From Dirt to Doctor: The memoir
Normally the Spike is a gay leather club in New York City, that ranges from homey local neighborhood hangout to leather night nipple clamping sexatorium.
It was the usual Sunday Brunch at the Spike, with incredible omelets, poached eggs in Bearnaise sauce, French toast to die for, and your latte always made to perfection.
I just love it when gorgeous gay men enjoy cooking to perfection, even if only once a week. Normally the Spike is a gay leather club in New York City, that ranges from homey local neighborhood hangout to leather night nipple clamping sexatorium. This is obviously before the all encompassing Aids epidemic that left very few standing at the Spike anymore.
At Sunday brunch, metal chains were put aside, fake palm trees put in their place. White linen tables were set with formal flatware arrangements, with your champagne flute ready and waiting. An amazing feat every Sunday, considering Saturday night usually ran quite late.
I was there with my best friend Larry, the principal make up artist for the Metropolitan opera. We had been attached at the hip for over a year. Nothing sordid of course, as I was straight female and he was gay.
Larry impeccably dressed as a Russian czar, allowing the wide curly lamb lapels of his coat to address the length of his long neck. Enhanced by his six foot three stature, regally entering any room as if he owned it. The matching curly lamb hat was overkill. It wrapped his shaved head, and was tilted to one side in showy costume glamour.
Him now sauntering over to our usual table, but slowly this time as if cruising the room, making sure any new faces got in a look. A look hopefully pausing not necessarily at his face. Oh the drama, I thought to myself.
“Hey good morning sunshine,” I said while jumping up to get my usual hug and kiss. He was a foot taller than me, but his long arms wrapped around me twice. I nuzzled up against the lambs wool, snuggling against its fuzzy warmth. Kissing him on the cheek, inhaling his musky scent, pondering for a moment how we had gotten so attached.
“The queen held court again last night. I didn’t get out of there until 2am. I couldn’t get my fucking wig back.” He said while pulling off layers of clothing.
“Which queen?” many opera divas had sifted through his existence over the years.
“Pavarotti! His entourage applauded his greatness for at least three hours, and god forbid, I could steal the wig off his head mid adulation.”
Laughing until my own wig fell off I said, “Oh fuck him, let’s get a drink.”
“Yes, champagne, god damn it.”
Our waiter Billy, who was also our bartender some nights, came over wondering what all the fuss was about.
“Could you keep it down, some of us have hangovers to kill right now.” Billy being dressed in his usual jeans covered by leather chaps, with only a leather vest to cover the rest of him. The perfect way to enhance his six pack abs, perfect winter tan, pierced nipples, and slicked back Jimmy Dean hair.
“What will it be today, my darlings?”
“Two mimosa’s, two lattes, and two French toasts.” I stated while looking at Larry to make sure this was still our standing order. We were at the point in our friendship where reading his mind was essential.
He winked at me with his usual impish grin, while once again scanning the room. Larry, being the sweetest friend I ever had, managed the most horrendous taste in men. He was what you would call “well hung.” I personally had not witnessed its unnatural snakelike presence, but according to others, a scarf was shorter.
(One time in a cab, while he was wearing knee length shorts, I saw some flesh peeking in and out the side of his knee.)
Billy sauntering away slowly so any newcomers would watch the sway of his ass. The usuals had seen it so many times, that it no longer held any power.
Being an outsider to gay courting, it had taken me awhile to catch on. This being early AIDs, mid 1980’s, gay sex was rampant. Everyone had fucked or sucked everyone else. Unless of course you fell in love, then you no longer went to the Spike for brunch. You cooked at home with your loved one, while cuddling under the sheets forever.
Larry had fallen in love while dancing in the San Francisco ballet. I had not known him then. He had moved to New York City, after the loss of his ten year partner to AIDs. Now it seemed, he was hell bent on fucking until he was dead. He was not HIV positive, as far as the medical community or I knew. However, in the mid 80’s, the official transition to safe sex was just beginning. The epidemic was already underway in many other places. I, inconspicuously, entered a world of a plague in the making.
1985, the only female member of the Spike pool team, had left me in the cyclone that would suck up and spit out every other single member of my team.
For the sake of honesty, one of the players may have survived.
The first year I was on the team, I watched mating rituals occur from every angle. This one with that one, and that one, with every other one. No one knew or believed the plague was in our realm.
My knowledge of the actual dates that the bath houses, and other sordid clubs closed down is limited. All I know is we would have a player one year and the next year, he would be dead. In addition, everyone he had fucked was dead.
I heard tales of saran wrap educational parties, instead of hot tub parties. The transition did not happen overnight, it was over a year at least. This was a disease that by the time you knew what it was, it was too late. No medications were available. No adequate knowledge of all the considerable effects of this type of immune compromise was available.
