The exact location is the south east corner of Dundonald at Yonge, one street north of Wellsley. A flat, two story building, today it is the central storage office for a home gym equipment company. In 1984, it was anything but.
From my vantage point on the bench across the street, I have a straight on view of the double, saloon style doors that lead to the second floor. The steep stairwell, covered in a thick black velvet is obscured until someone either enters or leaves. No sign, no logo, just the double doors leading up. To what?
The answer to that question is the reason I am sitting on this bench in the blazing and bright 32 degree Toronto afternoon. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the convenience store window to my left, I pause and take a thorough appraisal. Two months shy of seventeen, passing for eighteen will be easy, I’ve done it before. Nineteen, maybe that’s pushing it. Though maybe not. At 5'9 and 180 pounds I am in the best shape of my life due to a five practice per week swimming hobby. One that has recently garnered placement on the provincial junior team. It is a hobby that has paid off well, I think, noticing a visible six pack beneath my grey Ocean Pacific T-shirt. Even through my faded 501’s you can clearly make out sprinters thighs. Reminding myself again that they compensate for the slightly less than proportionate lower legs below. I run my hands over my newly buzzed #1 length scalp, somehow assured that between the body, the Ray Bans hiding my eyes, and the cocky attitude I hope to muster from I don’t know where, I have a chance at getting into the bar.
How I know that this particular unmarked door leads to a gay bar named Cornelius, supposedly of the leather and denim variety, is one of those things that can’t quite be described, only felt. However, the beefy butt of the hunky blond in open ass chaps walking through the double doors, would certainly confirm it.
Heart racing, butterflies all up in my gut, I take a deep breath, knowing that if I intend to actually make it into my first gay bar, it’s now or never.
Darker than I expected, the scent of beer, sweat, and smoke hit me full on as I climb the stairs.
Thoughts race …
… Slow down, don’t look too obvious, damn I took the shades off, fuck, this is not going well …
Within seconds I am on the top landing, staring into the face of a shorter, infinitely more muscular than I, red T-shirt wearing fireplug with a mustache. I swear I hear myself gasp.
“Hey, man.” I say, a tad too intentionally to the fireplug behind the desk.
The mustache smiles, and I can’t help but notice a severely lazy right eye. Which, for some reason, only makes him strangely hotter. Still figuring out all the nuanced things that “get me going”, I am unaware that one day my sexual tastes will fall decidedly into the “twisted” category.
“Hey. Man.” He’s mocking me I think, but he is still smiling.
I move to walk past him, and he grabs my wrist.
Shit, what the fuck do I do now.
“You need your stamp, stud.”
Still holding my wrist, he maintains a firm grip a few seconds longer than the stamping requires. “You’re good to go.”
Pulling back the heavy leather curtain, I am truly not prepared for what awaits.
Men, men, and more men.
Shoulder to shoulder, through a blue haze, is everything I’ve thought it might be of plus a whole lot more. Painfully good looking men, amazingly built men, naturally rugged men.
The ones who aren’t my every dream come true, I simply don’t see.
From out of nowhere I realize two things in rapid succession. One, the song that several of the men are dancing to is by Madonna.
Had this been a dance in my high school gym, I’d already be on the floor.
Thankfully, I am able to resist that temptation.
The second thing I notice is that my cock is hard as a rock, and I feel what I presume is a wet spot forming on the front of my Levi’s. Had I been anywhere else, I would attempt to obscure that bulging embarrassment. Not here. The utter trashiness of that only increases the swelling in my crotch, and I adjust my posture to maximize the view.
Only when I reach the bar am I aware that several guys are staring. With a weirdly intense gaze. I wonder if this is what “cruising” means? The term stuck out after my gay uncle Roger had described meeting his lover Matthew. Who, apparently, was cruising him in West Hollywood.
Damn, these guys are not only hot, they are better looking than I have ever thought possible. Not exactly like the hunky GQ cover boys, these guys are more … I don’t know, real, but with a sexy that was at full amp. Fuck, do they all have mustaches?
“What can I get ya?” The bartenders mildly impatient question throws me off.
“Uh, a beer.”
Fuck, I want to die.
I try not to make matters worse, so I avoid the visible wince.
A slight pause, then slowly and deliberate, he says, “What.Kind?”
Only aware of the glowing sign over the bartenders head, I sputter out that I would like a Blue. Please. At the time, completely unaware that I will order that crumby label for the next several years, just because.
Almost an hour later and on Blue #5, I ponder where, exactly, the confidence to lean up against the wall, thumbs in my pockets, erect cock pushing through faded jeans, is coming from? Besides the obvious five beer answer, I decide it’s not so much confidence, as it is the state of a sexually starved 16 year old who is perpetually horny as fuck. Either way, I am more than aware I could stay here all night.
Except that Mom and Dad will be back at the Hyatt after their dinner boat cruise by midnight at the latest, expecting to find me in a sleepy daze in front of the TV. As I remind myself to keep checking the time, a guy in a navy Lacoste shirt and khaki army shorts leans in to say something.
I quickly realize that saying something is not his intention when his tongue encircles my ear, left arm draped around my neck. Whether he moved in to kiss me first, or I did, is not something I will recall. Instead, I am far too preoccupied with the fact he looks strangely similar to Mark Harmon, Dr. Bobby Caldwell on St. Elsewhere.
A fact that is not in any way a problem for me.
A good hour later, clothes disheveled, coming up for air on the oversized couch at the rear of the bar, he smiles, making me wonder for more than a few seconds if he really is Marc Harmon.
“By the way, I’m Sean, ” he announces between ear licks.
“Steve.” I lie. Why, I don’t know.
“U of T?”
“Oh no, I’m only going into grade 12”
Oh. Fuck. Smooth Allan.
Tensing like I’ve just been hit with several volts, I freeze.
Looking a little shell shocked but still smiling, Sean, the Marc Harmon look alike, says, “Well, that was unexpected.”
Again, I insert foot into mouth when I respond with, “How about you?”
“Grade 12 was a while ago. Bay Street now. Actually, just finished at Osgoode.”
I vaguely realize he is referring to Osgoode Hall Law School, when he squeezes my shoulders, plants a slow, wet kiss, and says, winking, “You my man, are going to be a heart-breaker.”
Sean disappears into the crowd.
It will be several few years before I am able to appreciate what an infinitely classy guy Sean, the Marc Harmon look alike, truly is. Instead, I’m wondering why he is leaving and what I did wrong.
Still pondering the error of my ways, I am aware, for the second time that night, of two things in rapid succession. One, I am more than a little drunk. Two, it is 12:35 am.
So on a crowded Friday night that I make my way south, sprinting back to The Hyatt. Still clueless as to how I am going to get out of this one, I slide in the magnetic key and hope for the best. Quickly letting out an audible gasp. They are not home yet.
Ten minutes later, positioned appropriately in front of the TV, I am pretending to watch Linda Evans pick out yet another pastel gown for yet another Dynasty Ball as Mom and Dad come in. Oblivious to Mom’s tales of the boat cruise, my ears perk up when I hear her say, “I think St. Elsewhere is on next.”
Dr. Bobby Caldwell, played by Marc Harmon.
“Okay,” I respond a little too enthusiastically.
With that, so ended my first foray into gay life as I now know it.
Thirty years later, I have seen much of that life and possess more than a few stories to tell about it. Though that night, the only thing I could tell you was that I have no idea what happened on St. Elsewhere. I was otherwise occupied with recurrent warm and fuzzy visions of Marc Harmon. Or, someone who looked like him anyway.