Not Thinking Straight: Joining twice
|Not Thinking Straight: Joining twice|
by Madelyn Arnold -
SGN Contributing Writer
We needed to move, so several of us decided to check out the Pacific Northwest. I was the first one to have vacation time, so, though it required my broaching an airplane, I was the one who was ordered onto a local prop job to see what Seattle was like.
That small-town airport sent me up in something that managed to hit all the curbs in the sky, but it made the connection in Chicago. And I must have fooled my friends.
On the tarmac, dreading hours of holding up the plane against my ass, I apparently looked at great odds with my feelings - "awe-striking," said friends, who all knew how I hated airplane travel. "That's how you'll go to your execution," burbled one, impressed.
So that was bravery? I thought. Terror really got some excellent press. And so it was that in May of '75 I imposed upon the good nature of an SWP comrade, using his apartment while he was out hiking Rainier.
At last I was in a city - or I had been told it was a city. It was kinda small, and twisted up and down.
Well, if it were a city, it would have to have Queer bars. I searched minutely through all the "alternative" newspapers and found at least two for dykes: the Silver Slipper in Pioneer Square and The Crescent on Capitol Hill. I gathered I was located 'round "The U." I called a cab, and sped downtown to The Crescent.
Alice Does The Hill
Finally, I was at a fully Lesbian bar, which turned out to be somewhat - well, understated. Facing the door, a large horseshoe bar opened toward the back; a large area to the left contained stored chairs, overturned tables and an old upright. Chairs and a few tables were squeezed around the bar; and Shirley - bartender, waiter and cashier - turned out to be the owner. She grunted to my "What have you got on draft?" and growled, "The usual!" I asked about Stroh's, and she muttered something about my being from Minnesota. Minnesota?
I wanted to try something local, something we'd probably taste a lot, so I tried Rainier (beer), and nearly gagged. "It's sweet!" I said. It was like the beer hadn't finished brewing - was still full of sugar mash. About this time&.
Shirley whammed down a green leather cup on the bar; then dumped out dice. "That's a horse on you," she said to the woman opposite, who picked up the cup and did likewise. Eventually, the patron collared several of something, and won several beers this way. I had never seen gambling games in a bar, but then I had never met pickled eggs in a bar, and I loved them immediately.
This bar didn't serve hard liquor, because it was a tavern, although liqueur after all was liquor. The beer was weak, some servings were small and called "schooners." It was all a little Alice in Wonder-like.
More Flying Lessons
The other bar I was able to trace down, Pioneer Square 's Silver Slipper, was like a speakeasy. The stairs leading up to the bar were hard to climb - easily descended, though.
Everyone I noticed glared at me. I had dressed up, naturally: I'd been taught to do that when you Went Out, and if I smiled at anyone, she scowled. I wasn't sure what it was that I had done ... maybe I seemed too eager. After being unable to get anyone to talk, I had a few mostly miserable beers and was heading out for a cab when someone generously helped me fly down the opening stairs. Which is my principal memory of the Silver Slipper.
Bars and Freedom
Moving here, it was a comfort to know the bars and the customs - that is, imagining I knew some of their customs. It was homelike, reassuring. I had learned the bar games so quickly that I imagined I understood them. Over the next few years, the teams and the people changed, I guess, but I did not.
In the mess I had entered when I'd run away - many years ago - I had needed hiding places. They had kept my head connected. Libraries were one place; laboratories another. Primary, however - queen of them all - were Gay bars. My people. My place to hide (my place to shine). But as I've begun to join the human race, they grow less and less important to me....
We have much better women's bars now, and different liquor laws. You can't throw dice for a beer, but you can get martinis and often, espresso. Mostly though we don't need the old, gloomy, segregated bars. Queers - even women - may go to most bars, most parts of the city.
That's the way things are supposed to go, you know... a group defines itself: finds its voice, delineates, perhaps, the area(s) it occupies - it might be making prideful noises about the only places it has been allowed to occupy.
If it wins its rights to free choice, it begins to exercise those choices, going elsewhere, meeting elsewhere.
Being able to meet, in the case of my partner and me, at the corner bar and salaciously squeeze our 63-year-old, Lady Teddy Bear lover on the knee. And nobody much bothers to care about it.
A lot like freedom.