Saturday, 13 July 2013

Gay Men and Tigers and Bears-A Straight Man's Tale

Hi, I'm Aidan Sank.

You might remember  me from such blogs as "The Internet Generation" and "Girls and Postwar Prosperity". These blogs are thoughtful commentaries on the effects of smartphones on our work ethic and communication skills.

This blog is a little different.

 This blog is the story of my experiences at a bar that I will call for the purposes of this post "Tiger Bar".

And so begins the slippery descent into the tale I'm about to tell you...

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine made a very innocent facebook post that went something like this:

Any actor friends of mine looking to work a coat check job at Tiger Bar during Pride week? $300-$600.

Being an actor friend looking to make $300-$600, I messaged him back, expressing my interest. As we began to chat back and forth discussing details, I thought I might as well google "Tiger Bar", as I was unfamiliar with it. I soon came across three rather interesting revelations.

1) Tiger Bar is a gay bar.
2) Tiger Bar is a gay leather bar.
3) Tiger Bar is a gay leather bar specializing in older, larger, hairy men (henceforth to be termed "bears").

It was at the moment that I made this third and most startling discovery that my friend offered to bequeath me the pleather shorts that he had received to work his first shift at this bar.

What did I just sign up for? I typed, anxiety rising in my throat.

To which my friend responded,

It's just coat check. You'll be in a "cage" so you're protected, it's a chain link fence. If you're uncomfortable then don't do it. But have fun.

Looking back now, I'm not quite sure why he put the word "cage" in quotation marks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After some hemming and hawing, I accepted the job offer, as I decided that turning down that much money just because I might be working in a new, slightly uncomfortable environment would be foolish. After all, I'd be in a "cage" so I'd be protected...right?

The next week, I arrived nervously at the job, and was shown around by a friendly security guard, meeting all the shirtless bartenders and getting the lay of the land. He kindly pointed out the upstairs roof deck, which, he proudly stated, Tiger Bar is famous for. This was the area where men can reportedly come for a cheeky blowjob (or two). Though "beware of pickpockets" he said, pointing to a large sign on the wall demarcating just that. Apparently "some people don't pay attention to their surroundings when they're receiving oral sex" he cautioned, shaking his head sadly. It was at this moment that one of the bar-backs walked by me, clad in leather pants, harness and belts. He limped slightly as he passed.

"Oh, and we have porn!" Smiled the security guard enthusiastically, pointing up to two T.V. screens depicting what seemed to be one man giving another man a rather aggressive colonoscopy.

I just barely resisted the urge to bolt out the door as my imagination began to get the better of me.

*Let me take a moment to add a quick disclaimer by mentioning that I am no stranger to gay bars. As the majority of my male friends are gay, I have accompanied them on many a jaunt to their preferred clubs. I have danced in the vicinity of many a sweaty, scantily clad man (often in a much closer vicinity than I would prefer), and I have visited suspiciously slippery darkened bathrooms where the urinals are so close to one another they are practically designed for "accidental" contact.

The Tiger is a whole new level of gay bar. Coat-check was truly located in a long, tall chain-link cage, facing a wall depicting leather clad men in various stages of undress.  Hairy fellows in harnesses traipsed up and down the bar, stomachs spilling over their shorts or veins bulging from their muscular bare biceps. I quickly took up my post and nervously looked back and forth, making a mental note of the security guard's names just in case I had to scream them out in terror while a large bearded man thrust himself in my direction.

My first two hours passed rather un-eventfully as I found that I was beginning to rather enjoy this job. The methodical nature of checking people's belongings was soothing and everyone so far was friendly and only mildly flirtatious. Then along came the manager.

A broad chested, dark haired man wearing a small black tanktop, with an almost inscrutable Spanish accent, he had wandered over in order to offer some advice.

"You should take your top off."

I gazed it him in sheer horror. He continued.

"Listen mang, I don't want to see you naked," (I gave silent thanks for this) "but you will make more tips if you do. I'm straight, the bartenders are straight. We all do it. Get shirtless."

