We knew this day was coming, but until then, we hadn’t been sure exactly when or how it would end: The Truman’s Entertainment Complex (TEC), the linked GLBTQ bar/dance club/sports bar and only major not-straight drinking establishment within a 50-mile radius, is closing forever after 21 years in business. We’ve only lived in this small city for 12 of those years, and we’re not regulars, but the bar’s in our downtown neighborhood. In the summers, we’d made it part of our occasional rounds enough that we knew the owner and the regular drag queens. Tonight is its very last night.
8:30 p.m. As much as I’d love to watch the night’s second episode of Futurama, winding down after a long day of being sweaty and heavily coated in drywall mud, I need to join my hubby on the bed for a nap – or what eventually turns into a nap. But we need to get some sleep, ‘cause we’re not in our ‘20s anymore, and this night calls for us to be up way past our bedtime. This is our last chance to enjoy the TEC.
11:15 p.m. I’m out of the shower now, getting ready. The shoes with silver sequins are out; the deep-gray embroidered heels are in. I pause to consult the Facebook wall: what’s the appropriate outfit to wear to a gay bar’s closing? The answer I get back: “Tears, balloons and something long and slinky.”
Fuck it – I’m wearing the gray cargo capri pants that match these shoes, a neon-green-and-gray butterfly t-shirt tight enough to emphasize my best features and the retro flower hair clip. I stuff $15 in small bills into a cargo pocket, making a mental note to stop at an ATM on the walk over.
Midnight, Sunday, June 17, 2012. Our hands have been stamped. The club is packed – twice as packed as a normal summer night, even with a couple of bachelorette parties. The line for a beer is hella long, and when we get to the front, they’re out of our first choice of light beer. It’s literally easier for the bartender to name what he has than what he doesn’t have, so we settle for what beer’s on hand and try to make our way to an empty spot on the floor. We’ve got to watch some of the last-ever drag show. We make our way through the crowd; I attempt to hold on to the back of hubby’s shirt, only to discover this places my hands at boob height to some of the shorter women in the crowd, and I’m unintentionally groping people as I go. Even the gay guys are getting some accidental boob action here tonight – but even gay guys love boobs, right?
12:16 a.m. Pressed against the far wall, we can barely see the drag king. The owner passes by with a solemn look on his face, and hubby yells out, “Thank you!” for all the owner had done. He asks him if he would mind if we stand up on the pool table. The owner shakes his head and says, “Not at all,” as he walks away. No one’s going to use the pool table after tonight. Suddenly we’re taller than the crush of humanity around us.
The owner hasn’t told us exactly why the bar has to close. We hear that the 19th-century brick building is in such disrepair, it would cost more money to fix than it’s worth, but I can’t confirm this.
12:31 a.m. With our beer bottles empty and the drag king tipped, hubby helps me down from the pool table like a gentleman so that we may check out the upstairs – the dance floor – and get in line for another beer.
12:33 a.m. The lines for the upstairs bar are outrageously long, and the whole second floor is filled with cigarette smoke. Hubby, who is sensitive to smoke, can’t deal. We head down to the sports bar…
12:34 a.m. …where the bar line is not nearly as long, but not moving, either. A man, leaving the front of the line empty-handed, informs us the bartender’s out of everything but odd flavors of vodka. We decide to go back where we started, to the drag show and the bar nearest the door. First, however, I want to listen to the beautiful woman in the ‘40s-style dress as she performs her karaoke version of Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That).” She’s rockin’ it.
12:45 a.m. As we wait for the bar’s last few Heinekens, a man says into my ear, “Girl, if that’s your man, you better hold onto him!” I know that’s right; I found out in Key West that gay guys love my man. I’m not worried, though. He’s just man-pretty, and he can’t help that.
12:50 a.m. It’s back up onto the pool table to watch Bradley, the flamboyant 51-year-old emcee of the drag queens. He’s wearing gold, black and yellow lipstick and rhinestone-studded shoulder pads over a silver miniskirt. He teases a straight guy about straight people and their WalMart clothes, then asks for a show of hands: how many gay guys in the house? Loud applause. How many lesbians? Even louder applause. How many straight people? I hear hubby hoot behind me.
Then Bradley launches into Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch,” skipping the bisexuals, and I feel left out. I don’t feel excessively compelled to carry a label, but if I did, it wouldn’t be gay, lesbian or straight. I’m with a man, sure, and obnoxiously monogamous, but “straight” defines me far too narrowly. It’s a closet I have no desire to shut myself inside.
I get over myself, because a half-drunken woman gyrating on the Jagermeister pool table has little room to take offense. Bradley concludes his set by giving away one of his high heels, fluorescent pink and chartreuse. Hubby fights surprisingly hard to be selected for the privilege. He assures me the pump would be given a place of honor in our home, but the shoe goes home with someone else.
1:09 a.m. Another couple joins us on the pool table. As we talk to them, we discover this is their first – only – time here. One of them turned 21 a few months ago, but she waited until her girlfriend also came of age before they visited together. It adds poignancy to the evening.
Young GLBTQ men and women who come of age after tonight will be all dressed up with nowhere to go. They’ll miss out on everything that made this place special: the open, supportive environment; the high-energy house music no other club around here plays; the frozen Long Islands; the stain glass pink triangle; the sports bar’s cardboard Dennis Rodman-in-a-pink-boa standee; karaoke contests with Dr. Fun; the patio where, if you were really careful, you might get a drag or two on a joint.
The TEC was the only bar in which I’d ever witnessed an honest-to-goodness girl fight, and bless the local GLBT Resource Center’s heart, they just can’t host a Pride Week party like Truman’s could. After tonight, all that is gone in a puff of smoke, multicolored lipstick, bubblegum-flavored vodka and black eyeliner.
1:35 a.m., Sunday, June 17, 2012. The last of the drag royalty has been tipped; my pockets are empty. It’s time to walk over to the not-GLBTQ bar we sometimes visit in the afternoon, poke our heads in and see how different it looks at this hour. We’re leaving Truman’s for the last time.
I’m not crying; I’ve got glitter in my eye.