In a small Detroit suburb referred to as Ferndale is a bar known as “Como’s.” It sits just off Main Street, which is quiet, solemn. Streetlamps give off an orange glow over a trash-littered sidewalk. Empty storefront windows line the street. Faded signs stand out from the few businesses that struggle to remain open. Buildings are old, uncared for, withering. Two stoplights blink unnoticed.
Parallel to Main Street is a major roadway, where cars fly by at crazy speeds and large billboards loom over the roofs of larger buildings. On the corner of this intersection sits Como’s. It is the only bar in the neighborhood that hosts an outdoor patio, behind a high wooden fence that protects the patrons from the nearby traffic. Though small, the patio contains a bar, two televisions, and several white plastic tables. In the far corner a space on the concrete is cleared for the disc jockey, an older Latino man who spins Madonna tunes while dancing lamely, like old men with bad knees dance. On the first Wednesday of every month, this is where the lesbians of Detroit gather, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, dancing, laughing uproariously, slapping each other on the back and roughhousing.
It is an interesting event. The regular patrons of this bar are often scared away, looking upon us as if we are the circus come to town. Now, Detroit has a fairly large culture of diverse people, ethnicities, eccentricities, and artists. Yet somehow it remains inevitable that, during the course of this very liberal event, one of these women will verbally mistake me for a man. Last Wednesday, one of them chewed me out.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said in her gravelly voice, “but that bathroom is for ladies.”
“I AM female,” I growled back, much to her surprise.
I am twenty-eight years old. Legally, I am old enough to consume alcohol. Now, don’t you think that someone old enough to drink at the bar would also be old enough to know which bathroom they should be using? There, at the dyke bar of all places, you would think that my boyish-looking attributes would not be so confusing to others. You would think that these women, with their equally boyish figures, would be accustomed to women who look different. You would think.
The most ironic part is, these restrooms are only one-seaters.
But back to my story. I found my friend Velma as soon as I walked in. She was sitting inside the restaurant, squeezed into a booth with several of my acquaintances. Excitedly, she beckoned me over. I squeezed myself in, my ass hanging off the side of the teal plastic-cushioned bench. I gave her a sideways hug.
“We ordered pizza,” one of the other girls said. “You should eat with us.”
“No. That’s okay. I’m not hungry,” I said assuredly, even though I was lying. My stomach growled as I said it, as if my attempts to ignore it had angered it. It had been eight hours since I’d had food. I didn’t have any money for food.
Velma flagged down the older woman that was our waitress and ordered me a large draft beer. When it came I swiftly downed half of it. Velma was paying for everything for me these days and I let her. I was a poor Harley mechanic and couldn’t afford to go out. It was a fair deal for both of us. Velma insisted that I went out with her, and when I did she would cover my costs for the night. Velma liked that I was crazy and careless, living a reckless lifestyle that most of our friends could never fathom. In turn, I admired her for her stability, her comforting ways, her calm demeanor.
The pizza came and the girls began to pick at it. It looked foul, covered with spicy sausage and onions, but still my mouth watered. They talked and slowly picked at it while I sat staring at the steaming pie. I was like a wolf with the scent of blood in his nostrils. I could not look away. I finished my beer and Velma ordered me another. Still I continued to stare at the half-eaten, unfinished pizza. It was pathetic, how little the three of them had eaten.
“Are you gonna eat any more of that? I think I’d like a slice now,” I finally slurred, unable to resist.
“No, honey, go for it! Eat some.” They pushed the tray towards me excitedly. I picked up a slice and swallowed it whole. Then I carved into the remainder of the pizza, finishing it off in a manner of minutes.
“Damn, Julie,” they gushed and watched with interest. “You take some big-ass bites.”
I stopped chewing and smiled, my mouth full, half the pizza crust sticking out.
“I eat like I make love,” I remarked, “passionately.” A small bit of drool ran down the side of my mouth. The girls giggled. I raised a lascivious eyebrow in their direction. Outside, I could hear the sound of laughter and the a Boy George song playing loudly from the DJ booth. When I was done eating and the plates had been cleared, we moved outside into the crowd. Dark was settling in, and the twinkling holiday lights strung up around the fence gave off a pleasant glow. I was feeling good, horny, and several of the women caught my wandering eye. I felt cocky, but for no good reason. At this point in my life I would have pissed myself had an actual woman talked to me. I had been on a nine month run of abstinence due to a poorly ended relationship and the ensuing spite towards my own gender. But I knew better than to let that little knowledge slow me down. Looking around casually, I instantly caught sight of two gorgeous women sitting on stools at the bar making out intensely. The display of affection was so rare that it made a warm feeling rush up through my pelvis.
I stared enviously. Velma caught sight of me watching this and found amusement in the way that I was gawking. She laughed. But I didn’t mind. The sight sent shivers of excitement through my body. The couple whispered some words and then carefully got up from their seats. With a special twinkle in their eyes, they discreetly made their way out of the bar.
I slouched back against the fence behind me. Looking down, I stared into the bubbles of my beer, growing quiet. The excitement was over now. The rest of the night would be like any other night. I would talk to my friends. They would fawn over their respective girlfriends. Then, around two a.m., I would walk drunkenly out to my truck and drive home.
“Come on, grumpy girl. Let’s go dance,” Velma pleaded.
I shook my head and stared at the patio entrance, looking into the inside of the restaurant. Servers passed in and out with steaming trays of food.
Beyond the fence came the sound of cars whizzing by, horns blaring erratically. I sighed, feeling resigned to my space along the fence, under a string of white glimmering lights, a beer feeling chill in my right hand.
There was nothing I could do but wait for the right girl to walk into that bar and change my life.
Or at least make me a happy woman for one night.