My few gay friends have been open to letting me tag along and write about what’s going on at their parties. And when my friend Bob told me about a party he was going to, I couldn’t help thinking about a story I read about the group Queen. Freddie Mercury, their bisexual lead singer, threw a party that cost over $500,000 and had magicians, midgets, naked women swallowing swords, and other debauchery. So it was a surprise when I showed up to Craig and Steve’s house in University Heights. They’ve been together nine years and have had this house for four. Craig told me, “We used to have parties at least once a year, but we did so much remodeling that this is our first one in a while. We bought some heaters for the deck.”
The deck was very large and impressive and could easily hold fifty people. It had a beautiful view of the canyon, which two months earlier had a large fire. It stopped right where the ice plant started on their property. There was a Jacuzzi to the right, and I asked Craig why nobody was in it. He laughed and said, “It’s really old and uses propane. To get it going, we would’ve had to start it at noon for this 5:00 p.m. party. And since there was a Santa Ana recently, I figured it was too hot.”
Although there was a lot of food — cold cuts, cheeses, chips, quesadillas, and lots of desserts — it was an apple cobbler Bob Clayton brought that was the big hit. He told me, “I used 11 pounds of apples and one pound of blueberries. I once owned a bakery, and the Reader did a story about it once. But when I sold it, I got rid of the apple peeler. I may need a new one before I do this again.”
Bob also brought pictures of when he sang with the San Diego Men’s Choir. There were a number of people there from the Choir, and they were looking at pictures from a few years ago, when they got to sing backup for Barry Manilow at the Del Mar Fair. I asked them if Manilow was gay, and they looked at me as if I asked whether Spike Lee was black.
Whenever people would enter the party, they were hugged and kissed. I don’t know if it was because they knew I was straight or because they didn’t know me, but I usually just got a handshake.
One guy at the party, Milo Shapiro, was talking a lot about improv comedy. He works for a company that does motivational speaking, and he also performs with an improv comedy troupe. “I made it onto the radio at Star 100.7 for a two-hour air shift, during that ‘big mouth’ competition. I made it past the first round but lost in the second.”
I met a tall, older gentleman named Bob Ames. He was doing a lot of cooking in the kitchen. He said, “You’re a writer? I started the first gay magazine in New York in the early ‘70s, called the Gotham Ledger. It later became just Gotham and lasted for three or four years. That was before the Internet, although now I have two websites. One is e-elmer.com. It’s the cyber community for gay men. I have another one that has to do with old cars.” We talked a little about old cars, and he told me he had a Rambler.
When I went to get a drink, I was surprised by how large the variety of alcohol was. Champagne, beer, vodka, and about 15 other bottles. I asked Craig about the booze, and he laughed and said, “Sometimes we have all this alcohol, and everyone ends up drinking soda. We try to have a variety of everything, so no matter what somebody wants, they have it.”
“You have a lot of food and drinks. How much do you spend on your parties?” “We spend from $300 to $500. It’s not a big deal. These are all our friends.”
There were three women talking at one end of the back yard, and one of the straight guys said to me, “You know how good our chances are at a party like this? We’re the only straight guys here.” I replied, “I don’t know. The women could look at all those guys and wonder why they are in such good shape, and muscular, and look back at us and not care that we are heterosexual.”
We left after a few hours, and one of the guys at the party asked, “How is it you’re so comfortable talking to gay men?” I said, “It’s like talking to anybody else. I’d rather talk to a gay guy who had something interesting to say than some silly blonde woman. And it’s not like you guys are going to attack me, like a scene out of Deliverance.” One guy walking by said, “You never know.”
The next party I went to was put on by the Art Glass Association of Southern California at the Spanish Village in Balboa Park. They’ve had this show for 21 years. I was invited there by Leslie Perlis, whom I had met at an art gallery in La Jolla. She ended up winning “Best of Show” for a life-size woman she had created. It took her a year, working every day, to complete the project. Leslie told me, “We’re the largest group like this in the country. We started with 50 members in 1981 and have about 150 now. We’re a nonprofit organization that encourages education of the glass arts through shows and workshops.”
To me, glass art was either the Corona bottles with the long, twisted necks that you see at the Del Mar Fair or the beautiful stained-glass windows you see in churches. Leslie said, “We started as the Stained Glass Guild, with only stained-glass panels in our shows. We now have six categories for judging, and we usually have a special category. This year it’s ‘games.’ ”
In the game category, I saw one piece that had a few playing cards. Another was a beautiful New York Times crossword puzzle in a round frame. One piece that won a prize had a baseball going through a window, with different pieces of broken glass around it. It was titled There Goes My Allowance. It had a sale price of only $200, and I overheard one couple say they were going to snatch it. There goes their allowance.
Marti Blair, the president and one of the founders of the group, had an interesting story when I asked her about pieces being damaged. I had seen some kids at this party and wondered if anything had ever been knocked to the ground. She said, “I had a piece called Courting the Sphinx, and when it rolled off the pedestal and hit the floor, crashing into many pieces, due to the floorboards being uneven, it seemed kind of ominous. Maybe you’re not supposed to ‘court the sphinx.’ Or maybe there really are ghosts in the Villa Montezuma.”
Leslie says these parties have been at the Spanish Village in Balboa Park for the past six years, and they usually have to reserve it a year in advance. “We’ll go crazy and swear we’ll never do it again, then it’s time for next year’s show,” she says. “Marv Miles is in charge of the drinks, and it’s a potluck. Pat Warren brought lumpia. Marty got taquitos from El Indio. We supplement with extra stuff. I baked a hundred chocolate-chip cookies.”
When Leslie slipped a small bag (of cookies) to bassist Glen Fisher, a local musician who’s played with some big names, I hit him up for a few. We ate cookies and talked music. I said, “I never heard a version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with steel drums. It was great.” He pointed to the steel drummer (who I found out later has a platinum record for work he did with the Beach Boys). Glen said, “He’s a big Beatles fan.” I said, “Then why not play the Beatles song ‘Glass Onion’ for this event?” He laughed and said, “That’s the third song on the White Album.” We ended up talking Beatles for a while. The drummer for this little trio was 15-year-old Eric Pratt, a sophomore at Point Loma High. I was surprised at how much he knew about drummers, both from current bands and older ones. I was even more surprised to find out he was the son of Leslie Perlis. He’s been playing drums since fourth grade.
It wasn’t until I got home that I thought to ask whether his hitting everything in the house with drumsticks and her making things with glass ever created broken artwork. I guess not, or he would’ve been playing a cello at this party.