GUEST WRITER VINCENT POMILIO
During the hot Bicentennial Summer of 1976 I had been happily living in Philadelphia, my hometown. Philly was a great town to be young and gay. So many bars and clubs – all within walking distance of each other. I was teaching art in an elementary school in South Philly and working at night as a sous chef at a hot spot restaurant called Lickety Split.
The restaurant was owned and operated by gay men and women; the head chef was a lesbian of great culinary skills. The wait staff consisted of gorgeous men and women, and one glamorous transsexual, Georgia. Georgia was very famous in Philly and actually appeared in a couple of major movies: “Mississippi Burning” was one.
Lickety Split was a party place of the first degree. Sex, drugs and rock and roll with steak tartare thrown in. The restaurant was a favorite hangout for many celebs that happened to be in town: Halston, Lily Tomlin, and John Waters, just to name a few. Philly’s most famous transsexual, Harlow, was a regular.
After the kitchen closed and the doors were locked, the staff and clientele partied all night. I tried to behave myself, having a boyfriend at the time, Tim, and a teaching job, but sometimes it didn’t work out.
I thought I would stay in Philly forever. However, things were about to change.
The spring of 1976 presented some serious challenges and events that would alter the course of my life. I was an art teacher at a rough South Philly elementary school with a couple hundred students from K-6th grade and no art room. I would put all my supplies in a shopping cart and go from class to class. It was a nightmare.
Two days a week they would send me to a home for emotionally disturbed kids to teach an art lesson. One day I attempted to teach a lesson in industrial drawing since they were teenagers and I thought something practical would be good for them. I gave them all compass needles and drafting tools to work with. The only girl in the class was really tough and would often beat up the boys in the school yard. The boys began to tease her and a fight broke out and the compass needles became weapons. Trying to intercept the fight, I got a compass needle through my hand and off to the hospital I went. A week later I gave the school my resignation notice.
At the time, I visited New York City often as many of my friends had moved there. I became infatuated with the city and decided to apply to graduate school there. I was accepted to NYU grad department in Painting and planned to move in the fall.
During that summer, I made frequent trips to NY and went to the Pride Parade of ‘76. The parade was much smaller then, but there were still people from all over the country that would come. It was so important to be out and part of it. This was going to be my new town.
The city was in terrible economic straits, but who cared? I found a great apartment on Jane Street. It had a fireplace, and a bathroom that was the biggest room in the apartment. But it was in the Village and the rent was only $210.00 a month.
Being the big bi-centennial year, the parade took on special relevance. Afterwards, the crowd headed down to Christopher Street to begin what turned out to be an all-night bacchanal. West Street was the place to be. At the time, it was okay to hang out on the street with drinks and party into the wee hours of the morning. It was a sparkling, hot, summer Sunday and the tall ships for the Bicentennial were in the harbor.
One of the great West Street bars at the time was Keller’s Bar. The bar was an old dock workers hangout with saw dust on the tiled floor. Outside the bar was a gigantic block party. The mood was jubilant. I was hanging out in front with my Philly friends, feeling no pain, and having the time of my life.
Around 6 o’clock, a huge flatbed truck with live music pulled up in front of the bar. This gorgeous, blonde, Marilyn Monroe-looking woman gets up and begins to sing. The sound was mellow and unique, and it cooled down the hot crowd of hundreds of gay men. No one knew who they were. We asked around. Turns out it was Deborah Harry and the band, Blondie. They were just starting out, but what could be a better audience than a throng of gay men? She finished her set to huge fanfare and made a memorable exit worthy of the diva she would become.
After enough time to get another beer, a group of hunky men in costumes came onto the flatbed truck: an Indian chief, a leather man, a construction worker, a cop, and a cowboy. The crowd went wild. Yes, it was The Village People. It was about six months before the release of their first hit single and album, but here they were, in the Village, post Pride Parade, in that all so important Bicentennial Summer singing their hearts out for a crowd so pre-programmed to love them. It was insanity. None of us knew then who they were, but they were amazing.
As day turned to night, and the live music stopped, I went back into the bar. This sexy dark haired man caught my eye and approached me. Before even saying anything, we kissed. We couldn’t detach ourselves from one another. After coming up for air, he introduced himself in a beautiful, exotic accent.
“I’m Gus, who are you?”
Gus was from Greece and came to NYC to become a pharmacist. He was a champion diver in Greece. This beautiful Greek Adonis, wearing a white wife-beater tank top, swept me off my feet. We left the bar together to go to his apartment on the Upper West Side. Even on the subway going uptown, we couldn’t keep our hands from each other. Of course with hundreds of post-pride parade revelers, it hardly mattered. I woke up the next morning with my face in his hairy armpit. After a while, we got out of bed. Gus asked if I was hungry. Of course I was hungry. He made me a feta cheese omelet. I learned how to say please and thank you in Greek.
As it turned out, I never saw Gus again, but I knew then that I was going to love living in this city…