(Photograph by Thomas Alderman)
In the eighties Rick lived in Albany New York. It was a great party town with plenty of clubs, bars and live music. However there was this one particular club called "Puttin’ on the Ritz" that was unique.
It was your basic club with a stage in the back and a bar up front. A small sign hung outside the windows and you had to climb up a set of rickety stairs to get in. What made this place unique, even for the eighties, was that it was a live music venue early in the evening, but, after the bands packed up, the women filtered out and it became a gay bar.
At the time our hero Rick wasn’t aware of this transmutation.
In those days Rick drank hard. He woke up starving and thirsty many an afternoon in a dirty bed or on a small couch with no idea where he was, or how he got there.
This particular night Rick had been out with friends, drinking, smoking and snorting anything they could get their hands on, but, as usual, they had gone home one by one and he ended up alone at the bar.
The sober Rick was by nature a quiet, reserved fellow, but depending on the amount and quality of the intoxicants he ingested, he got louder and friendlier and funnier as the evening wore on. But sometimes the partying had the opposite effect, and the somewhat reticent Rick became positively morose. Especially if Tequila was involved.
That night there was the smell of Tequila in the air. Tequila, cigarettes and sex. The top of the bar was covered with that particular combination of spilled beer, sticky drink residue, and cigarette ash that foretold the end of another fine evening.
Rick lit up a smoke, pulled back a shot, and was pondering the nature of the universe and his place in it when he noticed someone at the bar next to him. What made Rick take particular note was that the guy seemed to be inching closer and closer.
Sitting there in wild solitude Rick began to feel a strange sensation in his ear. Wondering if he was slipping deeper into the abyss, it slowly dawned on him what was happening - the guy was blowing gently in his ear.
"Come on really? Do people actually do this?" Rick thought out loud and swished the guy away. For some reason he imagined Nick and Nora swilling cocktails at the far end of the bar and engaging in witty repartee.
The bartender said something nasty, the guy said something angry and it seemed to Rick that the entire bar was now focused on him. There must have been 20 or 30 guys in the room moving toward him.
Flummoxed, Rick reached over the bar and flicked the brim of the bartenders cap. A little touch of night. Why he did that he would never know.
Suddenly the entire room of small, pink faced men surged around Rick like a great sea of ...well, small pink faced men. Rick quickly put on his coat, beat it down the stairs and out onto Cental Avenue.
The night was cold and a harsh wind cut at Rick’s face. The moon sat haunched on the rooftops like a fat cat, reflecting a rippled whiteness off the cobblestones.
Rick shrugged, looked up at the brownstone he had just unceremoniously exited, and started down the street looking for another bar - a bit older but, as usual, none the wiser.
Behind him loomed a bitter shadow.