We were three gay women surrounded by a ring of testosterone in an Irish pub in midtown. The Rangers were on TV playing the Sabres in the semifinals taking place down the street in Madison Square Garden. Grown men sat at the bar in team jackets and hats and cheered the onscreen action. Maybe they couldn’t get tickets–what was I doing there?
Whenever my New Jersey friends Crissie and Marie came into the city we landed in some place this downtown dyke would normally avoid–like the Molly Wee Pub on a Sunday night, with a crowd of rowdy sports guys and a cute female bartender with a brogue.
My friends had tickets to a Van Morrison concert in the Garden and invited me to meet them for an early meal in the theater district. After dinner at Zen Palate, we walked down Eighth Avenue towards the Garden and they suggested we grab a drink before their show. I’d recently been dumped by my long-term partner, so I was glad to hang out with them.
In the weird nether land between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, the selections were limited and the Molly Wee Pub looked more inviting than the Blarney Stone. It wasn’t until we sat at the wainscoted bar and ordered draft beers that I realized we were the only women in the place unaccompanied by men. Several females were seated at the tables behind us but they were all with dates.
“Go, go, go,” the bulky guy sitting next to me started screaming as the clock ran down on the screen. He was pumping his fist in the air. “Oh, no!”
“Overtime,” said Marie, a recently retired gym teacher who still reffed high school soccer and basketball games. The score was 1-1.
By now, the whole place was hysterical with excitement and everyone rushed the bar to order more drinks. I could not recall the last time I’d been in a crowd like this. Maybe decades ago when I was still straight and in college?
I was an arts queer who was not into competitive sports, although I played on Bonnie & Clyde’s basketball team when I moved here 30 years ago. The league was a great way to meet women. I mostly warmed the bench, but one night I got into the game (we were way ahead) and scored a long jumper from the right. The team captain slapped me five.
Today my idea of exercise is taking yoga classes and bike riding in the park. If I want a Corona, I go to The Cubby Hole, a cozy women’s bar in the West Village, with kitschy decorations dangling from the ceiling and a smattering of gay men. So I was out of my comfort zone sitting in the Molly Wee Pub with two Jersey friends.
“Kate, you should see the look on your face,” said Crissie, who was an old flame of mine. We’d met in 1979 and had an affair when we were both high school English teachers. We’d lost contact but reconnected a few years ago when I bumped into her on my corner. Crissie and her partner were visiting Marie’s cousin, a dog walker I knew from the block! We caught up after that chance meeting, which we deemed synchronicity.
“I can’t take all this male energy,” I replied. “It’s too much. Makes me glad I’m gay.”
When the game resumed, everyone except us was fixed on the screen. A few more minutes passed as my friends tried to tell me about their upcoming trip to Europe and their side junket on an all-women cruise, but it was hard to hear with all the shouting. Then I heard roars from the captive audience.
“Double overtime,” said Marie as she ordered another Guinness.
Now the room was insane with tension. Even I peeked at the TV a bit.
“Let’s go, Rangers,” the place was chanting. “Rangers, let’s go.”
We tried to resume our conversation, but it was nearly impossible, so we gave up and watched. Crissie ordered an Irish whiskey and offered me a sip. Groups of men pressed us against the bar trying to be as close as possible to the televised action.
“Yes, yes, yes” some guy screamed right into my ear, pissing me off. I looked up. The Rangers had the puck. Some player got off a great shot and scored. It was 2-1. At that point, the patrons in the Molly Wee Pub went nuts, yelling and hugging and high fiving each other. I wondered if straight men liked sports because it gave them permission to be physical with each other.
Just when I thought the craziness was over and the place would calm down, a parade of guys wearing Rangers shirts and caps arrived fresh from the Garden, stomping into the room like conquering heroes. They revved up the crowd, yelling “Let’s go, Rangers” and everyone except us joined the jubilant chorus.
I felt like I had walked into a frat party and I was 20 years old again. I was stunned that middle-aged men got this wild over team sports. I knew this happened but to be in the midst of it was bizarre. My intellectual father had been an analytical baseball fan who read the box scores at breakfast. My brother and nephew were into surfing and fishing. I had stepped into a macho world I did not understand. Was this what heterosexual women had to deal with on a regular basis?
In fairness to their insanity, I later read a sports column that described the winning play–a 53-foot hard drive scored in double overtime–as “one of the great hockey moments in the Garden.” It was also the longest Rangers game in 36 years.
“That was some game,” Marie said to the new arrivals who sidled up to the bar squeezing between us to order. “Must have been exciting inside.”
“Unbelievable,” said the fan who smiled at us and soon he and my friend were chatting about the incredible winning shot.
As I walked downtown I thought how this is what’s so great about New York: three lesbians stumbled into a sports bar during a heated playoff game and everyone skated through. I was the one who’d been judgmental about male sports fanatics. My suburban friends seemed more relaxed, maybe because they’re used to sharing a golf course with straight men. My Village lifestyle is hipper, but can be insular.
The next Sunday I was home working at my computer when I heard my yuppie neighbors cheering from their terrace on West 12th Street. I looked up and saw several couples watching a hockey game on the big screen TV inside their apartment. The Rangers were back on the ice. I got up and turned on my set to check the score.