We had already done the damage by sex, or by needle, now just awaiting the torture, or the end. I personally had done the same damage, by having sex with strangers, shared use of a needle and other sordid tales. Why I am not dead astounds me.
“Larry, do you think I am an alcoholic?”
“You? Of course not!”
“Well, why are all my days spent partying and working as a waitress?”
“Because you are fabulous, darling, and it is what you do best. What would the Spike pool team do without you? Who would entertain the other teams with all the incredible outfits we put together. Remember the time you were a peacock for the Rawhide game? That was my masterpiece.”
“I know, but maybe, I should be doing something more important with my life. Maybe I should go back to school?”
“You graduated from college didn’t you? Where was that, University of Dillworthtown?”
“No, the University of Delaware.” I replied.
“Right, so can’t you do something with that? What did you major in?”
“I had to change majors. I was a Chemistry major, but then I flunked Physical Chemistry. It was so embarrassing; the only other major I could attempt to finish was Textile Technology. Do you know what that is? It is the bimbo’s version of home economics. My first class I had to listen to an instrument and make a design out of it!”
“What’s wrong with that?” he asked demurely
“Oh, shut up. It was devastating for me. My dad beat the shit out of me, when he found out. Then I just stopped showing up at class most of the time, so I could hang out with bikers.”
“Did you graduate?”
“Well sort of, I think so.”
“What do you mean, you think so?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Honey, it’s 1pm, and plenty of champagne is left to drink.”
“Alright, well in 1983 after being in college for five years, I was meeting with the Dean of Textile, whatever. She wanted me to finish some research project in order to graduate me.
This is how it went:
Age: Late fifties
Attire: Outdated, molded, slightly graying pompadour on her head. Navy wool, double breasted suit with gold buttons, attempting to resemble “Chanel” but not quite making it. Light grey opaque stockings adhering to varicose veins while the pudgy ankles forced themselves into one inch black Ferragamo pumps. The skirt, knee length with a flare to swing ever so slightly while walking, but able to show leg when the need arises.
“Ms. De Berardinis, as a final qualification for your Bachelor’s degree, you are required to finish a thesis on Textile Fabrics.
Attire: Flambeau black hair with orange and pink stripes stiffened to my head at various acute angles to show spikes. Classic, black motorcycle jacket with a still melted left shoulder included a burnt flame design. (Had been left in my room, when I accidentally burned it down). Vintage 50’s pink knee length slip with lace surrounding the bust adorned by ripped and torn black opaque stockings.
“Yes Dean, I am aware of that. However, I have been offered the most magnificent job in NYC at a high level textile firm, and they need me to start right away.”
(Really, I had no job. However, my girlfriend had a friend, who needed a roommate. I would have my own room in the heart of the East Village! Didn’t this pretentious old dean know, that it is every punk girl’s dream to live in the East Village)
“Ms. De Berardinis, I must say, you have been the most exasperating student. All your teachers believe you have talent when you show up for class, that is. The sheer amount of incompletes on your transcripts is enough to sicken me. Just get out of my office. The diploma will be in the mail.”
“So, the bitch graduated me with a B.S. in Textile Technology and I moved here.”
“So, you have been waitressing since you left Delaware?” Larry asked.
“Yeah, pretty much, besides drinking, shooting drugs, dating all the wrong guys, and hanging out with you.”
“In other words, trying to get yourself killed?”
“Get myself killed? Why would I want to do that?”
“Well, isn’t the likelihood of your behavior, going to result in death by AIDs, murder, or fatal overdose?”
“Your awful depressing, all of sudden. What happened to the champagne?”
“Look, I am your friend, and as much as I love our fun together, maybe it’s time to do something different.” Larry had a way of looking at me with those puppy dog pleading eyes.
“Well, what do you suggest?”
“Be a doctor.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Wave my magic wand, and I am a doctor. I practically flunked out of college, remember.”
“You can do it.” The timbre of his voice had now deepened into father mode. What the hell is going on, I thought.
“First of all, I highly doubt that they would ever let me in. Secondly, why would I want to torture myself with going back to school to get the grades to get in? And thirdly, how would I stay sober long enough to pass any course?”
“Okay, I was waiting for a good time to tell you this.”
“I have AIDs.”
I collapsed into the hard wooden seat, as if slapped by a two by four. Staring at Larry, the most precious friend of my life, tears stuck behind my eyes pushing down on my slightly drunken brain. I am now frozen in form, waiting for my pulse to return, my breath to return. Leaning forward until my head fell upon my folded arms. Shoot me, just fucking shoot me, I want to die.