A Night at Tugs
by G.D. Lorentzen
Sometimes I wonder where all the romance in my life went. It seems my heart doesn’t seek it anymore. I’m comfortably at home in my feelings of love for my partner; the love is deep, and although that’s good, sometimes I long for the excitement of the more superficial romance I found on my path to him. Those romances make me smile when I think about them now. Of course, they were only surface feelings then, but also overwhelming in their intensity. My young adulthood, in general, could probably be described that way. I had crazy, wonderful friends and exciting times meeting so many different, mostly very handsome men. But there’s one romantic encounter that probably trumps all others, and I have to thank my friend Dillon, who had arranged the evening.
Dillon was one of my crazier friends, a drop-out from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a talented former roller-dance skater, and somewhat obnoxious as a personality, mostly attributed to her roots in New York. But I really liked her. She was spontaneous and a bon vivant like I had never met before. We met, I believe, at a roller rink in suburban Seattle in 1986. We became instant friends. I helped her get through her separation from the JWs and introduced her to many of my gay friends. She became an important member of my circle of friends back then.
In the fall of 1987, she called me one Friday afternoon to invite me out to a bar called Tugs with her and some other friends. The evening was especially meant for our mutual friend, Debbie, who had recently gone through a rather nasty divorce and was just beginning to come out of the emotional fog. Dillon wanted to take her out on the town to have some fun for a change. I was standing in the kitchen fixing a light dinner when the phone rang. She never said her name on the phone, but rather would just announce, “Hey, it’s me.”
“Hi, Dillon, what’s up?” I asked as I continued making my dinner salad.
“Well, you know how Debbie is finally over the moping and crying about the divorce?”
“So, let’s you and me take her out to Tugs and see if she can’t hook up with someone. What d’ya say?” She asked, knowing full well that I would agree to go.
“Sure, you going to come by here or do you want to just meet there?”
“No, let’s all go together. We’ll come by about 8, ok?”
“OK, see you then!”
I ate my dinner, got ready and Dillon and Debbie arrived right at 8pm. It was a cool evening, a little drizzly, as fall in Seattle tends to be. Debbie was looking dapper and feminine in a light blue blouse, stylish jeans and dark blue pumps. She was tall, slender with a nice figure, but not the prettiest woman. She was, however, attractive in her own way, and men often did check her out. Dillon, on the other hand, although slim from skating, had a rather severe look. She had cut her hair short, bleached it white, and was wearing somewhat extreme make-up—reminiscent of Annie Lennox back then. But she had a look about her that often caused men to stare. There was something quite sexy about her, in spite of her lack of traditional femininity. We all three jumped in the car and drove to Tugs on First Avenue in Belltown. Dillon was teasing both of us mercilessly about meeting someone and maybe going home with them. I was single at the time, having moved on from a 14-year relationship the previous December of 1986. Debbie and I just rolled our eyes and humored her. When we arrived in Belltown, we surprisingly managed to find a parking place rather quickly right in front of the bar.
Tugs was actually a gay bar with a dance floor that was frequented by a diverse clientele. That night the crowd was a mix of gay and straight and the music was mostly typical dance music one would hear in a gay dance club. There was a large round table in the center of the main bar and, although three other people were sitting there, we grabbed the four empty chairs and invited ourselves to sit down. We introduced ourselves to the two men and a woman, Chuck, Rob and Katherine. I wasn’t sure in the beginning, if Katherine was with Chuck or Rob or just on her own, but I would soon find out in a rather shocking way.
We agreed to save each other’s chairs, if someone went to dance or get a drink, which was necessary in the growing crowd. And through the course of the evening, we were up and down a lot going to the bar, the restroom and the dance floor. At one point, Dillon, Debbie and I returned to the table and Chuck was sitting there alone. As we sat down he said, “Debbie, would you like a glass of wine?”
Dillon and I looked at each other and with our eyes communicated the following thought, “He’s hitting on Debbie!” We smiled broadly at each other and heard Debbie say through her own smile, “I’d love one, thank you.”
Chuck got up and went to the bar. Of course, we all leaned towards each other and excitedly chatted about the invitation.
“Debbie!” exclaimed Dillon. “I think he’s hitting on you!”
Debbie smiled and said, “Let’s hope so!”
I couldn’t help but notice that Chuck was really a handsome man. He was probably 5 foot 10 with a stocky build, but definitely not fat or overweight. Solid. Masculine. He had a terrific smile and beautiful dark green eyes. I was rather taken with him myself, so I said jokingly, “He’s hot, Debbie! If you don’t like him, send him my way!”
“I like him, so just keep your hands off,” she said with humor, but she meant it, too.
At that point, Chuck returned and sat down next to Debbie. It seemed such a nice development that Dillon decided to mingle in the crowd and leave them alone.
