Our sergeant was laying out the detail for the night. It was the late 70s and gay bars operated on the fringe of the community. In this particular case, it seemed someone from the religious right had complained about a bar called The Hut on University Avenue in North Park. The complaint was not the existence of a gay bar, but that the bar was running an afterhours “private” club with live sex acts as the main feature. Now if you are like me, you are probably wondering how this pillar of the religious community knew about the activities in a private gay club. But when I posed the question to my sergeant, he gave me the exasperated look you give a child who just does not stop asking, “Why?” His response was simple, “It comes down from the Chief’s office.”
The detail was relatively simple. One of us would be “wired” and would go into the bar and observe. If and when any sex show started, he would simply speak into the microphone and the rest of the detail would come in and bust the place. Guess who was assigned the job as observer? At least I was not bait this time.
Remember, this was the late 70s and being wired meant wearing a contraption that rivaled a colostomy bag for convenience and discretion. A transmitter about the size of a transistor radio was strapped to my waist with a belt, and the microphone, as big as my thumb, was taped to my chest. If I sat very still or moved slowly, I almost looked natural.
Dress for the night was casual: disco denims, with a complimentary long-sleeved polyester shirt―the three top buttons left undone―and cloggy looking shoes. Imagine Mark Wahlberg from Boogie Nights sans a giant penis. No gun or badge, but I tucked my handcuffs into the back of my pants. If worse came to worse, they could be used as an improvised set of brass knuckles. A couple of the older detectives thought I did not look “faggy enough,” so they tied a bright yellow bandana around my neck.
Around 2 a.m., the team gathered at a parking lot a block or two away from the bar, and set up shop. Basically, four or five detectives sat in a Ford Econoline van, listening on a couple of headsets for my signal. The signal was fairly basic: “C’mon in.”
From the van, I meandered around the corner and down the street toward the bar. A police cruiser drove by and executed a u-turn. A couple of patrol officers emerged from the car, just a few feet from the door of the bar to shake me down, or what is called an “FI.” I thought the detail was going to be over before it even started.
For the uninitiated, “FI” stands for field interview, and generally involves a demand for identification and sometimes a frisk. When the one officer began to pat me down, I went all girlie and giggly, commenting on his strong hands and how I’d like them someplace else. That was enough for him, and after muttering “faggot,” he stopped his pat down. Fortunately he stopped before he found the wire. I watched as they drove off, waving an effeminate goodbye and then continued toward the bar.
The encounter, however, was fortuitous. The doorman at the bar saw the whole thing. He was sympathetic to my harassment and let me in without paying the cover charge of $20. Clearly, I was just a baby-faced patron, and no way could I be an undercover cop.
Inside, the bar was crowded. There was a pool table in the back with a backdoor leading directly to the alley, a couple of tables in the front of the barroom and a short L-shaped bar. It was not well lit, and at 2 a.m. everyone was fairly liquored up and affectionate. I ordered a Bailey’s on ice and found a space to stand and watch. I was young and they were drunk, and I was hit on about every 30 seconds. I politely declined all offers and told whoever asked that “my Daddy” was on the way over and he was the jealous type. Working vice, I found there was little difference between drunk gay men and drunk straight men. They are all horny and they all think they are sexy beasts. My butt was grabbed and kisses attempted―all the while I worried the wire would be found by some over anxious Romeo or Julius.
Finally, after what seemed like a decade, but was probably about thirty minutes, a shout went up from the pool table in the back. There stood a slender, young guy buck naked in the middle of the table. He was joined by a couple fairly burly characters, stripped naked to the waste. As the group grope began in earnest, I leaned forward and said, “C’mon in,” and waited…and waited. As I waited, the scene on the pool table became more intense. I had never actually thought of putting a fist there. And my second “Come on in” was a bit more anxious and strained than the last one. A few minutes passed and still no vice squad came through the door. I thought to myself, perhaps they can’t hear me over the ambient noise, or should I say hooting and hollering?
I spotted the bathroom door and made my way grippingly across the bar. I made it inside and found myself alone. A dramatic sigh of relief. The bathroom had a toilet with no stall, a wall urinal, and what looked like a circular fountain in themiddleof the room. How pretty and out of place, I thought at first. Then I realized it wasn’t a fountain. It was a communal urinal which allowed the user to view the attributes of anyone else using it. “COME ON IN.” I repeated and waited. A few minutes passed and still nothing.