And off he went in a flurry of stocky strides.

I was now faced with quite a quandary. It looked like it was going to be a slower than expected night, which meant a lot less money. Apparently, taking off the button-down I was wearing would guarantee a lot more money. Yet...there was my dignity at stake.

So I texted two trusty friends who had this to offer:

Why not? What do you have to lose?

My sense of self respect! I replied indignantly, Compromising what I'm comfortable with!

You're in a cage, at a bear bar, in Chelsea...compromise is a moot point. replied one pithy friend.

She was right.

And so I peeled off my shirt, placing a backwards yankees cap on my head in a vain attempt to balance out my current circumstances with an emblem of hetro-sexuality. I stood at attention, chest hair wafting slightly in tandem with the air conditioning. Almost immediately, I began to notice a marked difference in how much money I was making. People were dropping tips left and right, smiling from ear to ear. I think they all felt much more comfortable now that the coat-check guy was playing along; most of the patrons and service staff were in someway exposed, why shouldn't he be?

The compliments also began to flow more frequently. Never mind that I lept back into my cage as if struck by a hot poker when an older gentleman pawed my chest hair, cooing softly like a dove. I was confident, comfortable in my sexuality and dammit I was a straight man standing shirtless in a gay bar. I could do anything!

I didn't give a second glance to those wearing only jockey straps and didn't bat an eyelash at the man who came and left in 5 min saying he was just there for "a quickie". There was even a fellow who immediately upon arrival pronounced me as "Sweet, but straight as anything!" I was beaming, proud that my hetro-sexuality was shining through the haze of fairy-winged masculine chaos.

Then a 76 year old man in glittery white translucent briefs walked by, signifying the beginning of the end. He struck up a conversation with me, which gave confidence to a few other men and all of sudden I had a couple of propositions. They were fairly harmless, one coming from a bespectacled man in a full pleather body suit who liked to read scholarly articles. Another came from a short latino fellow who incorrectly assumed I didn't understand the Spanish he chattered away in to his friends.

 However, all of a sudden I had to start making excuses that I was straight and my magical tip streak began to dry up. By 12:30am there were less and less customers and the freezing cold air had forced me to reclothe myself, much to the dismay of the few stragglers leaving the bar. I finally settled down to finish reading the 6th instalment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the rest of the night passed uneventfully.

By the time I had reached the end of my evening, I'd made a few important realizations.

1) The amount of anxiety I experienced leading up to this event was disproportionate to the circumstances I actually faced. After all, no one attacked me with their pubic hair or tried to drag me screaming into a bathroom.

2) The most traumatic part of the night was when I innocently asked a very large, very moustachioed man if I could "give him a hand with anything". The answer I received is not appropriate for me to put in this blog, which is saying something seeing as I've already referred to an agressive colonoscopy.

3) The 6th instalment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is quite excellent.

4) I actually enjoyed working at Tiger Bar, especially in comparison to my time doing coat check at my former place of employment, an upscale restaurant also named for an animal. At the latter, people looked right through me and I was handling coats that cost thousands of dollars for people who were reticent to tip. At Tiger Bar, I had more than my fair share of smiles and almost everyone left a dollar.

5) I had to turn this evening into a blog...

Well, now I have.

I hope you've enjoyed my tale.

And if you're ever in Chelsea and looking for a gay leather bar specializing in "bears" or if you simply don't believe that such a place exits...Call me up.

I'll give you the tour.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

"Girls" and Postwar Prosperity

Recently, there has been a lot of bandying about of the concept that the "American Dream" is dead. The intersection of growing income disparity and reduced educational opportunities, coupled with crippling student debt no longer allows someone in the lower 5th of income distribution to rise to its upper echelons. Social mobility seems to be on the decline as it is harder and harder for the 21st century "little guy" to work his way up the ladder. This is even more starkly noticeable juxtaposed with the age of Postwar Prosperity, pegged between 1945-73.

