Fate & Fortune | On Aunt Charlie's Lounge in San Francisco
This is an essay I wrote for Imbibe magazine's May/June 2017 issue. It's a story I've been wanting to tell for a long time. About perhaps my favorite party on planet earth.
I saw him across the dance floor. The compact, makeshift dance floor at the back of Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a divey San Francisco bar that was never meant to house a dance floor. The shape of his perfect head. His wavy, sandy hair. His lithe frame. The piercing eyes.
In Roman mythology, the Fates were three women: the Parcae, working a loom. There was Nona, who spun life; Decima, who gauged the length of one’s life; and Morta, who chose when you died and snipped your thread. Your fate was predetermined.
Once a week, for 668 Thursdays (and counting) since early 2004, the Tubesteak Connection has taken over Aunt Charlie’s. I was there at least once a month for six years. Little in my life was dependable during the mid-to-late 2000s, except that I liked to lose myself. I wasn’t the only one. Even in famously liberal San Francisco, the gay existence was a slog. Many of my queer brothers and I put on a show in the streets, trying to perform a kind of straightness. A homosexual homogenizing. You were tolerated in the broad world, maybe even accepted. That’s not the same as being free.
At Aunt Charlie’s, I danced. We all did, shaking off our mechanical days in rivulets of blissful sweat. We moved to bathhouse disco, underground tracks. Sometimes you would spin, see a man that made your breath catch in your throat. Sometimes you would wonder about the wispy line between fate and luck.
By the 6th century BC, the goddess Fortuna emerged. Some thought of Fortuna as the goddess of fortune; others, the goddess of luck. She may have been a single being, but she had many guises. It all depended on your interactions with her.
That night I first saw Brandon, in spring 2007, we danced. We exchanged names and electric pleasantries. He mocked my handlebar moustache. He was right: It was fresh, mangy and ill-fitting. I put his number in my phone. Four days later, I called him. We chatted for a few minutes. He told me he would call me back when his visiting sister was no longer in town. He never did.
Fortuna, it seems, had presented at least two sides of herself to me: Fortuna Dubia (doubtful fortune) and Fortuna Brevis (fickle or wayward fortune). A third, Fortuna Mala (bad fortune), seemed inevitable. I wanted the spark with this man to matter. She seemed to have different plans.
Even now, almost a decade later, in a city where the sanitized bulldozes the derelict, Aunt Charlie’s crisscrossed ceiling of intersecting Christmas lights is still lit. The bar’s name in pink neon is still emblazoned in a half-moon over the bar. The display beers are still organized in pockets by price. On Thursday nights, the same zealous DJ, Bus Station John, plays the same style of disco deep cuts. There are still no cell phones or photos allowed.
Six or so months after my fortunes with Brandon tanked, a gaggle of friends and I returned for the first time to Aunt Charlie’s. On a Thursday. Brandon was there. My friends and I drank. And danced. And drank more. I played coy. It worked.
Nearly 10 years later, Brandon is still next to me most nights. Maybe our meeting was inevitable, fate at work, or maybe it was luck, the kindest of Fortuna’s personalities. This much is clear: One bar’s dedication to one nightlife impresario’s mission birthed a singular space that drew me to the love of my life. Or one of the loves of my life. The permanence of our relationship is irrelevant. What matters, luck or fate be damned, is that it happened at all.