiting until the doorman got off work, and they could go to Club Portland. The sex had been good, but the guy had disappeared from town days later.
Steve looked askance at John, who was now absorbed watching the current strippers, who were twins. Steve remembered that look.
Steve scanned the crowd. He remembered when they'd first come to Three Sisters. They'd seen young kids teaching each other the Macarena, at least six months before they'd seen it anywhere else. Portland could be cutting-edge after all. They hadn't come here a lot -- the bar didn't have strippers then, and the cruising was better at Silverado or The Eagle.
Steve had come here once, alone, while John had been traveling. Steve had been at The Eagle and run into Will, a humpy, brooding blond gardener they'd known. Will had suggested they go to Three Sisters.
"Tres Hermanas?" Steve had said.
"Six Tits," Will had said.
Steve had joined Will, hoping to hook up with him. It had turned out Will only liked sex with Latinos.
The naked twins scuttled about the stage. Asses in the air and oily dicks dangling, they each clutched thong and sneakers with one hand while picking up dollar bills with the other.
"Do they divvy up the tips once they -- "
John interrupted, grabbing his arm. "Now -- look!" He pointed at the stage.
The old man in the overcoat steadied himself on the railing, contemplating the raised stage. The twins ducked behind the bar to get dressed.
"What's he doing?"
The man climbed on stage. He peered out at the crowd from behind his thick, smudgy glasses. Triumphant techno music exploded. Off came the hat, the glasses. The hair was a wig. The torn overcoat flew off to reveal a ripped young white guy. He was in his early 20s, with a dark tan and wavy blond hair. The crowd screamed, offering him fists of singles.
"What the fuck?"
John shrugged, chuckling. He drank his beer. "I've seen him do it once before. He does this old street guy shtick for about an hour, then strips the rest of the night. People love it."
"Damn," Steve said. "He's hot." He smiled at John, shaking his head incredulously. "This is a trip."
"Makes Seattle look pretty tame, huh?" John's blue-grey eyes lit up.
Steve nodded slowly, eyebrow raised. "You definitely got the best sleazy bar in the divorce settlement."
John threw his hands wide in a gesture of magnanimous abundance. "My people!" he exclaimed, head tossed back.
Steve smiled, though not as much as he once would have.
John looked at him sharply. "Think we'll drag our new boyfriends here someday?"
Steve held his smile and turned to the show.