Stud recovery

Rehab is the new kabbalah for celebrities who want to re-examine their motivations and mistakes. But instead of Jewish mystics it has Jewish Ph.D.'s. Instead of red wristbands it has white hospital ID bands. Instead of the Good Book it has the Big Book.

The only person I know who went to rehab is one of my best friends. She's Irish. (Say no more.)

She was in town from New Haven last week visiting me. I'd been to Connecticut to see her over Christmas, and at that time she was trying to redefine herself without booze, while I was doing my best to tell her that she was still in there, somewhere.

On that trip we sat in an august Yalie bar a lot, smoking Sherman's. She'd insisted that we go to a bar. I drank whiskey while she drank Coke. We sat right in the window, in big, poofy leather chairs, and watched the smart people from good families walk by.

It was a deep trip for me. Before I left New Haven, I bought a Moody Blues CD. I played "Tuesday Afternoon" over and over while I drove back to my brother's house in Montclair, N.J. The highways were bleak from winter, and the tolltakers had rosy smiles and the occasional wink. I felt like I was journeying through Narnia. The woody, cozy Ivy League bar that we had passed the time in was the wardrobe. I'd pushed through to the back of it to emerge in a land where my friend, the life of the party, no longer drank. But she was still in there, somewhere, and we just needed to press past the fur coats and hatboxes to find her.

When she was here last week, she wanted to go to a bar with me again. This time she was even stronger in herself, more sure about her purpose, as they say. Still, choosing a place with guys we might be interested in, or with a good band, or even with a great jukebox didn't seem a wise idea for someone who had given up the "good" life. Eureka! We had it: a gay bar! And not just any gay bar, a really gay bar. We chose the Stud.

If the Stud were a T-shirt, it would read "Gotta Dance!" There's something about the place that makes you want to wear leather hot pants and work boots and dry-hump your stool to the strains of Kylie Minogue. Besides the sizeable dance area, there are caverns and crevasses and perches here and there. The lighting is super-low with red accents. It's muy gay, but you can walk in straight and not feel uncomfortable. We brought another girlfriend, and not a one of us was going to drink — the Irish girl for the obvious reasons, our other friend just doesn't "like the taste of it," and I had already had my beer with lunch earlier. I just can't drink like I used to. But the Stud doesn't make money on Sprite sales, so we decided to order beers anyway and not drink them so we wouldn't seem cheap.

We settled into a cocktail table and each did our own silent brainscans of material to talk about that which we hadn't already covered: men, recovery, money, reality TV. We eventually went back to recovery. Each of us had overcome our demons in life, and that was a pretty cool thing. The Irish lass with drinking, our other friend with marijuana (I liked to refer to her as "knee-deep in the hookah" back in the day), and I with food. We had to drink to that, and raised our water glasses. Then we all sat there thinking the same thing: now what? The problem with recovery is that you have to re-tool your whole life. It's like a divorce. All your friends change, your favorite records don't sound the same, and you have to go everything alone. Each of us in some way was in the throes of redefining ourselves, but none more than ol' Irish. Being in a gay bar was perfect. Outsiders in an outsider place. A place just like us, that had celebrated finding one's truth in a negative world, a place that had remained true to itself through the years, and a place that had delighted in really big, pulsating cock.

A gigantic group of women began to file into the place, a crowd to which one could only refer as "Lafayette lipstick lesbians." It was either that or there was a meeting of the Bay Area Republican Women on the dance floor. "Zoiks," we muttered. I began to feel sorry for the leather daddies who probably didn't appreciate all this vagina.

"Make sure they know that we are cash-only," said one bartender to the other. "They look like plastic types."

The ladies were whooping it up. Maybe it was a bachelorette party. We got up to leave without saying anything — probably a mixture of Irish missing being able to party like that with her girlfriends, and thanking her lucky stars that she would never act that stupid again.

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