My Mom Was Born Without Gaydar

05.13.13

As a New York City teenager in the 50’s my mother spent her time in the Village smoking Gauloises and otherwise being fabulous with her girlfriends. I know about some of her favorite haunts because she brought me to them endlessly and repeatedly since before I could even remember. There was Chumleys, DiRoberti’s, El Faro and then there were the Chinese restaurants everything South of Houston (Yona Schimmel’s, Katz’ and Russ and Daughters). There was a midtown and an uptown to Manhattan but they were never as interesting to us as My Mother’s Manhattan which would occasionally lead us over a bridge into Williamsburg (which was definitely not Manhattan but somehow belonged to My Mother as well).

Bars in New York City never felt like bars in Los Angeles. There was one bar in Marina Del Rey that my father used to take us to and it felt like a New York bar because we weren’t the only kids there and food was served. We played pool, my dad smoked his pipe, Englishmen talked about cricket and other ridiculous games, they sang songs and the food was crap but everyone tried to convince us that fish and chips were delicious. We weren’t quite sure about that.

Mom came over for dinner last night and told me the most remarkable story. She started by telling us how New York’s drinking age used to be 18 so by the time she was 16 she would hang out in the West Village and she and Alice and Sandy would hang out in local bars drinking cokes and eating french fries while feeling both very adult and very safe. One of their favorite hang outs was Julius‘. They loved the cool factor of hanging out in a bar and with the added bonus of never being bothered.

When Mom would tell LA friends about wasting her teenage years at a bar named Julius’ which was inhabited by men who were really nice to teenage girls but didn’t hit on them her friends would roll their eyes. I’m pretty sure they thought that my mom was a little socially retarded or perhaps she’d neglected to mention that she was a morbidly obese teenager with cystic acne and a drippy nose. The bar she was describing could not possibly have existed.

This week she’s been reading John Irving’s new book In One Person and on page 111 there was a revelation.

in one person irving

Mom’s favorite “safe” hangout was a gay bar and she’s only finding out about it 55 years later.

I’m like, “Mom, how did you not know that it was a gay bar. Were you the only women there?”

“What did I know from gays? I was 16 and people called them fruits. There were no fruits there.”