 Now all thoughts and opinions on socio-economics and capitalism aside, and certainly assuring all those concerned that I do not profess to be any sort of expert on the economy, let's focus for a moment on this time period. More specifically, l'd like to examine another important contributing factor to the successful upward mobility of the American middle-class, before globalization really began to take effect and certainly before the prime of the internet era. In this follow up to my previous blog post, I will briefly discuss work ethic, and how it relates to the generation of the iPhone.

Being careful not to lose ourselves in the heady fragrance that is Golden Age Nostalgia, let's harken back to a different time. I have often caught myself marvelling at the single mindedness of the American middle-class following the Second World War. Many veterans returning home immediately looked for ways to keep busy and stay busy, building businesses and driving the economy forward. People were content with spending 12-14 hr days doing backbreaking work, all in the name of the "American Dream" and for the financial stability of their family. Once you found a career, you rode it all the way to retirement, regardless of how dull or stimulating it was. They found fulfilment in their occupations and in the steady daily grind of their jobs. Procrastination must have still been prevalent in many young recent graduates, though it seemed as though a premium was placed on finishing school and getting straight to work.

Of course, those people still exist today and in fact can be found all across the world. I do not doubt the work ethic of the present day middle-class. Instead, a prime example of what I refer to can be found in on the HBO show Girls, which I will admit I have followed very closely, though perhaps without the somewhat religious fervor that is attached to it. Girls tracks a group of  twenty-somethings as they trek through the wilderness of living as relatively unemployed recent graduates in New York City. This is a territory I am quite familiar with, though I tend to be fully clothed more often than Lena Dunham is. Decidedly so. But I digress...

One of the salient traits found in each character on the show is that they all expect things to come easily to them. Hannah whines to her parents to support her indefinitely. Marnie wants a boyfriend she spurned to come running back to her, while Jessa demands a free pass for her erratic and destructive behaviour. Even the successful one of the bunch, Charlie, falls ass-first into prosperity by developing a wildly popular iPhone app. My point here is not to criticize the TV show, but instead to allow it be the commentary it is on my generation.

We who have touch-phones and constantly accessible 3 or 4G service expect things to happen quickly, experiencing maximum outcome for minimum effort. If a video doesn't load, we click the play button over and over again until it does. When Wi-Fi conks out or is unavailable, we throw up our hands in frustration. We want things fast, we want them now and we don't want to work for them. Therefore the shock of graduation and the threat of growing up becomes even more pronounced. Why should we be inspired to pull our own weight or make overarching sacrifices of personal comforts when we are conditioned not to have to in our every day lives? Instead of travelling to visit someone we can text them. Instead of renting a book from the library we can pull up an article in 3 seconds. Instant fame seems to effortlessly find You-Tubers. Sometimes, it seems as though what is more important than finding a solid job or working hard for our goals is perpetuating an image on Instagram. It's certainly easier.

 Perhaps one of the reasons that American social mobility falters today is because our work ethic is not up to standard. It only takes one look at Japan or China to see our shortcomings in that area. They share the same single-minded drive that those middle-class Americans did during the age of Postwar Prosperity. For before  cellphones were a staple in everyone's hands, what did people do? They worked. Towards something, for someone. They struggled. They strove. They built the United States of America into the country that it is. As part of the next generation responsible for this economy, we  must take example from the working middle-class of the 1940's-70's.

In fact, it is their attitude that is in direct correlation with one of the reasons why I love New York. There's a saying that it will still cost you $40 just to stay at home all day in Manhattan. It's an expensive, fast-paced city and if you don't work hard you will not keep up. Especially in the entertainment business, you have to put procrastination aside and pound the pavement. However, the only way that we can do that, is if we really retrain ourselves not to yearn for what is easy. Instead, we have to search for the challenge and embrace what is uncomfortable. I'm proud to say that I pumped out this blog in a single 90 minute sitting, after turing my phone off and closing all forms of social media. We are all capable of reaching our goals, but only if we alter our mindset, turning away from the comfortable and looking instead to the earnest development of a strong work ethic. It is a long road to true diligence but it is certainly one worth travelling.