But as she got up from the table, Debbie said, “Dillon, let’s go powder our noses, shall we?” Dillon looked at me quizzically, neither of us understanding why Debbie would want to leave the table just when Chuck was making his move–or so it seemed. I just shrugged my shoulders a little and stayed put. I never did find out what the trip to the ladies’ room was all about. What happened after they left the table was the most surprising, pleasant, romantic turn of events that I can ever remember.
Chuck raised his glass to me; I did the same. Then he asked suddenly, “So, what’s your story?”
At first, I didn’t quite know how to respond. The question rambled around my head a little, before I could come up with an answer. “No story. Just out with the girls for the evening.”
“No, I meant why are you out with the girls? Why aren’t you home with the wife and kids and all that?” He asked very directly.
I didn’t really want to answer the question, but then I decided the hell with it. I just opened my mouth and said, “Oh, I was married once, but I got a divorce and decided to explore my relationships with men, so that’s where I’m at these days.”
Chuck looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Yeah, me, too.”
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather! I was so stunned, I didn’t know what to say and I felt clumsy and awkward. Finally, I just moved my chair back and said, “Nature calls. I’ll be back in a minute.” I went to the men’s room, stood in front of the urinal and relieved myself. Someone came in and stood right beside me. I looked over and it was Chuck. I looked up smiling and said to myself in German, “Es tut gut.” (It feels good.) Right away he responded in German with the word, “Eben.” (a one word response that in this situation meant ‘yes indeed it does.’) I jerked my head to the left to look at him and asked him, “You speak German?!”
Chuck said, “And Italian. I was in Italy and Germany studying to be a chef.”
Well, now I was impressed and intrigued. I shook myself dry, tucked it back in, but before I could zip up, Chuck had moved behind me, wrapped his arms around me, and nuzzling my neck, pulled me backwards out of the men’s room door onto the dance floor. At first, we just danced, but then he embraced me in the most loving way, kissed me deeply right in the middle of the dance floor and I was carried away in the most romantic bliss I had ever felt. We danced, embraced, nuzzled and kissed for about forty-five minutes and I wasn’t aware of anyone or anything other than Chuck. I was completely overwhelmed by his scent, strong body and gentle whispers. He was my Prince Charming who swept me away to another world. I was only vaguely aware that others on the dance floor stared at us at first, but after three quarters of an hour no one paid us much attention.
Finally, I looked up at the clock and realized a lot of time had passed and we needed to get back to the table. He saw the look on my face and nodded. “We should get back,” he said. I took his hand and we began walking back to the front of the bar and the table.
“You know, everyone is just going to go crazy when they see us together like this,” I said more than a little worried about Debbie’s reaction.
Chuck smiled, nodded and said, “Yeah, but it’s ok…no worries.”
We walked up to the table hand in hand. Dillon, Barb, Rob and Katherine were now all back sitting around the table drinking wine. I don’t think they noticed at first that we were holding hands, but then Chuck took me in his arms in front of everyone and kissed me. Well, that certainly caused a reaction! Debbie started crying, got up and left the table. Dillon started laughing hysterically. Katherine stood up, grabbed her purse, swung it at Chuck so that he had to duck, and rather loudly yelled, “You son of bitch! You faggot mother fucker!” And she walked away. Rob just put his head down between his arms on the table. Well, apparently, Chuck was actually on a date with Katherine, and Rob was his best friend. So, Katherine’s reaction was justified. Rob just didn’t know what to do or think at all. Dillon couldn’t stop laughing.
“I was wondering what happened to you two!” exclaimed Dillon. “Way to go, Gar!” She often used ‘Gar’ as a diminutive for Gary.
Debbie wouldn’t come back to the table. Dillon had to go after her and then it was clear that the night was over. I had sat down, but Chuck stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders as we waited for Debbie and Dillon to return. Katherine had gone out to the car and Rob was now leaning back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, but he didn’t say a word. When the girls returned, we picked up our coats and I turned to Chuck and said, “I’d invite you home with me, but it looks like you have some things to clear up.”
Chuck said, “Yeah, maybe another time. I’m going to have to have a heart to heart with Katherine.”
Rob spoke up at that point and said, “And with me!”
So we exchanged phone numbers and said our good-byes punctuated with a kiss. Then Dillon, Debbie and I left. Debbie wouldn’t talk to me on the way home. Dillon kept quizzing me about what had happened between us and was I ever going to contact him, etc., etc.
As I was getting out of the car at home, I said to Debbie, “I’m so sorry. He came onto me. I would never have come on to him knowing you were interested. He really took me by surprise.”
Debbie just nodded but didn’t say anything. Then they drove off. That ended the most romantic night of my life. I never did contact him and he never called me. I don’t know if there was anything real between us or not–other than the intense moments together at Tugs. But it was ok. I didn’t feel a loss or depressed about it at all. I just felt incredibly blessed that I had any time at all with him and that I actually experienced something that romantically intense, yet free of entanglements or emotional complications. It was a very special moment in my life that I will always remember and cherish, in spite of my friend, Debbie’s, feeling of rejection.