Shortly after crossing West 86th Street, he entered a piano bar called Ruby Slippers. As he made his way through the crowd of gay men (most of whom were middle-aged, beginning to get paunches, and liked to introduce themselves to strangers as “Friends of Dorothy's”), he made eye contact with a ruggedly handsome fellow whose furry eyebrows and dark, swarthy complexion had that distinctly mysterious Mediterranean look which never failed to get Kevin’s attention.
The contrast between his stark black ensemble and the more casual outfits being worn in the bar (most of the clientele that evening were dressed in jeans and sweaters) did a superb job of emphasizing Kevin’s immaculately trimmed blond hair and his look of Iowa farm boy innocence.
For a moment, he turned to face the elevated platform in the back of the room where an old woman -- someone who looked like a cross between his grandmother and a fossilized drag queen -- was seated at the piano. At least a dozen men, some of them quite drunk, were clustered around her, singing in unison.
“The night gets bitter.
The stars have lost their glitter.
With hope you burn up.
Tomorrow he may turn up.
There’s just no let up.
The live long night and day....”
The men gathered around the piano continued to sing as Kevin’s mind drifted back to John Axenbourg. He didn’t know how long he had been standing there, lost in reverie, when his thoughts were interrupted by a gentle nudge. The man with whom he had previously made eye contact had appeared at his side.
“What are you drinking tonight?”
Looking at the man’s face, Kevin could see a few streaks of gray in his otherwise raven-black hair. There were some wrinkles on the brow of the craggy, time-worn face -- wrinkles which caused the young blond to estimate the stranger’s age at just a little bit under fifty.
He tried to imagine that the man was a construction worker (an occupation which seemed highly unlikely for anyone living on Manhattan’s upper West Side). Whether or not the man would turn out to be real Daddy material, Kevin could feel himself being drawn into the stranger’s dark, brown eyes.
“How about a Heineken?” he asked, as he flashed the man a smile.
“Sounds good to me, son. My name’s Duke. What’s yours?”
Duke lifted a hairy hand to Kevin’s neck and gave the blond’s right ear a playful tug.
“Be right, back.”
“Thank you, Sir,” whispered Kevin. “Thank you very much.”