Love Handles: Chapter Thirteen
By Bob Merrick
Out.com is proud to present the wacky and wild (and absolutely true'although some names have been changed to protect the guilty) adventures of a 30-year-old guy in Hollywood who just wants to lose a few (dozen) pounds. And find eternal happiness and fulfillment. Is that too much to ask?
Part Thirteen: When in Rome'
Last year, after killing myself to throw myself a big 30th birthday bash, I vowed that I would spend my 31st quietly and peacefully with no big to-do. When my friend Joy suggested going to Italy in June of 2005, there was no question where I would be blowing out my candles.
After a year of planning, I was looking forward to getting there and experiencing everything Frances Mayes had written about in Under the Tuscan Sun. I wanted to write my own great novel about the grapes bursting with delicious plumpness (sadly, the only grapes I found had bitter seeds, so I threw them out); to shop in the open-air market in Florence (the leather salesman lost me when he shouted, 'Hey, big boy. Come here! I have big sizes for you!' I hate being called big); and I wanted to fall in love, not just with the country, but with a romantic Roman. (I don't know if it was love, but after seeing Michelangelo's David in Florence, I was incredibly horny for days.) Beyond these minor hiccups, I couldn't have had a more fantastic time (how could I not when meals are served in four courses and every afternoon you get to take a nap?). However, when I put pen to paper to recount my one gay experience, it sounded nothing like Frances Mayes, but, instead, Jackie Collins.
After a week of sight-seeing, walking endlessly, and drinking more wine than Judy Garland in a vineyard, I decided it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and take my more confident body out for a gay adventure in Rome. The idea of going to a gay bar by myself has always been terrifying to me, but if there were ever a more appropriate time to say it, 'When in Rome'' I went to an Internet caf' and Googled 'Gay Rome.' Despite the fact that I was in the land where popes bless Ferraris and are against homosexuality, I was still disappointed to find so few options. Hoping there'd be a neighborhood like West Hollywood or at least a street like the Castro, I was surprised to find only a smattering of clubs throughout the city.
One that caught my eye and had the most to offer was Skyline. Their description read: 'This is an American-style cocktail bar with soft lighting and a smooth atmosphere where you can watch shows and listen to music. It is one of the best gay bars in the city but is also straight-friendly.' Perfect, I could take Joy, a devoted wife and mother of three, if she were feeling up to it.
Turns out she wasn't, so I left her in the apartment and bravely set out on my way into the big foreign city with my broken Italian. When I got into the cab and gave the driver the address, he responded, 'Ia don'ta knowa youra English.' I finally handed him the paper with the address and he became even more annoyed. 'Youa needa newa taxi. Ia don'ta knowa wherea you'rea going!' My hunch was he knew exactly where he was going, but his Catholic faith did not want to be responsible for driving a homo to the discoth'que of sin.
While waiting for the next cab, I wondered if it were a sign from God that I shouldn't be going. After all, I was near St. Peter's, so if God has a clear connection when sending messages, I was at the main switchboard. I confirmed with the second cab driver that he knew where we were going before I got in. 'Itsa far,' he said, but his face lit up because he knew it meant a good fare. We drove outside the center of Rome into an area called San Lorenzo near the University of Rome. The beautifully maintained city was suddenly looking rundown and cluttered with graffiti. The streets became darker and the pit in my stomach became deeper.
He dropped me off on a quiet street corner and pointed about two blocks down to a blue light on the side of a building. Like a dog going to the groomers, I didn't want to get out of the car without a fight. I had no cell phone. There were no cabs in the area. There were no velvet ropes with a line of hot men waiting to go in and get their groove on. There were a few rundown pubs with college kids spilling drunkenly into the streets. I hadn't been so afraid and aware of my gayness since middle school. I could hear Joy's voice in my head, worried about me going out on my own. I made a pact with myself that I would go in, dance at least two songs, and have them call me a cab, but at least I could tell myself I went. I told myself, 'You're a big boy. You can handle this.' I really hate being called big, but I needed it.
I walked confidently down the center of the street like John Wayne headed to a duel. I told myself that if I could just get within visual distance of the club, other gays would see me and come to my defense if any hooligans were to mess with me. My mind was creating a very twisted and gay West Side Story. When I arrived beneath the blue light, the only indication that I was at the right club was a generic doorbell with a handwritten note above it that read, 'Skyline.' As scared as I was of what was on the inside, I felt it would be safer than being mugged on the outside.
How would I respond when they answered the bell? 'Ding, dong. Homo calling?' After pressing the button, I was buzzed in without question. Sitting behind a counter was a bald man in a leather vest. House music was faintly pumping in the air as a TV screen to his left played porn. There was no question; I was in a gay establishment. But where were all of the people?
My voice cracked like Peter Brady, 'Scusi, quanto costo?' There. I had used up the rest of my Italian. ('Excuse me and how much does it cost?') Fortunately, his English trumped my Italian as he told me, 'Youa needa private membershipa to geta in.'
After going back and forth and filling out paperwork, I gave him seven euros, and in return, he gave me a membership card and four drink tickets. When I reached the top of the stairs, it all became obvious where I was. This was no discoth'que and there would be no dancing. I was in a sex club. And from the looks of it, not a very popular one. There were about six seedy men hanging in the lounge and a couple of guys sitting at the bar.
Now it isn't that I am embarrassed about it being a sex club or that I am some prude, but when you are already scared and you are dressed to go dancing in a foreign city, walking into a sleazy sex club is the last place you expect to be. It is like sipping a diet Coke when you are expecting iced tea: you just want to spit it out.
So I ran into a maze and found a dark room with a bench where I immediately collapsed and put my hands on my face. My mind was reeling and overloading with voices crying, 'I told you not to go' 'Straight-friendly? Joy would've had a heart attack here!' and the nagging, 'How am I going to get out of this one?'
Fortunately, the inspiration came in the form of a 60-ish-year-old man who walked up to me, bent down to my level, grabbed my crotch, and stuck his tongue (which seemed to have been injected with Viagra) down my throat. It was all I needed to recharge my courage and get out of there. I could handle some rowdy college kids. I wasn't prepared with enough Italian for a nursing-home gang bang. I pushed the old man away and walked out the front door.
In the distance, I could see a hotel. I knew they could get me a cab and that I would be OK. Just then, an off-duty cab came around the corner and nearly hit me (they aren't the most pedestrian-friendly there). Immediately, I went from John Wayne to Rip Taylor as I threw my hands in the air and begged him to stop. The switchboard to heaven must've been crystal clear that night, because not only did he stop, he kindly drove me back to my apartment across town.
As the cab cornered Piazza di Spagna, I could see the Vatican illuminated in the distance, looming over the city; it almost seemed to serve as a reminder that I should have listened to my gut in the first place and stayed home. But then again, the Jackie Collins in me would have always wondered, 'Where's the adventure in that?'
To read part twelve, 'Moving On Out' click here.
To read part eleven, 'I'm Getting Very Sleepy'' click here.
To read part ten, 'Who's Got the Pain?' click here.
To read part nine, 'Old Habits Die Hard,' click here.
To read part eight, 'Taking A Fresh Dip in the Dating Pool,' click here.
To read part seven, 'A Walk Down (Unpleasant) Memory Lane,' click here.
To read part six, 'Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures,' click here.
To read part five, 'Sex, Lies, and the Internet,' click here.
To read part four, 'Sweatin' with an Oldie' But Goodie,' click here.
To read part three, 'What Happens in Vegas, Doesn't Always Stay in Vegas,' click here.
To read part two, 'Let's Get Physical,' click here.
To read part one, 'Resolutions and Commitment,' click here.