Castro Bridge Mix #6: ConventionsOct 27, 2013
San Francisco, Halloween 1959
“Pardon me, y’all.” Lullabelle Fitzsimmons squeezed her slender body costumed in a gold sequined flapper’s dress into the legendary Black Cat Cafe. It was certainly not an acceptable place for a proper young woman to spend Halloween, but she didn’t give a damn. Halloween was rapidly evolving into the quintessential gay holiday in San Francisco. And on this one occasion, it felt as if hundreds of masked and costumed individuals were trying to climb inside the club’s tiny entrance to celebrate.
“Woof.” A patron dressed up like a brown dog barked through his costume’s head as Lullabelle emerged through the cramped entranceway loaded with outrageously dressed patrons drinking, dancing, and even discussing literature. Lullabelle assumed that the dog she had run into was someone who did not want to chance being identified frequenting the predominantly gay establishment which appeared on the list of places members of the military were expressly forbidden to enter.
José Sarria, a vibrant man dressed in a magnificent red gown and high heel shoes, greeted the bar’s patrons with a love song. He was surrounded by dozens of gay men who were willing to risk everything for the opportunity to be who they really were if for only a single night. Lullabelle was rivetted by Sarria’s performance. Ever since moving to San Francisco a year earlier, she had found the men she met at the Black Cat more exciting and witty than any she had ever encountered. She also felt safe knowing that the only reason they were engaging in conversation was for friendship and not to get into her panties.
“What’s that they’re playing?” Lullabelle leaned over at an incredibly handsome bartender and motioned to a group of men who were laughing and hollering in a far off corner. They were playing cards and simultaneously placing brightly colored pegs into a game board. She could swear that famed author Truman Capote was doing a jig right next to where she was standing.
“They’re playing crib, lass.” Her admiring puppy dog had followed her to the bar without her even noticing. He spoke with a distinctive Scottish brogue.
“Well, little talkin’ poochie, aren’t you just slicker than snot followin’ me over here?” Lullabelle had suddenly become very curious about the man who was concealed in the floppy-eared dog costume.
He pointed over at the group playing cards. “Bridge is today’s hottest game. Only bawbags play cribbage.”
“And what in heaven’s name is a bawbag?” Lullabelle watched the swirl of partying customers giddily forming a massive conga line. She was tempted to join in, but something kept her intrigued by the Scottish dog keeping her company.
“Men’s gen-a-tels. Is this place really your fit, lass?” The dog scrutinized Lullabelle’s intoxicating heart-shaped face which possessed an uncanny ability to inspire lust, hope, and longing among the heterosexual men whose paths she crossed. Her flawless hourglass figure struck her companion like a human branding iron searing its image into his mind’s eye as she rocked her body’s carriage like a pendulum rapidly traveling between reserved grace and raw sexuality.
“It was a pleasure making your acquaintance, doggy.” Lullabelle decided that it was time to excuse herself. She hopped off her bar stool and headed to the bathroom. Lullabelle cleverly grafted herself onto the growing conga line in order to escape her canine admirer.
“You look for WC?” A short Asian girl with long black hair held up a spatula in her hand that she used to flip the establishment’s famous Catburgers as she addressed Lullabelle.
“Yes ma’am. If you please.” Lullabelle began wondering if the talking dog had actually followed her into the bar. He certainly was not part of the regular clientele.
As Lullabelle exited the tiny one stall bathroom, the Asian woman called out to her boldly. “You fancy lady.” Kay looked at Lullabelle’s rather elaborate 1920s outfit. As a seamstress, Kay could appreciate the intricate detailing that had gone into the costume’s creation.
“Not fancy. Just good with a needle and thread. That’s all.” Lullabelle marveled at how this woman could maintain such a cheery disposition while working so hard in such a tiny kitchen. My name’s Lullabelle. And yours?”
“Kay. Good meet you, Lubelle.” Kay smiled with a defiant air of dignity despite the streak of cooking grease splattered across her forehead and on her inexpensive white shirt.
“You too, Kay.” Lullabelle waved to her as she began walking toward the exit. She noticed that her newfound friend was nowhere to be seen.
In the center of the bar, José Sarria had formed a circle with several gay men who began singing “God Save Us Nelly Queens.”
As soon as she squeezed out of the bar’s portal, Lullabelle felt the cold night air shaving the side of her face. She turned on her heel to face a man who called out to her suddenly.
“Woof.” She recognized the voice immediately.
“Doggie.” Lullabelle did a double take as she looked up at the dark wavy haired young Scotsman who stood before her with a grin plastered on his ruddy face.
“Close, lass. Douglass. Reed Douglass.” He lifted her hand and placed a kiss on it giving her a warm sensation in her heart that she had never experienced before in her life.
“Lullabelle Fitzsimmons. Nice to put a face with the dog’s tail.” Her eyes smiled at him as she walked in the direction of her streetcar stop.
He was overcome with uncharacteristic emotionality. He was still decompressing after his experience at the Black Cat. But at the same time, he was so spellbound by being in Lullabelle’s company. “I never done somethin’ like that before. Frequent a place like that. I mean if I ever got caught hangin’ out in there…”
Lullabelle had mixed emotions about his confessional. She felt no shame in associating with gay men and lesbians and she really didn’t care what anyone else thought. But, she was also well aware that those suspected of being gay men frequenting certain bars risked arrest by the police. In several instances, the individuals “exposed” as gay lost their jobs. It was actually the fate that José Sarria had suffered causing him to turn away from a career trajectory as a teacher to becoming a drag singer at the Black Cat Cafe. Ironically, José Sarria also became the first gay man to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors a decade before Harvey Milk won election.
Lullabelle decided not to judge him. “Then why did you do it tonight, Shugah?”
Reed looked up into her eyes. Those were the same eyes that he just couldn’t get out of his head. He had followed her to the bar before, but he never dared set a foot inside. Tonight was the one night that he could go in costume. “In all honesty, once I saw you walking down the street, I just couldn’t stop thinking about you. I know it’s corny as all get out. But, it’s the truth.”
Lullabelle smiled at him demurely. She pointed to her lips and he immediately swept her up into his heavily muscled arms. He tenderly put his lips on top of hers and they kissed passionately. She smiled as he was still cradling her in his arms. “That one was a winner. We’ll have to see how good you are at keepin’ up the pace.”
© Copyright 2013. Will Morrison. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The author would like to acknowledge the GLBT Historical Museum which assisted with research for this serial. Additionally, the author would like to dedicate this installment to the memory of the LGBT rights pioneer, José Sarria, who recently passed away.