By now, I just wanted out of there. I moved to the corner of the bathroom to call for help one more time. This time I pulled the microphone off my chest and began to say, “If you can hear me, get the fuck in here!” As I said this I heard the door open and slam back shut. Smiling at me through boozy eyes was a middle-aged guy, Henry. I gave a tight leave-me-the-fuck-alone smile back and turned to call for help one more time. I assumed, incorrectly, finding someone in the bathroom ostensibly talking to themselves would have earned me a bit of privacy and a wide berth. Don’t screw with the crazies.
I was standing by the wall urinal, facing the wall. I became aware my newest paramour moving close to me and then….I felt a warm wetness on my right leg. I looked down and Henry was peeing on my leg! I simultaneously pushed him away and shouted, “Wh-wh-wh-what in the hell….?!” In his drunken state, Henry fell back into a sitting position on the floor. Looking up at me in surly indignation, he said, “Why you fickle little bitch.” That’s it, fuck you, fuck this detail, fuck vice, I am getting out of here and you, Sir, are under arrest.
I pulled my handcuffs from the back of my denims. Henry took one look and held up his hands in faux protest, “Oh, I’m not into that.” I shook my head incredulously and pulled him up off the floor, and while he feebly protested, I handcuffed his hands behind his back. Even after I told him he was under arrest, Henry could not grasp the concept of what was going on.
Now came the dicey part. Walking Henry through a sex-frenzied alcohol-fueled bar and out the front door. I was certain if I were discovered…well I did not want to think about it. I had already seen what happened to the guy on the pool table and that was voluntary. I opened the door to the bathroom and, all business, proceeded to lead Henry through the crowd. No one even batted an eye; in fact, I believe I heard someone say, “Have fun, Henry―looks like you got strong one.” Henry and I walked out the front door past the doorman who wished us well and we marched down the street and around the corner.
When I got back the van, I found the detail standing around having a smoke and drinking enhanced coffee. My first question, in a rather high-strung voice was, “Where the fuck were you guys?” They laughingly told me the transmitter failed to work after a couple of minutes. “We should have checked the batteries,” they said. They told me they were going come and get me in a few more minutes. Then they asked if Henry, who was about then figuring out what was going on, was my date. I related what had occurred in the bathroom, to which the entire detail exploded into laughter.
Remember that yellow bandana? Well, back in the day, members of the gay community used colored bandanas to let others know what his sexual desire was. If it was worn in the left or right pocket, it meant you were dominant or submissive (top or bottom), respectively. Around the neck, meant you flew either way. The color indicated any one of a number of things. Blue meant oral and red meant anal, I think. Yellow meant, well, you liked golden showers…or were sexually aroused by pee. I was relatively new to the detail and had not yet memorized all the signs and signals of sexuality and preferences. I suppose I should consider myself lucky it wasn’t a brown bandana. When the old timers explained all this to me, I understood why Henry thought I was a fickle bitch.
Being the new kid on the block, I had become pretty used to being the butt of the joke (no pun intended―well, maybe). But when being the butt of a joke involves being urinated on, my humor draws a line. I was pretty red-faced angry at the guys…and actually pretty sympathetic to Henry. I also noticed he had a cheater’s band on his left ring finger. I put Henry in the back of one of the cars, took all his information and told him I would send the case to the city attorney for them to make a determination as to whether or not he should be prosecuted. I then took off the handcuffs and let him go. He hugged me with tears in his eyes, before I shooed him away, to the snickers of the other detectives. The bar, as far as I know, was never busted.
I wrote a second report that night and gave it to the sergeant. After reading it, he asked if I was sure, and I told him absolutely. Three days later I was back in uniform and in a patrol car―breaking up family disputes, citing shop lifters, towing cars and arresting drunk drivers. Trying to get back to normal as much as possible … for a cop.
Andy Cohen says
It’s shit like this that cause people not to trust the PD.
bob dorn says
Nahhh… come on, cops ought to be able to joke about “shit like this.” No one was shot, nobody but a cop was peed on, and the John who emptied his bladder got to walk.
But you can’t quit vice. I want to hear more stories!
Thanks for this, Steve Burns. Great read.
Frank Gormlie says
I can see it all now, a new novel by “Steve Burns” titled “My Life As a Vice-Cop”. It would be hot.