Archive post from Issue 02/Volume 05, 2011

Walk On the Wild Side
East Coast cruising
by Matt James

Do you suck?

I blinked in disbelief. Could I be reading this correctly? Three hand-scrawled words on a piece of toilet paper passed beneath the divider between two men’s room stalls that read simply… Do you suck? I couldn’t comprehend such a blatant and daring expression of sexuality. Of gay sexuality. Of nameless, faceless gay sexuality. And how could I? I was barely 12 years old. I’d snuck my parent’s copy of the groundbreaking—yet terribly misinformed—1969 sex manual, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) off the bookshelf in our living room and had ensconced myself, and my burgeoning desires, safely in my childhood bedroom. With a voracious curiosity, I devoured every page paying especially close attention to the chapters on gay sex. One particularly memorable passage describes a “typical” encounter in the men’s room of a bowling alley. No names. No introductions. No small talk. Just… Do you suck? Now I’d been in the men’s room of our local bowling alley and had found nothing sexy about it. The locker room at the Y? That I found sexy. The men’s room at Rockaway Lanes? Not so much. Still, as confusing as I found the story, at least it was something. And what it was was my first exposure to what I’d later learn to be called cruising. It was also my first lesson in one of life’s great truths. Namely, that sex, or the potential for it, is everywhere. If you know where to look.
Not long after that, I caught a story on the local evening news about the NYC health department cracking down on sex clubs in Manhattan. A cameraman and reporter were on location outside a club called the Mineshaft a few days before it was shut down. Of course, they weren’t allowed in. But the few seconds of footage they did manage to capture of the leather-clad doorman was all that was needed to plant a seed of intrigue in my brain that would last a lifetime. I distinctly recall, at 14, feeling devastated that I’d never get to visit. The closest I ever got to the Mineshaft was when my high school friend, Mike, who worked at a video rental store, brought home the movie, Cruising. Filmed on location in New York’s Meatpacking District, which was home to the Mineshaft and several places like it, it laid bare, unflinchingly, a world with its own rules, dress code, language and symbols. Even its own morality. In one scene, the detective played by Al Pacino is harshly admonished for sporting a yellow hanky even though he just “likes to watch.” In another scene, he’s ejected from Precinct Night at a bar, because his attitude isn’t sufficiently authoritative. Determined to find whatever was left of that world, it soon became clear to me that, just like Lou Reed sang, “New York City’s the place where they say, Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.” By the time I moved to New York, much had changed since the pre-AIDS days depicted in Cruising. Still, there was a sexy vibe to the city that has been gentrified away in recent years. What is now Hudson River Park with its landscaped bike paths and concession stands used to be an abandoned waterfront. Several decrepit piers jutted out into the Hudson off the West Side Highway, from Christopher Street up to 14th street. A couple of the piers were easily accessible. People rode bikes, smoked weed and sunbathed there. The atmosphere was decidedly PG-13. Frisky but friendly. However a few of the piers were fenced off by the city for being unsafe. Of course fencing off a space in what is already historically a cruising spot just offers additional protection from cops and looky-loos. So, that’s where the action was. I remember once watching a man vacuum pumping his cock, giving a show to a group of curious onlookers. A few blocks north from there on Gansevoort Street in the now-tony and barely recognizable Meatpacking District used to sit a row of parked trucks. During the day they were used to transport merchandise from nearby warehouses and factories. At night they were left open. Guys would cruise the dark, narrow spaces between the trucks and fuck and suck the night away in the empty freight containers on their way to or from the bars nearby. One of those bars, the Eagle’s Nest, was at the corner of 21st St & 11th Avenue. At night, and especially after bar-closing hour, the block of 22nd St between 10th & 11th became popular for cruising. Guys would have sex in doorways and parked cars up and down the street. Today, that block is dotted with art galleries and multi-million dollar loft apartments. Perhaps the most enduring cruising spot in New York is The Ramble in Central Park. The secluded and wooded area has been used for gay sex since at least the early 1900s. (In the 1920s, the lawn at the north end was referred to as the “fruited plain.”) Along with being a peaceful and serene retreat in the city where birdwatchers coexist peacefully with sodomites, The Ramble holds a special place in my sexual history, as it may be where I saw (and sucked) the biggest dick I’ve come across in my life. I once heard an expression that goes something like, “You haven’t actually visited someplace until you’ve had sex there.” So when I began travelling I never went anywhere without my trusty Spartacus Guide. In addition to the standard listings for bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels and gyms, I always appreciated Spartacus’s listing for cruising areas. (Particularly curious to me were the listings noted with an “AYOR” for “at your own risk”—places you were likely to get stabbed or arrested.) Thumbing through an old Spartacus guide with its dog-eared pages and notes in the margins is a bit like a walk down dirty-memory lane… my favorite darkroom in Amsterdam, the sling at The Keller in Paris, the blowjob I got at the Beverly Center in LA. In 1995 cruisingforsex.com came online headed by Cruisemaster Keith. Like Spartacus, it provided listings of real-world cruising spots. However as a website it could be updated easily and included user submissions and reviews. It was single-minded and to-the-point, like cruising for sex is supposed to be. However in the years since, cruisingforsex.com has become bogged down in personals and webcams and ads for Viagra. Not too different from what the Internet has done for cruising in general. Not that I’m anti-Manhunt or anti-Grindr (or anti-anything for that matter.) But before the Internet put every guy in our pockets, we needed to use our eyes, ears and instincts to sniff out the next conquest. And the hunt can be half the fun. See you outside, guys.

Topic: Random

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